Kyiv, Ukraine, in the dark due to energy conservation efforts following Russian attacks on infrastructure. Photo: Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Fear of a radioactive “false flag” triggered a rare flood of phone calls between Washington and Moscow, and between the US and its allies, as they warn the Kremlin against a nuclear escalation.
Why is it important: Kyiv and Washington have rejected “absurd” claims by senior Russian officials and state media that Ukraine intends to detonate a “dirty bomb” on its soil. But both note that Moscow often blames others for what it intends to do itself.
- A “dirty bomb” is an explosive device that contains both conventional explosives and nuclear material. Such devices can create widespread radioactive contamination.
Lead news: Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu raised the issue of the “dirty bomb” in telephone conversations with the US, French, British and Turkish defense ministers on Sunday. It was his second conversation with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in three days, after several months of brief contacts.
- In a sign of concern about Russia’s possible next move, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley and his British counterpart Admiral Tony Radakin spoke Monday with General Valery Gerasimov, Russia’s commander in chief.
- According to Reuters, this was the first call between Milli and Gerasimov since May.
- The foreign ministers of France, the UK and the US also spoke on Sunday to agree on their responses.
What they say: Asked by Axios’ Barak Ravid on Monday about Shoigu’s “dirty bomb” statement, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said “Shoigu should drink less dirty vodka.”
- Kuleba said that Ukraine does not have such weapons and invited nuclear watchdog of the United Nations to inspect facilities that Russia claims are being used to develop them.
- The US, France and the UK also denied Shoigu’s “clearly false allegations” in a joint statement on Sunday. “The world will consider any attempt to use this accusation as a pretext for escalation,” they wrote.
But in Moscow they warn. are growing. On Monday, a Russian commander announced he was stepping up preparations for radioactive contamination from a possible attack and said, without evidence, that Ukraine was seeking Western help as it entered the “final stages” of building nuclear weapons.
- Ukraine does not have a nuclear weapons program.
Between lines: As his forces fight on the battlefield, President Vladimir Putin has been hitting civilian infrastructure in Ukrainian cities and warning the US and NATO that if they continue to support Ukraine, they risk a nuclear conflict.
- If Putin really intends to climb the escalation ladder and convince Washington that he is ready to go nuclear, one option at his disposal may be a dirty bomb.
Yes, but: National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on Monday that the US has seen no evidence that Russia has decided or is preparing for such an attack.
- Some analysts argue that the Kremlin’s goal is not to pave the way for an attack, but simply to stir up fear of it.
Increase: It’s pitch black in Kyiv tonight as the government cuts power to save electricity due to repeated Russian attacks on the power grid.
Go deeper: Zelensky says Russia will help Iran with its nuclear program
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