Russian President Vladimir Putin oversaw regular military drills simulating a nuclear retaliatory strike Wednesday, amid growing concerns of a further escalation by the Kremlin as its war in Ukraine drags into a ninth month.
In televised comments, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told Putin the exercises were intended to rehearse “a massive nuclear strike” in response to an atomic attack on Russia. The exercises included the launch of intercontinental ballistic missiles from Kamchatka in the Russian far east, ballistic missiles from the Barents Sea as well as cruise missiles fired from the air by strategic bombers.
The U.S. said Tuesday Russia had notified it of the plans for the maneuvers, known as Grom (Thunder). “This is a routine annual exercise,” Pentagon Press Secretary Patrick Ryder said.
President Joe Biden warned Russia Tuesday against using a nuclear or radioactive weapon in Ukraine.
“I spent a lot of time today talking about that,” Biden told reporters. “Let me just say, Russia would be making an incredibly serious mistake were it to use a tactical nuclear weapon.”
Russian officials have denied they plan to use atomic weapons. Russia has accused Ukraine of planning to detonate a so-called “dirty bomb,” claims Kyiv and its allies have dismissed. Ukraine in turn has warned that Moscow could be preparing to explode a conventional weapon containing radioactive material and blame it on the Ukrainian side.
Russia already held the nuclear drills once this year, in February, shortly before it invaded Ukraine. Putin presided over those, as well, inviting Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to join him. The exercises involving submarines, planes and missiles traditionally take place in October, but were skipped in 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In a separate televised event, Putin renewed his accusations against the U.S., saying it’s using Ukraine as a “battering-ram” against Russia.