NATO Allies Warn Russia Against ‘Dirty Bomb’ Plot in Ukraine

West sees Moscow as engaged in brinkmanship as it looks for an off-ramp from its faltering invasion

Senior U.S. officials said Monday they saw no evidence Russia was preparing to deploy a so-called dirty bomb in Ukraine, but threatened consequences if Russia did so after Moscow falsely accused Kyiv of preparing one.

The remarks came a day after an unusual round of telephone calls between Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and his U.S., French, U.K. and Turkish counterparts.

Mr. Shoigu told them that the war in Ukraine was moving toward a more dangerous phase and that Kyiv might soon deploy a dirty bomb, which combines conventional explosives with radioactive materials such as cesium or cobalt and would contaminate territory without immediately killing a large number of people.

Western officials sought Monday to decipher Russia’s motives in making the allegation, and dismissed it as absurd and false. Ukraine denied the allegation, and officials in the U.S. and Ukraine warned that Russia could be signaling that it is preparing to use such weapons itself in a false-flag operation and then use it as an excuse for deploying a nuclear weapon.

“We have seen in the past that the Russians have, on occasion, blamed others for things that they were planning to do,” National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communication John Kirby told reporters.

Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, discussed the claim with his Russian counterpart on Monday, U.S. defense officials said. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, in their second conversation in two days, and reaffirmed U.S. support for Ukraine “in the face of continued Russian aggression, atrocities, and rhetoric surrounding so-called ‘dirty bombs’ in Ukraine,” the State Department said.

Western experts said using a dirty bomb would make little sense for Ukraine. It would cause a relatively low level of destruction that wouldn’t alter the shape of the conflict and would risk a far more devastating Russian nuclear response.

“A dirty bomb would be an ineffective battlefield weapon. Generally speaking, a dirty bomb is a crude device that seeks to spread radioactive contamination over a relatively small area of land—several small blocks,” said Scott Roecker, vice president for nuclear materials security at the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit global-security think tank. “A dirty bomb is more a psychological weapon than a weapon that would cause mass destruction. It wouldn’t change the direction of the war,” he said.

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