President Putin watched the nuclear drills via video link
President Putin watched the nuclear drills via video link

Vladimir Putin has overseen annual nuclear exercises by Russia’s strategic nuclear forces at a time of heightened tensions with the West over his eight-month-long war in Ukraine.

Ballistic and cruise missiles were launched in the Far East and Arctic, the Kremlin said.

The US was told about the drill under the terms of the New Start arms treaty.

The launches took place as Russia makes unsubstantiated claims that Ukraine is plotting to use a “dirty bomb”.

It is an explosive device mixed with radioactive material and the Russian allegations have been widely rejected by Western countries as false.

And Kyiv has warned that the claims indicate Moscow itself could be preparing such an attack.

Ahead of the exercise, military officials in Washington pointed out that, in notifying the US, the Russians were complying with arms control obligations.

Nato is also staging its own nuclear exercises, dubbed Steadfast Noon, in north-western Europe. The Western defensive alliance said training flights involving 14 countries were taking place until Sunday over Belgium, the UK and the North Sea.

Russia’s exercises were being held against a backdrop of a flagging campaign in southern and eastern Ukraine.

Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu was seen on Russian TV saying that the aim of the drill was for military command and control to practise carrying out “a massive nuclear strike by the strategic nuclear forces in retaliation for the enemy’s nuclear strike”.

A Yars inter-continental ballistic missile was launched from Plesetsk cosmodrome, some 800km (500 miles) north of Moscow, and a Sineva ballistic missile was fired from the remote Kura test site in Kamchatka province in Russia’s Far East, the Kremlin said.

All missiles reached their targets, it added.

President Putin was shown on Russian TV watching a video feed of the launch. Footage was also broadcast of remarks he gave via videolink to a conference of regional intelligence services in which he doubled down on his accusations of a Ukrainian dirty bomb plot.

He also repeated other baseless allegations made by Russia in recent months against Ukraine, including that it had been turned by the US into a “testing ground for military biological experiments”.

Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said on Wednesday that “my personal opinion is that Putin won’t use nukes”. Separately, he told US TV that Ukraine’s counter-offensive in the south had been hampered by rainy weather.

Graphic showing estimated number of Russia's strategic nuclear warheads
Graphic showing estimated number of Russia’s strategic nuclear warheads