Russia Holds Nuclear Weapons Exercise Amid Rising Tensions With the West Over Ukraine

Dimitri Simes | October 27, 2022 | 4:00pm EDT
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Russian President Vladimir Putin oversees this week’s exercises of the strategic deterrence forces, via video link. (Photo by Alexei Babushkin / Sputnik / AFP via Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin oversees this week’s exercises of the strategic deterrence forces, via video link. (Photo by Alexei Babushkin / Sputnik / AFP via Getty Images)

Moscow ( – Russia has launched a three-day nuclear weapons drills amid rising tensions with the West over Ukraine.

The Grom 2022 exercise, which runs Wednesday through Friday, involves all three components of Russia’s nuclear triad — land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear-armed submarines, and strategic bombers.

President Vladimir Putin personally oversaw the opening stage of the drills, which according to the defense ministry are meant to practice Russia’s response to a potential nuclear attack.

Videos published on social media showed a nuclear submarine and Tu-95 bombers firing nuclear-capable missiles at practice targets.

The Grom exercise is usually conducted at least once a year, with the previous one taking place just five days before Russia sent troops into Ukraine last February.

The Pentagon said on Tuesday Russia had notified the U.S. in advance about its nuclear tests, adding that Washington has no indication that Moscow has any plans to employ nuclear weapons.

Viktor Baranets, a former spokesman for the Russian defense ministry, argued that the exercise was likely scheduled to coincide with NATO’s annual “Steadfast Noon” nuclear drills in Northern Europe, which are running from October 17-30.

“The exercises of our strategic nuclear forces are, of course, a clear and ‘symmetrical’ signal from Moscow to NATO that our ‘atomic sword’ is ready to repulse Russia's enemies,” he wrote in the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper.

Grom 2022 comes amid Russia’s claims that it has received intelligence that Ukrainian plans to detonate a “dirty bomb” – a conventional explosive device laced with radioactive material – and blame it on Russia.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made the allegation in phone calls with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and the British, French, Chinese, Indian, and Turkish defense ministers over the past week. Putin himself reiterated the claim during a meeting with the intelligence chiefs of allied states on Wednesday.

Ukraine and its Western backers have called Russia’s accusation “transparently false,” suggesting that Moscow was seeking to use the “dirty bomb” claim as a pretext for further military escalation.

The Ukrainian foreign ministry on Monday formally invited the International Atomic Energy Agency to urgently send experts to inspect the two nuclear facilities which Russia alleges are linked to the “dirty bomb” plans. The U.N. agency says it plans to do so “this week.”

Concerns about the potential of nuclear escalation between Russia and the West have risen since the outbreak of the Ukraine conflict, with many observers drawing comparisons with the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

During a nationally televised address last month, Putin accused Western governments of “nuclear blackmail” and warned that Russia was prepared to “use all the means at our disposal” to protect its territorial integrity.

Shortly after that speech, former President Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, indicated that Moscow could employ nuclear weapons to defend territories that it is seeking to annex from Ukraine.

Ramzan Kadyrov, leader of Russia’s Chechnya region and a close Putin ally, earlier this month urged the Russian military to use low-yield nuclear weapons in Ukraine. The Kremlin later sought to distance itself from what it described as Kadyrov’s “emotional” statement.

In an interview with Newsweek published on Tuesday, Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov said Moscow “did not intend and does not intend to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine.”

Russia’s nuclear doctrine states that it would be prepared to use nuclear weapons if it received reliable intelligence about an incoming ballistic missile strike; was subject to an attack involving nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction; had an adversary attempt to damage critical infrastructure that controlled its nuclear arsenal; or was confronted with a conventional military threat that put the “very existence of the [Russian] state itself” at risk.

Both the Biden administration and NATO have warned that Russia would face “severe consequences” if it deployed nuclear weapons against Ukraine, but did not specify what exact response they would undertake.

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