On Tuesday, President Biden warned Russia against the use of a tactical nuclear weapon amid concerns Moscow may be creating a pretext to escalate its war in Ukraine.
“Russia would be making an incredibly serious mistake for it to use a tactical nuclear weapon,” Biden told reporters.
“I’m not guaranteeing you that it’s a false flag operation yet,” he said. “I don’t know. But it would be a serious, serious mistake.”
Russia accused Ukraine of preparing to use a dirty bomb
Over the weekend, Russia claimed Ukraine was preparing to use a “dirty bomb” containing radioactive material, such as uranium, which is scattered throughout the air when its conventional explosive detonates.
As the BBC explains, it doesn’t need to contain highly refined radioactive material, as is used in a nuclear bomb. Instead, it could use radioactive materials from hospitals, nuclear power stations or research laboratories.
This makes them much more affordable and efficient to produce than nuclear weapons. They can also be carried in the back of a vehicle, for example.
Because radioactive fallout can cause serious illnesses, such as cancer, such a bomb would lead to panic among the targeted population.
A wide area around the blast zone would also have to be evacuated for decontamination or otherwise abandoned completely.
Ukraine believes that Russia is considering escalating its offense
Ukraine has denied any attempt to use such a weapon, and officials from Ukraine, the U.S., and other allied countries have warned that Russia’s allegations could be laying the groundwork to take some type of escalatory action of its own.
“We’ve not seen any reason to adjust our own nuclear posture, nor do we have indications that Russia is preparing to use nuclear weapons,” Ned Price, a State Department spokesman, said on Monday.
“But we’ve heard these very concerning statements, and we wanted to send a very clear signal,” Price said.
The US-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) has said Russia “likely sought to slow or suspend Western military aid to Ukraine and possibly weaken the NATO alliance in scare-mongering calls.”
There has also been speculation that Russia is planning to explode a dirty bomb in Ukraine itself and pin the blame on Ukrainian forces in a “false flag” attack.
However, many military analysts say Russia would not be this foolhardy, given the damage a dirty bomb could do to its own troops and the territory under its control.
The ISW itself has said that “the Kremlin is unlikely to be preparing an imminent false-flag dirty bomb attack.”