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The Kremlin announces nuclear weapons drills in warning to Ukraine's allies

The Russian army's Iskander missile launchers and support vehicles prepare to deploy for drills in Russia, 25 January 2022
The Russian army's Iskander missile launchers and support vehicles prepare to deploy for drills in Russia, 25 January 2022 Copyright Russian Defence Ministry Press Service via AP
Copyright Russian Defence Ministry Press Service via AP
By Euronews with AP
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The move comes after an acrimonious exchange with senior Western officials, labelled by Moscow as 'provocative threats'.

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Moscow plans to hold a military exercise simulating the use of tactical nuclear weapons, the Defense Ministry announced, just days after the Kremlin reacted angrily to comments by senior Western officials about the war in Ukraine.

The drills are in response to “provocative statements and threats of certain Western officials regarding the Russian Federation,” the Defence Ministry said in a statement Monday.

The exercise is intended to “increase the readiness of non-strategic nuclear forces to fulfil combat tasks” and will be held on President Vladimir Putin’s orders, according to the statement. The manoeuvres plan to involve missile units of the Southern Military District along with Russia's air force and navy.

It is the first time that Russia has publicly announced drills involving tactical nuclear weapons, though its strategic nuclear forces regularly hold exercises. 

Tactical nuclear weapons have a lower yield compared to massive warheads that arm ballistic missiles intended to obliterate entire cities.

Instead, tactical nuclear weapons include air bombs, warheads for short-range missiles and artillery munitions and are meant for use on the battlefield.

Russia has the world's largest nuclear arsenal, with the vast majority of it inherited from the Soviet Union. 

Since the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Moscow has repeatedly threatened it might use its nukes against its adversaries — which would be the world's first since the US bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. 

A message to the West?

The announcement appeared to be a warning to Ukraine’s Western allies about becoming more deeply involved in the more than two-year war. 

Some of Ukraine’s Western partners have previously expressed concern about stoking the war amid fears it could spill beyond Ukraine and into a conflict between NATO and Russia.

French President Emmanuel Macron repeated last week that he doesn’t exclude sending troops to Ukraine, and UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron said Kyiv’s forces will be able to use British long-range weapons to strike targets inside Russia.

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

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