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Russia expert on whether Colorado is still the nuclear target it was during the Cold War

Dr. Fiona Hill is a Russia expert who has worked for three presidents. She was in Denver on Tuesday.

DENVER — This is not meant to scare you, but Colorado is designed to absorb a nuclear attack.

The Centennial State is part of the "nuclear sponge."

Nuclear weapon silos buried in northern Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Montana and North Dakota were designed to be the first targets during the Cold War. The thinking was that foreign enemies would try to attack those missiles first to limit a counterattack, while populated cities in the U.S. would be spared.

Dr. Fiona Hill, a senior fellow at Brookings Institution who served three presidents and was President Donald Trump's advisor on Russia, is visiting metro area colleges this week. At a stop at the University of Denver, 9NEWS was able to ask her about Colorado's threat level as part of the "nuclear sponge" post-Cold War.

Political reporter Marshall Zelinger: "Are we in Colorado the first attack if there is a nuclear war?"

Hill: "Well, it depends on what the nature of that is. Unfortunately, during the Cold War, yes, that was the case, back in the period in which there was a standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union. There are many places like Colorado with Air Force bases, with nuclear missiles, with radar stations which you have here, just outside of Denver. The point of contemplating this and thinking about it is not for people to feel scared and intimidated, but is to inspect what's happening here. To understand why [Vladimir] Putin is doing this. I mean, basically this is a sign of weakness. This is not that dissimilar from what Kim Jong-un is doing in North Korea, which is trying to demonstrate that he has the ability to engage in nuclear blackmail. What Putin is doing, he's doing this for attention, just the same as the leadership of North Korea are. He wants to have us engage with him, and actually in a way, negotiate away Ukraine."

Credit: Natl. Park Service
Nuclear sponge

Hill has previously said that she believed Putin could use nuclear weapons. He has not since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February. 

Zelinger: "Do you still think nuclear war is possible?"

Hill: "Unfortunately, it is possible. But of course, I certainly hope, like everyone else, that he will not make that decision. The problem with Putin is that if he has an instrument, no matter how cruel and horrifying it might be, he wants to find a way to use it for the purposes of escalating beyond levels that people would normally think are permissible, with the goal of making us deescalate. Meaning that he wants to shock, intimidate and coerce people into doing the kind of things that he wants them to do."

Hill has compared the Russian invasion to World War II. With Russia invading Ukraine and destroying a population and a country for no real purpose, is the world OK with it compared to World War II because Russia has nuclear weapons?

Credit: 9NEWS
Fiona Hill in Denver

Zelinger: "If [Putin] had no nuclear weapons, we'd somehow get more involved than we are now?"

Hill: "Well, of course we would probably be more involved than we are now, not just us, but NATO and our European allies. This is what Vladimir Putin is banking on. He's banking on the fact that everyone is showing some restraint in terms of their intervention because of the nuclear weapons. In fact, he's making the world a much more dangerous place, not just for himself, but more broadly from the point of view of proliferation of nuclear weapons."

"Irrespective of whether Vladimir Putin has nuclear weapons we should be doing something about this brazen invasion of Ukraine, but especially because he has nuclear weapons, we're going to have be very creative and persuasive, as well, in the ways that we push back against this because of the risks of further nuclear proliferation. In fact, Ukraine inherited a nuclear arsenal in the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, and Ukraine was persuaded to give up those nuclear weapons in return for its protection, but if you think about it, why would Ukraine ever have given up those nuclear weapons? Ukraine could have been one of the biggest nuclear power on the planet had it had the foresight to realize where this was all heading over the next 30 years. Because there is no way that Ukraine would have been invaded as another nuclear power, by Russia."

Zelinger: Genocide is OK, in certain terms, as long as you have nuclear weapons?

Hill: "Genocide is never OK, but the reason that people get away with it is often because they have nuclear weapons or because there is other considerations that people have over power."

"The only person who made this decision to invade Ukraine is Putin. He didn't have to do this. It is purely a war of choice. His choice. Not even the Russian people."

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