MOSCOW: Russia said on Monday it would practise the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons as part of a military exercise after what the Moscow said were threats from France, Britain and the United States.

Separately, Moscow threatened to launch strikes at British military targets inside Ukraine if UK missiles are used against Russia.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, Russia has repeatedly warned of rising nuclear risks — warnings which the United States says it has to take seriously though US officials say they have seen no change in Russia’s nuclear posture.

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

Russia threatens strikes on UK military targets in Ukraine ‘and beyond’

Russia’s defence ministry said it would hold military drills, including practice for the preparation and deployment for use of non-strategic nuclear weapons. It said the exercises were ordered by President Vladimir Putin.

“During the exercise, a set of measures will be carried out to practise 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, the defence ministry said.

The exercise is aimed at ensuring Russia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty “in response to provocative statements and threats by certain Western officials against the Russian Federation”, it said.

Russia and the United States are by far the world’s biggest nuclear powers, holding more than 10,600 of the world’s 12,100 nuclear warheads. China has the third-largest nuclear arsenal, followed by France and Britain.

Russia has about 1,558 non-strategic nuclear warheads, according to the Federation of American Scien­tists, though there is uncertainty about exact figures for such weapons due to a lack of transparency.

No power has used nuclear weapons in war since the United States unleashed the first atomic bomb attacks on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Major nuclear powers routinely check their nuclear weapons but very rarely publicly link such exercises to specific perceived threats in the way that Russia has.

US President Joe Biden said last year that he felt there was no real prospect of Russia using nuclear weapons but CNN reported that top US officials did contingency planning for a potential Russian nuclear strike against Ukraine in 2022.

Some Western and Ukrainian officials have said Russia is bluffing over nuclear weapons to scare the West, though the Kremlin has repeatedly indicated that it would consider breaking the nuclear taboo if Russia’s existence was threatened.

Strikes against UK military targets

Meanwhile, Moscow on Monday said it that it could launch strikes at British military targets inside Ukraine and elsewhere if Kyiv’s forces used British-supplied long-range missiles to strike Russia.

The statement issued by the Russian foreign ministry came after British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said during a visit to Ukraine that Kyiv “absolutely has the right to strike back at Russia”.

He also said that London did not put “caveats” on how Ukrainian forces use weapons supplied by Britain.

The Russian foreign ministry announced it had summoned the UK’s ambassador in Moscow, Nigel Casey, and warned him that if Ukrainian forces use British-supplied weapons to strike Russia, Moscow could hit “any UK military facility and equipment on Ukrainian territory and beyond”.

Published in Dawn, May 7th, 2024

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