Russian forces kicked off a set of annual nuclear drills on Wednesday. While Russia has held this set of nuclear drills for years, this particular iteration comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials have warned that the ongoing war in Ukraine could devolve into a nuclear conflict or even World War III.
During a Tuesday press briefing, Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said the Russian side had notified the U.S. side that it would commence the annual “Grom” (which translates to Thunder) nuclear drills.
“The U.S. was notified, and as we’ve highlighted before, this is a routine annual exercise by Russia,” Ryder said. “And so, in this regard, Russia is complying with its arms control obligations, and its transparency commitments to make those notifications and so, that is something that we will continue to keep an eye on.”
The U.S. side has provided similar forewarning about its own nuclear weapons tests throughout the ongoing war in Ukraine.
On Wednesday, the Russian state-owned RIA Novosti news agency reported Russian forces had begun their nuclear drills, practicing for “a massive retaliatory nuclear strike” in the event that Russia is itself hit by a nuclear weapon.
The Russian state media outlet reported mobile ground-based missile systems, the strategic missile submarine of the Northern Fleet “Tula” and two Tu-95MS long-range strategic bombers participated in the drills on Wednesday.
Russia ground-based missile forces fired an RT-24 “Yars” intercontinental ballistic missile at the Kura Range in the far eastern Russian region of Kamchatka on Wednesday. Russian sea forces also launched an RSM-54 “Sineva” ballistic missile toward the Kura Range. The Tu-95MS bombers fired off their own air-launched cruise missiles, which could be equipped with nuclear warheads.
These Russian nuclear drills, though expected around this time of year, come after Putin has indicated he would use nuclear weapons if he feels Russia’s territorial integrity is threatened and said the U.S. had already set a precedent to use nuclear weapons when it dropped atomic bombs on Japan at the end of World War II.
Russian officials have also recently raised the prospect that Ukraine could set off a “dirty bomb,” which is a conventional explosive packed with radioactive materials that could irradiate a target area. Russia has provided no specific evidence that Ukraine is planning to use such a weapon and the U.S. and its allies have rejected the Russian claim as a pretext for Russia to escalate its war in Ukraine.