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The Ukraine Dirty Bomb Rhetoric is Russia’s Zaporizhzhia Back-up Plan

Russia WMD
A U.S. Army combat medic assigned to Regional Health Command-Europe, secures a simulated casualty on a stretcher while under a simulated chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attack during the 21st Theater Sustainment Command Best Medic Competition in Baumholder, Germany, Aug. 22, 2019. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jesse Pilgrim)

The urgent discussion Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu had with his Western counterparts last week on the possibility of a Ukrainian dirty bomb (a conventional explosion designed to disperse radiological material) is indicative of a trademark, ham-fisted Russian “false flag” operation.

In response to the Russian allegations, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky responded, “[I]f Russia calls and says that Ukraine is allegedly preparing something, it means only one thing: Russia has already prepared all this.” Russian Vladimir Putin has enacted a total energy war, and concurrent with denying Ukrainians warmth this winter, the last thing he wants is to abandon Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, leaving it functional. In their usual unsophisticated and obvious manner, the Russians are attempting to preempt a possible radiological disaster brought about by their destruction of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP).

Disabling the ZNPP is a continuation of Putin’s plan to freeze Ukraine this winter, and force the population to capitulate. According to Zelensky, Russia has already destroyed at least 30% of Ukraine’s power stations, much of this damage coming last week from Russia’s air attacks, including the use of Iranian Shahed-136 drones. These attacks align with Russia’s other energy-war tactics, including the threat of destroying the Kherson hydro-electric dam, the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines, and the OPEC+ decision to cut oil production. Before the invasion in February, over 51% of Ukraine’s electricity was derived from its four functioning nuclear power plants, and interrupting the ZNPP’s ability to produce energy is a significant loss to overall Ukrainian energy security.

Putin has made a significant effort to obscure his plans for and secure his control over the ZNPP. In August, he slow-rolled permission for an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team to inspect the plant. He has rebuked calls from the IAEA to establish a safety and security zone around the ZNPP. In mid-October, Russian overseers forced the remaining employees to pledge their fealty to Russia, in writing. There are also reports that the Russians placed mines around the grounds. Russia has even announced that the current U.S.-supplied fuel rods will be replaced by Russian equivalents. Putin seems to believe he will be able to retain control of the plant, but if he is forced to relinquish control, his parting shot will most likely be severely disabling it to deny its use to the Ukrainians.

Any Russian sabotage of the plant comes with risk of a nuclear catastrophe. Although the ZNPP has shown resiliency throughout the war–enduring repeated artillery shelling, reductions and abductions of plant personnel, loss of main power, and continued interruptions of the back-up power supply–any plan the Russians might have to permanently deny its use to Ukraine may risk creating an international incident ala Fukushima. Putin may recognize the political and physical damage, both in and outside Russia, that such a wonton and irresponsible act might cause. To deflect blame from any possible radiation leakage, the Russians have preemptively concocted this Ukrainian dirty-bomb threat.

Although Putin is probably not planning on using the ZNPP itself as a dirty bomb, he is rhetorically preparing for any fallout. Most of the current discussion around a dirty bomb is framed in terms of Russia deterring or slowing the contribution from the West, or simply nuclear saber-rattling. More likely, they are setting the stage for a possible nuclear accident resulting from their parting sabotage of the ZNPP.

It is too late once the war starts to recognize the extreme dangers nuclear power plants present during a major conflict. There is probably little beyond what the West has already done to convince Putin to quietly and safely abandon Zaporizhzhia beyond the current threats. Any direct military-action against the ZNPP is at the discretion of the Ukrainians. But the West can, and must, continue to directly attack Putin’s strategy of energy denial.

The West should react with its own massive energy response. It must seek out and implement every possible energy solution, including temporarily lifting moratoriums on all forms of drilling, funding alternate fossil, and renewable energy sources, restarting the Keystone XL Pipeline construction, continuing to apply pressure on OPEC nations and aggressively pursuing energy partnerships with non-OPEC countries, and most of all conserving energy.

While this plan may mean a short-lived yet painful reversal of international climate strategies, these actions should help shorten the war, reduce Russian leverage in future conflicts, and signal to Putin that the West is serious about supporting Ukraine.

If the concern is defeating Russia at their own game, helping the Ukrainians repel these invaders, and preventing the future exploitation of nuclear facilities, then Western nations need to plan, execute, and sacrifice for the greater good.

Anthony Tingle, Ph.D. serves as Program Director of the Institute for Future Conflict at the United States Air Force Academy.


