May 6, 2024 - World

Russia announces tactical nuclear weapon drills as tensions with West spike

Russian President Vladimir Putin smiles during the Council of Legislators plenary session on April 26, 2024, in Saint Petersburg, Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin on April 26 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Photo: Contributor/Getty Images

Russia announced Monday that it intends to hold new tactical nuclear weapons drills "in the near future" amid rising tensions with the West over Russia's war in Ukraine.

Why it matters: This is the first time that Russia has announced drills for the weapons, which are designed for battlefield use and include artillery munitions and warheads for short-range missiles, AP reported.

  • They are smaller than so-called "strategic" nuclear weapons, which are intended to target cities. Russia regularly holds exercises for its strategic nuclear forces, per AP.

Driving the news: Russia's Ministry of Defense said in a Telegram post that the drills are intended to "increase the readiness of non-strategic nuclear forces to carry out combat missions."

  • Russia's Ministry of Defense said the drills were in response to a series of "provocative statements" from Western officials.

State of play: French President Emmanuel Macron told The Economist in an interview published last week that he hadn't ruled out the possibility of sending troops to Ukraine.

  • U.K. Foreign Secretary David Cameron pledged last week that the U.K. will send close to $4 billion worth of weapons annually to Ukraine "as long as is necessary," Reuters reported. He added that Ukraine could use those weapons to strike inside Russia.
  • Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov alluded to the recent statements on Monday, telling reporters that the West was provoking "a completely new round of escalation of tension," Russian state news agency TASS reported.

The other side: Andriy Yusov, a spokesperson for Ukraine's military intelligence, said Monday that the drills were an example of Russia's "nuclear blackmail," the Guardian reported.

Zoom out: Since ordering the invasion of Ukraine more than two years ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly made veiled nuclear threats, though he has several times denied his intent to use them.

Go deeper: U.S. accuses Russia of using chemical weapons in Ukraine

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