Home » Russia steps up Ukraine ‘dirty bomb’ claim in letter delivered to UN

Russia steps up Ukraine ‘dirty bomb’ claim in letter delivered to UN

by Mahmmod Shar

Kyiv’s allies dismiss allegation it could use such a weapon on its own soil as scientifically absurd and a distraction effort

the guardian

Russia has stepped up its nuclear propaganda and delivered a letter to the United Nations claiming that Ukraine is preparing to detonate a “dirty bomb” on its territory, an allegation dismissed by Kyiv, western governments and weapons experts as absurd and an attempt at distraction or pretext for Moscow’s own escalation.

The letter was addressed to the UN secretary general and the Gabonese ambassador, who currently holds the rotating presidency of the security council, and follows calls by Russia’s defence minister to foreign ministers in recent days making similar unfounded allegations. At the same time, Russia circulated a 310-page document in the security council, repeating earlier debunked claims that Ukraine and its western backers had been working on a bioweapon.

Asked about the Russian claims on Tuesday, US president Joe Biden said: “I spent a lot of time today talking about that.”

The letter was delivered at a time when Russia is still suffering battlefield losses in Ukraine and anxious to reverse the momentum. Nato has entered its second week of annual drills rehearsing for nuclear war, and Russia is expected to launch its own annual exercises this week.

The Russian UN letter presented no evidence for Moscow’s claim that Ukraine was preparing to detonate a dirty bomb, an explosive device designed to disperse radioactive materials over an area to render it at least temporarily uninhabitable. Instead, it lists all the possible sources of radioactive isotopes to which Ukraine could conceivably have access, but makes several mistakes, suggesting whoever drafted the letter had no grasp of the science involved, experts said.

One potential source of uranium for a dirty bomb is the Ukrainian uranium mines, but natural uranium ore wouldn’t work for such a project.

“Uranium ore cannot be used to create a dirty bomb. It’s a collection of rocks with 99% radioactive uranium in the form of tiny inclusions. Human toxicity can only be caused by prolonged, sustained exposure, according to Mariana Budjeryn, a senior research associate at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center project on managing the atom.

The letter also mentioned spent fuel at the Chornobyl nuclear plant as a source of radioactive material, but that fuel has been cooling for decades and poses little threat. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) seals and monitors other sites it listed that may contain more toxic material, so any deviation would be noticed and flagged.

The letter stated that Kyiv planned to use the bomb as part of a false-flag operation, in which the Ukrainians would claim it was a Russian low-yield nuclear weapon with highly enriched uranium that would be discovered in the atmosphere. A real nuclear weapon, on the other hand, would leave behind the byproducts of nuclear fission, whereas a dirty bomb would not.

It is impossible for dispersed spent nuclear fuel or any other radioactive material from research facilities to be mistaken for or misrepresented as nuclear fission reaction byproducts, according to Budjeryn. It only involves fundamental physics.

World ‘will not swallow’ Russian lies about Ukrainian dirty bomb, says Zelenskiy

The Russian letter also pointed to another “heinous scenario” supposedly plotted by Kyiv, to sabotage a nuclear power plant under its control or shell the Zaporizhzhia plant under Russian occupation. But again it offered no evidence why Ukraine would carry out an act of such significant self-harm.

The flimsiness of the claims led some diplomats and experts to suspect it was not intended to convince anyone but to send a message, but it is unclear what that message may be. One possibility is that it is meant to look like a cover for Russia’s own plans to use such a device in the latest of a long series of efforts to deter Ukraine’s backers from continuing their support.

Another option is that it is simply a distraction from Russia’s continuing military setbacks in Ukraine, intended principally for domestic consumption.

“I guess because they need something to sell to Russian media when they are pushed out of Kherson,” one western diplomat at the UN suggested.

The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has said Russia’s accusation was a sign that Moscow – which has threatened to use a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine – was planning such an attack and preparing to shift the blame to Ukraine.

In Washington on Tuesday Biden said: “Russia would be making an incredible, serious mistake if it were to use a tactical nuclear weapon.”

Asked about the Russian dirty bomb claims, he replied: “I’m not guaranteeing that it’s a false flag operation yet. Don’t know, but it would be a serious mistake, a very serious mistake.”

The Kyiv government has asked the IAEA to verify that no radioactive materials in Ukraine have gone missing, and the UN nuclear watchdog said it was preparing to send inspectors to two unidentified Ukrainian sites, both already subject to frequent inspections.

NEWAt the same time, the Ukrainian nuclear power authority, Energoatom, reported that Russian occupying forces were carrying out secret construction work within the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant.

Energoatom said it believed the Russians “are preparing a terrorist act using nuclear materials and radioactive waste” stored at the plant compound. ENDNEW

The Russian allegations come amid reports suggesting Russian forces and Wagner mercenaries had suffered heavy losses in recent days in fighting in the key Donbas city of Bakhmut, which has been the focus of four months of ferocious Russian efforts to advance there with little to show for the effort.

The flurry of Russian accusations has been met with deep scepticism in the west with analysts pointing to Moscow’s history of false allegations – including its characterisation of Ukraine as a “neo-Nazi” regime – to justify its own aggression.

France, Britain and the US said the allegations were “transparently false” and Washington warned Russia there would be “severe consequences” if Russia used any nuclear material, while saying there were no signs of that yet.

“There would be consequences for Russia whether it uses a dirty bomb or a nuclear bomb,” said the state department spokesperson, Ned Price.

Perhaps significantly, the Russian allegation has prompted rare communication with the west, with Moscow’s armed forces chief of staff, Valery Gerasimov, speaking on Monday to his US counterpart, Mark Milley, for the first time since May.

Early on Tuesday, Ukraine’s army chief, Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, said he too had spoken to Milley.

Most analysts believe there is little chance a false-flag dirty bomb attack could really be used as a pretext for a nuclear detonation.

“If this was a false-flag event, we would know it instantly, nobody would blame Ukraine,” said William Alberque, an arms control expert at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“Radiological weapons are so identifiable, so scrutinised. You can make a chemical weapon from scratch,” but “nuclear material has a fingerprint” based on the facilities used to create it, he added.


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