Russia’s Nuclear Drills and the West’s Reaction

In response to Western leaders’ “threats against Moscow”, Putin ordered the organization of nuclear drills.
Russia has the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, much of it left over from the Soviet Union.
Although Russia’s strategic nuclear forces regularly conduct exercises, this is the first time a plan involving tactical nuclear weapons has been made public.


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On 6 May 2024, according to a statement by the Russian Ministry of Defense, Russian President Vladimir Putin, in response to “threats against Moscow” by Western leaders, ordered the holding of nuclear exercises in the near future, in particular with the participation of forces deployed near Ukraine. The exercises are expected to involve missile units of the Southern Military District, as well as the Russian air force and Navy.

Although Russia’s strategic nuclear forces regularly conduct exercises, this is the first time a plan involving tactical nuclear weapons has been made public. Tactical nuclear weapons have a lower yield compared to the massive warheads arming ballistic missiles aimed at destroying entire cities. Indeed, tactical nuclear weapons include aerial bombs, warheads for short-range missiles and artillery munitions. These are designed for use on the battlefield. Russia has the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, most of it inherited from the Soviet Union.[1]

The Russian Foreign Ministry stated that the exercise should be seen in the context of the “aggressive statements” made by Western officials in recent days and the “destabilizing actions” undertaken by some NATO countries. The statement emphasized that the long-range missiles provided by the UK and France to Ukraine and the ATACMS missile systems provided by the US to Ukraine are capable of attacking targets in Russia.

 Emphasizing that the United States has increased its missile threats against Russia with the deployment of launchers in various parts of the world, the Russian Foreign Ministry stated that these actions by a number of NATO countries are an attempt to escalate the crisis in Ukraine towards an open conflict between NATO and Russia. The Ministry announced that the exercise with non-strategic nuclear weapons was aimed at “unconditionally guaranteeing Russia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty”. It added that the United States had deployed similar missile systems in the Asia-Pacific region and Europe, and that Russia would therefore develop new medium and short-range missiles.[2]

The threats from Western officials mentioned by Russia have focused on statements from France and the United Kingdom in recent weeks. For instance, during his visit to Kiev on May 2, 2024, British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said that Britain would provide Ukraine with £3 billion in annual aid “for as long as necessary” and that the use of British weapons in Ukraine’s hands was at Kiev’s discretion and that it was legitimate for it to strike Russian territory if necessary. This statement was perceived as very threatening by Russia.

The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned British Ambassador to Moscow Nigel Casey to the ministry and issued a note to the British Ambassador over Cameron’s statements. Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova said that Russia has the right to strike British military elements in Ukraine and beyond if London’s threats that “Kyiv could strike Russian territory with British weapons” come true. Zakharova said the following:[3]

“Cameron’s hostile statement contradicts that the UK is committed to ensuring that the long-range cruise missiles given to Ukraine will not be used against Russian territory. Cameron accepts that his country is in the side of being in conflict actively. Russian side evaluates that Cameron’s expressions are the proof of high tension and his words confirm that London supports Kyiv on the conflicts. Russia can attack any English troops and military inventories in or out of Ukraine as a response to Ukraine’s English weapon-used strikes.”

Another escalating statement came from French President Emmanuel Macron. In an interview published in The Economist Magazine on May 2, 2024, the French leader said that if Russia breaks through the Ukrainian front lines and Kyiv makes such a request, the deployment of Western troops to Ukraine could be “legitimately” on the agenda. The Economist noted that Macron gave this interview last week, following his landmark “Europe could die” speech.[4]

The announcement of the exercises also comes on the heels of the US approval last month of a long-delayed aid package for Kyiv. The package aims to provide much-needed military supplies to Ukraine as it seeks to fortify its front lines in the face of new Russian offensives. Russian forces have made new gains in at least three locations along Ukraine’s eastern front in the past month, as Moscow seeks to maintain its manpower and ammunition advantage before the bulk of American aid reaches Ukraine.[5]

As a result, Russia’s increasing dominance in the Ukrainian arena and its efforts to prolong the war in this situation resulted in the West’s increasing leverage in Ukraine. The Western powers, which want to continue to wear Russia down militarily and economically, are both increasing concrete support to Ukraine to continue the war and are also establishing a more aggressive and assertive rhetoric against Russia. In this situation, it was inevitable for the Russian side to raise its nuclear trump card, which it had been raising periodically since the beginning of the war.

[1] “Rusya’dan Batı’ya Ukrayna uyarısı: Nükleer silah tatbikatı yapacağız”, Euronews,, (Erişim Tarihi: 10.05.2024).

[2] Russia announces nuclear weapon drills after ‘provocative’ Western threats”, Al Jazeera,, (Erişim Tarihi: 10.05.2024).

[3] “Zaharova: Londra’nın tehditleri gerçekleşirse İngiltere’nin askeri unsurlarını vurabiliriz”, Sputnik,, (Erişim Tarihi: 10.05.2024).

[4] Macron doesn’t rule out troops for Ukraine if Russia breaks front lines”, Le Monde,, (Erişim Tarihi: 10.05.2024).

[5] Chernova A., et al., “Putin orders tactical nuclear weapons drills in response to Western ‘threats’”, CNN,, (Erişim Tarihi: 10.05.2024).

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