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Courtesy of the Russian Ministry of Defense, May 21, 2024

The Russian Defense Ministry reported that the previously (May 6) announced exercises with tactical nuclear weapons began on Tuesday, May 21, in the Southern military district—i.e., near the border with Ukraine.

“Under the order of the commander-in-chief, a military exercise involving practice of preparation and use of tactical nuclear weapons started in the Southern military district under the supervision of the General Staff,” the ministry said. The official statement also repeated Putin’s earlier explanation that the exercises were called, in TASS’s words, in direct response to “the provocative statements made by Western officials”—specifically French President Emmanuel Macron’s repeated calls for putting French boots on the ground in Ukraine, and British Foreign Secretary David Cameron’s green light for using long-range British missiles to attack Russian territory—later seconded by U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken.

This is the first time ever that such drills are announced to be in response to such Western provocations. The Defense Ministry made sure to underline the message with videos and photos of the exercises. The Guardian reported that “The Russian defense ministry published footage on Tuesday showing trucks carrying missiles to a field where launch systems had been prepared and troops at an airfield readying a bomber to carry a nuclear warhead.… The drills are taking place in Russia’s Southern Military District, headquartered in Rostov-on-Don, which borders Ukraine and includes parts of the country which Russia occupies.”

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