Russia has made the strange claim that the F-16s being given to Ukraine could be equipped with nuclear weapons.
One expert told Insider that the claim is “disinformation” aimed at creating public concern or fear.
Ukraine doesn’t have nuclear weapons, and the F-16s it might get won’t have that capability anyway, he said.
Russia’s foreign minister has said that US-made F-16 fighter jets being sent to Ukraine could be used to deliver nuclear weapons, despite there being no sign of such weapons being given to Ukraine and Russia’s repeated threats of nuclear action. .
Sergei Lavrov said at a military base on Monday that “we must not forget that one version of the F-16 can carry nuclear weapons,” according to a transcript of his speech released by the Russian Foreign Ministry.
“If they don’t understand that, they are worthless military strategists and planners,” he said, though it was unclear whether he was referring to Ukraine or its allies in the West.
While F-16s may be forced to carry nuclear weapons, Ukraine does not have nuclear weapons in its arsenal.
Ukraine returned its nuclear weapons to Russia in exchange for security guarantees under the agreement to end the Soviet Union. And none of Ukraine’s allies, which have provided it with weapons and military training since the Russian invasion in February 2022, have offered to give Ukraine nuclear weapons.
Last month, the US said it would allow other allies to send their planes, although no country has yet committed to sending F-16s to Ukraine.
The US has also joined a number of European countries in pledging to help train Ukrainian pilots.
On Tuesday, White House spokesman John Kirby said he would not discuss the planes’ nuclear capabilities, but said President Joe Biden has repeatedly said he does not want war to escalate or any nuclear weapons to be used, Reuters reported.
“The purpose of providing advanced fighter jets is to help Ukraine defend itself, to defend its airspace and its territorial integrity,” Kirby said.
He also directed the comment at Lavrov, saying: “If you are worried about Ukraine’s military capabilities, you should take your troops and leave Ukraine.”
Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, said Lavrov’s comments were disinformation, perhaps even disinformation.
“It’s disinformation because he’s saying things that aren’t true and he’s using it in a way that I think creates public concern or fear about the West’s intentions,” he told Insider.
Kristensen said Lavrov was using the nominal capabilities of the F-16 aircraft, saying that those that could be sent to Ukraine could also be converted to nuclear, but “that’s not the case.”
“The F-16s that Ukraine will get – if and when they get them – they are not from units that have a nuclear mission,” he said.
Christensen added: “There is no way any Western nuclear power would give Ukraine nuclear weapons or nuclear weapons capability. It’s completely out of the question.”
Meanwhile, Russia has repeatedly threatened to use nuclear weapons since the start of its invasion of Ukraine, with comments made by officials including President Vladimir Putin and former President Dmitry Medvedev.
However, the tone and frequency of these comments have cooled in recent months.
Russia also ships nuclear weapons to its ally, neighbor Belarus, which borders Ukraine.
Lavrov said on Monday that “We are peaceful people. The only thing we want is to be left alone.”
Despite Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he added, “Europe has chosen the path of war with us.”