Russian defence chiefs discussed nuclear use, claims NYT
WASHINGTON/MOSCOW: High-level Russian military leaders recently discussed when and how they might use tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield in Ukraine, the New York Times reported on Wednesday citing unnamed US officials.
But White House spokesman John Kirby downplayed the development, saying that Washington did not see any signs that Russia was making preparations to use nuclear weapons.
Moscow, meanwhile, stressed that the world’s “top priority” should be to avoid a clash of nuclear powers that it stressed could lead to “catastrophic consequences”.
According to the NYT report, Russian President Vladimir Putin did not take part in the discussions, and there was no indication that the Russian military had decided to deploy the weapons, which would sharply escalate the war.
While Mr Kirby said he did not have any comment on the details in the report, a statement sent to AFP said any comments on the use of nuclear weapons by Russia are “deeply concerning,” and said the United States takes them seriously.
At the same time, he said, the US sees “no indications that Russia is making preparations for such use.”
The US has been warning Moscow for weeks over public comments from top Russian officials that they could use nuclear weapons in Ukraine in certain cases, particularly if they felt there was a threat to Russian territorial integrity.
The most recent threat came from former Russian president and senior security council official Dmitry Medvedev.
Medvedev said on Tuesday that Ukraine’s objective to reclaim all its territories occupied by Russia, which include the Donbas region and Crimea, would be a “threat to the existence of our state.” That, Medvedev said, would be “a direct reason” to invoke nuclear deterrence.
However, on Wednesday, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Western media was “deliberately pumping up the topic of the use of nuclear weapons.”
Moscow does “not have the slightest intention to take part in this,” he said, calling the NYT report “very irresponsible”. In September Jake Sullivan, President Joe Biden’s national security advisor, said that the United States has warned Russia at “very high levels” of “catastrophic consequences” for using nuclear arms.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned on October 13 that Russian forces would be “annihilated” by the West if Putin uses nuclear weapons against Ukraine.
But in response, the Russian foreign ministry said on Wednesday that Moscow was “firmly convinced that in the current difficult and turbulent situation — a consequence of irresponsible and shameless actions aimed at undermining our national security — the top priority is to prevent any military clash of nuclear powers”.
The ominous statement also called on other nuclear powers to “abandon dangerous attempts to infringe on each other’s vital interests”.
Published in Dawn, November 3rd, 2022