US considering responses to possible Russian escalation in Ukraine, including its potential use of tactical nuclear weapons


Amid growing concerns that Vladimir Putin will escalate Russia’s war in Ukraine, the US is considering how to respond to a number of possible scenarios, including fears that Russians may use tactical nuclear weapons, according to three sources informed of the latest information have been informed.

The US has been developing contingency plans to respond since the conflict began, including the possibility that the Russian president could escalate on the verge of a nuclear attack on Ukraine through what one source called a “nuclear demonstration,” such as A possible military strike on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant or the detonation of a nuclear device at high altitude or outside populated areas.

Officials warn that the US has not detected any preparations for a nuclear strike. But experts see them as potential options the US needs to prepare for as Russia’s invasion falters and Moscow annexes more Ukrainian territory.

US officials have also taken a somber note of the Russian president’s repeated public threats to use nuclear weapons. In a televised address late last month, Putin said: “If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will undoubtedly use all available means to protect Russia and our people. This is not a bluff.”

On Friday, at a ceremony announcing the illegal annexation of four Ukrainian regions, Putin said Russia would use “all available means” to defend the territories, adding that the US bombings “set a precedent” for Nuclear attacks would have created Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II.

“Putin is capable of anything,” Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley of Illinois, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN. Although Quigley noted that there is no evidence yet of any preparations for such an attack, he added, “You have to take it seriously.”

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The US is studying the range of possible scenarios in order to have contingency plans for how it and its partners would respond to such attacks. The potential for a “nuclear demonstration” is seen as an option if Putin stops ordering a nuclear strike against Ukrainian forces or population centers and instead opts for what one official called a “show of bravery.”

A nuclear strike is still considered unlikely, although concerns among US officials over the possibility of such an attack have increased in recent weeks. “Defeat,” said a source briefed on the intelligence community, “is not an option for Putin.”

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in an exclusive interview with CNN on Sunday that he had seen nothing to suggest Putin had decided to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

“To be clear, the guy making that decision, I mean, it’s a man,” Austin said in an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on “Fareed Zakaria GPS” about Russian nuclear threats.

“Mr. Putin is not checked. Just as he made the irresponsible decision to invade Ukraine, he could make a different decision. But I don’t see anything right now that would lead me to believe that he made such a decision.”

While there is growing public opposition to the war in Russia, the US believes Putin is under increased pressure from hardline nationalists who are pushing for a further escalation of the conflict, A source briefed on the intelligence community said.

Asked about CNN’s “New Day” coverage Monday, John Kirby, the National Security Council’s strategic communications coordinator, said the US is “closely watching” Russia’s actions at the Zaporizhia power plant, fearing that Putin could end his war with Ukraine has “thought out” the response to a possible use of nuclear weapons by Russia.

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Although the US has seen nothing that has changed the US strategic stance, “we are monitoring this as closely as we can,” Kirby said, adding, “We take these threats seriously.”

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