Washington (CNN) — The United States has privately communicated to Russia in recent months that there will be consequences if Moscow decides to use a nuclear weapon in the war in Ukraine, according to US officials.
It is unknown how or when the warnings were sent. The State Department was involved, according to an official. The Joe Biden administration has also relied heavily on intelligence channels to communicate sensitive messages to Moscow throughout Russia’s war in Ukraine, including recently in negotiations over wrongfully detained Americans.
The warnings, first reported by The Washington Post, come at a time when Russian President Vladimir Putin has once again threatened to resort to nuclear weapons amid a series of embarrassing setbacks in the battlefield in Ukraine. In a speech on Wednesday, he warned that “in the event of a threat to the territorial integrity of our country and to defend Russia and our people, we will certainly use all the weapons systems at our disposal. It is not a game.”
US officials have stressed that this is not the first time that Putin has threatened to resort to nuclear weapons since the start of his invasion of Ukraine in February, although some analysts have seen this threat as more specific and intense than the Russian president’s past rhetoric. .
The United States has also tried to dissuade Russia from using a nuclear weapon in public warnings in the past and has made the issue a subject of remarks at the UN General Assembly this week in New York. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday that Russia’s “reckless nuclear threats must cease immediately.”
US President Joe Biden, appearing on CBS’s “60 Minutes” last week, said his message to Putin should he be considering the use of nuclear weapons was: “Don’t do it.” Don’t do it. Don’t do it. Don’t do it.”
The US reaction would be “consistent” but would depend “on the scope of what they do,” Biden said, without elaborating.
For now, top CIA officials have said publicly that they have seen no signs that Russia is preparing to use nuclear weapons. But some military analysts worry that Russia may try to use a so-called tactical, or battlefield, nuclear weapon in response to its performance in Ukraine, a tactic sometimes called “escalation to de-escalation.” Intelligence officials believe that Putin would likely only resort to that option if he felt that Russia or his regime was in existential danger, and it is unclear whether he would feel that losing his war in Ukraine would fit that description.