Europe’s top spy has warned that the possibility of Russia using nuclear weapons in its war against Ukraine is “higher than it was a few months ago” and “requires full attention”.
Estonia’s foreign intelligence chief Mikk Marran said the use of nuclear weapons is one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “potential escalation scenarios.” He warned that a recent series of calls by Moscow officials to Ukraine over allegations that it was preparing conventional explosives laced with radioactive material for use on the battlefield was “out of the question.”
“A chance [Russia] going nuclear is definitely higher than zero and higher than a few months ago,” Marran said in an interview with a small group of reporters.
“This is a priority issue. . . intensity [Russia’s] the rhetoric is interesting,” he said about Moscow’s dirty bomb claim. “How is [the Russians] are actually planning a false flag or [something else], we do not know. But, of course, this is out of the norm and requires full attention.”
The comments underscore the nervousness in Western capitals after Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s weekend calls with his counterparts in Britain, France, the United States and Turkey.
NATO’s three nuclear powers, Washington, Paris and London, issued a statement on Monday rejecting Moscow’s accusations that Kyiv was building a bomb as “blatantly false”. They warned Russia not to use it as an excuse to increase its aggression against Ukraine.
Marran, who is known among his Western peers for his understanding of Russia at the forefront, said that the goal of Moscow’s nuclear attack is to deter the West from helping Ukraine, but “submitting to Russian nuclear rhetoric will only increase Russia’s demands.” [which] will never stop.”
According to him, the Estonian security services “did not notice the readiness of the Russian side to go to nuclear weapons, but, of course, some of our Western partners have more opportunities in this area.”
But he also cautioned that “in analyzing Russia and the activities of the Russian leadership, we do it with a very pragmatic Western mindset, and we cannot rule out that in the case of Russia, they will do it anyway.”
Marran, who will step down next week after seven years as head of Estonia’s foreign intelligence service, also said the threat of Russian attacks on Europe’s energy infrastructure had “significantly increased”.
Following the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipeline in the Baltic Sea, European countries have stepped up military patrols to protect energy sources in the North Sea.
Marran said that although the causes and perpetrators of pipeline explosions are being investigated, “we are in a new reality where we cannot rule out similar attacks in the future.”
Estonia’s intelligence chief says he believes Ukraine will win the conflict, but Russia will remain a threat to Europe’s security as long as it “maintains its imperialist ambitions.”
“Putin’s plans in Ukraine have not changed,” he said. “He’s still on some sort of religious or messianic mission. And we see that Putin is preparing his country and his army to continue the war for a long, long time.
This includes sending thousands of new troops to the war in Ukraine. Some of them were moved to neighboring Belarus, but according to Estonia, this was a training mission, not an attack on Ukraine.
“There are no officers in Russia. . . therefore, they are using Belarusian instructors to train the mobilized workforce,” Marran said. “Of course, the presence of Russians in Belarus also keeps the Ukrainian forces on their toes. . . and will continue to receive some resources from the Ukrainian military.
Of the Russian troops who have completed initial training and been sent to Ukraine, Marran said many of them are likely to be killed or wounded in the coming weeks and months.
But Russia uses what Marran calls “Darwinian principles” to train its armed forces. As a result, some of the newly mobilized troops “will survive, learn to fight, and they may become a problem for Ukraine,” he said.