“We all reject Russia’s patently false allegations that Ukraine is preparing to use a dirty bomb on its own territory,” the foreign ministers of the United States, France and the United Kingdom said on Sunday. . joint statementafter Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made the unsubstantiated claim in conversations with the countries’ defense ministers.
“The world would see through any attempt to use this allegation as a pretext for escalation,” the Western diplomats added.
According to summaries of Shoigu’s appeals posted by the Russian Defense Ministry, he told defense officials on Sunday that he was concerned about “possible provocations by Ukraine with the use of a ‘dirty bomb’ ‘”, and noted that the situation in Ukraine is “rapidly deteriorating.
Ukrainian officials immediately dismissed Shoigu’s claims and accused Russia of making false threats to justify its own escalating attack on Ukrainian territory. Dmytro Kuleba, Ukrainian Foreign Minister, said he had extended a formal invitation UN nuclear inspectors to independently establish that Ukraine has “nothing to hide”.
The Washington Post could not verify either party’s claim. The Institute for the Study of War said “the Kremlin is unlikely to prepare an imminent false flag dirty bomb attack.” Instead, the think tank noted that “Shoigu likely sought to slow or suspend Western military aid to Ukraine and possibly weaken the NATO alliance” with his allegations.
The incident underscored Western and Ukrainian fears of a Russian nuclear attack, as the conflict reaches eight months on Monday, and frustrations grow in Russia than officials say. originally intended as a quick win turns into a protracted and costly conflict.
For many, it also raised the question: what is a dirty bomb?
dirty bombs are made of conventional explosives and radioactive materials, designed to shed the material once they detonate. They are not nuclear weapons and bear no resemblance to the atomic bombs used by the United States in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Dirty bombs are much less powerful: Their “radiation could be scattered a few blocks or a few miles from the explosion”, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
As the ministry notes, the explosive substance in a dirty bomb is more likely to cause harm to humans than the radioactive material it carries. The purpose of using a dirty bomb may not be maximum destruction, but rather an attempt to “sow fear and panic, contaminate property, and demand potentially costly cleanup,” explains he.
Shoigu’s claims that Ukraine would use a dirty bomb are particularly sensitive because Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in 1994 in exchange for a guarantee from Russia that it would not attack Ukraine.
Russia’s claims also come as analysts say the war in Ukraine has has entered a new chapter – one that has seen Russia face several military losses, including Ukrainian gains in the south and the explosion that damaged the Crimean Bridgewhich connects Crimea to mainland Russia.
Moscow retaliated with force, with massive strikes against the Ukrainian capital and its energy infrastructure before winter. But Russian President Vladimir Putin faces increasingly harsh criticism at home, as a growing number of war propagandists lament a perceived lack of progress and thousands of Russian men flee their country to avoid death. to be forced to fight in Ukraine.
In this context, Putin threatened to use “all available means” to defend the territory occupied by Russia. “I would like to remind you that our country also has various means of destruction … and when the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, to protect Russia and our people, we will certainly use all means at our disposal,” he said. Putin on September 21. “It’s not a bluff.”
Shortly after, Dmitry Medvedev, Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council, wrote on Telegram that “Russia has the right to use nuclear weapons if necessary”. But he said Russia would only do so “in pre-determined cases” spelled out in its nuclear policy documents.
CIA Director William J. Burns told CBS News last month that it was difficult to assess Putin’s seriousness about the potential use of nuclear weapons. He said the US intelligence community had seen “no practical evidence” that there was an “imminent threat”. Still, he said the United States should take the comments “very seriously.”
US officials previously told the Washington Post that the United States has been privately warning Russian leaders for several months of the serious consequences that would follow the use of a nuclear weapon. Recent and more specific statements from Moscow seem to have sounded the alarm in Western countries and in Ukraine.
Asked about Putin’s nuclear threats, Colonel Oleksandr Syrsky, commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, told ABC News in an interview published on Monday, “We are and should be worried.”
Karen DeYoung, Paul Sonne and John Hudson contributed to this report.