U.S. and allied intelligence agencies are stepping up efforts to detect any Russian military moves or communications that might signal that Vladimir Putin has ordered the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine, according to five current and former U.S. officials, APA reports citing Politico.
But any indications that the erratic Russian leader has decided to unleash the unthinkable — in a desperate attempt to re-seize the initiative or bully the international community into meeting his demands — could come too late, they warned.
Most of Russia’s aircraft, along with its conventional missile and rocket launchers, can also deliver smaller, tactical nuclear weapons. Those weapons are designed for more targeted use on the battlefield than strategic arms such as intercontinental ballistic missiles, which give off tell-tale signs when their units are put on alert or mustered in training exercises.
That means that unless Putin or his commanders want the world to know in advance, the U.S. might never know when Russian forces have swapped out conventional munitions for atomic bombs.
It is an increasingly vexing problem as Russian forces struggle to regain the momentum in Ukraine and signs grow that Putin is increasingly unpopular at home, especially after he ordered a limited military draft last week.
“We’re watching it more closely,” said a U.S. government official with access to intelligence on Moscow’s nuclear forces and strategy who, like others interviewed for this article, was not authorized to speak publicly.
Recent efforts include tasking additional U.S. and allied intelligence assets — in the air, space and cyberspace — and relying more heavily on commercial Earth-imaging satellites to analyze Russian units in the field that might be in a position to get the nuclear order, the official said.
Another focus outside Ukraine is the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania, where the Kremlin has installed dual-use weapon systems and hypersonic missiles.
Over the past week, flight-tracking radar websites have shown multiple U.S. Air Force RC-135 Rivet Joint electronic surveillance planes circling the city, ostensibly collecting data. In the past several years, Russia has upgraded its missile storage sites in Kaliningrad, stoking fears of a potential nuclear buildup in the territory.