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Written By

Anthony Tingle, Ph.D., serves as Program Director of the Institute for Future Conflict at the United States Air Force Academy.

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Jim

    November 4, 2022 at 4:19 pm

    Who has been raising nuclear flags for weeks if not months?

    The President of Ukraine, Mr. Zelensky.

    In one way or another, from “kick” Russia, to wanting nuclear weapons on the eve of the invasion, before all of Europe on a telelink to a heads of European gathering.

    Shelling a nuclear power plant and repeated attempts to take it by amphibious assaults across a reservoir on which the plant sits

    The constant amplification of nuclear talk & chatter from the collective West in response to Russia stating it’s Red Lines of nuclear doctrine.

    (You know what? We should know what their red lines are… on nuclear war… or are we to just guess?)

    Which doesn’t include a scenario in Ukraine.

    But that didn’t stop the West constantly harping and echoing what the President of Ukraine has said.

    Repeatedly.

    Let’s stop the war talk… the Petraeus, “coalition of the willing”… redux Iraq.

    Haven’t we had enough of that?

    It’ already a Forever “Proxy” War, just like Iraq & Afghanistan… Biden, “as long as it takes…”

    What are we going to hear next: “You are either for us or against us…”

    No, let’s be clear, Zelensky talks recklessly tough.

    Because he’s got the U. S. standing behind him.

    Including nuclear talk.

    Petraeus is a fool suck up to the worst crowd in Washington… the kind that will get us all killed.

    • from Russia with love

      November 4, 2022 at 6:12 pm

      Jim:
      everything for which this article is written in the last three paragraphs. yes, there is zero logical connection with the rest of the text, but the meaning of the article is precisely in these last three paragraphs.
      in my opinion it’s great!😎 “AAAA!!!! terrible Russians want to detonate a nuclear bomb!!! AAAA!!!! we need to stop them urgently!!” and then suddenly bang… “we need to remove all restrictions on oil production”😲

    • Gary Jacobs

      November 4, 2022 at 8:11 pm

      Jim,

      You must be living in a backwards world where up is down and left is right. %99.99 of the nuke rhetoric origins have been coming from Russia. I can think of one thing Zelensky said about nukes…and even that was in response to what was said by Russians.

      It’s clear you are seeking any way possible to undermine Ukraine. Sometimes it’s in the guise of ‘peace talks’, sometimes its in the guise of blaming the ‘neocons’… rarely if ever do you put the blame where it belongs… on Russia.

      The war could be over in the blink of an eye…all Russia has to do is withdraw and recognize the 1994 borders that Ukraine and Russia agreed to as Ukraine gave their nukes back to Russia upon the fall of the USSR in exchange for recognized borders. It’s called the Budapest Memorandum.

      On December 5, 1994 the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Britain, and the United States signed a memorandum to provide Ukraine with security assurances, including territorial integrity, in connection with its accession to the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state.

      There have been several other agreements Russia failed to live up to.

      Not sure what makes you think magical/mythical peace conference will have different results… but back here in the real world Russia needs to do a lot more losing on the actual battlefield before the war is going to end.

      • Jim

        November 5, 2022 at 3:06 pm

        Gary, you claim, “[I’m] … seeking any way possible to undermine Ukraine.”

        No, I oppose the U. S. Ukraine policy.

        The word “undermine” suggests somehow I publicly support Ukraine, but privately act against Ukraine.

        Suggesting a Peace Conference is consistent with being against the Ukraine policy.

        Criticizing the Ukraine policy proponents for their agenda is also consistent with opposing the policy.

        And, as I’ve written before, I won’t support a government with a neo-nazi faction or element in it, which Ukraine has on record.

        It’s sad that so many Ukrainians are suffering & dying because of this war.

        • Gary Jacobs

          November 6, 2022 at 9:47 am

          Jim,

          If you were actually criticizing Ukraine policy on legit terms, you might actually have a point. Instead you continue to incorrectly use pejorative terms to shame and undermine people supporting Ukraine by tossing around ‘neocon’ and ‘neoliberal’ completely out of context.

          As I have said before, there are a wide range of people across the political spectrum who support Ukraine. Just because there maybe some people who actually qualify as neocons in there does not mean the policy being implemented actually qualifies as having any characteristics of neocon policy. You continuing to fall back on those tired terms the way you do is akin to a broken clock being right twice a day…that doesnt mean your clock is actually working correctly. You boldly make many other incorrect statements on similarly incorrect grounds.

