Russia rehearses delivering tactical nuclear weapons with dummy warheads

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Russian drills to deploy tactical nuclear weapons for combat involved the special delivery of dummy nuclear warheads to forward storage points and an airfield where they were loaded on to bombers, according to Russia’s elite nuclear unit.

President Vladimir Putin ordered the nuclear drills after what Russia said were threats from the West, including signals from Western officials that they would allow Ukraine to strike deep into Russia with Western weapons.

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Drills have taken place in the south of Russia, which borders Ukraine, and with the involvement of soldiers from the Leningrad military district in Russia’s northwest, and have included mobile missile launchers, the air force and navy.

In a rare statement, Russia’s 12 Main Directorate (12 GU MO), which guards, maintains, transports and delivers Russia’s vast arsenal of nuclear weapons, said that the drills would be analyzed to make improvements.

The nuclear directorate “ensured the delivery of nuclear training munitions to the field storage points of the missile brigade’s positional area and the operational airfield of assault aviation,” it said.

“Further improvement of the training of non-strategic nuclear forces will be determined in order to ensure the fulfilment of tasks in various scenarios for development of the military-political situation.”

Footage released by the defense ministry showed Russian sailors focusing on a dummy target and then counting down to launch, including pressing the “launch” button.

Russia says the United States and its European allies are pushing the world to the brink of nuclear confrontation by giving Ukraine billions of dollars worth of weapons, some of which are being used against Russian territory.

Sending a signal

All major nuclear powers - Russia, the United States, China, France and Britain - hold nuclear drills, but it is very rare to link them explicitly in public to a major current crisis - as Russia has done over Ukraine.

By doing so, Russia is trying to send a signal to the United States and its biggest European allies that allowing Ukraine to strike Russia with ever bigger and more advanced Western weapons is an escalation that could have consequences.

The United States says it has seen no change to Russia’s strategic posture, though senior US intelligence officials say they have to take Moscow’s remarks about nuclear weapons seriously.

Russia and the United States are by far the world’s biggest nuclear powers, holding about 88 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons, according to the Federation of American Scientists.

The United States has about 100 non-strategic B61 nuclear weapons deployed in five European countries - Italy, Germany, Turkey, Belgium and the Netherlands, according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The US has another 100 such weapons within its borders.

Russia has about 1,558 non-strategic nuclear warheads, though arms control experts say it is very difficult to say just how many there are due to secrecy.

Putin said last week that many of Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons were 70-75 kilotons of explosive power - around five times the size of the US nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945.

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