Putin orders tactical nuclear weapon drills citing British and French 'provocative statements'

9:42 09.05.2024 •

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered tactical nuclear weapons drills in response to what the defense ministry has described as provocative statements and threats from the West, notes Newsweek.

Moscow will carry out the drills "in the near future" to increase the readiness of non-strategic nuclear forces to perform combat missions, the defense ministry said in a statement on Monday, noting that they will be held with missile formations from the Russian Southern Military District and Russian Navy forces.

On May 3, the Kremlin issued an ominous response to remarks made by U.K. Foreign Minister David Cameron allowing Ukraine to use British weapons for strikes on Russian soil.

"During the exercise, a set of measures will be carried out to practice the issues of preparation and use of non-strategic nuclear weapons," the defense ministry said.

The exercises are aimed at "maintaining the readiness of personnel and equipment of units for the combat use of non-strategic nuclear weapons" and ensuring the nation's territorial integrity and sovereignty "in response to provocative statements and threats by individual Western officials against the Russian Federation," the ministry added.

Dmitry Medvedev, Russia's former president and prime minister, and current deputy chairman of the Security Council of Russia, warned in January that Moscow could respond with a nuclear strike if Ukraine attacked missile launch sites on Russian soil using long-range missiles provided by the West.

Attacks by Ukraine risk infringing paragraph 19 of Russia's 2020 nuclear doctrine, Medvedev said in a post on his Telegram channel, warning that all those who support Kyiv "should remember this."

The paragraph states that Russia could use nuclear weapons to respond to an attack using nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction, or to the use of conventional weapons against Russia "when the very existence of the state is put under threat," Reuters reported.

"This is not a right to self-defense, but a direct and obvious basis for our use of nuclear weapons against such a state," added Medvedev.

Russian Iskander mobile short-range ballistic missiles are displayed during a rehearsal for the Victory Day military parade.
Photo: AP

Vladimir Putin has ordered Russia’s military to rehearse the use of so-called tactical nuclear weapons in combat, casting the drills as a response to “threats” from French President Emmanuel Macron. The Kremlin also signalled its ire with the US Senate, which passed a long-delayed $61bn aid package for Kyiv last month, as well as the UK, whose top diplomat, Lord David Cameron, said last week that Ukraine could use British-supplied weapons against targets inside Russia, writes ‘The Financial Times’.

Russia said the drills, which cover non-strategic nuclear weapons that can be used in battlefield situations, were a response to “provocative statements” from western – British and French officials.

The French president last week reaffirmed that he was leaving open the possibility of sending western troops to Ukraine, as he warned of the threat Russia’s invasion poses to Europe.

“They were talking about being prepared and even intending to send armed deployments to Ukraine, which is essentially putting Nato soldiers against the Russian military,” Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, told reporters.

“This is a totally new level of escalating tensions. It is unprecedented, it demands special attention and special measures,” Peskov said.

The Kremlin has sought to deter western powers from intervening more directly in the grinding two-year war in Ukraine, where Russia’s forces have gained the upper hand against Kyiv’s outmanned, outgunned army.

Dmitry Medvedev, a former stand-in president for Putin, said Russia “would have to respond” if western countries sent troops to Ukraine, prompting a “global catastrophe”.

Rocket and aviation forces of Russia’s southern military district, as well as naval units, would hold the exercises “soon”, the ministry said, without providing any further details.

Though Russia regularly stages nuclear exercises, holding them as an explicit response to the west is highly unusual, according to William Alberque, former director of Nato’s Arms Control, Disarmament, and Nonproliferation centre.

“My impression is that this is a clear attempt to use nuclear coercion against Macron himself for his recent statements on Ukraine and Russia. We are certainly embarking on unknown territory in terms

The exercises rehearse using Russia’s non-strategic nuclear arsenal. Though they carry a smaller payload than intercontinental nuclear weapons targeting the US, the warheads can still release significantly more energy than the weapons dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945.


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