The world is watching as Vladimir Putin seems to be escalating Russia’s war in Ukraine, and the United States is seriously considering how it is going to respond to a number of potential scenarios. One of them is if Putin decides to use tactical nuclear weapons, according to three sources in America who are briefed on the most recent intelligence.
The U.S. has, from the start of the war, developed contingency plans for responding to the possibility that Putin might choose to escalate using what one source has described as a “nuclear display.” This could include a military strike on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, or the detonation of a nuclear device at a high altitude or away from populated areas.
American officials have given the caution that they have not detected preparations for a nuclear strike, but experts still consider this to be a potential option as Moscow continues to annex more and more Ukrainian territory.
Putin has repeatedly made threats to use nuclear weapons. Just last month on Russian TV he said, “If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will without doubt use all available means to protect Russia and our people. This is not a bluff.”
This past weekend, Putin announced the illegal annexation of four Ukrainian regions. He said that Russia would use “all available means” to defend the areas, and he added that the United States had “created a precedent” for nuclear attacks in the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II.
Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley from Illinois, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN that Putin was capable of anything, and we have to take him seriously.
Experts in America have to look at a wide range of scenarios so that they have contingency plans in place for how their partners need to respond to a Russian attack. If Putin decides to back off from an all-out nuclear strike, the “nuclear display” is considered his main option. One official described this as a show of Putin’s “bravado.”
Some consider a move like this from Putin to be highly unlikely, but others declared that “defeat,” for Putin, is not an option.
Lloyd Austin, the Secretary of Defense, said in an exclusive interview with CNN that he hasn’t seen anything to suggest that Putin has decided to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
Austin said to CNN’s Fareed Zaharia that it is clear that it is “one man” who makes the decision.
“There are no checks on Mr. Putin. Just as he made the irresponsible decision to invade Ukraine, you know, he could make another decision. But I don’t see anything right now that would lead me to believe that he has made such a decision,” Austin said.
The Russian president is facing increasing opposition to the war inside of his own country, this puts even more pressure on Putin from hardline nationalists. They are challenging Putin to increase the escalation of the war, according to a source briefed on national intelligence.
John Kirby, the National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, was asked on CNN’s “New Day” about the situation with Putin. He said that the United States is “closely” watching Russia’s actions at the Zaporizhzhia power plant. They are aware of growing concerns that Putin would escalate his war with Ukraine and that he is “thinking through” the response to any potential use of nuclear weapons by Russia.
Kirby said that the United States has not seen anything that has dramatically changed its strategic posture, but they are watching this situation “as closely as we can.” He also noted that they take Putin’s threats seriously.