President Joe Biden and NATO allies met in Brussels on Thursday with the threat of nuclear war at its most heightened point since the Cold War.
As recently as Tuesday, in an interview with CNN, Russian President Vladimir Putin's chief spokesperson refused to rule out the use of nuclear arms in the invasion of Ukraine.
Putin already had put his nuclear forces on high alert, and the Kremlin has indicated it could resort to nuclear weapons if it determines the West's intervention in the war goes too far, Politico reported.
The U.S., meanwhile, has not changed the alert status of its nuclear forces. Pentagon officials have said they had not detected Russian actions suggesting they are preparing to use nuclear weapons, Politico reported.
Defense officials even postponed a nuclear missile test launch scheduled for earlier this month to avoid any possible misunderstanding in light of Putin's decision to put his nuclear forces on higher alert.
But a month after Russia began its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, some experts are concerned that Putin's frustrations could result in Moscow resorting to weapons of mass destruction.
Two Defense Department officials told Politico they were gathering intelligence on Russian military moves for any sign that it might be preparing to use nuclear weapons.
Russia already has said it has used hypersonic missiles for the first time in a war.
Some people are worried that catastrophic consequences could result from wartime communications being limited between Western countries and Russia.
"There has always been a chance of mistakes, but I think the chances are much higher," former Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., the longtime chair of the Armed Services Committee, told Politico. "I think we are in a different era in terms of blunders."
On Wednesday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned against the war sliding into a nuclear confrontation between Moscow and the West.
"Russia should stop this dangerous irresponsible nuclear rhetoric," Stoltenberg told a news conference. "But let there be no doubt about our readiness to protect and defend allies against any threat any time.
"Russia must understand that it can never win a nuclear war. NATO is not part of the conflict ... it provides support to Ukraine but isn't part of the conflict."
The U.S. and Russia have rejected several treaties – including one that outlawed intermediate-range nuclear missiles that could threaten Europe – to control the deadliest weapons, Politico reported.
The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which limits deployed strategic weapons to 1,550 each, is the only remaining nuclear pact between the two countries. Biden and Putin agreed last year to extend it until 2026.
The treaty, though, does not cover any of the thousands of smaller nuclear weapons in their respective arsenals.
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