The Russians have decided to telephone everyone and caution them that the Ukrainians have a dirty bomb and might use it—something infantile in me makes me think that this is some kind of fart joke, and in a way the behaviour is infantile; it is like some primary school game of “telephone”. I can see Henry Kissinger in my mind’s eye right now, “I would, with all due respect to our European partners and with reference to the progress made in our strategic arms limitation talks, like to tentatively suggest to His Excellency, the Ambassador for the USSR, that he who smelt it—and I mean this in a strictly technical sense—dealt it.”
The idea is that the Russians will use a nuclear weapon—perhaps detonate their own dirty bomb and then use it as a pretext for a further strike—and then claim, given the “intelligence-led” set-up, that it was done by the Ukraine. This might seem too transparent—almost to walk about with your trousers down and claim you are fully dressed, emperor’s new clothes territory. Yet, as we saw with Nordstream, it is technically difficult to establish responsibility for these things. Sure, everyone “knows” what happened, but international relations is like a court—most of the time everyone “knows” who did it, but there is this whole procedure so that you cannot just say, “It’s obviously him, we all know that.” Actually, even in normal social life you cannot get away with that—even where there are no codified rules. You can’t just say, “Because I know.” You have to justify yourself.
So, if the Russians do it, this mental preparation will count. It will make some people go, “Hm but the Russians said the Ukrainians had a bomb,” not because they really believe it, but because some people will just repeat ideas without thinking, to look good—to look like they don’t jump to conclusions (like a stupid person). The confusion will help legitimise Russia’s difficult position.