Despite the clear risk of escalation, Russian military leaders have been ghosting their American counterparts since the invasion of Ukraine began. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley have been trying to set up calls with Russia's top military leaders but the Russians "have so far declined to engage," the Washington Post reports. A deconfliction channel remains open, but analysts say direct contact between the US military leaders and their Russian counterparts, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Gen. Valery Gerasimov, is necessary to avoid confusion about Russian movements, especially since the conflict is occurring close to the borders of NATO members Poland and Romania.
Retired Adm. James Stavridis, Supreme Allied Commander at NATO from 2009 to 2013, tells the Post that there's a high risk of "rapid and irreversible escalation" without direct contact between military leaders. "We must avoid a scenario of NATO and Russia sleepwalking into war because senior leaders can’t pick up a phone and explain to each other what is happening," says Stavridis, who warns that a "nightmare scenario" would be a Russian missile hitting a US command post near the Poland-Ukraine border, drawing an immediate response from local commanders. Analysts say the problem might be that Vladimir Putin is refusing to grant approval for the calls.
Amid the lack of communication from Russia, the White House has assembled a team of national security officials known as the "Tiger Team" to look at possible responses if Putin uses chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons in Ukraine, the New York Times reports. Sources tell the Times that the team, assembled within days of the invasion last month, is also looking at possible scenarios in which Putin strikes convoys inside NATO territory bringing aid to Ukraine. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday that the use of weapons of mass destruction inside Ukraine could have "dire consequences" for its NATO neighbors. (Read more Russia-Ukraine war stories.)