The United States sent back-channel warnings to Russia against the use of nuclear weapons

For several months, the United States has been sending private communications to Moscow warning the Russian leadership of the dire consequences that will follow the use of a nuclear weapon, according to US officials, who said the messages confirm what President Biden and his aides have said publicly.

The Biden administration has generally decided to keep warnings about the consequences of a nuclear strike deliberately vague, so the Kremlin is concerned about how Washington might respond, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the sensitive deliberations.

The White House’s attempt to sow “strategic ambiguity” in the world of nuclear deterrence comes as Russia continues to escalate its rhetoric about the possible use of nuclear weapons amid domestic mobilization aimed at halting Russian military losses in eastern Ukraine.

The State Department has been involved in private communications with Moscow, but officials have not said who sent the messages or the scope of their content. It was not clear if the United States sent out any new private messages in the hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin issued the latest veiled nuclear threat during a speech announcing a partial mobilization early Wednesday, but a US official said the contacts are happening constantly. during recent months.

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Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of the Russian Security Council, wrote Thursday in a Telegram post that the territories in eastern Ukraine would be “accepted into Russia” after the completion of organized “referendums” and pledged to strengthen the security of those regions.

Medvedev said that Russia is able to defend that annexed territory not only its newly mobilized forces, but also “any Russian weapon, including strategic nuclear weapons and those using new principles,” referring to hypersonic weapons.

“Russia has chosen its own path,” Medvedev added. “There is no way back.”

The comment came a day after Putin suggested that Russia would annex occupied territories in southern and eastern Ukraine, formally incorporating the regions into what Moscow considers its territory. He said he was not cheating when he pledged to use all means available to Russia to defend the country’s territorial integrity – a veiled reference to the country’s nuclear arsenal.

Biden administration officials emphasized that this was not the first time that the Russian leadership had threatened to use nuclear weapons since the war began on February 24, and said there was no indication that Russia was moving its nuclear weapons in preparation for an imminent strike.

However, the latest statements from the Russian leadership are more specific than previous comments and come at a time when Russia is teetering on the battlefield from a Ukrainian counter-offensive backed by the United States.

While previous Kremlin statements appeared intended to warn the United States and its allies against over-helping Ukraine, Putin’s recent comments have indicated that Russia is considering using a nuclear weapon on Ukraine’s battlefield to freeze gains and coerce Kyiv and its backers. Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, an advocacy group for nonproliferation in Washington, said he had to succumb.

“What everyone needs to realize is that this is one of, if not the most severe, episodes in which nuclear weapons have been used in decades,” Kimball said. “The consequences of the so-called ‘limited nuclear war’ would be absolutely catastrophic.”

US and Russian diplomats clash at the United Nations over the war in Ukraine

For years, US nuclear experts have worried that Russia might use smaller tactical nuclear weapons, sometimes referred to as “battlefield nuclear weapons,” to positively end a conventional war on its terms — a strategy sometimes described as “escalation for de-escalation.”

On Thursday, Vadim Skipetsky, deputy head of Ukraine’s military intelligence, told British channel ITV News that Russia would likely use nuclear weapons against Ukraine “to stop our aggressive activity and destroy our state.”

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

The Ukrainians tried to point out that even a Russian nuclear strike wouldn’t force them to surrender – in fact it could have the opposite effect.

“The threat of nuclear weapons … to the Ukrainians?” Mikhailo Podolak, Adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Tweet on Wednesday. Putin does not yet understand who he is dealing with.

In an interview with CBS News’ “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday, Biden was asked what he would say to Putin if the Russian president was considering the use of nuclear weapons in the conflict against Ukraine.

“No. No. It will change the face of war unlike anything since World War II,” Biden said.

Biden declined to give details of the US response, saying only that the reaction would be “consequent” and would depend on “the extent of what they do.”

The Biden administration will face a crisis if Russia uses a small nuclear weapon in Ukraine, which is not an ally of the United States. Any direct U.S. military response against Russia would risk the prospect of a wider war between the nuclear-armed great powers—which is what the Biden administration has made avoiding the first priority in all of its Ukraine policy.

Matthew Kronig, professor of government at Georgetown University and director of the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council, has argued that the administration’s best option, if faced with a limited Russian nuclear strike in Ukraine, might be to take the step of supporting Ukraine and launching a limited conventional attack on Russian forces or bases that have launched attack.

“If Russian forces in Ukraine launched the nuclear attack, the United States could strike those forces directly,” Kroenig said. It will be calculated to send the message that this is not a major war to come, it is a limited strike. If you are Putin, what do you do in response? I don’t think you’re immediately saying let’s release all nuclear weapons in the United States.”

But even a limited conventional strike by the US military against Russia would be seen as reckless by many in Washington, who would argue against risking an all-out 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 doesn’t make sense at this point to manipulate US responses because there is a wide range of possible Russian actions – from an underground nuclear test that doesn’t harm anyone to a large-scale explosion that kills dozens Thousands of civilians – and there are no signs that Putin is close to crossing the threshold.

“If he’s really thinking seriously about using nuclear weapons very soon, he almost certainly wants us to know,” Acton said. “He would rather threaten nuclear use and make us compromise than actually have to go down the nuclear use path.”

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US officials ramped up efforts at the United Nations General Assembly this week to deter Russia from seriously considering what would be the first use of a nuclear weapon in a conflict since the atomic bombing of Japan by the United States in 1945.

Speaking at a UN Security Council meeting on Thursday, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Russia’s “reckless nuclear threats must stop immediately.”

This week, President Putin said that Russia would not hesitate to use “all available weapons systems” in response to a threat to its territorial integrity — a threat that is even greater given the Russians’ intent to annex large areas. When that is complete, we can expect President Putin to claim That any Ukrainian effort to liberate this land is an attack on the so-called Russian lands.

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

Hudson reported from the United Nations in New York.

The war in Ukraine: what you need to know

Last: Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “partial mobilization” of troops in a speech to the nation on September 21, framing the move as an attempt to defend Russian sovereignty against a West that seeks to use Ukraine as a tool to “divide and destroy Russia”. . Follow our live updates here.

Fighting: The successful Ukrainian counterattack forced a major Russian withdrawal in the northeastern Kharkiv region in recent days, as troops fled the cities and villages they had occupied from the early days of the war and abandoned large amounts of military equipment.

Annexation referendums: Interim referendums, which would be illegal under international law, are scheduled for September 23-27 in the breakaway regions of Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, according to Russian news agencies. The Moscow-appointed administration in Kherson will hold another referendum in stages, starting on Friday.

Pictures: The Washington Post photographers have been on the ground since the start of the war—and here are some of their most powerful work.

How you can help: Here are ways those in the United States can help support the Ukrainian people as well as what people around the world donate.

Read our full coverage of Russia and Ukraine crisis. Are you on Telegram? Subscribe to our channel For updates and exclusive video.

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