Seventy-one percent of Americans say the Russian attack on Ukraine has increased the possibility of nuclear weapons being used anywhere in the world.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has placed his country’s nuclear forces on high alert shortly after the February 24 attack.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has placed his country’s nuclear forces on high alert shortly after the February 24 attack. (AP)

Russia’s onslaught on Ukraine has left many Americans worried that the US will be drawn directly into the conflict and could be targeted with nuclear weapons, with a new poll reflecting a level of anxiety that has echoes of the Cold War era.

Close to half of Americans say they are very concerned that Russia would directly target the US with nuclear weapons, and an additional 3 in 10 are somewhat concerned about that, according to the new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. 

"He is out of control, and I don’t think he really has concern for much of anything but what he wants,” said Robin Thompson, a retired researcher from Amherst, Massachusetts. “And he has nuclear weapons."

Seventy-one percent of Americans say the conflict has increased the possibility of nuclear weapons being used anywhere in the world.

Russian President Vladimir Putin placed his country’s nuclear forces on high alert shortly after the February 24 attack.

READ MORE: Has Russia betrayed the 1994 nuke deal guaranteeing Ukrainian sovereignty?

'A risk of nuclear escalation'

Certainly, Russia hasn't taken steps to alleviate concerns. 

Putin issued what appeared to be an ominous threat when he reminded the world in a speech the day he launched "special operation" that his country is “one of the most powerful nuclear states.”

In that context, concern is justified, said Tara Drozdenko, director of the global security program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. 

"Whenever you have nuclear-armed nations getting closer to conflict, there’s always a risk of nuclear escalation," she said.

So far, NATO and the Biden administration have been careful not to escalate the situation, Drozdenko said. 

In the recent AP-NORC poll, close to half of Americans say they are “extremely” or “very” concerned that the US might be drawn into a war with Russia. 

Roughly 4 in 10 Americans said they are “somewhat” concerned.

The findings reflect not just anxiety about what seems like a proxy war with Russia, even if the US isn’t directly involved in the conflict, but also the unprecedented saturation coverage of it through traditional news outlets and social media.

READ MORE: Russia could have joined NATO. But why didn't they do it?

Source: AP