NATO and Russia will separately hold long-planned exercises of their nuclear forces at a time of heightened tension over Russia’s war on Ukraine.
The Pentagon and the US intelligence community are looking for any unexpected or unusual movements of Moscow’s nuclear weapons during the Russian exercise, which is expected to take place before the end of the month, according to several US officials.
“We believe that Russia’s nuclear rhetoric and its decision to continue this exercise while at war with Ukraine is irresponsible,” a senior defense official told CNN.
The Russian exercise called Grom, which roughly translates into thunder, is held annually, according to the US. “We expect the exercise to last several days,” said John Kirby, the National Security Council’s strategic communications coordinator. It will include direct missile launches and the deployment of strategic assets.”
Here’s what NATO will do: On Monday, NATO will begin its annual nuclear exercise known as Steadfast Noon, with the US among 14 nations participating. According to the Pentagon, it has been done every year for more than a decade.
The exercise includes fighter jets capable of carrying nuclear warheads, but there will be no live weapons on board. The US will provide B-52 bombers flying from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota. The main exercise area will be more than 625 miles from Russia. The goal is to ensure that NATO’s nuclear deterrent remains “credible, effective, safe and secure,” the defense official said.
According to NATO, up to 60 aircraft will be involved, including advanced fighter jets, surveillance and tanker aircraft. The flights will take place across Belgium, the United Kingdom and the North Sea.
Biden has warned of an unprecedented nuclear threat: While the Russian exercise is routine, it comes after President Joe Biden issued a stark warning earlier this month about the danger of nuclear threats from President Vladimir Putin as Moscow faces military setbacks in Ukraine.
“Ever since the Cuban missile crisis, we’ve had a direct threat of using (a) nuclear weapon if things continue the way they’re going,” Biden warned in remarks at a Democratic fundraiser in New York.
He added: “I don’t think there is an ability to easily (use) a tactical nuclear weapon and end up with Armageddon.”
After Biden’s remarks, administration officials insisted that the U.S. has yet to see evidence that Putin is using Russia’s nuclear capability, nor any intelligence that shows he has decided to do so.
The US and its allies are watching the exercises closely: Tensions over Ukraine mean Russia will scrutinize the exercise even more.
The exercise is expected to focus on strategic weapons, namely tests of ballistic missile systems that Russia would be required to notify in advance under its treaty obligations.
NATO and US officials have said they are confident they will be able to accurately monitor any Russian nuclear activity during the exercise. “We will remain vigilant, not least in light of veiled nuclear threats and the dangerous nuclear rhetoric we have seen from Russia,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday.