Russia’s Growing Dirty Bomb Threat Narrative Is Highly Concerning
Russia has no proof as to Ukraine’s dirty bomb intent or even a logical reason why they would use one, but they are spinning that narrative.
Russian troops have been “alerted to operate amid radioactive contamination,” Russia's chief of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons protection troops Lt. Gen. Igor Kirillov said at a Monday briefing where he accused Ukraine, without any proof whatsoever, of preparing to use a so-called "dirty bomb" - a device that uses conventional explosives explode radioactive materials in order to irradiate an area.
"Ukraine has got a motive to use the ‘dirty bomb’, as well as scientific, technical and production capacities to create it," said Kirillov. "The Ministry of Defence has arranged for countering possible provocations of Ukraine: the means and forces are alerted to operate amid radioactive contamination."
The statement came after efforts over the weekend by Russia's defense minister to convince the U.S. and its allies that Ukraine was preparing to detonate a dirty bomb.
The Pentagon on Monday pushed back on Russia’s claims about a Ukrainian dirty bomb but did not specifically comment on Kirillov’s comments that Russian troops were alerted about working amid radioactively contaminated areas.
“I don't have anything to provide on that,” a senior U.S. military official told The War Zone during a Monday press briefing. “We have seen no information to indicate that the Russians have made a decision to employ nuclear weapons.”
The U.S. official also said that the Pentagon has no indication that Russia is planning to use dirty bombs, chemical or biological weapons and deferred questions about whether Russia has dirty bombs in its arsenal to Russia.
That official categorically denied Ukraine is preparing to use a dirty bomb.
“We've seen the reports of Russian allegations that Ukraine is preparing to use a dirty bomb in Ukraine,” said the official, speaking to reporters, including from The War Zone, on condition of anonymity, “These allegations are false. And as my [National Security Council] colleagues have said, the world would see through any attempt to use this allegation as a pretext for escalation.”
The official deferred questions about whether U.S. troops in Europe have been issued gear that protects against nuclear, biological or chemical weapons to individual units.
The official also declined comment on whether Russia is preparing to use a dirty bomb in a "false flag" operation to blame it on Ukraine.
As "evidence" that Ukraine has the capability of developing a dirty bomb, Kirillov pointed out that there are stockpiles of radioactive materials at Ukraine’s operating nuclear power plants as well as at the inoperable Chornobyl plant. He also said that Ukraine continues to mine radioactive uranium ore. Of course none of this is indicative that Ukraine would be looking to deploy such a device.
"Ukraine expects ‘dirty-bomb’ provocation to intimidate the population, increase the flow of refugees, and accuse the Russian Federation of nuclear terrorism," he said.
The Russian MOD offered the same map as it did for its August claim that Ukraine would attempt a "false flag" attack on the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant as "proof" of Ukraine's dirty bomb intentions.
On Sunday, the foreign ministers of the U.S., U.K., and France issued a joint statement making it “clear that we all reject Russia’s transparently false allegations that Ukraine is preparing to use a dirty bomb on its own territory.”
Over the weekend, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu reached out to U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and counterparts in France, U.K. and Turkey. That follows a call Austin made Friday to Shoigu, their first conversation since May.
On Sunday, Shoigu "requested a follow-up call,” according to the official DoD readout. “Secretary Austin rejected any pretext for Russian escalation and reaffirmed the value of continued communication amid Russia’s unlawful and unjustified war against Ukraine.”
The Russian MOD said merely that "they discussed the situation in Ukraine."
The senior U.S. military official on Monday declined to elaborate on that call, other than to say “Austin believes that it's important to have mechanisms in place for engaging both allies and adversaries to address and work through potential misperceptions in order to manage escalation and prevent miscalculation.”
On Monday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley spoke with Chief of Russian General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov by phone.
“The military leaders discussed several security-related issues of concern and agreed to keep the lines of communication open,” according to the official Joint Chiefs of Staff readout. “In accordance with past practice, the specific details of their conversation will be kept private.”
The Russian version of that call, however, mentioned the dirty bomb issue.
“The parties carried on discussing the situation concerning Ukraine's possible use of a 'dirty bomb,’” according to the Russian MOD.
Gerasimov had a similar conversation with his U.K. counterpart, Adm. Sir Tony Radakin, Chief of the U.S. Defence Staff, who "rejected allegations that Ukraine is planning actions to escalate this conflict..."
On Monday, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov, saying he spoke to several of his foreign counterparts, rejected the Russian allegations about using a dirty bomb, calling them Russian "nuclear blackmail." He also repeated his call to have international monitors.
On Sunday, Reznikov called for the United Nations and International Atomic Energy Agency to establish "monitoring missions" to Ukraine to prove that it is not developing a dirty bomb.
While the Pentagon said it has not yet seen any indication that Russia plans to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, the latest activity follows repeated threats by Russian President Vladimir Putin that Russia might use tactical nuclear weapons. We asked some top nuclear experts about their thoughts on those threats, which you can read more about here.
In the spring, Russia raised similar concerns that Ukraine was working on biological weapons with the help of the U.S. There were concerns at the time that Russia was preparing the way for a "false flag" operation of its own.
That never panned out and it is absurd to think that Ukraine, which has achieved a great deal of battlefield success in no small measure because of the tremendous degree of international support, would risk that goodwill by setting off a dirty bomb, and especially one in its own territory.
Blaming such an explosion on Ukraine, however, could give Russia a bogus pretext to escalate to the point of using its own nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, a point NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg made Monday.
The sheer amount of messaging, including at the highest diplomatic levels, Russia is perpetrating about a supposed Ukrainian dirty bomb operation is highly concerning, especially considering it has no evidence or even logic to back up such an assertion. While we have seen similar allegations from Russia come and go in the past, this is certainly the most elaborate one which makes it all that much more troubling.
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