NATO and Russia to conduct planned nuclear drills
(CNN) — NATO and Russia are preparing to separately hold long-planned exercises of their nuclear forces at a time of heightened tension as Russia continues its war on Ukraine.
The Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence community are closely monitoring any unexpected or unusual movement of Moscow’s nuclear weapons during the Russian drills, which are expected to take place before the end of the month, according to several U.S. officials.
“We believe that such Russian nuclear rhetoric and its decision to continue this exercise while at war with Ukraine is irresponsible. Using nuclear weapons to coerce the United States and its allies is irresponsible,” a senior defense official told CNN.
The Russian exercise, called Grom, which roughly translates to thunder, takes place every year, according to the United States. “We expect the exercise to last several days. It will involve actions within the normal limits of what Russia has done in the past. It will include live missile launches and strategic asset deployments,” said John Kirby, director of strategy for the National Security Communications Coordinator.
While the exercise is routine, it comes after US President Joe Biden issued a stark warning this month about the danger of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s nuclear threats as Moscow continues to suffer military setbacks in Ukraine.
“For the first time since the Cuban Missile Crisis, we have a direct threat of using (a) nuclear weapon if, in fact, things continue the way they are,” Biden warned during remarks at a fundraising event. Democrats in New York.
He added: “I don’t think there’s an easy way to (use) a tactical nuclear weapon and not get to Armageddon.”
After Biden’s remarks, administration officials stressed that the U.S. has yet to see any evidence that Putin is moving to use Russia’s nuclear capabilities, nor is there any intelligence evidence that he has decided to do so.
Tensions over Ukraine mean there will be even more scrutiny on Russian training. The United States constantly monitors Russian nuclear assets, but the Pentagon will monitor the exercise for any signs that Russian strategic forces or nuclear weapons movements are anything other than routine and expected, officials told CNN.
The exercise is expected to focus on strategic weapons, that is, tests of ballistic missile systems, which Russia would have to notify in advance under its treaty obligations.
NATO and US officials said they were confident they could accurately monitor any Russian nuclear activity during the exercise. “We will keep an eye on him as we always do. And of course we will remain vigilant, especially in light of the veiled nuclear threats and dangerous nuclear rhetoric we have seen from Russia,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said.
On Monday, NATO will begin its annual nuclear exercise, known as Steadfast Noon, with the United States among the 14 participating nations. It has been held annually for more than a decade, according to the Pentagon.
The exercise involves fighter jets capable of carrying nuclear warheads, but there will be no actual weapons on board. The United States will provide B-52 bombers that will fly from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota. The main area of the exercise will be more than 1,000 kilometers from Russia. The aim is to ensure that NATO’s nuclear deterrent remains “reliable, effective, safe and secure”, a defense official said.
According to NATO, up to 60 aircraft will take part, including modern fighters, reconnaissance and tankers. The flights will operate over Belgium, the United Kingdom and the North Sea.