Russian president orders nuclear weapons drills

Russia has said that it would hold a military exercise that will include practice for the use of tactical nuclear weapons after what the defence ministry said were provocative threats from Western officials.

The ministry said the exercise was ordered by President Vladimir Putin and would test the readiness of non-strategic nuclear forces to perform combat missions.

The military drills will include practice for the preparation and deployment for use of non-strategic nuclear weapons, the defence ministry said.

Missile formations in the Southern Military District and naval forces will take part.

“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 ministry said.

The exercise is aimed at ensuring Russia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty “in response to provocative statements and threats by certain Western officials against the Russian Federation”, it said.

It did not name the officials. But Russia has repeatedly said that remarks by French President Emmanuel Macron about a possible French intervention in Ukraine are extremely dangerous.

Russia says the US and its European allies are pushing the world to the brink of confrontation between nuclear powers by supporting Ukraine with tens of billions of dollars of weapons in its fight against the Russian forces that invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

Nuclear powers routinely check their nuclear weapons but rarely publicly link such exercises to specific perceived threats.

Since the war began, Russia has repeatedly warned of rising nuclear risks – warnings which the United States says it has to take seriously though US officials say they have seen no change in Russia’s nuclear posture.

Mr Putin has faced calls inside Russia from some hardliners to change Russia’s nuclear doctrine, which sets out the conditions under which Russia would use a nuclear weapon, though Mr Putin said last year he saw no need to change the doctrine.

Broadly, the doctrine says such a weapon would be used in response to an attack using nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction, or the use of conventional weapons against Russia “when the very existence of the state is put under threat”.

Mr Putin warned the West in March that a direct conflict between Russia and the US-led NATO military alliance would mean the planet was one step away from World War III but said hardly anyone wanted such a scenario.

Russia and the US are by far the world’s biggest nuclear powers, holding more than 10,600 of the world’s 12,100 nuclear warheads.

China has the third largest nuclear arsenal, followed by France and Britain.

Mr Putin casts the war as part of a centuries-old battle with the West which he says humiliated Russia after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 by enlarging NATO and encroaching on what Moscow considers to be Russia’s historical sphere of influence.

Ukraine and its Western backers say the war is an imperial-style land grab by a corrupt dictatorship.

Western leaders have vowed to work for a defeat of Russian forces in Ukraine, while ruling out any deployment of NATO personnel there.

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