          Speaking of which, the ‘peace conference’ fantasy… there is no partner for such a conference in this Russian govt. at this time. They will have to do a lot more losing on the actual battlefield for that to be the case.

          In another thread you shared your other fantasy that I am intellectually dishonest. In the real world you are projecting your own inability to understand the situation onto others, and you cover that inability by attacking others with pejoratives and other slights. What it really comes down to is that There are basic borders that Russia agreed to in the past, and has never lived up to. As well, the Ukrainians require a lot more of their Black Sea coast to be in their rightful possession in order to be a viable country…and to deter future Russian invasion. The fact that you cannot grasp those basic concepts, and yet you still get angry at others for not bowing to your uninformed positions makes you the one who is intellectually dishonest…whether you actually realize it or not.

          • Jim

            November 6, 2022 at 12:53 pm

            Gary, my opinions reflect my understanding of the history and developments in Ukraine, plus the evidence & facts in hand.

            Do I want to “undermine” proponents of the Ukraine policy? No, I oppose the policy and state my criticisms of proponents’ logic & reasoning quite openly.

            You claim, “there are a wide range of people across the political spectrum who support Ukraine.”

            Yes, sadly, that is true, but the “tip of the spear” are neoconservatives (Victoria Nuland, as one example), and I don’t take that characterization out of context.

            You claim my characterizations “does not mean the policy being implemented actually qualifies as having any characteristics of neocon policy.”

            A pillar of neoconservative policy is regime change by any means necessary or possible such as color revolutions, economic sanctions, and coups, even assassinations. Your claim people are only neocon if they want invasion and/or occupation is flat out wrong… and you know it.

            Regarding a Peace Conference, it’s President Zelensky who passed a law (resolution) in Ukraine that there can be no negotiations while Putin is president… which Washington is quietly telling Zelensky is a bad look to neutral countries. Meanwhile Putin has said many times he is open to negotiations (but it must take into consideration facts on the ground… indeed, hard to swallow for Ukraine and it’s backers).

            As for the accuracy of your claims, you seem more than willing to make claims which are unsupported by the evidence or facts in hand or even contradict known evidence or facts (the U. S. has spent about $65 billion on Ukraine, while you repeatedly claim the U. S. has spent only $20 billion, as one example).

            So, you deny being a neoconservative, well then, how would you characterize your foreign policy positions?

            With regard to Russia, everybody knows you are a maximalist (from your comments on this board), with hatred dripping from your pen (that is a metaphor). And I don’t care why you hate Russia (you’re entitled to your feelings and to express them), but that does not mean your feelings should shape or influence U. S. foreign policy regarding Ukraine or even Russia for that matter.

          • Gary Jacobs

            November 6, 2022 at 8:10 pm

            Jim,

            Russia’s History of meddling in Ukraine did not begin in 2014. In fact, 2014 wasnt even Putin’s 1st attempted coup in Ukraine. That happened in 2004 when The FSB tried to rig the 2004 election and poisoned the pro-freedom candidate Yushchenko.

            He won the presidency through a repeat runoff election between him and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. The Ukrainian Supreme Court called for the runoff election to be repeated because of widespread electoral fraud in favor of Yanukovych in the original vote. Yushchenko won in the revote [52% to 44%]. Public protests prompted by the electoral fraud played a major role in that presidential election and led to Ukraine’s Orange Revolution…which drove Putin insane.

            Following the assassination attempt against Yushchenko in late 2004 during his election campaign, Yushchenko was confirmed to have ingested dioxin poison, but he survived. That’s likely while Putin’s assassins turned to Polonium and other more lethal toxins in later killings.

            This episode in 2004 was yet another attempted coup by Putin’s Russia… that’s just the tip of the iceberg. All that is long before Victoria Nuland went to Ukraine.

            As for the $20 Billion. Once again it’s the best money the US military has spent in decades. Perhaps ever. It’s essentially a rounding error on our $4 Trillion budget. There are plenty of other policies that are actually off the rails, like energy, that could be fixed quite easily and make up for the $20 Billion to Ukraine.

            Bottom line: Russia has been meddling in Ukraine’s affairs trying to dominate it for centuries. Your fixation on the events in 2014 says more about you and your obsession with ‘neocons’ than it does about anything else.

      • dave

        November 6, 2022 at 11:11 pm

        Guess we shouldn`t have helped overthrow the Ukrainian government with Nazi`s funded by us 1n 2014! Nazi`s who have been killing eastern Ukrainians of Russian Descent.

