Russia to stage massive nuclear drills amid Ukraine standoff

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s military on Friday announced massive exercises of its strategic nuclear forces, a stark reminder of the country’s nuclear power amid Western fears that Moscow is preparing to invade Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will personally oversee Saturday’s drill, which will involve multiple practice launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles and cruise missiles, the Defense Ministry said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin would observe the drills from the Defense Ministry’s crisis room and oversee the practice missile launches himself.

The ministry said it planned the maneuvers some time ago to check the readiness of Russia’s military command and personnel, as well as the reliability of its nuclear and conventional weapons.

The war games follow US President Joe Biden’s warning on Thursday that Russia could invade Ukraine within days.

Western fears center on around 150,000 Russian troops – including around 60% of all Russian ground forces – concentrated near Ukraine’s borders. The Kremlin insists it has no intention of invading.

But Moscow demanded that the United States and its allies keep Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations out of NATO, not deploy weapons in Ukraine and not withdraw NATO forces from Europe. from the east.

Washington and its allies have rejected Russian demands outright, and Moscow has threatened to take unspecified “military-technical measures” if the West continues to obstruct.

Russia holds massive exercises of its strategic nuclear forces every year, but the maneuvers planned for Saturday ostensibly involve the Black Sea Fleet. The fleet is based on the Crimean peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

The Black Sea Fleet has surface warships and submarines equipped with Kalibr cruise missiles, but it does not have intercontinental ballistic missiles and has not participated in previous similar exercises of the strategic forces of the country.

In this file photo taken from a video distributed by the Russian Defense Ministry press service, on December 9, 2020, a ground-based intercontinental ballistic missile was launched from the Plesetsk facility in the north- western Russia. Russia is planning massive exercises of its strategic military forces which are a stark reminder of the country’s nuclear power.

Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP, file

Kremlin’s Peskov said Russia informed foreign partners in advance and the drill should not worry the West.

“Practical ballistic missile launches are part of regular training,” he said. “They are preceded by a series of notices to other nations through different channels.”

The strategic forces of Russia and the United States include a nuclear triad of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine ICBMs and nuclear-capable bombers.

The exercise of Russian nuclear forces follows a series of large-scale exercises the Russian military has held near Ukraine and in Belarus, an ally of Moscow neighboring Ukraine to the north.

The Russian military said it began bringing troops back to their permanent bases after the exercise. The United States and its allies questioned that claim and said Moscow had in fact moved thousands of new troops closer to Ukraine.

Moscow has argued that the withdrawal takes time and dismissed Western criticism, saying it would deploy troops wherever needed to ensure national security.

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