The world should take Russia’s escalating nuclear threats very seriously, senior intelligence officials told lawmakers Tuesday, while noting that they have not yet seen clear indications that Russian leader Vladimir Putin would respond to military setbacks in Ukraine with nukes.
Putin sparked alarm among nuclear watchers last month when he ordered the country’s nuclear forces be put on a “special regime of combat duty.” Speaking to lawmakers on Tuesday, Avril Haines, the director of Office of the Director for National Intelligence, said that move was mostly “signaling” to keep NATO from intervening in Ukraine.
“He is effectively signaling that he’s attempting to deter and that he has done that in other ways. For example, having the strategic nuclear forces exercise that we indicated had been postponed until February, again, then as a method of effectively deterring,” Haines said.
It’s not the first time Russian officials have said NATO activity in Ukraine could prompt them to use nuclear weapons. In 2017, Russian parliamentarian Vyacheslav Nikonov made a similar statement. But Haines and others told U.S. lawmakers that as the Russian invasion stalls, the threat of nuclear use is rising.