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Russia warns Britain, plans nuclear drills over possible strengthening of Western role in Ukraine

Russia warns Britain, plans nuclear drills over possible strengthening of Western role in Ukraine

After summoning the British ambassador to the Foreign Office, Moscow warned that Ukrainian strikes on Russian territory with weapons supplied by the United Kingdom could lead to reprisals against British military installations and equipment on Ukrainian soil or elsewhere .

The remarks come on the eve of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inauguration for a fifth term and in a week when Moscow will celebrate Victory Day on Thursday, its most important secular holiday, marking the defeat of Nazi Germany during the Second World War.

The exercises are a response to “provocative statements and threats by some Western officials against the Russian Federation,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

It was the first time Russia publicly announced exercises involving tactical nuclear weapons, although its strategic nuclear forces regularly hold exercises. Tactical nuclear weapons include aerial bombs, short-range missile warheads, and artillery munitions and are intended for use on a battlefield. They are less powerful than strategic weapons – massive warheads that arm intercontinental ballistic missiles and are intended to wipe out entire cities.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric expressed concern that various parties are increasingly discussing issues related to nuclear weapons recently.

“Current nuclear risks are reaching an alarming level,” Dujarric said. “All actions that could lead to miscalculations, to an escalation with catastrophic consequences, must be avoided.”

The Russian announcement was a warning to Ukraine’s Western allies against deeper engagement in a two-year-old war, where Kremlin forces have gained the upper hand amid manpower and weapons shortages of Ukraine. Some of Ukraine’s Western partners have already expressed concern that the conflict could extend beyond Ukraine and turn into a war between NATO and Russia.

French President Emmanuel Macron reiterated last week that he did not rule out sending troops to Ukraine, and British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said kyiv’s forces would be able to use British long-range weapons to strike targets in Russia. Some other NATO countries supplying weapons to kyiv have balked at this possibility.

The Kremlin called the comments dangerous, increasing tensions between Russia and NATO. The war has already strained relations between Moscow and the West.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday that Macron’s recent statement and other remarks by British and American officials had motivated the nuclear exercises.

“This is a new escalation,” Peskov said, referring to what the Kremlin considered provocative statements. “This is unprecedented and requires special attention and special measures.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned the French and British ambassadors. He urged the British ambassador “to reflect on the inevitable catastrophic consequences of such hostile measures on the part of London”.

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström said nuclear exercises “contribute to increased instability.”

“In the current security situation, Russia’s actions can be considered particularly irresponsible and reckless,” Billström told Swedish news agency TT.

Dmitry Medvedev, vice president of the Russian Security Council chaired by Putin, said, in his typically hawkish tone, that Macron and Cameron’s comments risked pushing the nuclear-armed world toward a “global catastrophe.”

This is not the first time that Europe’s military support for Ukraine has sparked nuclear controversy. In March 2023, after the United Kingdom’s decision to supply armor-piercing shells containing depleted uranium to Ukraine, Putin announced his intention to deploy tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of Ukraine neighboring Belarus.

The ministry said the exercise aims to “increase the readiness of non-strategic nuclear forces to perform combat tasks” and will take place on Putin’s orders. The maneuvers will involve missile units of the Southern Military District as well as the Air Force and Navy, the statement said.

The Russian announcement provoked little reaction in Ukraine, where military intelligence spokesman Andrii Yusov said on national television: “Nuclear blackmail is a habitual practice of the Putin regime; This is not major news.

Western officials have accused Russia of threatening a wider war through provocative acts. NATO countries last week said they were deeply concerned by a campaign of hybrid activities on the military alliance’s soil, accusing Moscow of being behind them and saying they represent a security threat.

Peskov rejected the claims, calling them “new unfounded accusations against our country.”

Germany announced on Monday that it had recalled its ambassador to Russia for a week of consultations in Berlin following an alleged computer hacking of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s party.

Separately, Ukrainian drones struck two vehicles in the Russian region of Belgorod on Monday, killing six people and injuring 35 others, including two children, local authorities announced. The area has been hit by kyiv forces in recent months.

One of the vehicles was a minibus carrying farm workers, Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said.

It was not possible to independently confirm the report.

With the Ukrainian army largely stuck on a 1,000-kilometer (600-mile) front line due to a shortage of troops and ammunition after more than two years of fighting, it has used its firepower long-range to strike targets deep in Russia.

In what has largely been a war of attrition, Russia has also relied heavily on long-range missiles, artillery and drones to inflict damage on Ukraine.

Kremlin forces continued their bombing of Ukraine’s power grid, with a nighttime Russian drone attack targeting energy infrastructure in Ukraine’s northern Sumy region. Several towns and villages in the region, including Sumy, lost power, regional authorities said.

Russia attacked Ukrainian targets with 13 Shahed drones overnight, 12 of which were intercepted in the Sumy region, the Ukrainian Air Force said.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine