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Russia plans tactical nuclear weapons drills near Ukraine border, citing "provocative statements" from NATO
Posted by Temmy
Tue, May 07, 2024 4:12pm

Russia plans tactical nuclear weapons drills near Ukraine border, citing provocative statements from NATO
A pool photograph distributed by the Russian state agency Sputnik shows President Vladimir Putin visiting the 344th Army Aviation Center in Torzhok, in Russia's Tver region, March 27, 2024. MIKHAIL METZEL/POOL/AFP/GETTY

Russia said Monday that it plans to hold drills simulating the use of battlefield nuclear weapons, also referred to as tactical nuclear weapons, amid rising tension following comments by senior Western officials about the possibility of deeper involvement in the war in Ukraine.

The announcement came on the eve of Russian President Vladimir Putin's inauguration to a fifth term in office and several days before Moscow celebrates Victory Day, Russia's most important secular holiday, marking its defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II.

The drills come in response to "provocative statements and threats of certain Western officials regarding the Russian Federation," the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

It was the first time Russia has publicly announced drills involving tactical nuclear weapons, although its strategic nuclear forces regularly hold exercises. Tactical nuclear weapons include air bombs, warheads for short-range missiles and artillery munitions and are meant for use on a battlefield. They are less powerful than the massive warheads that arm intercontinental ballistic missiles, which are intended to obliterate entire cities.

The Russian announcement was a warning to Ukraine's Western allies about becoming more deeply involved in the 2-year-old war. Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and some of his Western partners have warned that if Russia is not stopped, the conflict could spill beyond Ukraine into a war between NATO and Russia.

French President Emmanuel Macron repeated last week that he doesn't exclude sending troops to Ukraine, and U.K. Foreign Secretary David Cameron said Kyiv's forces will be able to use British long-range weapons to strike targets inside Russia. Some other NATO countries providing weapons to Kyiv have balked at that possibility.

The Kremlin branded those comments dangerous, heightening tension between Russia and NATO. The war already has placed significant strain on relations between Moscow and the West.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday that Macron's recent statement and other remarks by British and U.S. officials had prompted the nuclear drills.

"It's a new round of escalation," Peskov said, referring to what the Kremlin regarded as provocative statements. "It's unprecedented and requires special attention and special measures."

Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia's Security Council that's chaired by Putin, said that the comments by Macron and Cameron risked pushing the nuclear-armed world toward a "global catastrophe."

It wasn't the first time Europe's military support for Ukraine has prompted nuclear saber-rattling. In March 2023, after the U.K.'s decision to provide Ukraine with armor-piercing shells containing depleted uranium, Putin said he would deploy tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of Ukraine's neighbor Belarus. That country's president, a close ally of Putin's, then claimed in June — without offering evidence — that Russian nuclear weapons "three times more powerful" than those used on Japan by the U.S. in World War II had been deployed in Belarus.

The Russian defense ministry said the exercise announced Monday was intended to "increase the readiness of non-strategic nuclear forces to fulfill combat tasks" and would be held on Putin's orders. The maneuvers were to involve missile units of the Southern Military District, which borders Ukraine, along with the air force and the navy, it said.

The Russian announcement stirred little reaction in Ukraine, where the spokesman for the Military Intelligence agency, Andrii Yusov, said on national television: "Nuclear blackmail is a usual practice of Putin's regime; it does not constitute major news."

Washington reacted with similar nonchalance, with Pentagon spokesperson Patrick Ryder telling reporters on Monday that it was "another example of irresponsible rhetoric from Russia," and noting that U.S. authorities had not seen any change in Russia's strategic nuclear forces, referring to its intercontinental missiles.

Western officials have blamed Russia for threatening a wider war through provocative acts. NATO countries said last week they were deeply concerned by a campaign of hybrid activities on the military alliance's soil, accusing Moscow of being behind them and saying they represent a security threat.

Peskov dismissed those claims as "new, unfounded accusations leveled at our country."

Germany said Monday it recalled its ambassador to Russia for a week of consultations in Berlin following an alleged computer hack of Chancellor Olaf Scholz's party.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian drones hit two vehicles Monday in Russia's Belgorod region, killing six people and injuring 35 others, including two children, local authorities said. The area has been hit by Kyiv's forces in recent months.

One of the vehicles was a minibus carrying farm workers, Belgorod Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov said.

It was not possible to independently confirm the report.

While Ukraine's army is largely pinned down on the 600-mile front line due to a shortage of troops and ammunition after more than two years of fighting, it has used its long-range firepower to hit targets deep inside Russia.

In what has largely been a war of attrition, Russia also has relied heavily on long-range missile, artillery and drones to wreak damage on Ukraine.

The Kremlin's forces kept up their bombardment of Ukraine's power grid, with a nighttime Russian drone attack targeting energy infrastructure in Ukraine's northern region of Sumy. Multiple towns and villages in the region, including Sumy, lost power, regional authorities said.

Russia attacked Ukrainian targets with 13 Shahed drones overnight, 12 of which were intercepted in the Sumy region, Ukraine's air force said.



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