Desperate Putin could deploy mini-nukes as warning to NATO if invasion continues, US intelligence warns

The US intelligence community has warned of the possibility of Putin lashing out with an elevated nuclear threat.

Photo: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

Vladimir Putin could unleash mini nukes in a warning to NATO if their invasion continues, US intelligence chiefs warned.

CIA Director William Burns told US lawmakers that Russia's long-serving leader has been "stoking a combustible mix of grievance and ambition for many years."

Speaking at a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Tuesday, The Sun newspaper reported, the heads of the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency gave their dire assessment of Putin's intentions.

The bosses called Putin an "angry" isolated leader who craved global influence, and said he is frustrated that his invasion of Ukraine has not gone as planned.

It comes after a Kremlin official reportedly described Putin's campaign to subjugate Ukraine as a "bunch of s...da" as nine of his military commanders have been killed in the invasion.

The Russian strongman has faced a tidal wave of sanctions and condemnation for the deadly invasion, leaving him more isolated than ever.

The US intelligence community has now warned of the possibility that an increasingly desperate Putin will strike out, with a nuclear threat heightened.

Putin took the surprising step last month to put Russia's nuclear forces on high alert, with some US officials privately expressing concern that he could order the deployment of mini-nukes in a Ukrainian city.

Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, director of the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency, said Russia has been working overtime to modernize its weaponry, particularly lower-yield nuclear weapons.

Berrier said that Putin has "invested in tactical nuclear weapons."

He added: “I think he thinks that gives him an asymmetrical advantage.

“I also think that when he says something, we should listen very, very carefully and maybe take him at his word.

"So this question is the one that analysts are looking at right now, and I think we'll really do some more work on that."

Dr. Patricia Lewis, who heads the International Security program at Chatham House, said the Russians would likely use short-range, lower-yield "battlefield" nuclear weapons in an attack on Ukraine.

It is believed that there are more than 1,000 such weapons ready for use.

"These weapons would have to be taken from storage and attached to missiles, or placed on bombers, or as shells in artillery," Lewis said.

“Any movement to prepare and deploy Russian nuclear weapons would be seen and monitored by US and other country satellites, which can see through cloud cover and at night.

"Depending on other intelligence and analysis, and the failure of all diplomatic attempts to deter Russia, NATO countries may decide to intervene to prevent the launch by bombing storage sites and missile deployment sites in advance."

A former senior White House official told Defense One that the risk of a nuclear first move by Russia is rising, mainly because Putin doesn't view such weapons the same way the United States does.

The source warned that the danger is growing "precisely because the conflict in Ukraine is going badly."

The CIA's Burns said Putin is "angry and frustrated right now."

"It is likely to double down and try to crush the Ukrainian army without taking civilian casualties into account," he said.

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland told Congress in a separate hearing: "Over the years, President Putin's imperial ambition has grown and he is dissatisfied with the last 30 years of Russian history."

She said that Putin longed "to be the guy who helps recreate the Soviet Union."

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