U.S. has sent backchannel warnings to Russia against using nuclear weapon

US officials said the messages underscore what President Biden and his aides have made publicly available over the past several months.

The Biden administration has generally decided to keep warnings about the consequences of a deliberate nuclear attack vague, officials said, so the Kremlin is worried about how Washington might react. The official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe sensitive considerations.

The White House’s effort to turn what nuclear deterrence calls “strategic ambiguity” comes as Russia continues to escalate rhetoric about the possibility of using nuclear weapons amid a mobilization in order to remedy Russian military losses in eastern Ukraine.

The State Department has engaged in private communications with Moscow, but officials would not say who delivered the messages or the extent of their content. It is unclear whether the US has sent any new private messages in the hours since Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered his latest veiled nuclear threat in a speech announcing the partial mobilization. early Wednesday or not, but a senior US official said contact has been consistent. in recent months.

Putin faces anger in Russia over troop mobilization and prisoner exchange

Dmitry Medvedev, Vice Chairman of the Russian Security Council, wrote on Thursday in a Telegram post that the territory in eastern Ukraine will be “accepted into Russia” upon completion of the “referendum” and committed to enhancing the security of those areas.

To defend that annexed land, Medvedev said, Russia could use not only newly mobilized forces but also “any Russian weapon, including nuclear weapons.” strategies and weapons using new principles”. hypersonic weapons.

“Russia has chosen its path,” added Medvedev. “There’s no way back.”

The comments came a day after Putin suggested that Russia annex the occupied lands to the south and east of Ukraine and formally incorporate them into what Moscow considers its territory. mine. He said he was not lying when he said he would use every means at Russia’s disposal to protect the country’s territorial integrity – a veiled reference to the country’s nuclear arsenal.

Biden administration officials have stressed that this is not the first time the Russian leadership has threatened to use nuclear weapons since the start of the war on February 24, and said there is no indication for that. saw Russia transferring its nuclear weapons in preparation for an impending strike war.

However, recent statements by the Russian leadership are more specific than previous comments and come at a time when Russia is reeling from the battlefield. a US-backed Ukrainian counterattack.

While previous statements by the Kremlin appear to be intended to warn the United States and its allies not to go too far in helping Ukraine, Putin’s most recent comments suggest that Russia is considering the use of weapons. nuclear weapons on the Ukrainian battlefield to freeze profits and force Kyiv and their supporters. Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, a Washington-based nonproliferation advocacy group.

“What everyone needs to recognize is that this is one of the most severe periods where nuclear weapons could be used in decades,” Kimball said. “The consequences of the so-called ‘limited nuclear war’ will be absolutely catastrophic.”

US and Russian diplomats clash at UN over war in Ukraine

For years, American nuclear experts have worried that Russia might use smaller tactical nuclear weapons, sometimes called “field nuclear weapons,” to end a war. conventional warfare on its terms – a strategy sometimes described as “escalating to de-escalate”.

On Thursday, Vadym Skibitskyi, Deputy Director of Ukraine’s Military Intelligence Service, told Britain’s ITV News that it is likely that Russia will use nuclear weapons against Ukraine “to prevent offensive activity and destroy homes.” our country”.

“This is a threat to other countries,” Skibitskyi said. “The explosion of a tactical nuclear weapon will have an impact not only in Ukraine but also in the Black Sea region.”

The Ukrainians tried to signal that even a Russian nuclear attack would not force them to surrender – and could in fact have the opposite effect.

“Threatening with nuclear weapons … against the Ukrainians?” Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, tweeted on Wednesday. “Putin still doesn’t understand who he’s dealing with.”

In one interview on CBS News’ “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday, Biden was asked what he would tell Putin if the Russian leader was considering using nuclear weapons in the conflict against Ukraine.

“Don’t. Don’t. Don’t,” said Biden. “You’re going to change the course of war unlike anything since World War II.”

Biden declined to detail how the United States would respond, saying only that the response would be “consequential” and would depend “on the extent of what it does.”

The Biden administration would face a crisis if Russia used a small nuclear weapon in Ukraine, which is not a US treaty ally. Any direct U.S. military response against Russia risks a broader war between nuclear-armed superpowers — something the Biden administration has consistently prioritized. all Ukrainian policy-making activities.

Matthew Kroenig, professor of government at Georgetown University and director of the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council, has Debate that the best option for the administration, if faced with a limited Russian nuclear strike in Ukraine, might be to increase support for Ukraine and launch a limited conventional attack on its forces or Russian base launched the attack.

“If Russian forces in Ukraine launch a nuclear strike, the United States could strike those forces directly,” Kroenig said. “It will be calibrated to send a message that this is not a big war coming, this is a limited attack. If you were Putin, what would you do in return? I don’t think you immediately say launch all nuclear weapons in the United States. “

But even a limited conventional attack by the US military against Russia would be viewed by many in Washington as reckless, who are opposed to risking an all-out war with an armed Russia. Nuclear.

James M. Acton, co-director of the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said at this point it doesn’t make sense to dictate a U.S. response because there are so many possible actions. Russia’s ramifications — from an underground nuclear test that didn’t harm anyone to a large-scale explosion that killed tens of thousands of civilians — and there’s no sign that Putin is about to cross the threshold.

“If he was really thinking very seriously about using nuclear weapons, he would almost certainly want us to know that,” Acton said. “He’d rather threaten to use nuclear and ask us for concessions than to actually go down the path of using nuclear.”

More than 1,300 arrests reported as Russians protest against military mobilization

U.S. officials stepped up efforts at the United Nations General Assembly this week to prevent Russia from seriously considering using nuclear weapons for the first time in a conflict since the United States dropped an atomic bomb on it. Japan in 1945.

Foreign Minister Antony Blinken, speaking at a United Nations Security Council meeting on Thursday, said Russia’s “reckless nuclear threats must stop immediately”.

“This week, President Putin said that Russia would not hesitate to use, and I quote, ‘all existing weapons systems’ to deal with a threat to his territorial integrity – a threat even more menacing if the Russians intend to annex large swaths of land. of Ukraine in the coming days,” Blinken said. “When that’s done, we can expect President Putin to declare any attempt by Ukraine to liberate this land as an attack on so-called Russian territory.”

Blinken noted that in January, Russia, along with other permanent members of the Security Council, signed a joint statement declaring, “nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought.” .

Hudson reports from the United Nations in New York.

War in Ukraine: What you need to know

Latest: Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “partial deployment” of the military in a speech to the nation on September 21, seeing the move as an attempt to defend Russia’s sovereignty against a West seeking to using Ukraine as a tool to “divide and destroy Russia.” Our Watch Live updates here.

The struggle: A successful Ukrainian counteroffensive has forced Russia into a major retreat in the northeastern region of Kharkiv in recent days, as troops flee the cities and villages they have occupied since the early days of the conflict. war and give up large amounts of military equipment.

The annexation referendums: Organized referendums, which would be illegal under international law, will take place from September 23 to 27 in the breakaway regions of Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, according to news agencies. Russian tons. Another organized referendum will be held by the Moscow-appointed administration in Kherson starting Friday.

Picture: Washington Post photographers were present from the very beginning of the war – here are some of their most powerful work.

How you can help: Here are ways that people in America can help the people of Ukraine as what people around the world have donated.

Read our full range of The Russian-Ukrainian Crisis. Are you on Telegram? Please subscribe to our channel for updates and exclusive videos.

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