Could Putin Use Nukes to Defend Crimea? Following reports of Western officials casting doubt on Ukraine’s ability to retake control of Crimea, NBC News claimed on Friday that a Biden administration recently told members of Congress that Ukraine has the military capability to achieve the goal.
Two unnamed U.S. officials familiar with the matter told the news outlet that while Ukraine may be capable of taking control of the annexed territory, some officials are concerned about how Russia would respond to the loss.
Should the Kremlin ultimately withdraw troops from Ukraine with control over less territory than it had before the invasion begin, some U.S. officials believe that it could prompt Russian President Vladimir Putin to approve the deployment and use of nuclear weapons.
From NBC News:
“A central concern is that a real threat to Russian control could push Putin to use a dirty bomb or other nuclear device, one former and two current officials said. “That’s the red line,” a former U.S. official said.
Three U.S. officials stressed that the U.S. has not seen any indications that Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon or a dirty bomb right now.”
According to the two officials, comments about Crimea were made by a senior Biden official during a briefing about Ukraine in late November to some members of Congress. When asked about plans to retake the peninsula, the Biden official stated that Ukraine has the capability to do it.
The report also revealed how U.S. officials don’t believe that Ukraine has a near-term objective to reclaim the territory, despite repeated promises from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to do it.
A Nuclear Response?
As noted by NBC News, U.S. officials said that it is a real worry for Western allies of Ukraine that Russia may resort to the use of a dirty bomb or nukes in response to an attack on Ukraine, with a direct threat to Russian control in Crimea considered a “red line” for Putin.
In recent months, however, Russia’s nuclear saber-rattling has diminished significantly.
Not only did the Russian government explicitly state that it was opposed to a nuclear war, but Kremlin officials who have previously threatened to consider the deployment of nuclear weapons have refrained from making similar comments.
Former National Security Agency director and the head of U.S. Cyber Command, retired Gen. Keith Alexander, also said this week that Putin is less likely to use nuclear weapons and more likely to deploy cyber attacks.
“I think he will use [cyber] clearly before nuclear,” Alexander said on Tuesday, adding that should Putin use nuclear weapons, “he’s dead.”
However, footage released on Wednesday showed the installation of a huge Russian Yars rocket into a silo located at the Kozelsk military facility in Kaluga, Russia. The Yars missile is 12 times more powerful than the nuclear bomb that struck Hiroshima, according to the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper.
The Time Isn’t Right
“A lot would have to happen militarily first” before retaking Crimea is seriously on the cards, an official said.
Not only is Russia continuing to fortify the peninsula, sending military resources to the region and digging new trenches, but Ukraine still isn’t sufficiently within firing distance to launch an effective offensive there.
Jack Buckby is 19FortyFive’s Breaking News Editor.