The US has been sending private messages to Moscow for several months warning the Russian leadership of the serious consequences that would follow if it used nuclear weapons. US officials told The Washington Post that the messages underscore what President Biden and his associates have said publicly.
The Biden administration has generally decided to keep warnings about the consequences of a nuclear strike deliberately vague so the Kremlin worries about how Washington might react, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe the sensitive deliberations. .
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The White House’s effort to cultivate what is known as “strategic ambiguity” on nuclear comes as Russia continues to escalate its rhetoric about the possible use of nuclear weapons amid a military buildup aimed at stemming Russian military losses in eastern Ukraine.
The new turning point of the war
The State Department participated in the private communications with Moscow, but officials would not say who delivered the messages or the scope of their content. It was not clear whether the US had sent any new private messages in the hours following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s latest veiled nuclear threat during a speech announcing the military decision early on Wednesday, but a senior US official said that this communication has been taking place consistently in recent months.
In particular, Putin said he was not bluffing when he said he would use all means at Russia’s disposal to defend the country’s territorial integrity — a veiled reference to its nuclear arsenal.
In the crucial new turn of the war with several analysts pointing out that Russia may not hesitate to use its nuclear arsenal in some way, there is also the new factor of referendums. The annexation of eastern Ukrainian territories to Russia will mean that Moscow can claim that it is under attack on Russian soil and from the West, which continues to support Ukraine with military equipment.
How serious he is about it
But even a limited conventional strike by the US military against Russia would be considered reckless by many in Washington, who would be unwilling to risk a full-scale war with a nuclear-armed Russia.
James M. Acton, co-director of the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said it makes no sense at this point to plan U.S. responses because there is such a wide range of possible Russian actions — from an underground nuclear test that it won’t hurt anyone until a large-scale explosion kills tens of thousands of civilians – and there’s no sign that Putin is close to crossing the line.
“If he really was thinking very seriously about using nuclear weapons very soon, he would almost certainly want us to know that,” Acton said. “He would much rather threaten to use nukes to force us into concessions than actually have to go down the path of using nukes.”
US officials have stepped up their efforts at the UN General Assembly this week to dissuade Russia from seriously considering what would be the first use of a nuclear weapon since the United States bombed Japan in 1945.
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