Russian President Vladimir Putin has monitored drills of the country’s strategic nuclear forces involving multiple practice launches of ballistic and cruise missiles, in a show of force amid the heightened tensions with the West over the conflict in Ukraine.
Wednesday’s drills come amid a series of escalatory comments from Moscow and Putin – who observed the drills from a control room – suggesting the eight-month conflict in Ukraine could turn nuclear.
“Under the leadership of … Vladimir Putin, a training session was held with ground, sea and air strategic deterrence forces, during which practical launches of ballistic and cruise missiles took place,” the Kremlin said in a statement.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to Putin that the exercise was intended to simulate a “massive nuclear strike” by Russia in retaliation for a nuclear attack on the country.
The manoeuvres followed Putin’s warning about his readiness to use “all means available” to fend off attacks on Russia’s territory in a clear reference to the country’s nuclear arsenals.
Russian state-run media ran footage of a submarine crew preparing the launch of a Sineva ballistic missile from the Barents Sea in the Arctic.
During the Russian drills Wednesday, a Yars land-based intercontinental ballistic missile was test-fired from the northern Plesetsk launch site.
The drills also included launching test missiles from the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Russian Far East.
As part of the exercise, Tu-95 strategic bombers also launched cruise missiles at practice targets.
The Kremlin said in a statement that all tasks set for the exercise were fulfilled and all the missiles that were test-fired reached their designated targets.
The Russian drills came as NATO was holding its own annual nuclear exercises in northwestern Europe that will run until October 30.
The NATO drills, dubbed “Steadfast Noon”, involve about 60 aircraft, including United States long-range B-52 bombers and fighter jets capable of carrying nuclear weapons, but do not involve any live bombs.
Russian manoeuvres involving land, sea and air components of the nuclear triad have taken place on an annual basis to train the country’s nuclear forces and demonstrate their readiness. A previous such exercise was held just days before Putin sent troops into Ukraine.
The administration of US President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that Russia gave notice it intended to stage routine drills of its nuclear capabilities. The Pentagon and US Department of State said Russia had complied with the terms of the last US-Russia arms control agreement in notifying Washington of the upcoming tests.
Moscow alleges ‘irresponsible behaviour’
Footage of the drills across state media came after Shoigu pressed ahead with telephone calls to his counterparts globally, claiming that Ukraine was developing a “dirty bomb”.
A dirty bomb is a conventional bomb laced with radioactive, biological or chemical materials that are disseminated in an explosion.
Shoigu, who has made these claims in recent days to representatives of NATO countries, also called his Chinese and Indian counterparts Wednesday to discuss the allegation, which Ukraine and its Western allies have strongly rejected.
Putin himself repeated the dirty bomb claim on Wednesday. “We know about the plans to use the so-called dirty bomb for provocations,” he said.
Ukraine has dismissed the allegations as “absurd” and “dangerous,” suggesting the claims could be cover for Russia’s own plans on the battlefield, as have its western allies, including the United Kingdom, France and the US.