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US prepared for Russian nuclear strike on Ukraine in late 2022 — CNN

US prepares for Russian nuclear strike on Ukraine
US prepares for Russian nuclear strike on Ukraine

The United States “rigorously” prepared for the possibility of a Russian nuclear strike in Ukraine in late 2022, the CNN​ reported on March 9.

The article, authored by CNN analyst Jim Sciutto, features insights from two senior officials in the U.S. President Joe Biden administration. The White House was specifically concerned Russia might use a tactical or battlefield nuclear weapon, the officials said.

The level of planning was unprecedented, CNN said.

“That’s what the conflict presented us, and so we believed ­and I think it’s our right ­to prepare rigorously and do everything possible to avoid that happening,” the first senior administration official said.

The U.S. was not driven to this level of planning by a single indicator but by a collection of developments, analysis, and highly sensitive new intelligence, the article said.

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The administration’s fear “was not just ­hypothetical — it was also based on some information that we picked up,” said a second senior administration official.

“We had to plan so that we were in the best possible position in case this no‑longer unthinkable event actually took place.”

The U.S. National Security Council convened a series of meetings from late summer to fall 2022 to put contingency plans in place “in the event of either a very clear indication that they were about to do something, attack with a nuclear weapon, or if they just did, how we would respond, how we would try to preempt it, or deter it,” the first senior official said.

“I don’t think many of us coming into our jobs expected to be spending significant amounts of time preparing for a scenario which a few years ago was believed to be from a bygone era.”

These White House conversations were taking place at a time when Ukrainian forces were advancing on the right bank of the Russian-occupied Kherson Oblast in the south. The Russians were close to losing Kherson — the only Oblast center they had captured since the start of their full-scale invasion. The Biden administration believed that such a catastrophic loss could be a “potential trigger” for the use of nuclear weapons, CNN said.

Although Russia was losing ground inside Ukrainian sovereign territory, not its own, U.S. officials were concerned that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin would see it differently, since he had declared Kherson to be part of Russia, and therefore could perceive a devastating loss there as a direct threat to him and the Russian state.

“Our assessment had been for some time that one of the scenarios in which they would contemplate using nuclear weapons (included) things like existential threats to the Russian state, direct threats to Russian territory,” the first senior official said.

Russia could view a tactical nuclear strike as a deterrent against further losses of Russian-occupied territory in Ukraine, according to this assessment.

Russia’s propaganda machine was then circulating a new false flag story about a Ukrainian dirty bomb, which U.S. officials feared could be intended as a cover for a Russian nuclear attack.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu even called the heads of defense departments of the U.S., the UK, France, and Turkey in October 2022, telling them that the Kremlin was “concerned about possible provocations by Kyiv involving the use of a dirty bomb.” and a desire to blame Moscow for it.

U.S. officials dismissed the Russian warnings but feared the motivation behind them.

One official admitted that he was worried that the Russians would say these things “either as a pretext for them to do something crazy or as a cover for something they themselves were looking at doing.”

That was only part of the reason for Western concerns. Western intelligence agencies received information that Russian officials were openly discussing a nuclear strike at the time.

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The first senior official said there were “indications that we were picking up through other means that this was at least something that lower levels of the Russian system were discussing.”

U.S. access to Russian internal communications proved capable before, including when intelligence warned that the Russians were preparing for a full-scale invasion, the article said.

“It’s never a cut-and-dry, black-and-white assessment,” the first senior official said.

“But the risk level seemed to be going up, beyond where it had been at any other point in time.”

However, the U.S. has never had any intelligence data that would indicate that Russia is taking steps to mobilize its nuclear forces to carry out an attack, CNN said.

“We obviously placed a high priority on tracking and had some ability at least to track such movements of its nuclear forces,” the official said.

“And at no point did we ever see any indications of types of steps that we would’ve expected them to take if they were going down a path toward using nuclear weapons.”

However, U.S. officials were not certain they would know if Russia was moving tactical nuclear weapons into place. Unlike strategic nuclear weapons, capable of destroying entire cities, tactical or battlefield nuclear weapons are small enough to be moved quietly and could be fired from conventional systems already deployed to the Ukrainian battlefield.

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“If what they were going to do is use a tactical nuclear weapon, particularly a very low-yield tactical nuclear weapon and particularly if they were only going to use one or a very small number, it was not one hundred percent clear to us that we necessarily would have known,” the official said.

Multiple senior administration officials took part in an urgent outreach. Secretary of State Antony Blinken communicated U.S. concerns “very directly” with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, senior administration officials said. Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley called his Russian counterpart, General Valery Gerasimov.

Biden sent CIA Director Bill Burns to speak to Sergey Naryshkin, the head of Russia’s foreign intelligence service, in Turkey to communicate U.S. concerns about a nuclear strike taking place and gauge Russian intentions, a senior US official said.

The U.S. also worked closely with allies both to develop contingency plans for a Russian nuclear attack and to communicate warnings to the Russian side about the consequences of such a strike.

The U.S. sought to enlist the help of countries like China and India to discourage Russia from a nuclear attack.

Outreach and public statements from Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi helped avert a crisis, the officials said.

“I think we believe showing the international community the concern about this, particularly the concern from key countries for Russia and the Global South, was also a helpful, persuasive factor and showed them what the cost of all this could be,” said one White House official.

“The fact that we know China weighed in, India weighed in, others weighed in, may have had some effect on their thinking,” a second official said.

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After the nuclear scare of late 2022, the danger diminished as the war entered a period of relative stalemate in the east, European and U.S. officials said. However, the U.S. and its allies remain vigilant.

“We have been less concerned about the imminent prospect since that period, but it’s not something that is ever far from our minds,” a senior official told CNN.

“We continue to refine plans, and it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that we could be confronting at least the rising risk of this again in the months ahead.”

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Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine