Russia is “playing with fire” by suggesting it would threaten the use of nuclear weapons in territorial disputes, and the Obama administration believes this is part of a Russian intimidation campaign against the NATO alliance, the Pentagon’s No. 2 official said Thursday.
Robert Work, the deputy secretary of defense, said he’s troubled by what he calls Russian provocations. He described Moscow’s defense strategy as seeking to control the escalation of security tensions by raising the nuclear ante.
“Anyone who thinks that they can control escalation through the use of nuclear weapons is literally playing with fire,” he told a House Armed Services subcommittee hearing on U.S. nuclear strategy and plans for nuclear modernization.
“Escalation is escalation, and nuclear use would be the ultimate escalation,” he added.
Work did not cite specific Russian statements but appeared to refer to President Vladimir Putin’s comment in March that he had been ready to ensure that Russian nuclear forces were on high alert during tensions over Russian annexation of Crimea. Putin has made other moves to emphasize the readiness and power of the Russian nuclear arsenal.
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