‘Nuclear blackmail’: Ukraine condemns Russia’s nuclear drill rhetoric

Russia has not officially confirmed the nuclear element of the upcoming drills. However, the mere suggestion of simulating nuclear strikes is likely to stoke fears about the potential for escalation in the year-old conflict.

Tensions surrounding Russia’s war in Ukraine ratcheted up further on Monday as Kyiv accused Moscow of engaging in “nuclear blackmail” over plans to conduct tactical nuclear weapon drills. The accusation from Ukraine’s military spy agency came in response to reports that Russia intends to practice simulated nuclear strikes during upcoming military exercises.

“We do not see here anything new, except for the information effect and statements,” said Andriy Yusov, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s military intelligence agency. “Nuclear blackmail is a constant practice of Putin’s regime.”

Russia has not officially confirmed the nuclear element of the upcoming drills. However, the mere suggestion of simulating nuclear strikes is likely to stoke fears about the potential for escalation in the year-old conflict. It comes just days after Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that he could relocate tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, drawing condemnation from the West.

By accusing Moscow of “blackmail,” Kyiv asserts that Putin is attempting to leverage the implicit nuclear threat to gain leverage on the battlefield and in diplomatic talks.

Nuclear weapons analysts note that conducting nuclear drills poses little operational risk and is not unprecedented. However, the symbolic messaging at a time of heightened East-West tensions takes on greater significance. Some argue Putin may be testing the waters or trying to reestablish a deterrence factor after his conventional military struggles in Ukraine.