Russia says it plans to hold tactical nuclear weapon drills | CBC News

Russia plans to hold drills simulating the use of battlefield nuclear weapons, the Defence Ministry announced Monday, 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.

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

The Russian 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 conflict amid fears it could spill beyond Ukraine into a war between NATO and Russia.

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French President Emmanuel Macron repeated last week that he doesn’t exclude sending troops to Ukraine, and U.K. Foreign Secretary David Cameron said Kyiv’s forces will be able to use British long-range weapons to strike targets inside Russia. Some other NATO countries providing weapons to Kyiv have balked at that possibility.

Can be more powerful than WWII bombs

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

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov on Monday said Macron’s recent statement and other remarks by British and U.S. officials had prompted the nuclear drills.

“It’s a new round of escalation,” Peskov said, referring to what the Kremlin regarded as provocative statements. “It’s unprecedented and requires special attention and special measures,” Peskov told reporters.

Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council that’s chaired by President Vladimir Putin, said that the comments by Macron and Cameron risked pushing the nuclear-armed world toward a “global catastrophe.”

Academics and arms control negotiators have spent years arguing about how to define tactical nuclear weapons and few people know exactly how many Russia has because it is an area still shrouded in traditions of Cold War secrecy. The United States believes Russia has around 2,000 such working tactical warheads, 10 times more than Washington.

They are nuclear weapons used for specific tactical gains on the battlefield, though some can contain yields multiple times greater than the atomic bomb dropped by the U.S. on the Japanese city of Hiroshima in 1945, which was about 15 kilotonnes.

These warheads can be delivered via a variety of missiles, torpedoes and gravity bombs from naval, air or ground forces. They could even be simply driven into an area and detonated.

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It wasn’t the first time Europe’s military support for Ukraine has irked Russian authorities and prompted nuclear sabre-rattling. In March of last year, after the U.K. government’s decision to provide Ukraine with armour-piercing shells containing depleted uranium, Putin announced that he intended to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus.

Western officials have blamed Russia for threatening a wider war through provocative acts. NATO countries said last week they are deeply concerned by a campaign of hybrid activities on the military alliance’s soil, accusing Russia of being behind them and saying they represent a threat to their security.

Peskov dismissed those claims as “new unfounded accusations levelled at our country.”

Deadly strikes in Belgorod

Meanwhile, Ukrainian drones hit two vehicles Monday in Russia’s Belgorod region, killing six people and injuring 35 others, including two children, local authorities said, in an area frequently struck by Kyiv’s forces in recent months.

One of the vehicles was a minibus that was carrying farm workers, Belgorod Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov said.

No other details were immediately available, and it was not possible to independently confirm the report from the border region.

From ground level, a low-rise dwelling of multiple units is shown with damage to the exterior.
Local residents walk near an apartment building damaged by a Russian airstrike, in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Monday. (Sofiia Gatilova/Reuters)

While Ukraine’s army is largely pinned down on the 1,000-kilometre front line due to a shortage of troops and ammunition after more than two years of fighting, it has used its long-range firepower to hit targets deep inside Russia. The apparent aim is to disrupt Russia’s war logistics system by hitting oil refineries and depots, and unnerve the Russian border regions.

The Belgorod region was a staging ground for Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. It has come under regular attack ever since Russian forces retreated there from northeastern Ukraine early in the war following a counteroffensive by Kyiv.

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In what has largely been a war of attrition, Russia has also relied heavily on long-range missile, artillery and drones to wreak damage on Ukraine.

Also, the Kremlin’s forces kept up their bombardment of Ukraine’s power grid, with a nighttime Russian drone attack targeting energy infrastructure in Ukraine’s northern region of Sumy. Multiple towns and villages in the region, including Sumy, lost power, regional authorities said.

Russia attacked Ukrainian targets with 13 Shahed drones overnight, 12 of which were intercepted in the Sumy region, Ukraine’s air force said.

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