Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday 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.
Defense 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 Russia.
The maneuvers 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.
During Wednesday’s drills, a Yars land-based intercontinental ballistic missile was test-fired from the northern Plesetsk launch site. A Russian nuclear submarine in the Barents Sea launched a Sineva ICBM at the Kura firing range on the far-eastern Kamchatka Peninsula.
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.
Such maneuvers involving land, sea and air components of the Russian nuclear triad have taken place on an annual basis to train the country’s nuclear forces and demonstrate their readiness.
The Biden administration said Tuesday that Russia gave notice it intended to stage routine drills of its nuclear capabilities. The Pentagon and U.S. State Department said Russia had complied with the terms of the last U.S.-Russia arms control agreement in notifying Washington of the upcoming tests.
The last time Russia held a nuclear exercise was in February, just ahead of its invasion of Ukraine.
The Russian nuclear exercise comes amid Moscow’s warnings of a purported Ukrainian plot to detonate a radioactive device commonly known as a “dirty bomb” in a false flag attack to blame Russia.
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.
Shoigu, the Russian defense ministry, also called his Chinese and Indian counterparts Wednesday to discuss the allegation, which Ukraine and its Western allies have strongly rejected.
The Ukrainian government has said it suspects Russia is planning its own false flag operation.
Authorities in Poland, Ukraine’s western neighbor, said they were closely watching Russia’s movements to prepare for the potential use of nuclear or chemical weapons.
Deputy Defense Minister Marcin Ociepa charged the Kremlin “may reach for nuclear or chemical weapons” in the face of military setbacks in Ukraine.
No one has ever used tactical nuclear weapons — sometimes referred to as “small nukes” — in combat. Both the U.S. and the Soviet Union developed them early on during the Cold War as a method of deterrence. The NATO allies had them in Europe as part of their “flexible response” strategy to show the Soviet Union and its allies that any conflict, even one with conventional weapons, could have nuclear consequences.
The most recent public U.S. intelligence estimates Russia has up to 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons in its stockpiles. The U.S., on the other hand, has slightly more than 200.