Russian Nuclear Drills

w/e 4th November 2022

As the war in Ukraine grinds on relentlessly with no end in sight, what are we to make of the nuclear drills which Russia has just carried out on her own territory? Is this yet another sign that Putin is threatening nuclear retaliation for lack of success on the battlefield?

The short answer is no. These drills are in reality annual exercises in which Russia practises its strategic nuclear forces, and the link with the Ukraine conflict is tenuous at best. In fact, the USA was forewarned of the launching of ballistic missiles and air-launched ordnances under the terms of the New Start treaty. The Russians complied with the current arms control obligations.

In other developments, Russia has also threatened to shoot down western-owned commercial and military satellites if they continue, as they allege, to provide critical information and intelligence to Ukraine to assist their war effort.

Actually, it’s an open secret that much of the success of the Ukrainian armed forces in countering the Russian military invasion is down to precise and timely intelligence from western intelligence-gathering assets, whether it be via satellites, people on the ground (HUMINT), or from the flock of aircraft and other airborne platforms that patrol the borders of Russia and Ukraine.

That the Russians have the wherewithal to shoot down satellites in orbit there is little doubt; they have demonstrated this in tests in the past. However, such experiments have been carried out in a “threat vacuum”, with no enemy attempting to prevent them doing so. Again, no one will be surprised to learn that the Americans already have what they might call euphemistically “space based weapons” (who said directed energy weapons on satellites?), so if Russia did decide to shoot down western orbiting platforms it might not be quite so easy as they might think.

We should also, if only in the interests of balance, point out that NATO too has been carrying out its own nuclear response drills, in the form of Exercise Steadfast Noon, over the past fortnight.  This year it has involved over sixty aircraft from fourteen countries and ended on the 30th October. The NATO press release about it was been quite clear; “it is a routine, recurring training activity and it is not linked to any current world events.”

So, honours even between Russia and NATO I would suggest. Both seem to be carrying out nuclear response drills not related to the war in Ukraine. But, never shy about letting the facts get in the way of some easy propaganda, the Russians haven’t exactly played events with a straight bat.

The reason? They are losing in Ukraine, and any obfuscation and/or seemingly plausible declaration that might help their cause will do. Putin still hopes that he can bully the west into submission and frighten NATO into letting him have a free hand with his expansionist ambitions. I suspect he, his inner cabal, and the Russian people are now realising that this is unlikely to be the case.

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