  2. Goran

    November 4, 2022 at 5:51 pm

    Jim, you are right in saying that this should be resolved through talks and negotiations. The issue at hand relates to what the framework for those talks is. Here are two examples;

    Framework one; any issues between Russia and Ukraine should be resolved through a diplomatic process whilst honoring the sovereignty and territorial integrity of these two UN member states. The solution could be a non-territorial autonomy for Russians within Ukraine, that way the Russian identity is preserved while Ukraine stays intact. Win-win.

    Framework two; no rules apply and brute force is all that matters, negotiations are merely a mechanics of facilitating the Ukrainian acceptance of Putin’s current demands. Those demands, once met, can in two years time be replaced by more of Putin’s demands, as there are no rules and it is only brute force that matters. He’s got nukes, bla bla

    You see the difference?

    • Jim

      November 4, 2022 at 10:34 pm

      Goran.

      “… this should be resolved through talks and negotiations.”

      Yes, we can save Ukraine from destruction.

      And, a “No negotiations” posture… guarantees… more destruction.

      Goran, “Putin’s demands, as there are no rules and it is only brute force that matters.”

      That rational of pre-conditions for negotiations leads to nothing but a dead end (failure… never gets off the ground).

      Look at Russia’s actions & Putin’s speeches.

      They would have settled in late March @ Istanbul… Ukraine neutral & Crimea, plus the Donbus (because of the action already taken) recognized internationally at the U. N., with sanctions dropped, and all agreements explicitly recognized by the United States.

      The U. S. scotched the deal… and the Ukrainians didn’t want the deal, either … but made noises about it being okay… as long as the Russians were knocking @ Kiev… but as soon as the Russians pulled back from Kiev in a Good Faith Gesture… the Ukraine diplomatic team pulled back from serious negotiations.

      A Peace Conference named after the city it is held @, is what Washington should do.

      With recognition of the battlefield @ the present time.

      Serious, hard nosed negotiations with recognition of the present realities in Ukraine, Europe, and Russia.

  3. 403Forbidden

    November 4, 2022 at 7:18 pm

    The recent energetic efforts of ukro forces attempting to turn zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant into another Chernobyl are solid proof that Kyiv will spare no effort to demonize Russia and draw in NATO directly into battle.

    Attacking and shelling an occupied nuclear site is no less audacious and dangerous than preparing a dirty bomb.

    Zelenskiyy is a very desperate man, he knows each day NATO stays away his chances of losing everything increases by a certain degree. Including his credibility, his job and his life.

    Zelenskiyy is similar to the agent who upon being caught by the kgb for sending messages to the cia transmitted his very last message saying soviets were about to launch a surprise nuclear attack on the west.

    The cia disregarded his final message because they knew he sent the message out of desperation and that he had lost all hope of survival.

  4. Dr. Scooter Van Neuter

    November 4, 2022 at 8:14 pm

    “…The West should react with its own massive energy response. It must seek out and implement every possible energy solution, including temporarily lifting moratoriums on all forms of drilling…”
    With Biden sitting in the White House? Not going to happen. This demented meat puppet continues to dance to the tune of the woke, green sycophants controlling him.

  5. GhostTomahawk

    November 5, 2022 at 3:14 am

    The west has been pumping anti Russian propaganda for 6 years.. yet forgets the media reporting on Nazi activity in Ukraine for years. How we forget right? Like how we forget in February appointee Biden on tv assuring us the US will blow up the NordStream pipeline. Our media lies at the behest of our govt and the intelligence apparatus and our govts spokesman (so-called President) admitted to premeditated international sabotage on tv…So now we are supposed to believe that it’s Russia who will use a dirty bomb???

    Yeah ok.

  6. Goran

    November 5, 2022 at 9:33 am

    Jim : “A Peace Conference named after the city it is held @, is what Washington should do. With recognition of the battlefield @ the present time.”

    Again, that takes us out of the legal and diplomatic framework of two countries settling their differences and introduces violent annexations as the way of the future. Such an approach does not bring stability, on the contrary.

  7. marcjf

    November 6, 2022 at 1:25 pm

    Well if you believe the story that the Russians might detonate a dirty bomb as a false flag, then I have a bridge to sell you. Slightly damaged after the Russians blew it up themselves. Shortly after they destroyed their own pipeline (with no help at all from NATO) and also were foolish enough to use artillery against their own troops located in a nuclear power plant.

    If you would like to send some money to me that is fine, I assure you that my Nigerian Prince friend will be most generous.

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