Russia begins exercises for battlefield nuclear weapons, pointing to Western ‘threats’

Russian troops began practicing major exercises to ensure troops’ readiness for the potential deployment of tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield, as Moscow warned against an encroaching threat from Western allies.

The Russian Ministry of Defense published a video Tuesday of troops practicing affixing missiles and warheads onto fighter jets and on the backs of armored trucks equipped with missile-firing systems.

The ministry said in a Telegram post that Russian troops had launched the first stage of “practical testing” of tactical nuclear weapons in the southern military district, which includes Russia’s southwestern regions, including those that border Ukraine.

Troops are training in missile formations to load vehicles with Iskander ballistic missiles and then drive them to designated areas in a mock test. Aviation personnel practiced equipping Kinzhal hypersonic missiles and special warheads onto fighter jets and flying them to designated zones.

“The ongoing exercise is aimed at maintaining the readiness of personnel and equipment of units for the combat use of non-strategic nuclear weapons to respond and in order to unconditionally ensure the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Russian state in response to provocative statements and threats of individual Western officials against the Russian Federation,” the Russian Ministry of Defense said in the release on Telegram.

The exercises are likely to exacerbate tensions with the U.S. and renew fears that Russia is prepared to deploy tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield in Ukraine.

Tactical nuclear weapons typically have a smaller yield than larger, strategic nuclear weapons, but they still can carry up to 100 kilotons of yield, much higher than the U.S. bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly threatened the West with nuclear weapons amid the war in Ukraine and last year began moving tactical nuclear weapons to ally Belarus, inching them closer to NATO territory.

Earlier this year, Putin threatened to use nuclear weapons if Western allies came to the aid of Ukraine.

The exercises help troops prepare for the potential future deployment of nuclear weapons but do not involve actually testing nuclear bombs. Those are prohibited under the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, though Russia last year for the first time rescinded its signature to that accord.

The U.S. never ratified the treaty, but hasn’t tested a nuclear bomb since the early 1990s. The last known nuclear bomb test was by North Korea in 2017.

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