Russia warns Ukraine could use ‘dirty bomb’ Nobody in the West believes this, it is assumed that Russia could use it to cover up its own use of such a weapon. But even that is unlikely.
It’s a dirty war. With a “dirty bomb” the arms race in Ukraine could escalate even further. The Russian military leadership publicly accuses Ukraine of building such a bomb and of wanting to use it in the war. A dirty bomb is not a nuclear weapon, the use of which by Russia has been the subject of intense and controversial debate in recent weeks. A dirty bomb is a conventional high-yield bomb that scatters radioactive material. So there is no nuclear fission like in an atomic bomb.
Depending on the volume of radioactive material used and the wind situation, smaller or larger areas would be irradiated by a dirty bomb. However, the radiation remains spatially limited; the effect is local. Militarily, such an explosive device is pretty much worthless. The dirty bomb is a weapon of insecurity, a weapon of terror intended to spread fear. Therefore, research has so far assumed that terrorist networks could try to get hold of dirty bombs and use them.
Gerhard Mangott is a professor of political science with a special focus on international relations and security in the post-Soviet space. He teaches at the Institute for Political Science in Innsbruck and is a lecturer at the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna
There is no public evidence supporting the Russian accusation that Ukraine intends to use such a bomb. Rather, it is suspected that Russia could raise this accusation in order to blame Ukraine for breaking the taboo by detonating its own dirty bomb. Some observers even suspect that such a fake “Ukrainian” escalation could be used by Russia as justification for actually using nuclear weapons.
Personally, I don’t think Russia will be using such a dirty bomb any time soon. We are not in a war phase where this would be expected.
Russia and Ukraine have repeatedly accused each other of plotting to use chemical and biological weapons since the war began in February. There was repeated speculation that Russia, by accusing Ukraine of wanting to use such weapons, wanted to justify its own use of such weapons. Despite this, no biological or chemical weapons have been used by either Ukraine or Russia. So it could be this time with the accusation of a dirty bomb.
In addition, Russia would hardly use dirty bombs first and only later escalate the situation by using tactical nuclear weapons. It is true that Russia would not have to reckon with direct military punishment from the West if it used a dirty bomb – tightened sanctions and even more extensive arms deliveries to Ukraine would probably be the Western answer. But it makes much more sense, militarily and as a weapon of terror, to speculate about the alleged or planned use of tactical nuclear weapons.
As with the implicit threats to escalate the nuclear war, Russia is attempting to spread fear and insecurity. The message regarding dirty weapons is therefore primarily aimed at the western population. The irresponsible Russian gossip is also said to damage Ukraine’s reputation; this message is aimed at states that have not yet taken a clear position in this conflict.
I think it is very unlikely that some experts suspect that Russia intends to use such information to split Western governments. In the political West, no state shares the assumption that Ukraine could resort to a dirty bomb.
It is noteworthy that the accusation against Ukraine was made directly by the Russian defense minister and the chief of staff in telephone conversations with their Western counterparts. That should probably increase the drama and feign an urgency of the matter. As a result, the unsettling effect in western populations can be increased again.
Ultimately, however, it will probably remain with an irresponsible verbal threat. Another act in a fear-mongering script. We will probably not see the use of a dirty bomb in the Ukraine war. As always, I hope I’m not wrong.