NATO’s nuclear war ‘practice’ just months before Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine

GB News: Panel discusses if Putin will use nuclear weapons

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Vladimir Putin did not show any willingness to end the war in Ukraine in a call with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanual Macron on Saturday. Mr Macron and Mr Scholz both asked for a ceasefire and an end to hostilities before beginning diplomatic negotiations. However, Mr Macron’s office described the “difficult” 90-minute conversation as largely unproductive, with no concrete outcome. The news comes as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky claimed around 500-600 Russian troops surrendered on Friday, though these claims have not been verified.

Putin’s invasion of Russia’s Eastern European neighbours is not going as planned so far, with intense fighting raging on the outskirts of the capital Kyiv as Russian forces move within 25km of the city centre.

There are increasing fears that Moscow’s frustrations could lead to more desperate tactics, notably chemical and nuclear weapons.

Putin warned the West last month of “consequences greater than any you have faced in history” in a thinly veiled threat of nuclear war, and later placed nuclear deterrent forces on ‘enhanced combat alert’.

Yet, just months before Putin’s shocking invasion, NATO carried out its own nuclear war practice.

The week-long exercise in southern Europe involved aircraft and personnel from 14 NATO countries.

A statement in October said: “The exercise is a routine, recurring training activity and it is not linked to any current world events.

“It is hosted by a different NATO country each year.

“Steadfast Noon involves training flights with dual-capable fighter jets, as well as conventional jets, backed by surveillance and refuelling aircraft. No live weapons are used.

“This exercise helps to ensure that NATO’s nuclear deterrent remains safe, secure and effective.”

NATO leaders had concluded at a summit in June the fundamental purpose of the military alliance’s nuclear capability is to “preserve peace, prevent coercion, and deter aggression”.

Leaders also added that “given the deteriorating security environment in Europe, a credible and united nuclear Alliance is essential”.

Russia has embarked on an ambitious nuclear weapons modernisation program in recent years, dramatically upgrading the previous system.

Putin warned last month: “Russia, even after the collapse of the USSR and the loss of a significant part of its nuclear potential, is today one of the most powerful nuclear powers.

“And moreover, it has certain advantages in a number of the latest types of weapons.

“In this regard, no one should have any doubt that a direct attack on Russia will lead to defeat and dire consequences for a potential aggressor.

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Russian military doctrine previously reserved the right to use nuclear weapons in a conventional war.

In June 2015, Washington’s Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work and Admiral James Winnefled, then-Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said: “Russian military doctrine includes what some have called an ‘escalate to de-escalate’ strategy — a strategy that purportedly seeks to de-escalate a conflict through coercive threats, including limited nuclear use.”

The pair described this strategy as “playing with fire”.

Mark B Schneider, a senior analyst at the US Naval Institute, wrote in February 2017: “The US and NATO need to maximise their nuclear deterrent capability as inexpensively as possible, sending a message that Russia will never gain an advantage by trying to ‘escalate to de-escalate’.”

Quite what Putin placing his nuclear deterrent forces on ‘enhanced combat alert’ actually means has been the subject of significant debate in recent days.

Miles Pomper, an arms control expert, suggested it was more flexing Russian muscles than an active threat.

Writing in The Conversation, he said: “The enhanced combat alert consisted largely of adding staff to shifts at relevant nuclear weapon sites.

“The announcement was designed to discourage NATO from intervening and to intimidate Ukraine.”

US nuclear forces, Mr Pomper wrote, have seen no evidence that Putin has taken any steps to further escalate the threat of nuclear war.

He is not believed to have placed non-strategic nuclear warheads on aeroplanes or ships, nor has he sent nuclear-armed submarines to sea.

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