Russian military officials discussed how and under what conditions Russia would use a tactical nuclear weapon on the battlefield in Ukraine, according to a US intelligence assessment described to CNN by multiple sources who have read it.
The assessment, written by the National Intelligence Council, is not a high-trust product and is not raw intelligence but rather analysis, several people who have read it told CNN. For this reason, some officials believe the conversations reflected in the document may have been taken out of context and do not necessarily indicate that Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon.
The United States has yet to see any signs that Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to take the drastic step of using one, officials said, and Putin does not appear to have been involved in the discussions described in the NIC product.
But others in the administration who viewed the document reacted with concern, as it offers a rare window into conversations among Russian generals and reveals their growing frustration over Russia’s battlefield losses in Ukraine. That frustration could turn into desperation, some officials fear. There are also questions as to whether Russia’s self-declared annexation of eastern Ukraine earlier this year means that Russia is ready to take more extreme measures to protect this territory.
A little more context: The United States is also monitoring Russian actions around the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, which Ukrainian forces are attempting to retake from Russian forces in a counteroffensive. In recent weeks, Russian officials have ordered the city evacuated, and the United States fears that if Ukraine hunts the Russians in a humiliating defeat, it could be the kind of trigger that would lead Putin to resort to arms. nuclear tactics. This is among the scenarios considered by the intelligence assessment, although officials stressed that Kherson is not the only target of the product.
The New York Times first reported on the intelligence assessment. But internal divisions over the quality of the intelligence and how to interpret it have gone unreported before.
CNN’s Barbara Starr contributed to this report.
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