Russia’s defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, has told western counterparts that the war in Ukraine is heading for an “uncontrolled escalation” amid evidence that the Kremlin is weighing how to respond to yet another anticipated battlefield defeat around the key southern city of Kherson.
With Russian troops setting up new defences for a fresh Ukrainian offensive in Luhansk in the country’s east as well, Moscow appears to be preparing the ground for yet further escalation, with discredited claims that Kyiv may be preparing to use a dirty bomb as a “false-flag operation” to blame Russia.
Russian officials – including Vladimir Putin – have repeatedly hinted that the Kremlin may be prepared to use a nuclear weapon as part of its so-far failed brinkmanship to discourage Kyiv and its western allies, which have been supplying Ukraine with modern weapons, intelligence and training.
Shoigu discussed the “rapidly deteriorating situation” in phone calls with his British, French and Turkish counterparts and also spoke by phone with the US defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, for the second time in three days. The Pentagon said Austin told Shoigu he “rejected any pretext for Russian escalation”.
Without providing evidence, Shoigu said Ukraine could escalate by using a “dirty bomb” – conventional explosives laced with radioactive material.
Analysts have noted that a “dirty bomb” would have little utility for Ukraine on the battlefield, not least when its forces are currently retaking large swathes of territory by conventional means, instead interpreting Russia’s claim as a pretext for its own planned escalation. [Continue reading…]