Russia raises ‘dirty bomb’ threat amid warning of ‘severe consequences’

The United States has warned there will be severe consequences if Russia uses a nuclear weapon in Ukraine, as Western countries accuse Moscow of plotting to escalate the war on the pretext that Kyiv is planning to deploy a “dirty bomb” laced with nuclear material.

Oct 25, 2022, updated Oct 25, 2022
Russian President Vladimir Putin. (File image)

Russian President Vladimir Putin. (File image)

With Ukrainian forces advancing into Russian-occupied Kherson province, top Russian officials phoned Western counterparts on Sunday and Monday to tell them of Moscow’s suspicions. Russia plans to raise the issue at the UN Security Council on Tuesday, diplomats said.

The foreign ministers of France, Britain and the United States rejected the allegations and reaffirmed their support for Ukraine.

“Our countries made clear that we all reject Russia’s transparently false allegations that Ukraine is preparing to use a dirty bomb on its own territory,” they said in a joint statement on Monday.

“The world would see through any attempt to use this allegation as a pretext for escalation.”

Later, the US issued a warning to Moscow.

“We’ve been very clear with the Russians … about the severe consequences that would result from nuclear use,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

“There would be consequences for Russia whether it uses a dirty bomb or a nuclear bomb.”

Russian military Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov spoke to the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley on Monday, Russia’s RIA news agency reported.

The call was the first between the top generals since May, a US military official said, and came eight months to the day since Russia invaded Ukraine.

US officials said there was no indication Moscow had made the decision to use nuclear weapons.

“We continue to see nothing in the way of preparations by the Russian side for the use of nuclear weapons,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

“And nothing with respect to the potential use for a dirty bomb at this point.”

Russia’s defence ministry said the aim of a “dirty bomb” attack by Ukraine would be to blame Russia for the resulting radioactive contamination. The ministry has begun preparing for such a scenario, it said, readying forces and resources “to perform tasks in conditions of radioactive contamination.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had said the Russian accusation was a sign Moscow was planning such an attack itself and would blame Ukraine.

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“If Russia calls and says that Ukraine is allegedly preparing something, it means one thing: Russia has already prepared all this,” Zelenskiy said in an overnight address.

The United Nations nuclear watchdog on Monday said it was preparing to send inspectors in the coming days to two Ukrainian sites at Kyiv’s request, in an apparent reaction to the Russian “dirty bomb” claims.

Russia has ordered civilians to evacuate territory it controls on the western bank of the Dnipro River, where Ukrainian forces have been advancing this month shortly after Moscow claimed to have annexed the area.

A Russian defeat there would be one of Moscow’s biggest setbacks yet.

Kherson’s regional capital is the only big city Russia has captured intact since its February 24 invasion, and its only foothold on the west bank of the Dnipro, which bisects Ukraine. The province controls the gateway to Crimea, the peninsula Russia seized and claimed to annex in 2014.

The Russian-installed authorities in Kherson announced on Monday that men who stay behind would have the option of joining a military self-defence unit. Kyiv accuses Russia of press-ganging men in occupied areas into military formations, a war crime under the Geneva Conventions.

About 10 towns came under attack in the Zaporizhzhia region of central Ukraine, it said, as did eight towns on the southern front – where Ukrainian forces are engaged in a counter-offensive in Kherson.

Since Russia’s forces suffered major battlefield defeats in September, President Vladimir Putin has escalated the war, calling up hundreds of thousands of reservists, announcing the annexation of occupied territory and repeatedly threatening to use nuclear weapons to defend Russian land.

This month, Russia started a new campaign using long-range cruise missiles and Iranian-made drones to attack Ukraine’s energy infrastructure before winter sets in.

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