Russian military officials have been discussing 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 they read.
The assessment, prepared by the National Intelligence Council, is not a high-confidence product or raw intelligence, but an analysis, several people who read it told CNN. Because of this, some officials believe the talks reported 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 U.S. has still seen no sign that Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to take the drastic step of using one, officials said, and Putin is not believed to have been involved in the discussions detailed in the NIC product .
But others in the administration who have seen the document have reacted with concern because it offers a rare glimpse into talks between senior Russian generals and reveals their growing frustration with Russia’s battlefield losses in Ukraine. That frustration could turn to desperation, some officials fear. There are also questions about whether Russia’s self-declared annexation of eastern Ukraine earlier this year means Russia is prepared to take more extreme measures to protect that territory.
A little more context: The US has also been monitoring Russia’s 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 to be evacuated, and the US is concerned that if Ukraine ousts the Russians in a humiliating defeat, it could be the trigger that would push Putin to resort to tactical nuclear weapons. It is among the scenarios envisaged by the intelligence assessment, although officials stressed that Kherson is not the product’s sole focus.
The New York Times first reported on the intelligence analysis. But the internal disagreements over the quality of the information and how to interpret it have not been previously reported.
CNN’s Barbara Starr contributed to this report.
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