On Friday, the Pentagon reported that it had staged a “mini-exercise” in which Russia dropped a low-yield nuke on a European NATO member. The drill followed a recent House Armed Services Committee hearing in which a senior Pentagon official said that the US needed a plan to be able to “fight and win” wars in a nuclear-contaminated environment.
Russian lawmakers have reacted to the Pentagon’s fantastical scenario involving Russia’s alleged plans to use low-yield nukes on the battlefield, calling the exercise outrageous and offering various ways that Moscow can respond.
Senator Sergei Tsekov called the drills’ organizers “sick people,” telling a Russian business news outlet that he was “very surprised, frankly, that they’re doing this, and talking about it openly. On the other hand, given the current situation and the current actions [by the US administration], why should we be surprised?” he added.
On Friday, a Pentagon official told reporters that Secretary of Defence Mark Esper had taken part in a drill to prepare for how the US would react to a limited Russian nuclear attack in Europe, saying the drill included “go[ing] through the conversation that you would have with the secretary of defence and then with the president ultimately to decide how to respond.”
Alexander Sherin, the deputy head of the Duma’s defence committee, suggested the US drill had two main goals.
“The first is to get people accustomed to such an incredible scenario for resolving a conflict as a nuclear exchange between Russia and the NATO bloc. The second goal is to try to intimidate Europe’s population to justify the continued presence of American bases in European countries ‘as guarantors of security and defenders’ in the event of Russian nuclear attack,” Sherin explained, speaking to Russia’s NSN radio station.
He pointed out, however, that according to Russia’s military doctrine, Moscow reserves the right to use nuclear weapons only in the event that conventional or other aggression puts the integrity of the state itself in danger. The lawmaker further stressed that it would be absurd for Russia to attack European countries with nuclear weapons because the fallout would affect Russia itself.
Sherin believes that the main reason the US can so nonchalantly talk about the use of nuclear weapons in the first place is because unlike Europe, their country has never been subjected to a serious military strike in modern history.
Russian Troops on US Border With Mexico?
Firebrand Duma lawmaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the opposition Russian Liberal Democratic Party who’s known for his outrageous but occasionally brutally honest comments, suggested that it was the height of hypocrisy for the Pentagon to talk about plans to combat ‘Russian aggression’ while NATO holds drills on Russia’s borders.
“They insolently stand on our borders, like Napoleon, like Hitler. Again these same hordes, the same countries armed with the most terrible weapons are carrying out drills – ‘a retaliatory strike’. They’re the ones conducting drills to carry out a [first] strike. We’ll be the ones retaliating” Zhirinovsky suggested. “Let us conduct the same kinds of exercises on the Mexico-US border. What will the Americans say?” the politician added.
Discussions among US officials about the need to account for the battlefield use of nuclear weapons have been going on for quite some time. Earlier this month, at a closed hearing of the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on intelligence and emerging threats, deputy assistant secretary of defence for homeland defence and global security Theresa Whelan stressed the need for the US and its allies to work out strategies to enable them “fight and win in a nuclear-contaminated environment” amid the alleged Russian buildup of battlefield nuclear weapons.
‘US Needs to Evolve Its Thinking’
For her part, senator Olga Kovitidi suggested that the US need to move away from its militarist thinking. “Why the whole world learns the lessons of the Yalta Conference [of 1945], which took place in the name of peace and demonstrated the ability to come to an agreement, the US is imitating a war with Russia. It’s completely obvious that today the US requires an evolution of its thinking, and not just insofar as Russia is concerned,” Kovitidi said.
Finally, Senator Alexei Pushkov pointed to the disconnect between the formal US commitment not to deploy medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe, and minidrills like the ones conducted by the Pentagon, which seem to indicate the existence of such weapons. “We should believe not the Pentagon’s assurances, but its military plans. The imitation of a strike is a good cue,” Pushkov wrote on Twitter.
The Trump administration scrapped the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a key arms control agreement signed in 1987 and aimed primarily at reducing the risk of nuclear war in Europe, in 2019, and has shown a waning interest in renewing the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New Start), which sets to expire in 2021. Russia has repeatedly expressed its readiness to extend New START without preconditions. Late last year, President Putin warned that a failure to renew the treaty could spark a new global arms race.
The US is spending as much as 53 times more than Russia upgrading its nuclear arsenal, and has completed a Nuclear Posture Review allowing for the use of battlefield tactical nuclear weapons even against non-nuclear arms. At least one low-yield nuke-armed US Navy strategic missile submarine was deployed on patrol last year. In addition, Washington continues the development of missile shield components in Poland and Romania. Moscow has warned that these sites’ anti-missile missile launchers could easily be converted to use nuclear cruise missiles.
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