US warns allies Russia could put a nuclear weapon into orbit this year

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives to deliver a speech to the units of the Russian Defense Ministry, the Russian National Guard (Rosgvardiya), the Russian Interior Ministry, the Russian Federal Security Service and the Russian Federal Guard Service, who ensured order and legality during the mutiny, at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, June 27, 2023. (Sergei Guneyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

BERLIN — U.S. intelligence agencies have told their closest European allies that if Russia is going to launch a nuclear weapon into orbit, it will probably do so this year — but that it might instead launch a harmless “dummy” warhead into orbit to leave the West guessing about its capabilities.

The assessment came as U.S. intelligence officials conducted a series of rushed, classified briefings for their NATO and Asian allies, as details of the U.S. assessment of Russia’s intentions began to leak out.


The U.S. intelligence agencies are sharply divided in their opinion about what President Vladimir Putin is planning, and on Tuesday Putin rejected the accusation that he intended to place a nuclear weapon in orbit and his defense minister said the intelligence warning was manufactured in an effort to get Congress to authorize more aid for Ukraine.

During a meeting with the defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, Putin said Russia had always been “categorically against” placing nuclear weapons in space, and had respected the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which prohibits weaponizing space, including the placement of nuclear weapons in orbit.

“We not only call for the observance of the existing agreements that we have in this area,” he was quoted as saying by the Russian state media, “but we have proposed many times to strengthen these joint efforts.”

On Wednesday, Putin reinforced the central role he believes Russia’s nuclear arsenal plays in the country’s defenses. Visiting an aviation factory, he climbed into the bomb bay of a Tu-160M strategic bomber, the most modern in the Russian fleet.

According to two senior officials briefed on the intelligence assessment that the United States has provided to allies, U.S. officials have said that Putin may believe that the mere threat of massive disruption — even if it meant blowing up Russia’s own satellites — might infuse his nuclear arsenal with a new kind of deterrent.

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