Russia is set to hold nationwide exercises early next month, according to new reports, in preparation for “the danger of armed conflicts involving nuclear powers.”
Russian authorities will hold large-scale drills across the country on October 3 because of the “growing danger of armed conflicts including [with] nuclear-capable powers near Russia’s borders,” the Baza Telegram channel, which is linked to Russia’s security services, reported on Thursday, citing the head of Russia’s Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing, or Rospotrebnadzor.
This will be the first time that Moscow has held such drills, which will imagine that Russia is at least partially under martial law and that up to 70 percent of the country’s housing facilities have been destroyed, the outlet reported. The exercises will also suppose that general mobilization has ended, and there is the possibility of radioactive contamination, Baza reported.
Leaders and officials from across Russian society, “from civil defense leaders to heads of state corporations,” will take part in the drills, according to the report. However, the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, that Russia annexed in September 2022, are exempt from the drills, Baza added.
Similar, smaller-scale exercises have already taken place in several Russian regions, the outlet added.
Newsweek has reached out to the Russian Defense Ministry for comment via email.
Nuclear tensions have skyrocketed since the start of full-scale war in Ukraine, the conflict now in its 20th month. Russia has both alluded to the possible use of tactical nuclear weapons and cautioned against the suggestion of the war turning nuclear, while Ukraine’s Western backers have been hesitant at times of potentially escalating the grueling conflict through their military aid.
As Russian troops poured into Ukraine in late February 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin placed Russia’s nuclear deterrence forces on high alert. Months later, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the risks of nuclear conflict were now “considerable.”
Prominent Russian officials, such as former President Dmitry Medvedev, and Russian state television commentators have frequently mentioned the prospect of nuclear war. Some state media hosts and guests have suggested that Moscow should launch nuclear strikes on countries, such as the U.S. and U.K, that are supporting Kyiv’s war effort.
“The idea of nuclear conflict, once unthinkable, has become a subject of debate,” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, said in September 2022. “This in itself is totally unacceptable.”
In January 2023, leading scientists said the world was the “closest to global catastrophe it has ever been,” and it was a “time of unprecedented danger.” The following month, Putin suspended Russia’s participation in the New START nuclear arms control treaty, and suggested that it would restart nuclear testing if Washington did so first.
In June 2023, U.S. President Joe Biden said the threat of Russia using tactical nuclear weapons was “real,” as Putin had announced the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons into Belarus.
However, many Western analysts remain reasonably confident that Russia will not deploy nuclear weapons in the event of a military loss in Ukraine.
“Russia has been threatening nuclear strikes since the beginning,” retired Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, who previously commanded U.S. Army forces in Europe, told Newsweek earlier this month. “I take them seriously because Russia has thousands of nuclear weapons and because they clearly don’t care how many innocent people may die.”
“But I think they realize that their nukes are actually most effective when they don’t use them. They see how we self-deter,” he added.
On Thursday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said the secretive country allied with Russia would speed up the “modernization of nuclear weapons in order to hold the definite edge of strategic deterrence” with a “new Cold War” emerging with Washington.