Russia announces nuclear weapon drills


A church choir attend an Orthodox Easter midnight service in Mariupol.
A church choir attend an Orthodox Easter midnight service in Mariupol.

Russia plans to hold drills simulating the use of tactical nuclear weapons, the Defence Ministry has announced, days after the Kremlin reacted angrily to comments by senior Western officials about the war in Ukraine.

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

It was the first time Russia has publicly announced drills involving tactical nuclear weapons, though its strategic nuclear forces regularly hold exercises. 

Tactical nuclear weapons have a lower yield compared with massive warheads that arm intercontinental ballistic missiles intended to obliterate entire cities.

Monday’s announcement appeared to be a warning to Ukraine’s Western allies about becoming more deeply involved in the more than two-year war. 

French President Emmanuel Macron repeated last week he doesn’t exclude sending troops to Ukraine, and UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron said Kyiv’s forces will be able to use British long-range weapons to strike targets inside Russia. 

The Kremlin branded those comments as dangerous, heightening tension between Russia and NATO. 

Tactical nuclear weapons include air bombs, warheads for short-range missiles and artillery munitions and are meant for use on the battlefield.

The ministry said the exercise is intended to “increase the readiness of non-strategic nuclear forces to fulfill combat tasks” and will be held on President Vladimir Putin’s orders. 

The manoeuvres will involve missile units of the Southern Military District along with the air force and the navy, it said.

Russia’s Belgorod region has frequently come under attack from Ukrainian long-range weapons. (AP PHOTO)

Meanwhile, Ukrainian drones hit two vehicles on Monday in Russia’s Belgorod region, killing six people and injuring 35 others, including two children, local authorities said, in an area frequently struck by Kyiv’s forces in recent months.

One of the vehicles was a minibus that was carrying farm workers, Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said.

While Ukraine’s army is largely pinned down on the 1000km front line due to a shortage of troops and ammunition after more than two years of fighting, it has used its long-range firepower to hit targets deep inside Russia. 

At the end of last year, Belgorod officials said 25 people were killed, including five children, and more than 100 were injured in a Ukrainian attack, and regular rocket and drone strikes have continued since then. 

The area can be reached by relatively simple and mobile weapons such as multiple rocket launchers from forests on the Ukrainian side.

Russian authorities said in March they planned to evacuate about 9000 children from the area because of continuous shelling, after Putin said he wanted to create a buffer zone to help protect border regions.