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US quietly planning potential responses in case Putin takes extreme step in Ukraine

<i>Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images</i><br/>National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan
Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan

By Kaitlan Collins, CNN

Four days after Russia invaded Ukraine, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan authorized a team of officials to quietly map out potential ways the US could respond if Russian President Vladimir Putin took an extreme step, including deploying chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, a senior administration official told CNN.

The group, known internally as a Tiger Team, is a new version of the one assembled last fall when it appeared Russia was preparing to invade Ukraine. Now a month into the invasion, this group meets several times a week to examine how the US could respond if Russia were to conduct a biological weapons attack, encroach on NATO territory, target US convoys or any other step Putin may take given his clear frustration over Russia’s lack of progress.

These national security officials are focused on what they can plan against for the next three months, the official said. The New York Times first reported the details of the preparation.

The Tiger Team is focused on creating contingency plans for several scenarios, including Russia’s potential use of chemical or biological weapons, targeting of US convoys delivering military assistance, disruptions to global food supply chains and the growing refugee crisis.

The National Security Council has also created another strategy group that will work in tandem with them to conduct a longer-term examination of potential major geopolitical shifts happening because of Russia’s invasion. The strategy group is working to monitor and mitigate risks, while considering how to advance and defend US interests, the official said.

Before leaving for Brussels, Biden warned that the threat of Putin conducting a chemical weapons attack in Ukraine was “real.” That will be up for discussion as he huddles with allies Thursday in a series of summits dedicated to the invasion of Ukraine.

In Brussels, the leaders will also have to confront another threat Putin has made: deploying his arsenal of nuclear weapons.

In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov repeatedly refused to rule out that Russia would consider using nuclear weapons.

When asked under what conditions Putin would use Russia’s nuclear capability, Peskov replied, “if it is an existential threat for our country, then it can be.”

The United States condemned Peskov’s “dangerous” comments. “It’s not the way a responsible nuclear power should act,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday.

Putin has previously hinted at using nuclear weapons against nations that he saw as a threat to Russia. Back in February, the Russian President said in a televised statement, “No matter who tries to stand in our way or all the more so create threats for our country and our people, they must know that Russia will respond immediately, and the consequences will be such as you have never seen in your entire history.”

Any use of chemical weapons by Russia would flatly unacceptable and “totally change the nature of the conflict” in Ukraine, NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday. Speaking ahead of a NATO summit in Brussels Thursday, the NATO chief warned that the use of chemical weapons would be a ” blatant violation of international law and of far reaching consequences.”

Stoltenberg accused China of providing political support and of “spreading blatant lies and disinformation,” and said Beijing’s role in the invasion would be addressed at the summit. “Beijing has joined Moscow in questioning the right of independent nations to choose to choose their own path. The alliance is concerned that China could provide “material support for the Russian invasion.”

Stoltenberg demanded that Belarus must also end its “complicity in Putin’s invasion,” and warned decisions taken at the summit tomorrow will have “far reaching implications.”

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