Russia’s military has conducted a “massive” retaliatory nuclear strike drill, hours after the upper house of parliament voted to revoke the country’s ratification of a global ban on nuclear testing.
The exercise, which involved the test launch of missiles from a land-based silo, a nuclear submarine and from long-range bomber aircraft, was overseen by President Vladimir Putin.
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Russian state television showed Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and armed forces chief Valery Gerasimov briefing Putin by video link.
“Comrade Supreme Commander-in-Chief,” Shoigu said, addressing the president.
He said the purpose of the drills was to practise “dealing a massive nuclear strike with strategic offensive forces in response to a nuclear strike by the enemy”.
The drill comes 20 months since Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine and with Putin and Russian officials giving mixed signals about the possible use of nuclear weapons.
Russia, which has the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, has moved quickly in recent weeks to revoke its ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) in a move Moscow says is necessary to bring it into line with the United States, which has signed but never ratified the treaty.
Wednesday’s unanimous passage of the bill through the upper house means it now needs only Putin’s signature to take effect.
The CTBT outlaws all nuclear explosions including live tests of nuclear weapons. In addition to the US, it is also yet to be ratified by China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Israel, Iran and Egypt.
In a statement, the Kremlin said a Yars intercontinental ballistic missile was fired from a test site at a target in Russia’s far east, a nuclear-powered submarine launched a ballistic missile from the Barents Sea, and Tu-95MS long-range bombers test-fired air-launched cruise missiles.
“The tasks planned in the course of the training exercise were fully accomplished,” it said.
Video footage of the exercise published by the Russian Ministry of Defence showed the land and submarine-based missiles streaking into the night sky and nuclear-capable bomber aircraft taking off from an airfield under the cover of darkness.
Russia carries out such exercises to test its so-called nuclear triad from time to time. The US also carries out regular nuclear drills.
There are concerns that Russia could move to resume nuclear tests to try to discourage the West from continuing to offer military support to Ukraine. Many Russian hawks have spoken in favour of a resumption of the tests.
Putin said earlier this month he was “not ready to say” whether Russia needed to carry out live nuclear tests.
He has repeatedly invoked Russia’s nuclear doctrine since the start of the Ukraine war, saying last year he was “not bluffing” about his readiness to use destructive weapons should Russia face an existential threat.
He has also sent tactical nuclear arms to Belarus, a key ally on the border with Ukraine.
Tactical nuclear arms are battlefield weapons that, while devastating, have a smaller yield compared to long-range strategic weapons.