Ukraine Situation Report: Biden Warns Russia On Nuclear Weapons Use

Citing claimed Ukrainian attacks, Putin threatens more severe strikes as Biden warns of U.S. response to nuclear, chemical weapons use.

byStetson Payne|
NATO photo


Fears of Russian escalation with nuclear or chemical weapons continue as Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened a “more serious” response to claimed Ukrainian “terrorist acts.”

A report from Al Jazeera quoted Putin as he dismissed Ukraine’s Kharkiv counteroffensive and described Russia’s actions as “quite restrained.” Putin claimed recent “sensitive strikes” on Ukraine, possibly alluding to attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure like the recent strike on Kryvyi Rih hydroelectric plant, are a warning of what’s to come. 

Putin further claimed Ukraine is plotting attacks against Russian nuclear facilities, raising concerns that Putin could use an alleged Ukrainian attack, or Russian false flag operation, to justify the use of nuclear or chemical weapons in Ukraine. 

The Institute for the Study of War further noted in its September 16 assessment that such a false flag could serve another purpose in deflecting from the Kharkiv retreat and further evidence of Russian war crimes

When asked about Russia’s potential use of nuclear or chemical weapons on 60 Minutes, President Joe Biden warned such a move would “change the face of war unlike anything since World War II.” 

Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, former commander of U.S. Army Europe and head of NATO’s Allied Land Command, noted such an escalation would invite and demand an American response. 

Concerns about Russian escalation through chemical, but particularly with a tactical nuclear strike, have existed since its full-scale invasion began in February. Ukrainian successes through the summer and September’s Kharkiv counteroffensive put Moscow in an increasingly perilous position.

Russian doctrine of “limited nuclear first use” as a means to rapidly escalate and deescalate conflict isn’t new to American or NATO planners. The only thing scarier than Russia resorting to WMDs is whatever nightmares come after. 

Even a non-nuclear U.S. response opens an unprecedented Pandora’s box of escalation between nuclear powers, with one belligerent feeling cornered and with few remaining options. This is why Russia could see the use of a nuclear weapon as a way to freeze the conflict and consolidate its gains during the protracted negotiations that could follow.

Despite his army on its heels in Ukraine, Putin appeared happy as his bromance with Turkish President Recep Erdogan blossomed at the Shanhai Cooperation Organization summit in Uzbekistan. 

The Russian president and the NATO leader, whose country has supplied Ukraine with Bayraktar TB2 drones to devastating effect against Russian forces, walked literally arm-in-arm in a bizarre and troubling display.

Before heading into the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can get caught up with our previous rolling coverage of the war here

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Videos show what appeared to be a serious firefight between Russian occupying forces and unknown attackers in downtown Kherson. Russian state-run TASS news agency later claimed security forces had “neutralized a group of armed people who resisted.”

It’s unclear whether the firefight was related to explosions reported barely an hour earlier in the same area. 

Russian forces appear to have organized a defensive line between the Oskil River and Svatove after retreating from the eastern side of Kupiansk, according to the British Ministry of Defense’s latest intelligence assessment. The corridor along the border between Kharkiv and Luhansk oblasts has both political and strategic value.

A Ukrainian breakout here would cut the Russian supply lines from the Belgorod region, making an already bad logistics situation worse. Politically, part of Moscow's long-stated goal is the liberation of all the Donbas, namely Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. Further Ukrainian advances into Luhansk Oblast through Svatove would seriously undermine one of Russia's primary objectives.

Ukrainian forces have secured incredible stockpiles of Russian ammunition left behind in the retreat from Kharkiv. Videos show artillery shells and rockets stacked in massive piles at former Russian positions. The trend of Russian ammo dumps exploding spectacularly makes more sense with each clip and image. 

A report from the Wall Street Journal, citing the commander of Ukraine’s 92nd Mechanized Brigade near Kharkiv, claims Iranian Shahed-136 drones (called Geranium-2 in Russian service) have had success against Ukrainian units. 

U.S. intelligence tracked Russia’s drone shopping trips to an Iranian Revoluationary Guards Corps base this summer. We wrote about these kamikaze drones’ combat debut against the Ukrainians near Kupiansk, which you can read about here

Speaking of drones, we have video showing the mechanism that turns a heavy-duty commercially-available quadrotor into a mortar-dropping machine. 

Ukraine has shown such low-cost drones equipped with mortars have surprising accuracy, enough to pose a threat to armored vehicles with open hatches. Purpose-built fabrications like these will only increase those drones’ effectiveness on the frontline.

Regional allies Ukraine, Moldova, and Romania have reached an agreement on energy exports to mitigate Russian efforts to strangle supplies as winter grows nearer.

The news comes as a major piece of Ukrainian energy infrastructure and the site of a potentially massive radiological disaster, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, is back on the grid after a delivery of spare parts. 

Away from the frontlines, there's also reports of a changing strategy from Kyiv in Ukraine's continued push for advanced weapons from NATO. This report from Politico outlines the Ukrainian government's shift away from loud pleas for F-16s and Patriots to subtle negotiations outside the public eye.

We will continue to update this story until we state otherwise.

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