Russia has formally told the United States it is about to begin exercises with its nuclear forces, officials said Tuesday, at a time of heightened tension over Ukraine amid claims and counterclaims that one side or the other was planning to use a dirty bomb.
To underline the high stakes, President Joe Biden warned Moscow it would make a serious mistake if it chose to use tactical nuclear weapons.
From this comes the alarm that Russian President Vladimir Putin is ready for one last brutal roll of the dice as his forces in Ukraine face setbacks.
Moscow has claimed, without evidence, that Ukraine is preparing to use a “dirty bomb” – a conventional explosive packed with radioactive material – on its own soil as part of a false flag operation to blame Russia.
Against that backdrop, Russia announced that it is about to begin its “Grom” exercises — Russian for “thunder” — which are likely to include test launches of ballistic missiles.
“The US has been informed and, as we have emphasized before, this is a routine annual exercise by Russia,” Air Force Brigadier General spokesman Patrick Ryder told a news conference.
“So in this regard, Russia is complying with its arms control obligations and its transparency obligations to make those notifications.”
US officials said they had been informed that Russia was about to begin its “Grom” exercises of nuclear forces. A Russian Tu-95MS bomber plane can be seen here during exercises in February
President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that Russia and Vladimir Putin would make “an incredibly serious mistake” if they tried to use a tactical nuclear weapon.
The annual maneuvers typically involve more than 10,000 maintenance personnel, hundreds of launchers and more than 100 aircraft.
This year they come with extra baggage.
At the White House, Biden was asked about concerns that Russia was preparing to use nuclear weapons on the battlefield.
“Russia would be making an incredibly serious mistake if it were to use a tactical nuclear weapon,” he said after being given an updated coronavirus booster shot.
“I can’t guarantee it’s a false flag operation yet. I don’t know.
“But it would be a serious, serious mistake.”
Meanwhile, Russia continued to make its case. It submitted its claims to the United Nations Security Council.
Moscow sent a letter detailing the allegations to the United Nations on Monday and then raised the issue in a closed meeting with the Security Council.
“We are very pleased because we have raised awareness,” Russian Deputy UN Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy told reporters.
“I don’t mind people saying that Russia will cry if this doesn’t happen, because this is a terrible, terrible disaster that potentially threatens the entire earth.”
As Ukrainian troops advance into the Russian-occupied Kherson province and Moscow threatened major defeat, Russian officials called their Western counterparts on Sunday and Monday to relay their charges of a dirty bomb.
On Tuesday, the UN Security Council, pictured in New York, held closed-door consultations on the dirty bomb allegations at Russia’s request.
Energoatom, which operates the country’s four nuclear power plants, said Russian forces have been carrying out covert construction work at the occupied Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant for the past week, pictured (file image)
Western and Ukrainian security officials have rejected the claims.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the accusation shows that Moscow is planning such an attack with an explosive laced with radioactive material, and that he wants to blame Kiev.
And on Tuesday, Ukraine’s energy watchdog said it assumed the Russians are preparing a terrorist act on an occupied power plant that could contaminate hundreds of square miles.
Energoatom, which operates the country’s four nuclear power plants, said Russian forces have been conducting covert construction work at the occupied Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant for the past week.
The company said in a statement that Ukrainian personnel were denied access to the plant, or that there were no monitors from the UN’s nuclear energy watchdog so they could see what the Russians were up to.
And it said today it believes the Russians are preparing an act of terrorism using nuclear materials and radioactive waste stored at the plant.
It said there were 174 containers in the plant’s dry spent fuel storage facility, each containing 24 assemblies of spent fuel.