Russia starts ‘tactical nuclear drills’ near Ukraine border | Nuclear Weapons News


‘First stage’ of exercises involves Iskander and Kinzhal hypersonic missiles and is seen as a warning to Ukraine’s Western allies.

Russia has begun the first stage of tactical nuclear weapons drills, involving Iskander and Kinzhal missiles, in areas bordering Ukraine.

The Russian Ministry of Defence said on Tuesday that the drills were taking place in its Southern Military District, which borders and includes parts of Ukraine that Moscow has occupied and illegally annexed since its full-scale invasion began in February 2022.

The ministry did not give the exact location of the exercises.

Belarus, where Russia said last year it was deploying tactical nuclear weapons, is also expected to take part.

Since launching its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Moscow has repeatedly talked up its arsenal of nuclear weapons and its readiness to deploy them in the face of a security threat.

Nuclear analysts say the exercises are designed as a warning signal by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to deter Ukraine’s Western allies, which have provided weapons and intelligence to Kyiv, from wading more deeply into the war.

The exercises are to ensure that units and equipment are ready for “the combat use of non-strategic nuclear weapons to respond and unconditionally ensure the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Russian state in response to provocative statements and threats of individual Western officials against the Russian Federation”, the ministry said.

Putin ordered the drills after Western politicians suggested they might be willing to go further in their support of Ukraine.

Earlier this month, French President Emmanuel Macron said he had not ruled out deploying troops to Ukraine under certain conditions, while the United Kingdom’s foreign minister, David Cameron, said Kyiv had the right to fire Western missiles at Russian territory.

Russia’s Southern Military District is the command centre for its offensive on Ukraine, with its headquarters in Rostov-on-Don, 60km (40 miles) from the border with Ukraine.

The Defence Ministry published footage showing trucks carrying missiles to a field where launch systems were prepared and troops at an airfield readying a bomber to carry a nuclear warhead.

It said the drills involved practising the loading of launch vehicles, driving to designated launch sites and loading planes with Kinzhal missiles, which are hypersonic weapons.

It did not indicate whether any test firings had taken place.

“The exercises are, obviously, a signal in response to discussion of NATO countries’ troops in Ukraine,” Nikolai Sokov, a former Soviet and Russian arms control official, told the Reuters news agency. “The most important features are advance announcement and visibility.”

Western militaries will be watching the exercises closely and seeking to draw conclusions about how much warning time they would have if Russia deployed such weapons for real, he said.

Tactical nuclear weapons, also known as non-strategic nuclear weapons, are designed for use on the battlefield and have vast destructive potential.

Russia has about 1,558 non-strategic nuclear warheads, according to the Federation of American Scientists, although there is uncertainty about the exact figures.

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