According to several senior American officials, high-ranking Russian military leaders recently discussed when and how Moscow might use a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine, raising concerns in Washington and other ally capitals.

In an article on Wednesday, Nov. 2, The New York Times claimed that President Vladimir Putin was not present for the discussions, which took place against the backdrop of Russia’s escalating nuclear rhetoric and military setbacks.

However, the fact that senior Russian military leaders were even having these conversations alarmed the Biden administration because it revealed how frustrated Russian generals were about their shortcomings. It also raises the possibility that Putin’s subliminal threats to use nuclear weapons are more than just empty rhetoric.

Nevertheless, American officials claimed they had not observed any indications that the Russians were positioning their nuclear weapons or making other tactical preparations for an attack.


The scenarios that the military’s top brass considered for using a nuclear weapon were not disclosed by American officials. However, William J. Burns, the director of the C.I.A., has previously stated that Russia may use one if Putin shows “potential desperation” to extract a victory in Ukraine should his war suffer setbacks.

According to the New York Times, John Kirby, a National Security Council spokesman, declined to comment on “the particulars of this reporting.”

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“We’ve been clear from the outset that Russia’s comments about the potential use of nuclear weapons are deeply concerning, and we take them seriously,” Kirby stated. “We continue to monitor this as best we can, and we see no indications that Russia is making preparations for such use.”

According to the Pentagon, Russia may possess up to 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons, which are intended to be used on battlefields against conventional forces. Although a tactical nuclear weapon has never been used in battle, it is possible for one to be launched via missile or artillery shell.


Compared to the warheads carried by intercontinental ballistic missiles, tactical nuclear weapons are designed for use at closer ranges and have lower yields.

According to military experts, the use of a nuclear weapon would fundamentally alter the nature of war for the first time in more than 75 years. Even a small nuclear explosion could result in thousands of fatalities and make parts of Ukraine uninhabitable, though the extent of the resulting devastation would depend on many variables, including the size of the weapon and the winds.

The new information came to light at the same time that Moscow was spreading the unfounded rumor that Ukraine intended to use a “dirty bomb,” a conventional explosive laced with radioactive material.

Additionally, it happened amid a flurry of communications between Russian and Western officials, including two phone calls between Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Sergei Shoigu, the Russian defense minister.

Although there is still a troublingly high risk of further escalation, officials from the Biden administration and American allies also claim that late last month’s phone calls between Western and Russian counterparts reduced some nuclear tensions.


A speech given by Putin on Oct. 27, in which he refuted claims that Moscow was getting ready to use a nuclear weapon in Ukraine, further lowered tensions, according to some of the officials.

“We see no need for that,” Putin asserted in his speech. “There is no point in that, neither political, nor military.”

However, Mr. Putin has stoked worries that he might use a nuclear weapon after Russia invaded Ukraine in February and suffered significant casualties.

Russia tested nuclear-capable missiles last week as part of an annual military exercise. The maneuvers, according to Austin, were not “some kind of cover activity” for the use of a tactical nuclear weapon against Ukraine, as claimed by U.S. officials.

Administration officials in Washington assert that they do not believe Putin has plans to use a dirty bomb or even a tactical nuclear weapon.

“We have not seen anything to indicate that Putin has made a decision to use a dirty bomb,” Austin told reporters at the Pentagon on Oct. 27. He said that even talk of the use of nuclear weapons was “dangerous.”

However, he stated that the administration is “certainly concerned about escalation,” as it has been since the war began.


“It would be the first time a nuclear weapon has been used in over 70 years,” he said. “If this happens, we have been clear from the very beginning that you would see a very significant response from the international community.”

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