US News

Russia begins second stage of tactical nuclear weapon drills with Belarus

Russia said on Tuesday its troops had started the second stage of drills to practice the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons alongside Belarusian troops after what Moscow said were threats from Western powers.

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

Since sending thousands of troops into Ukraine in February 2022, President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly said Russia could use nuclear weapons to defend itself in extreme situations, comments that the West has dismissed as sabre-rattling.

A view shows an Iskander missile launching system capable of carrying a nuclear warhead during the second stage of tactical nuclear drills of the armed forces of Russia and Belarus at an undisclosed location in this still image from a video released June 11, 2024. via REUTERS

Russia last month explicitly linked the nuclear drills ordered by Putin to what it said were “provocative statements and threats by certain Western officials against the Russian Federation.”

In the first stage of the drills, Russian troops trained how to arm and deploy Iskander missiles, while the air force trained how to arm Kinzhal hypersonic missiles.

The second stage, announced on Tuesday, involved working out joint training of Russian and Belarusian units “for the combat use of non-strategic nuclear weapons,” the defense ministry said.

“The exercises are aimed at maintaining the readiness of personnel and equipment of units for the combat use of non-strategic nuclear weapons of Russia and Belarus in order to unconditionally ensure the sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the ministry said.

In footage released by the defence ministry, an Iskander missile system was shown being driven into a field and the missiles was raised.

Military jets took off from the airfield on June 11, 2024, during the second stage of tactical nuclear drills of the armed forces of Russia and Belarus at an undisclosed location. via REUTERS

Also shown were MiG-31 supersonic interceptors carrying Kinzhal missiles, and Tupolev Tu-22M3 long-range supersonic bombers.

Putin said on Friday Russia had no need to use nuclear weapons to secure victory in Ukraine, the Kremlin’s strongest signal to date that Europe’s deadliest conflict since World War Two will not escalate into a nuclear war.

Putin also said he did not rule out changes to Russia’s nuclear doctrine, which sets out the conditions under which such weapons could be used.

Military vehicles drive along a road during the second stage of the armed forces of Russia and Belarus’ tactical nuclear drills. via REUTERS

He also said that if necessary, Russia could test a nuclear weapon, though he saw no need to do so at the present time.

Russia and the United States are by far the world’s biggest nuclear powers, holding about 88% of the world’s nuclear weapons, according to the Federation of American Scientists, opens new tab.

“Tactical nuclear weapons” are nuclear weapons designed for use on a battlefield, so they are generally less powerful than the vast so called “strategic” nuclear weapons designed to destroy Moscow, Washington and host of major cities.

The United States may have to deploy more strategic nuclear weapons in coming years to deter growing threats from Russia, China and other adversaries, a senior White House aide said on Friday.