Putin to oversee nuclear drills during standoff over Ukraine

Russian President Putin chairs a meeting in Moscow
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting on economic issues via a video link in Moscow, Russia February 17, 2022. Sputnik/Alexey Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS
  • Drills to test readiness and reliability of weapons
  • Kremlin denies they are meant to increase tension
  • Putin expected to observe from situation centre

MOSCOW, Feb 18 (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin will oversee exercises by Russia's nuclear forces on Saturday involving the launch of ballistic and cruise missiles, the defence ministry said, in its latest show of strength at a time of acute tension with the West over Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the exercises were part of a regular training process and denied they signalled an escalation of the standoff. He said Putin's role was essential, and the president was likely to take part from a "situation centre".

The drills follow a huge series of manoeuvres by Russia's armed forces in the past four months that have included a build-up of troops - estimated by the West to number 150,000 or more - to the north, east and south of Ukraine.

Putin and other top officials frequently refer to the fact that Russia, together with the United States, is one of the world's leading nuclear powers.

The defence ministry said the drills would test the readiness of military command and control, combat crews, warships and strategic missile carriers, as well as the reliability of strategic nuclear and non-nuclear weapons.

They would involve Russia's Aerospace Forces, its Southern Military District, Strategic Missile Forces, Northern Fleet and the Black Sea Fleet.

Russia's strategic rocket forces number 50,000 personnel out of its overall active military forces of 900,000, the International Institute for Strategic Studies said this week in its annual Military Balance report. It said their technology had been significantly upgraded over the past six years.

Additional reporting by Gleb Stolyarov and Maxim Rodionov; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Mark Trevelyan

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