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Russia announces nuclear exercises after angry exchange with Western officials

Russia plans to hold exercises simulating the use of tactical nuclear weapons, the Defense Ministry said Monday, days after the Kremlin reacted angrily to comments by senior Western officials about the war in Ukraine.

These exercises follow “provocative statements and threats by certain Western officials against the Russian Federation,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

It was the first time Russia publicly announced exercises involving tactical nuclear weapons, although its strategic nuclear forces regularly hold exercises. Tactical nuclear weapons have a lower yield than the massive warheads that arm intercontinental ballistic missiles intended to wipe out entire cities.

The announcement appears to be a warning to Ukraine’s Western allies about deeper involvement in the more than two-year-old war. Some of Ukraine’s Western partners have already expressed concern about fueling the war, fearing it could spill beyond Ukraine and result in conflict between NATO and Russia.

French President Emmanuel Macron repeated last week that he did not rule out sending troops to Ukraine, and British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said kyiv’s forces would be able to use British long-range weapons to strike targets in Russia.

The Kremlin called the comments dangerous and an exacerbation of tensions between Russia and NATO. The war has already strained relations between Moscow and the West.

This is not the first time that Europe’s military support for Ukraine has irritated the Russian authorities and sparked nuclear controversies. In March last year, after the British government’s decision to supply Ukraine with armor-piercing shells containing depleted uranium, Putin announced his intention to deploy tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of Belarus.

Tactical nuclear weapons include aerial bombs, short-range missile warheads, and artillery munitions and are intended for use on the battlefield.

The ministry said the exercise aims to “increase the readiness of non-strategic nuclear forces to perform combat tasks” and will take place on the orders of President Vladimir Putin. The maneuvers will involve missile units of the Southern Military District as well as the Air Force and Navy, the statement said.

Separately, Ukrainian drones struck two vehicles in the Russian region of Belgorod on Monday, killing six people and injuring 35 others, including two children, local authorities said, in an area frequently struck by kyiv’s forces in recent months .

One of the vehicles was a minibus carrying farm workers, Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said.

No further details were immediately available and it was not possible to independently confirm the report from the border region.

With the Ukrainian army largely stuck on a 1,000-kilometer (600-mile) front line due to a shortage of troops and ammunition after more than two years of fighting, it has used its firepower long-range to strike targets deep in Russia. The apparent goal is to disrupt Russia’s war logistics system by striking refineries and oil depots, and to destabilize Russia’s border regions.

The Belgorod region was a staging ground for Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. It has been regularly attacked since Russian forces withdrew from northeastern Ukraine in start of the war, following a counter-offensive by kyiv.

In what has largely been a war of attrition, Russia has also relied heavily on long-range missiles, artillery and drones to inflict damage on Ukraine.

Late last year, Belgorod officials said 25 people were killed, including five children, and more than 100 people were injured in a Ukrainian attack, and that regular rocket strikes and of drones have continued since then. The area can be reached with relatively simple and mobile weapons such as multiple rocket launchers from the forests on the Ukrainian side.

Russian authorities announced in March that they planned to evacuate around 9,000 children from the region due to continued shelling, after Putin said he wanted to create a buffer zone to help protect border regions.

Additionally, Kremlin forces continued to bombard Ukraine’s power grid, with a nighttime Russian drone attack targeting energy infrastructure in Ukraine’s northern Sumy region. Several towns and villages in the region, including Sumy, lost power, regional authorities said.

Russia attacked Ukrainian targets with 13 Shahed drones overnight, 12 of which were intercepted in the Sumy region, the Ukrainian Air Force said.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

ABC News

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