Russia has simulated nuclear-capable missile strikes in the western enclave of Kaliningrad in the Baltic Sea, in a potential signal to the West, which has been heavily backing Ukraine, and an indication of how the conflict in Ukraine could escalate.
In a statement on Wednesday, Russia’s Defense Ministry announced that Moscow had simulated “electronic launches” of nuclear-capable Iskander mobile ballistic missile systems during military maneuvers in Kaliningrad, situated between Poland and Lithuania.
It said Russian forces had conducted single and multiple strikes at mock enemy missile launchers, airfields, protected infrastructure, military equipment, and command posts.
After performing the launches, the military personnel carried out a maneuver to change their position in order to avoid “a possible retaliatory strike,” the ministry added.
The combat units also practiced “actions in conditions of radiation and chemical contamination,” it said.
More than 100 service members were involved in the drill.
According to observers, Russia’s state television has in recent days been trying to make the use of nuclear weapons more acceptable to the public. “For two weeks now, we have been hearing from our television screens that nuclear silos should be opened,” Russian newspaper editor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dmitry Muratov said on Tuesday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the military offensive in Ukraine on February 24. Even though he put the country’s nuclear deterrence forces on “high alert” shortly afterwards, talk of the use of nuclear weapons has been limited until recently, especially as nuclear-capable Western countries, especially the United States, reject the prospect of nuclear war or even the idea that the conflict in Ukraine is pitting the West against Russia.
But a growing flow of sophisticated military weapons and other support from the West into Ukraine has ratcheted up the tensions. On Wednesday, The New York Times reported that the US had been providing Ukraine with intelligence to help kill Russian generals.
Russia has also warned of a quick-fire military response to any country that intervenes in Moscow’s military offensive against Ukraine..
The conflict in Ukraine has killed thousands of people and displaced more than 13 million, creating the worst refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.