Austin Rejects ‘Any Pretext For Russian Escalation’ After Moscow’s ‘Dirty Bomb’ Provocation Claim

Patrick Goodenough | October 23, 2022 | 6:03pm EDT
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Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu at the Kremlin in July. (Photo by Mikhail Klimentyev / Sputnik /AFP via Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu at the Kremlin in July. (Photo by Mikhail Klimentyev / Sputnik /AFP via Getty Images)

( – In a phone conversation with his Russian counterpart Sunday, Defense Secretary Gen. Lloyd Austin “rejected any pretext for Russian escalation,” the Pentagon said. Moscow claims that Ukraine is preparing to use a “dirty bomb” and blame it on Russian forces.

Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu made the allegation in separate phone calls with Austin and several other counterparts from NATO member-states.

“Secretary Austin rejected any pretext for Russian escalation and reaffirmed the value of continued communication amid Russia’s unlawful and unjustified war against Ukraine,” Pentagon press secretary Patrick Ryder said in a brief readout after the call.

As President Vladimir Putin’s invasion enters its ninth month, the claims come against a backdrop of Russian actions in the conflict that Western governments have said constitute war crimes.

Austin was not alone in responding skeptically.

Britain’s ministry of defense said that Shoigu in his call with Defense Secretary Ben Wallace “alleged that Ukraine was planning actions facilitated by Western countries, including the U.K., to escalate the conflict in Ukraine.”

Wallace had “refuted these claims and cautioned that such allegations should not be used as a pretext for greater escalation,” it said.

A “dirty bomb,” also known as a radiological dispersal device, is one in which conventional explosive is packed alongside highly radioactive material. No successful detonation of a dirty bomb has been recorded.

They are not nuclear weapons, and experts surmise that the detonation of one would more likely result in mass panic and have an economic impact than cause severe health consequences.

Earlier this month, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that Kyiv was planning to turn the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant into a “dirty bomb.”

The biggest nuclear power plant in Europe has been occupied by Russian troops since early March. Putin in early October decreed the Russian takeover of the plant, days after purportedly annexing Zaporizhzhia, along with Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kherson.

‘Transparently false’

In a joint statement Sunday with his British and French counterparts, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the three governments “reject Russia’s transparently false allegations that Ukraine is preparing to use a dirty bomb on its own territory.”

“The world would see through any attempt to use this allegation as a pretext for escalation,” the statement said. “We further reject any pretext for escalation by Russia.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy poured scorn on the Kremlin’s accusations.

“[W]herever Russia comes, it leaves behind mass graves, torture chambers, destroyed cities and villages, mined land, destroyed infrastructure and natural disasters,” he said in his nightly video message to the nation.

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

Zelenskyy said that when Russia makes such a claim, it is likely planning itself to carry out the act.

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

In addition to Austin and Wallace, Shoigu also spoke by phone to the French and Turkish defense ministers, the TASS state news agency reported. It said the calls were arranged “to convey Russia’s concerns over possible provocations with the use of a dirty bomb in Ukraine.”

The French government said Armed Forces Minister Sebastien Lecornu told Shoigu that France rejects “any form of escalation, particularly nuclear.”

The Turkish defense ministry said during the conversation between Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and Shoigu, “[i]nformation and views were exchanged on being careful and cautious about provocations that would worsen the security situation in the region.”

The Austin-Shoigu call was their second in three days. Ryder said in a phone conversation with Shoigu on Friday Austin had “emphasized the importance of maintaining lines of communication amid the ongoing war against Ukraine.”

In other weekend diplomacy, Austin spoke separately by phone with Wallace in London and with Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov.

In the call with Reznikov, Austin “reiterate[d] the unwavering U.S. commitment to supporting Ukraine’s ability to counter Russia's aggression,” Ryder said.

“Secretary Austin also underscored the international community’s continued support in building Ukraine’s enduring strength and safeguarding Ukraine’s ability to defend itself in the future, as demonstrated by the security assistance commitments made by allies and partners at the most recent Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting on October 12.”

That meeting, in Brussels, brought together representatives of around 50 countries on the sidelines of a gathering of NATO defense ministers.

Austin told reporters afterwards that the contact group’s resolve to support Ukraine’s self-defense “has only been heightened by the deliberate cruelty of Russia’s new barrage against Ukraine’s cities.”

“Those assaults on targets with no military purpose again reveal the malice of Putin’s war of choice,” he said.

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