The Russian military has announced major training exercises of its nuclear forces while tensions with Ukraine remain high.
The move Friday might aim to show the country's position as a nuclear power. The United States and NATO allies are concerned that Russia plans to invade its neighbor Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin will personally oversee Saturday's exercise. There will be several practice launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles and cruise missiles, the Defense Ministry said.
Government spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin would observe the drills from the Defense Ministry's situation room. Putin plans to supervise the missile launches himself.
The ministry said it planned the exercises earlier to test the readiness of Russia's military command and personnel. It is also a test of nuclear and non-nuclear weapons.
The war games follow U.S. President Joe Biden's warning on Thursday that Russia might invade Ukraine within days.
United States and European officials are concerned about an estimated 150,000 Russian troops gathered near Ukraine's border. Russian officials say they have no plans to invade. The troops near Ukraine make up more than half of Russia's ground forces.
Russia has demanded that the U.S. and its allies keep Ukraine and other former-Soviet areas out of NATO. Other demands are that the U.S. not deploy weapons in Ukraine and that NATO alliance forces pull back from Eastern Europe. The U.S. and its allies have rejected the Russian demands. Russia has threatened to take unnamed "military-technical measures" if the West continued to refuse.
Russia holds large exercises of its nuclear forces every year. But, observers say it is important that the activities planned for Saturday involve the Black Sea Fleet. That group of Russian warships is based on the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia captured from Ukraine in 2014.
The Black Sea Fleet has surface warships and submarines equipped with Kalibr cruise missiles, but it does not have intercontinental ballistic missiles. The fleet did not take part in similar, earlier drills of the country's forces.
Exercises usually in the fall
In the past, Russia held the yearly exercises in the fall. U.S. officials are concerned that Russia moved the exercise to February to happen at the same time as a possible invasion of Ukraine.
Peskov said Russia told its foreign partners about the exercises, adding that they should not cause worries. "Practice launches of ballistic missiles are part of regular training," he said.
Putin invited Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to watch Saturday's activities. Lukashenko’s government is allied with Russia. Western countries placed strong restrictions on Belarus for its campaign against political protests. Lukashenko offered to permit Russia to keep nuclear weapons in Belarus, just north of Ukraine.
The activity involving Russia's nuclear forces follows a series of exercises the Russian military held near Ukraine and in Belarus.
The Russian military said it started returning some of its troops gathered near Ukraine to their permanent bases after the drills. The U.S. and its allies have questioned that claim and said Russia has actually moved thousands of additional troops closer to Ukraine.
Russia said the movements take time, adding that it would deploy troops wherever necessary to ensure its national security.
I’m Jonathan Evans.
Vladimir Isachenkov reported on this story for the Associated Press. Jill Robbins adapted it for Learning English.
Words in This Story
practice – n. the activity of doing something again and again in order to become better at it
intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) –n. a weapon that is shot through the sky over a great distance and then falls to the ground and explodes
cruise missile – n. a large military weapon that flies close to the ground and is directed to a specific place
drill – n. an exercise done to practice military skills or procedures
fleet – n. a group of military ships that are controlled by one leader
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