WASHINGTON — The White House sharply rebutted Russia’s accusations Sunday that Ukraine is preparing to use a dirty bomb on its own territory and then blame Moscow.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the National Security Council called Russia’s allegations of a possible false flag operation by Ukraine “transparently false” and accused Moscow of making the claim to lay the groundwork for its own escalation of the war.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has made the claim of Ukraine’s possibly using a dirty bomb in phone calls with several Western defense ministers, including U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Shoigu is using the calls to spin “stories about the so-called ‘dirty’ nuclear bomb.”
Austin spoke with Shoigu for 30 minutes Sunday, a U.S. official said. After they had not spoken for about five months, it was the second time they had talked in the past 48 hours. Austin called Shoigu on Friday. The brief readout said Austin emphasized the importance of maintaining lines of communication.
“Secretary Austin rejected any pretext for Russian escalation and reaffirmed the value of continued communication amid Russia’s unlawful and unjustified war against Ukraine,” the Defense Department's press secretary, Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, said in a statement. Ryder said Shoigu also requested a follow-up phone call with Austin.
National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson similarly pushed back against Moscow's claims.
“We reject reports of Minister Shoigu’s transparently false allegations that Ukraine is preparing to use a dirty bomb on its own territory,” Watson said in a statement. “The world would see through any attempt to use this allegation as a pretext for escalation.”
Also Sunday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, according to Ned Price, State Department spokesperson.
Price said Blinken told Kuleba that the United States rejects Shoigu’s claims that Ukraine is preparing to use a dirty bomb on its own territory.
In a joint statement early Monday, Blinken was joined by his French and British counterparts in criticizing Russia's claims.
"Earlier today, the defense ministers of each of our countries spoke to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu at his request. Our countries made clear that we all reject Russia’s transparently false allegations that Ukraine is preparing to use a dirty bomb on its own territory," the statement said.
"We further reject any pretext for escalation by Russia."
The French Ministry of the Armed Forces said Shoigu told his counterpart, Sebastien Lecornu, that the situation in Ukraine was rapidly worsening and “trending towards uncontrollable escalation.”
The growing fears of Russian escalation come as the Kremlin's forces struggle to hold back counteroffensives by Kyiv's military in the east and south.
Moscow-installed officials in the southern region of Kherson have been evacuating civilians ahead of an expected Ukrainian push to retake the strategically important regional capital.