Russia has conducted its first major nuclear exercises since the start of its war against Ukraine and President Vladimir Putin has made baseless claims that Kyiv is seeking to develop a “dirty bomb” as Moscow continues to escalate the rhetoric over a possible nuclear use in the conflict.
On Wednesday, Russia’s armed forces practiced what Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu called a “mass nuclear strike with strategic attack forces in response to a nuclear attack by our adversary” as Putin watched events by videoconference from the Kremlin.
Addressing the security chiefs of a group of ex-Soviet countries after the drills, Putin said “geopolitical confrontation has increased sharply” and accused the United States of using Ukraine as a “ram” against Russia.
He repeated, without providing evidence, that the United States had made Ukraine a “testing site for military biological experiments”, complaining that the West was “inflating it with weapons” and ignoring the ” provocations” using a dirty bomb, a conventional explosive carrying radioactive material.
Kyiv vehemently denied the claims and said the Kremlin’s goal was that the specter of nuclear war would pressure Ukraine’s Western backers into accepting a peace deal on Russiaterms.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said he was “absolutely sure” that Putin’s nuclear rhetoric was part of the “blackmail of our Western partners”, intended to discourage them from supplying more weapons to Kyiv.
Russian “Grom” exercises tested all three parts of Russian nuclear capabilities: the RS-24 Yars intercontinental ballistic missile, the K-114 Tula missile-carrying submarine and two Tu-95 long-range strategic nuclear bombers.
The drills run alongside NATO’s annual nuclear forces exercise, which the alliance says is designed to ensure Western nuclear deterrents are “safe, secure and effective”.
NATO’s ‘Steadfast Noon’ exercises, which test airborne nuclear forces but no live-fire elements, began this month and will continue until October 30 in Belgium, the UK and above the North Sea.
“Nato will not be intimidated or deterred from supporting Ukraine’s right to self-defense,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday, a day after rejecting suggestions that the two exercises Simultaneous nuclear attacks could further escalate already strained tensions over the war.
“It would have sent an absolutely wrong signal if we had suddenly canceled this exercise. We have also been transparent that we are conducting these exercises, and it was planned long before the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said a day earlier.
Brigadier General Patrick Ryder, the Pentagon’s press secretary, said Russia informed the United States of the drills. “This is a routine annual exercise on Russia’s part,” he said, adding that “in this regard, Russia is fulfilling its arms control obligations and commitments to transparency to make these notifications”.
The Russian drills come amid heightened nuclear rhetoric that Western countries fear as a disturbing attempt by the Kremlin to fabricate a pretext to step up Putin’s faltering eight-month invasion of Ukraine.
Ukraine’s counteroffensive continues to inflict humiliating setbacks on the Russian military, prompting Putin to intensify the rhetoric around the use of nuclear weapons.
Russia held the previous drill in February just days before Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine and warned the West of ‘consequences you’ve never faced in your history’ if he tried to do so. Stop.
Last month he said Russia would use ‘all means at its disposal’ to defend itself after annexing four regions of Ukraine and warned that the United States had set ‘a precedent’ by dropping nuclear bombs on two Japanese cities at the end of the second. world War.
Since then, Ukraine has continued to reclaim territory that Putin only just claimed as part of Russia and moved closer to Kherson, the only regional capital that Moscow captured throughout the war.
Grom’s drills followed Shoigu’s calls to his counterparts in China and India, where he repeated the dirty bomb allegations. The calls followed similar warnings he had issued over the weekend to the defense ministers of the United States, the United Kingdom and France – NATO’s three nuclear powers – as well as to the Turkey, which does not possess nuclear weapons but has sought to carve out a mediating role in the war.
Ukraine believes that Putin did not abandon his goal of destroying the country in its current form and that he was not ready to negotiate in good faith with Kyiv.
Russia has left swaths of Ukraine without power after stepping up airstrikes on the country’s critical infrastructure such as power plants.
Kyiv had asked for help to fight Russia’s attack by Iranian-made cruise missiles, airstrikes and drones. Ukraine is about to receive its first batch of Nasams air defense systems from the United States, the most sophisticated air defense system supplied to Ukraine to date, according to manufacturer Raytheon.