In recent days (October 2022), Russia has intensified claims that Ukraine is working on 'dirty' radioactive weapons, i.e. radioactive isotopes dispersed by conventional explosives. Who is the primary (most important) target audience of these claims?

Note that this question of messaging is independent both of the objective truth of these claims and the subjective perceptions within the Russian government. The former may be debunked at least in detail and the latter may only come out when archives are opened decades from now. I'm hoping for something along the lines of the analysis mentioned in this 38North editorial for the case of North Korea. Is there a quantitative analysis between Russian-language and English-language posts, for instance?

  • Probably the same target audience of USA's October 2002 (and previous) claims about WMD: anybody who wants / needs to believe there's a "just" reason behind the invasion of a foreign country, other than racism / revenge / religion / resources. It's ALWAYS the same.
    – walen
    Nov 2, 2022 at 9:53
  • I think the answer might be well dependent on the truth of the claims as the goals to be achieved might be different depending on whether the russians expect a false-flag use of WMD being blamed on them, or to use WMD themselves or something... Nov 2, 2022 at 12:51

1 Answer 1


Trying to make the West frightened of pushing Moscow too hard, as a war studies professor from London says. Hence Western politicians and population are the primary audience.

The goal is probably to slow or suspend Western aid to Ukraine and possibly weaken the Nato alliance in scare-mongering calls, as the BBC writes.

The Guardian writes that Russian statements about the bomb are not intended to convince but to send a message instead. One possibility is that it is meant to look like a cover for Russia’s own plans to use such a device in the latest of a long series of efforts to deter Ukraine’s backers from continuing their support.

There were definitely huge efforts to publicise these statements outside the Russian territory and raise them to a diplomatic level (phone calls, UN declarations). This would not be necessary just to make Ukrainians scared of their own army or further demonize Ukraine for the home audience in Russia.

Some sources also say that only the Russian domestic audience is likely to take the claim about the Ukrainian dirty bomb seriously. Others agree that convincing people that Ukraine is seriously planning to deploy such a nasty weapon on its own territory may not be the goal.

  • 3
    Is that your judgement (which might well be right), or is it based on analysis e.g. of Russian domestic vs. international channels?
    – o.m.
    Oct 30, 2022 at 18:25
  • 13
    This answer is based on the three sources that are referenced in the text
    – Stančikas
    Oct 31, 2022 at 6:33
  • 1
    @Stančikas, the guardian mentions a domestic audience as well as the international one, and the BBC doesn't sound sure, either. In the best case there would be an answer by someone tracking numbers on the Russian media campaigns, but I realize that would be a major undertaking.
    – o.m.
    Oct 31, 2022 at 19:41
  • 6
    Well, Russians seem to take Putin's scoring 8 goals against the Russian Olympic Hockey team seriously - not sure who else is that gullible. Oct 31, 2022 at 21:14
  • 1
    @HannoverFist The scary part is that many Russians also bought into multiple other claims about Ukrainians attacking Russia, so this option would likely allow Kremlin to pull out all the stops on mobilization and whatnot. That's for the domestic market. For the international one, they're likely declaring they don't mind nuking some town of their own they don't particularly care about to be able to declare a retaliation and go ham on that. 1999 apartment bombings conspiracies anyone?
    – Lodinn
    Nov 1, 2022 at 13:51

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