And if so, to what end?
Russian state media is suddenly reporting that Ukraine is angling to go nuclear against Russian troops. The country has no nuclear weapons so it can’t mount a conventional nuclear attack, but it does have nuclear power plants. Ukrainians could theoretically pack radioactive material into conventional bombs to create so-called “dirty bombs” that would disperse radioactive material widely after detonation.
Why the hell Ukraine would want to do that on its own territory is unclear. It might amount to a national death wish, in fact, since it would give Putin an excuse to use WMD in reprisal. An eye for an eye, nuclear-style.
But these obviously bogus reports are still newsy because they may signal the Kremlin’s own intentions. U.S. intelligence spent weeks last month insisting with specificity that Russia was preparing a false-flag attack attributable to Ukraine which it would then use to justify invading. The new dirty-bomb allegations may be an updated version of that strategy. Russia could disperse radioactive material, blame Ukraine, then cite it as an excuse to do God knows what.
Russian media cited an unnamed source on Sunday as saying that Ukraine was close to building a plutonium-based “dirty bomb” nuclear weapon, although the source cited no evidence…
The TASS, RIA and Interfax news agencies quoted “a representative of a competent body” in Russia on Sunday as saying Ukraine was developing nuclear weapons at the destroyed Chernobyl nuclear power plant that was shut down in 2000…
Shortly before the invasion, Putin said in a grievance-filled speech that Ukraine was using Soviet know-how to create its own nuclear weapons, and that this was tantamount to preparation for an attack on Russia.
Yesterday Russia’s foreign ministry tweeted that the sinister Ukrainians were plotting to blow up an experimental nuclear reactor at the university in Kharkiv:
❗️Alert by @mod_russia: #SBU & #Azov battalion militants have rigged a reactor at the #Kharkov Institute of Physics & Technology to stage a provocation & accuse the Russian Armed Forces of launching a missile attack on the experimental nuclear facility
— MFA Russia 🇷🇺 (@mfa_russia) March 6, 2022
Coincidentally, there was an attack on the university’s nuclear research facility yesterday. According to Ukraine’s government, it was Russian forces who fired on the building. Kharkiv also happens to be close to the Russian border in northeastern Ukraine; a majority of the city’s residents are Russian speakers. If Russia wanted to stage a provocation designed to warrant heavy-handed tactics in retaliation, you’d expect it to be in a city with lots of ethnic Russians like Kharkiv.
But the Kremlin wasn’t done. Russia’s foreign minister has also been accusing the U.S. lately of basing WMD facilities on Ukrainian territory:
#Lavrov: While categorically refusing to establish a verification mechanism in keeping with Biological Weapons Convention, #US built military biol. facilities along 🇷🇺border. Now 🇺🇸 is worried about losing control of those in 🇺🇦, incl 2 labs in #Kiev & #Odessa creating pathogens. pic.twitter.com/ZCyNxGRnnR
— Russian Embassy, UK (@RussianEmbassy) March 6, 2022
If a mysterious virus were to suddenly afflict the people of Odessa — the next expected target in Russia’s southern assault — I suppose the world will just have to blame Uncle Sam and Ukraine for not securing their bioweapons labs, no?
A cynic might conclude that all of these Russian propaganda allusions to WMD are a way to prepare the information battlespace for a planned WMD attack in Ukraine that Russia itself will stage and then falsely attribute to the other side. The ranking Republican on the Senate Intel Committee is sufficiently worried about it that he’s taken to social media to warn people that it’s coming:
ANY NUKE,CHEMICAL OR BIOLOGICAL INCIDENT IN UKRAINE IS A RUSSIAN FALSE FLAG
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) March 7, 2022
What’s Russia’s angle here? Why turn to WMD in Ukraine?
One possibility is sheer brutality, a motive that can never be ruled out in Russian warmaking. If in fact Putin has concluded that he won’t be able to subdue Ukraine and is headed for some meaningful degree of humiliation on the battlefield, terrorizing Ukrainians with dirty bombs might be his idea of a parting gift.
Another, maybe related to the first, is that he wants to justify more aggressive tactics on the ground and needs an alarming pretext to do so. A false-flag op involving nuclear material would provide that. Although I confess, it’s unclear to me whether Russia could mount a much more aggressive attack even if it wanted to at this point due to logistical difficulties. Their air force still doesn’t control the skies. Before we assume that the new order is to carpet-bomb Ukraine on the pretext that Russia needs to stop Zelensky’s men from building dirty bombs, show me the evidence that the Russian military is capable of carpet-bombing anyone.
A more anodyne possibility is that Russia is looking for reasons to seize as many Ukrainian power plants as possible. They took Chernobyl (which is decommissioned) early before seizing the largest nuke plant in Europe a few days ago in Zaporizhzhia. Zelensky told members of Congress this weekend that the Russians are now advancing towards the Yuzhnoukrainsk plant near Kiev. Maybe the plan is as simple as Russia wanting to turn off the lights on Ukraine as part of a broader national siege and the “dirty bomb” nonsense provides an excuse to seize all of their plants.
The conflict is escalating in another, more conventional way as well. It’s going international:
🇺🇦Ukraine’s International Legion fighters are already defending Kyiv 🔥 pic.twitter.com/g4nr10nuoP
— Illia Ponomarenko 🇺🇦 (@IAPonomarenko) March 7, 2022
An American assessment indicates that Russia, which has been operating inside Syria since 2015, has in recent days been recruiting fighters from there, hoping their expertise in urban combat can help take Kyiv and deal a devastating blow to the Ukraine government, according to four American officials. The move points to a potential escalation of fighting in Ukraine, experts said…
Syrian fighters have spent nearly a decade fighting urban warfare, while Russia’s largely conscripted force lacks this skill set. Ms. Cafarella said Syrian forces deployed to Ukraine could also be asked to work a support role, based on how they worked in Syria with the Wagner Group, a mercenary force that some see as a proxy for the Russian government…
“Bringing Syrians into Ukraine is like bringing Martians to fight on the moon,” Mr. Lister said. “They don’t speak the language, the environment is totally different.”
The battle for Kiev could be fought between guys from Texas on one side and guys from Aleppo on the other. It’s becoming a world war. Let’s just pray it doesn’t become a World War.