Russia Says It Will Stage Nuclear Drills on Saturday

The Russian Defense Ministry said on Friday that Putin himself will oversee massive drills of its strategic forces on Saturday.

Those exercises will involve multiple practice launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles and cruise missiles.

The ministry claims it planned the exercises some time ago to check the readiness of military commanders and personnel, and the reliability of its nuclear and conventional weapons.

Saturday’s drills involve the Black Sea Fleet, which is based on the Crimean Peninsula. The Black Sea Fleet has surface warships and submarines equipped with Kalibr cruise missiles, but no intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Putin met with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and invited him to watch Saturday’s maneuvers.

The authoritarian Lukashenko, who has edged closer to Moscow amid Western sanctions for his crackdown on domestic protests, has offered to host Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus, which neighbors Ukraine to the north.

The West estimates Russia has amassed 150,000 troops near the Ukraine border, nearly 60% of their military ground forces, but the Kremlin still denies any plans to invade.

More at AP, NPR