Western Officials: Russia's Failures in Ukraine May Make Putin More Dangerous

Russia must stop its nuclear saber rattling. This is dangerous and it is irresponsible,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels Wednesday, ahead of an extraordinary meeting of alliance heads of state.

Any use of nuclear weapons will fundamentally change the nature of the conflict,” Stoltenberg said. “NATO is there to protect and defend all allies, and we convey a very clear message to Russia that nuclear war cannot be won and should never be fought.”

Putin put Russia’s nuclear deterrence forces on high alert just three days after Russian tanks first rolled into Ukraine, and some Russian officials have floated the idea of using tactical nuclear weapons if necessary.

If it is an existential threat for our country, then it can be used in accordance with our concept,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the U.S.-based cable news channel CNN on Tuesday.

U.S. defense officials said earlier this week that so far, they had seen no movement by Russia that would cause them to change Washington’s own nuclear deterrence posture.

But the U.S. has expressed growing concern about the possibility Russia will use chemical weapons.

I think it’s a real threat,” U.S. President Joe Biden told reporters Wednesday in Washington before leaving the White House to attend the NATO summit in Brussels.

While not downplaying the danger, a senior U.S. defense official cautioned Wednesday that, at this point, a Russian attack using chemical or biological weapons does not appear to be looming.

“We haven’t seen any imminent signs that there’s going to be a chem-bio [chemical or biological] event caused by the Russians,” the official told reporters, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information.

NATO officials, however, said the alliance has reason to believe an eventual attack is not out of the question and that they are preparing for two equally frightening scenarios.

One is what is openly called a false flag operation — this would be an accident on a chemical plant,” the senior NATO official said, pointing to the large amounts of ammonia, nitrates and other agricultural chemicals in Ukraine.

If you have a massive release of those agents, it is very dangerous for the population,” the official added, warning that chemical clouds could then put other countries in the region at risk.

But NATO is also worried Russia could throw caution to the wind and use missiles or shells to target Ukraine with highly lethal neurotoxins.

When you use them, they are so characteristic that the attribution is immediate,” the official said, adding that the biggest question for Western defense officials is whether Russia is going to want to stay below the threshold of attribution for the weapons it unleashes.

Jeff Seldin is VOA national security reporter. This article  is published courtesy of the Voice of America (VOA).