Russia’s game of nuclear chess is worrisome, American officials say
Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to Russian Transport Minister Vitaly Savelyev during their meeting in Moscow on March 25, 2023. | Gavriil Grigorov/Pool via AP Photo
Multiple American officials expressed concern over reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to move tactical nuclear weapons into Belarus, though the U.S. has not yet seen any moves by Russia to do do, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Sunday.
“We have not seen any indication that he’s made good on this pledge or moved any nuclear weapons around,” Kirby said during in interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “We’ve, in fact, seen no indication he has any intention to use nuclear weapons, period, inside Ukraine.”
Though the U.S. will continue to monitor the situation, “we’ve seen nothing that would cause us to change our deterrent posture,” Kirby said.
Over the decades of the Cold War, the U.S. declined to directly intervene after Soviet invasions — of Hungary in 1956, of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and of Afghanistan in 1979 — because of fears that the Soviet Union would further escalate the situation by using its nuclear weapons against the United States and other NATO countries. During the 13 months of the Ukraine war, some in the West have expressed fears that support for Ukraine could lead to exactly that.
But Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) said Sunday the threat from Moscow should not stop the U.S. from continuing its support for Ukraine.
“Putin has engaged in nuclear saber-rattling since the start of this crisis,” Gallagher said during an appearance on ABC’s “This Week.” “It’s something to be concerned about. But we should not allow his threats to deter us. We can’t allow that to be a cause for delaying critical weapon system[s] that we need to deliver to the Ukrainians.”
Putin announced the plans to build a storage facility for nuclear weapons in neighboring Belarus by July 1 on Saturday, according to reports from a Russian state-owned media outlet, Ria Novosti.
“Tensions are rising,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said during an interview on “Fox News Sunday.” “I think this is saber-rattling on the part of Putin.”
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) described Putin as “a dangerous man,” and said the threat demonstrates the need for U.S. leaders — and those vying for leadership — to see that threat as vital to U.S. interests.
Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Warner said that if American support for Ukraine wavers, Putin could move on to threaten Poland or President Xi Jinping could take U.S. weakness as “more of a green light to potentially take action against Taiwan.”
“Anyone who doesn’t understand that is remarkably naïve, or not understanding the kind of geopolitical challenging times that we live in,” he said.
On Sunday, NATO criticized Russia for what it described as “dangerous and irresponsible” nuclear rhetoric, though a NATO spokesperson said the organization had not seen any changes in Russia’s nuclear posture.