Russia orders tactical nuclear weapon drills ‘in response to West’

Russia on Monday has announced plans to conduct tactical nuclear weapon drills, citing provocations from Western officials as the impetus.

In response to escalating tensions, including remarks hinting at increased Western involvement in the Ukraine conflict, Moscow has cautioned against potential strikes on British military installations.

Following the summoning of the British ambassador to the Foreign Ministry, Moscow cautioned that if Ukraine were to launch attacks on Russian territory using weapons supplied by the U.K., it could result in retaliatory strikes targeting British military assets and equipment in Ukraine or other locations.

About the drills, the Defense Ministry said in a statement that they are a response to “provocative statements and threats of certain Western officials regarding the Russian Federation.”

“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.

“Missile forces in the Southern Military District, aviation and the navy will take part in the drills,” the defense ministry said.

The recent statements were made just before Russian President Vladimir Putin's fifth-term inauguration and during the week leading up to Victory Day, a significant holiday in Moscow commemorating the country's victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.

Russia and the U.S. are the two largest nuclear powers globally, possessing over 10,600 of the world's 12,100 nuclear warheads combined. China holds the third-largest nuclear arsenal, followed by France and Britain.

According to the Federation of American Scientists, Russia possesses approximately 1,558 non-strategic nuclear warheads along with 1,112 strategic warheads. However, the exact figures for these weapons are uncertain due to a lack of transparency.

“Russia is nearing the completion of a decades-long effort to replace all of its strategic and non-strategic nuclear-capable systems with newer version,” the article published on March 7 said.

“As of early 2024, we estimate that Russia has a stockpile of approximately 4,380 nuclear warheads assigned for use by long-range strategic launchers and shorter-range tactical nuclear forces. This is a net decrease of approximately 109 warheads from last year, largely due to a change in our estimate of warheads assigned to non-strategic nuclear forces. Of the stockpiled warheads, approximately 1,710 strategic warheads are deployed: about 870 on land-based ballistic missiles, about 640 on submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and possibly 200 at heavy bomber bases,” it explained.

It also quoted Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s Dec. 2023 remarks on “modern weapons and equipment” that now making up 95% of Russia’s nuclear triad—an increase of 3.7% from the previous year.

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