Russia could plan ‘dirty bomb’ pretext, Western countries say

A local man throws debris out of a broken window in a residential building heavily damaged by a Russian missile attack in Mykolaiv, Ukraine October 23, 2022. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

Western countries accused Russia on Monday of plotting to use a threat of a bomb laced with nuclear material as a pretext for escalation in Ukraine, as Moscow evacuated civilians from a southern city in anticipation of a major battle.

With Ukrainian forces advancing into Russian-occupied Kherson province, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu phoned Western counterparts on Sunday to tell them Moscow suspected Kyiv of planning to use a so-called “dirty bomb”.

In a joint statement, the foreign ministers of France, Britain and the United States said they had all rejected the allegations and reaffirmed their support for Ukraine against Russia.

“Our countries made clear that we all reject Russia’s transparently false allegations that Ukraine is preparing to use a dirty bomb on its own territory,” they said. “The world would see through any attempt to use this allegation as a pretext for escalation.”

British Chief of Defence Staff Tony Radakin rejected Russia’s allegations in a call on Monday with Russian military Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov, the defence ministry said in a statement. It also said both sides agreed on the importance of maintaining open channels of communication.

Russia’s RIA news agency reported Gerasimov also spoke to the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley.

Russia’s defence ministry said the aim of a “dirty bomb” attack by Ukraine would to blame the resulting radioactive contamination on Russia by accusing Moscow of detonating a low-grade nuclear weapon.

“The aim of the provocation would be to accuse Russia of using a weapon of mass destruction in the Ukrainian military theatre and by that means to launch a powerful anti-Russian campaign in the world,” it said.

In an overnight address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had said the Russian accusation was a sign Moscow was planning such an attack itself and would blame Ukraine.

“If Russia calls and says that Ukraine is allegedly preparing something, it means one thing: Russia has already prepared all this,” Zelenskiy said.

“So when today the Russian Minister of Defence organises a phone carousel and calls foreign ministers with stories about the so-called ‘dirty’ nuclear bomb, everyone understands everything well. Understands who is the source of everything dirty that can be imagined in this war.”

Asked about Western scepticism about Russia’s accusations, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a briefing on Monday: “Their disbelief doesn’t mean there’s no threat … The threat is evident.”


Russia has ordered civilians to evacuate territory it controls on the western bank of the Dnipro River, where Ukrainian forces have been advancing since the start of this month shortly after Moscow claimed to have annexed the area.

A Russian defeat there would be one of Moscow’s biggest setbacks of the war. Kherson’s regional capital is the only big city Russia has captured intact since its invasion in February, and its only foothold on the west bank of the Dnipro, which bisects Ukraine. The province controls the gateway to Crimea, the peninsula Russia seized and claimed to annex in 2014.

The Russian-installed authorities in Kherson announced on Monday that men who stay behind would have the option of joining a military self-defence unit. Kyiv accuses Russia of press-ganging men in occupied areas into military formations, a war crime under the Geneva Conventions.

Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine’s military spy chief, said Russian forces were preparing to defend Kherson city, not retreat from it, and reported evacuations were part of a Russian disinformation campaign. While Russia is moving financial structures, equipment, vulnerable residents and wounded people from Kherson, he said, it is also reinforcing defences.

“They are creating the illusion that all is lost. Yet at the same time they are moving new military units in and preparing to defend the streets of Kherson,” he told the Ukrainska Pravda online media outlet.

Since Russia’s forces suffered major battlefield defeats in September, President Vladimir Putin has escalated the war, calling up hundreds of thousands of reservists, announcing the annexation of occupied territory and repeatedly threatening to use nuclear weapons to defend Russian land.

This month, Russia has started a new campaign using long-range cruise missiles and Iranian-made drones to attack Ukraine’s energy infrastructure ahead of winter.

Yet an overwhelming majority of Ukrainians believe the country should keep up its armed resistance, according to a survey published on Monday after two weeks of heavy shelling of cities including Kyiv.

The survey, conducted between Oct. 21 and Oct. 23, showed 86% of those polled said it was necessary to continue fighting.

“Yes, the terror continues, people die or are injured, Ukrainian families are forced to spend their evenings in the dark,” said the polling institute’s deputy director, Anton Hrushetskyi. “However, the national pain from losses and destruction does not frighten people.”

Russian state television is filled with talk shows featuring pundits who are openly cheering attacks on Ukrainian civil infrastructure and call for ever tougher measures to eliminate what they call an illegitimate Ukrainian state.

On Monday, Russian state TV presenter Anton Krasovsky apologised for remarks in which he called for Ukrainian children to be drowned in rivers and burned alive in huts with the doors nailed shut. He also joked that Ukrainian grandmothers were saving their funeral funds to pay Russian soldiers to rape them.

“Well, it happens: you’re on air, you get carried away. And you can’t stop,” Krasovsky said, adding he was “really embarrassed”.

Krasovsky was suspended from Russia’s state-funded international channel RT, and Russia’s Investigative Committee said it had ordered a report into his “sharp comments”.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Krasovsky would be prosecuted some day for promoting genocide, and called on countries to ban RT.


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