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‘Height of irresponsibility:’ Blinken slams Putin’s provocative rhetoric on nuclear weapons

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken discusses Russia’s invasion of Ukraine during a news conference, at the State Department in Washington, U.S., March 2, 2022.
Elizabeth Frantz | Reuters

WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rhetoric around Moscow’s nuclear posture and warned of potential miscalculations.

“Provocative rhetoric about nuclear weapons is the height of irresponsibility,” Blinken told reporters at the State Department.

“It’s dangerous and it adds to the risk of miscalculation,” the nation’s top diplomat said, adding that the U.S. has not taken steps to alter its own nuclear posture.

Of the world’s combined nuclear weapons inventory, the United States and Russia own the lion’s share with approximately 4,000 warheads each.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby echoed similar sentiments later on Wednesday, calling Putin’s rhetoric “unacceptable.”

“Such provocative rhetoric and possible changes to nuclear posture involving the most consequential weapons in our respective arsenal’s is unacceptable,” Kirby said.

Kirby also said that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin postponed a planned launch of a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile this week in order to “demonstrate that we are a responsible nuclear power.”

“It’s not a step backwards in our readiness, nor does it imply that we will necessarily cancel other routine activities to ensure a credible nuclear capability,” Kirby said, adding that the U.S. remains confident in its current strategic posture.

Over the weekend, Putin placed his nation’s nuclear forces on high alert amid tensions with the West over the invasion of Ukraine. Putin, speaking in a meeting on Sunday with his top defense officials, cited “aggressive statements” made against Russia by NATO as a reason to order the elevation of nuclear forces.

Last week, a senior Biden administration official called Putin’s nuclear deterrence alert “escalatory and totally unnecessary.”

“At every step of this conflict, Putin has manufactured threats to justify more aggressive actions,” the official told NBC News. “He was never under threat from Ukraine or from NATO, which is a defensive alliance that will not fight in Ukraine.”

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