Putin’s nuclear escalation, how the US will react

Of Giuseppe Sarcina, from Washington

For the Pentagon “the situation is more dangerous”, but Biden does not want to cross the red line. America has already stored 150 atomic bombs (B-61) in 5 NATO countries, including Italy

The first American reaction comes from the UN Ambassador, Linda Thomas Greenfield, in an interview with CBS: “The Russian leader is aggravating the conflict in an unacceptable way.” “Not only is it an unnecessary step, but it’s an escalation step that can make things a lot more dangerous,” added a Pentagon official. The intervention of the White House is expected in the next few hours, even if for the moment there is no commitment on Joe Biden’s agenda. Washington, however, is again forced to pursue Vladimir Putin in this asymmetrical duel. The US government has so far tried carefully to avoid a direct military confrontation with Russia. “It would be World War III,” Biden repeated several times. The latest in an interview with commentator Brian Tyler Cohen on Saturday 26 February.

In these hours we are also trying to decipher the concrete, operational meaning of the new Putinian threat. Strategic nuclear arsenals are governed by the “New Start” treaty, signed by Barack Obama and Dmitri Medvedev on April 8, 2010. Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2019, accusing Moscow of not respecting the reduction plan provided for in the document that it sets the ceiling for 1550 nuclear warheads and 770 “means of transport” (air missiles, submarines) on each side.

The paradoxical aspect is that Biden and Putin had resumed the “strategic dialogue on nuclear power” with the face to face in Geneva on June 17, 2021. Not only that, until the day before the invasion of Ukraine, the American administration had proposed to relaunching negotiations both on “strategic” atomic weapons, that is, already deployed and capable of hitting “enemy” territory, and on “non-strategic” weapons, that is to say classified as defensive instruments. Now Washington is weighing Putin’s moves: what does it mean to evoke “nuclear deterrence” and, at the same time, to open up to talks with the Ukrainians? In recent days, Biden has had to face growing political pressure from a growing swath of MPs, not just Republicans. This side calls for even more drastic measures against Russia. And the president is gradually accommodating this push. The day before yesterday, for example, he decided to send more military aid to Kiev, worth $ 340 million. But for now Biden does not want to cross the red line he has declared since the beginning of the crisis: the US will not send soldiers to Ukraine. Even yesterday, the lawyers of the National Security Council were examining the international implications linked to the supply of weapons and means to Kiev: is this an initiative that can be interpreted as participation in the conflict? The gap between this type of legal concern and the arrogance of the Russian leader Putin is evident. We will therefore see how Biden reacts to the Putinian escalation. The impression is that the president does not want to tear up: the goal is to maintain an impeccable legal position, in order to embarrass other world powers, such as China and India, by convincing them to isolate or at least not to support Russia. The US, however, may decide to respond to the Kremlin in a dangerous manner. The same thing could do the United Kingdom and France, the other two NATO countries, equipped with an atomic bomb.

Today the US has stored about 150 nuclear bombs (B-61) in five European NATO countries: Belgium, Germany, Holland, Italy and Turkey. They are “gravity bombs”, that is, they must be dropped by bombers. To give the green light, the consent of the United States is required, but also of the country in which they are kept.

Shortly before the war broke out in Ukraine, the Russians had asked the US to stop deploying another 100 B-61 bombs in those same five states. The White House had blocked the decision. Could you change your mind now? NATO, on the other hand, has already mobilized, for the first time in history, the “Rapid Response Force”, deploying, however, only a part of it on the Eastern European flank. Now it could strengthen further the line of defense that goes from Estonia to Romania.

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