Putin’s nuclear threats stir growing alarm in Washington.

Putins nuclear threats stir growing alarm in Washington

WASHINGTON — For the first time since the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, top Russian officials are making explicit nuclear threats and officials in Washington are gaming out scenarios should President Vladimir V. Putin decide to use a tactical nuclear weapon to make up for the failings of Russian troops in Ukraine.

In a speech on Friday, Mr. Putin raised the prospect anew, declaring again that he would use “all available means” to defend Russian territory — which he has now declared includes four provinces of eastern Ukraine.

Mr. Putin reminded the world of President Harry S. Truman’s decision to drop atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, 77 years ago, adding: “By the way, they created a precedent.”

Senior American officials say they think the chances that Mr. Putin would employ a nuclear weapon remain low. They say they have seen no evidence that he is moving any of his nuclear assets, and a recent Pentagon analysis suggests the military benefits would be few. And the cost for Mr. Putin — in a furious international response, perhaps even from the Chinese, whose support he needs most — could be tremendous.

But they are far more worried about the possibility now than they were at the beginning of the Ukraine conflict in February. After a series of humiliating retreats, astoundingly high casualty rates and a deeply unpopular move to draft young Russian men into service, Mr. Putin clearly sees the threat of his nuclear arsenal as a way to instill fear, and perhaps to recover some respect for Russia’s power.

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