NATO and Russia to conduct scheduled nuclear exercises

(CNN) — NATO and Russia are preparing to separately conduct long-scheduled exercises of their nuclear forces at a time of enormous tension as Russia continues its war against Ukraine.

The Pentagon and the US intelligence community are keeping a close eye on any unexpected or unusual movement of Moscow’s nuclear weapons during Russia’s exercise, which is expected to take place before the end of the month, according to several US officials.

“We believe that such Russian nuclear rhetoric and its decision to proceed with this exercise while at war with Ukraine is irresponsible. Wielding 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 anticipate that the exercise will last for several days. It will include actions within the normal limits of what Russia has done in the past. It will include live missile launches and a deployment of strategic assets,” said John Kirby, the Council’s Strategic Communications coordinator. of National Security.

Although the Russian 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 the use (of a) nuclear weapon if, in fact, things continue the way they are,” Biden warned during remarks at a fundraising event. of funds from the Democrats in New York.

He added: “I don’t think there is a possibility of easily (using) a tactical nuclear weapon and not ending up in Armageddon.”

Following Biden’s remarks, administration officials stressed that the US has yet to see any evidence that Putin is moving toward using Russia’s nuclear capability, nor is there any intelligence evidence that he has decided to do so. .

The tensions over Ukraine mean there will be even more scrutiny of the Russian exercise. The United States constantly monitors Russian nuclear assets, but the Pentagon will watch 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 that Russia would be required to notify in advance under 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 it, as we always do. And, of course, we will remain vigilant, especially in light of the veiled nuclear threats and the dangerous nuclear rhetoric that we have seen from Russia,” NATO Secretary-General Mr. Jens Stoltenberg.

On Monday, NATO will kick off 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 includes warplanes capable of carrying nuclear warheads, but there will be no real weapons on board. The United States will provide B-52 bombers that will fly from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota. The main exercise area will be more than 1,000 kilometers from Russia. The goal is to ensure that NATO’s nuclear deterrent remains “credible, effective, safe and secure,” the defense official said.

According to NATO, up to 60 aircraft will participate, including advanced fighters, surveillance and tankers. The flights will take place over Belgium, the United Kingdom and the North Sea.

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