U.S., Russia Discuss Threats of Nuclear Use

Shannon Bugos

The U.S. intelligence community assessed in October that some senior Russian officials, not including Russian President Vladimir Putin, have discussed the potential use of tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine, though Russia denies the assessment.

The U.S. National Intelligence Council circulated the assessment within the Biden administration in mid-October, according to multiple senior U.S. officials who spoke with The New York Times. CNN also described the division among U.S. officials over the implications of the analysis, with some believing the Russian discussions might signal genuine consideration of nuclear use and others believing the discussions do not imply intent at this stage.

On Nov. 2, the same day as news of the intelligence assessment broke, the Russian Defense Ministry and the Russian Foreign Ministry released statements re-emphasizing that Moscow would only consider using nuclear weapons if Russia’s existence was imperiled.

“Russia is strictly and consistently guided by the tenet that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” said the Russian Foreign Ministry. Russia will “hypothetically resort to nuclear weapons exclusively in response to an aggression involving the use of weapons of mass destruction or an aggression with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy.”

National Security Council official John Kirby told CNN that he had no comment “on the particulars of this reporting.”

Meanwhile, over recent months, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has spoken confidentially with Yuri Ushakov, a foreign policy adviser to Putin, and Nikolai Patrushev, the Kremlin’s Security Council secretary, in an effort to maintain communications and decrease the risk of escalation, including to the nuclear level. The U.S. and allied officials divulged the conversations to The Wall Street Journal Nov. 7, but did not detail the dates or the numbers of calls that have taken place.

The United States has communicated with Russia “when it’s been necessary to clarify potential misunderstandings and try to reduce risk and reduce the possibility of catastrophe like the potential use of nuclear weapons,” Sullivan commented Nov. 7.

CIA Director William Burns also met with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Naryshkin, Nov. 14 in Ankara, Turkey, in order to dissuade Russia from considering the employment of nuclear weapons.

The Pentagon, as well as allied intelligence agencies, continues to monitor Russian nuclear forces, repeatedly assessing that there are neither signs of imminent nuclear use nor reasons for the United States to change its nuclear forces posture. U.S. officials have noted more recently, however, that the risk that Russia will use nuclear weapons is “elevated,” possibly to the highest point since the invasion began in February.

U.S. officials have said that Russia may use tactical nuclear weapons as part of a last-ditch effort to stop Ukraine’s recent counteroffensive.

Courtesy: Arms Control.