Russia has engaged in an unusual flurry of contacts with three nuclear-armed Western powers to make groundless claims of a dirty bomb in Ukraine amid fears of further escalation.

In the last 48 hours, Vladimir Putin Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu spoke with his counterparts in the US, UK and France, while the Russian president’s commander-in-chief, General Valery Gerasimov, spoke separately with his counterparts in the US and UK.

Russia used the conversations he initiated to argue this Ukraine is preparing to plant a “dirty bomb” on its own soil – a charge strongly denied by allies. A dirty bomb is an explosive device containing radioactive material.

The West has long suspected that Moscow is ready to conduct a major “false flag” operation – to launch an attack, but blame the Ukrainians, and then use the massacre as a pretext for further escalation by the Russian side.

The sudden desire for dialogue may have been part of the process of raising the idea of ​​a dirty bomb before any theatrics that might be planned.

At the same time, it could be a signal that Moscow is trying to try some form of resumption of contact or even negotiations, as its armed forces suffer repeated defeats on the battlefield against the Ukrainian military, armed with Western weapons, and in the winter. is approaching.

Jens Stoltenberg, head NATO The alliance said on Monday it had spoken to US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Britain’s Ben Wallace about “false claims by Russia that Ukraine is preparing to use a dirty bomb”.

“NATO allies reject these allegations,” Stoltenberg said on Twitter. “Russia should not use this as a pretext for escalation. We must remain steadfast in our support for Ukraine.”

Washington, London and Paris also issued a rare joint statement on contacts with Russia, reaffirming their “strong support” for Ukraine and noting Sunday’s discussions between Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and France’s Mr Austin, Mr Wallace and Sebastien Lekornia.

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John Sparks joins Ukrainian soldiers fighting around the strategically important city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine

What is a dirty bomb?

“Our countries have made it clear that we all reject Russia’s blatantly false accusations that Ukraine is preparing to use a dirty bomb on its territory,” the statement reads.

“The world would consider any attempt to use this accusation as a pretext for escalation. We also reject any reason for escalation on the part of Russia.”

On Monday – a day after talks with defense ministers – Russian General Gerasimov spoke to General Mark Milley, the top US military officer, and had a separate conversation with Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, Britain’s Chief of Defense Staff.

Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Admiral Radakin “rejected Russia’s accusations that Ukraine is planning actions to escalate the conflict and reiterated Britain’s continued support for Ukraine.”

It added: “Military leaders agreed on the importance of maintaining open channels of communication between the UK and Russia to manage the risk of miscalculation and promote de-escalation.”