The Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday remotely observed exercises by its strategic nuclear forces that are meant to simulate a response to a “massive nuclear strike.”
Russian state television showed video of Putin observing the drills on a huge television screen, with comments from military leaders. In the broadcast, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the drills involved a nuclear submarine, long-range aircraft and multiple practice launches of ballistic and cruise missiles.
The White House said Tuesday Russia had given notice that it was going to stage the annual exercises – called “Grom” or “Thunder.” They come as NATO began its own annual nuclear exercise, known as “Steadfast Noon,” on Monday.
The exercises also come as Russian officials have alleged for several days that Ukraine is planning to develop and use a so-called “dirty bomb” in its conflict with Russia.
Dirty bombs use conventional explosives combined with radioactive material and are designed more to spread radioactivity that can cause massive death and destruction.
The U.N. Security Council discussed Russia’s allegations at a closed-door meeting Tuesday.
Ukraine and its Western allies have strongly denied the allegations, and suspect they are being made as a pretext for some type of escalation in the war in Ukraine.
Speaking from alliance headquarters in Brussels Wednesday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called the accusations “absurd” and “blatantly false,” and warned Russia not to use false pretexts to escalate the war further.”
U.S. President Joe Biden issued a similar warning Tuesday. When asked by a reporter if he thought Russia was using the “dirty bomb” allegations to set up a” false flag” operation and deploy a dirty bomb of its own, he said, “Russia would be making an incredibly serious mistake for the use of tactical nuclear weapons.”
Biden is scheduled to meet later Wednesday with Israeli President Isaac Herzog at the White House. Herzog has indicated he plans to share intelligence with the U.S. president about Iranian drones being used by Russian forces in Ukraine.
Herzog’s office said Israel has images showing similarities between drones shot down in Ukraine and those Iran tested in 2021. Ukraine and its Western partners have said Russia’s recent use of drones to attack Ukrainian cities, including Kyiv, involves Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones.
Iran has denied supplying them to Russia and Russia has denied using them in Ukraine.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.