U.S. officials believe the likelihood that Russian President Vladimir Putin will use tactical nuclear weapons may be the highest since the war in Ukraine, but is still unlikely, CNN reported, citing officials familiar with the latest intelligence.
The U.S. intelligence community is closely watching for any indication of whether Putin's calculations have changed since the Russian president was widely believed to have escalated his past threats to use nuclear weapons last week.
According to several sources, the threat is certainly escalated from the previous year. In recent months, the U.S. has privately warned Russia against such a catastrophic move. But so far there is no indication that Russia is planning to use them anytime soon, and the overall assessment has not changed, the source said.
Several U.S. Defense Department officials also said that they do not currently see any indication that Russia is moving nuclear weapons. In their view, it is likely that the U.S. will be able to detect the movement of smaller tactical warheads.
U.S. officials believe that Putin will use nuclear weapons only if there is a threat to his own position or if he feels an existential threat to Russia itself.
According to two sources, the general feeling within the U.S. government that the threat is higher than before is based primarily on Putin's rhetoric and analysis of his thinking about Russia's losses in Ukraine, rather than on any credible evidence that Russia is more seriously weighing the nuclear option.