Russia Escalates Nuclear Rhetoric To Influence Ukraine Support


Russia’s new silo-based intercontinental ballistic nuclear missile system is nearly combat-ready, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Saturday, after he inspected the manufacture of Sarmat missiles, one of Russia’s most advanced weapons, according to Reuters.

“Re-equipping the Strategic Missile Forces with this system, which will become the basis of Russia’s ground-based strategic nuclear forces, is a priority in ensuring the country’s defense capability,” Shoigu said in a Defense Ministry statement, according to Reuters.

Shoigu’s comments reflect Russia’s escalating nuclear rhetoric in its standoff with the West over the war in Ukraine. 

Known to NATO military allies by the codename “Satan,” the Sarmat missiles reportedly have a short initial launch phase, which gives little time for surveillance systems to track their takeoff. 

On Friday, the Russian parliament speaker, Vyacheslav Volodin, said lawmakers will reevaluate whether to revoke the ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, or CTBT, a global nuclear test ban. 

Volodin’s statement came after Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that Moscow could consider rescinding the ratification of the international pact because the United States never ratified it. 

The 1996 treaty prohibiting “any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion” anywhere in the world has been signed by 187 nations but not ratified by eight of them, including the United States. 

The U.S. did not ratify the treaty, but it has observed a moratorium on nuclear weapon test explosions since 1992 that it says it will continue to abide by. 

“We are disturbed by the comments of Ambassador (Mikhail) Ulyanov in Vienna today,” a U.S. State Department spokesperson said in a statement to Reuters, referring to comments by Russia’s envoy to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, or CTBTO. “A move like this by any state party needlessly endangers the global norm against nuclear explosive testing.” 

“It would be concerning and deeply unfortunate if any state signatory were to reconsider its ratification of the CTBT,” Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organization Executive Secretary Robert Floyd said in a statement. 

There are widespread concerns that Russia could move to resume nuclear tests to try to discourage the West from continuing to offer military support to Ukraine. 

Asked Friday whether rescinding the ban could greenlight the resumption of tests, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters that “it doesn’t mean a statement about the intention to resume nuclear tests.” 

Peskov said a possible move to revoke Russia’s ratification of the ban would “bring the situation to a common denominator” with the U.S. 

Speaking Thursday at a forum with foreign affairs experts, Putin said that while some experts have talked about the need to conduct nuclear tests, he hasn’t yet formed an opinion on the issue. 

Putin also said Russia had successfully tested the Burevestnik, a nuclear-powered cruise missile with a potential range of many thousands of miles. 

Ukraine-Russia strikes 

Ukraine and Russia launched strikes on each other Saturday. 

Russia’s defense ministry said the country’s air defense systems had “detected and destroyed” a Ukrainian S-200 anti-aircraft missile deployed in an attempted attack on the Crimean Peninsula. 

Reuters, which reported the development, could not verify the statement by the Russian defense ministry, which did not say where the missile was shot down. 

Ukrainian shelling killed one person in the Russian border region of Belgorod, according to regional Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov. 

A party official in the Russian-held town of Nova Kakhovka in Ukraine’s Kherson province was killed by a car bomb Saturday, the provincial governor said. 

Vladimir Malov, executive secretary of the town branch of Russia’s governing United Russia party, died in the hospital, Vladimir Saldo said in a post on his Telegram channel calling it “a terrorist attack.” 

There was no immediate comment from Kyiv. 

Russia, meanwhile, launched a missile strike on Ukraine’s Odesa region overnight. Local officials say four people were wounded in the attack that was launched from Russian-occupied Crimea. 

Russian forces downed a Ukrainian drone near Moscow early Saturday, according to TASS, a Russian state news agency. 

Meanwhile, analysts say satellite imagery shows “an unprecedented number of freight railcars” at North Korea’s Tumangang Rail Station, located at the North Korean-Russian border. 

The analysts at Beyond Parallel, a unit of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, say the rail traffic is larger than they have seen in the past five years. They say the traffic “likely indicates North Korea’s supply of arms and munitions to Russia,” following the two countries’ recent summit. 

They say tarps covering the containers make it impossible to identify what is in the containers. But the organization says that it is “probable that these shipments are to support Russia in its war with Ukraine,” in line with the recent U.S. statement that North Korea has begun transferring artillery to Russia. 

Kharkiv attacks 

The Ukrainian village of Hroza is mourning the deaths of more than 50 people struck by a Russian precision missile while they were attending the wake of a soldier killed last year and sent to his final resting place in his hometown. 

Almost every household in Hroza sent someone to the wake, which was held at a cafe that was obliterated by the strike. Fifty-two of the 300 people in the village died, including entire families.

On Friday, an earth mover extended the graveyard to make room for them all. Among the dead were a couple who left behind four children, the village leader, and the dead soldier’s wife and son.

The U.N. and partners are mobilizing humanitarian assistance — including medical supplies and health support, shelter maintenance kits, nonfood items, cash and hygiene assistance — as well as mental health and psycho-social support after Russian strikes Thursday and Friday killed at least 54 civilians in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region, the U.N.’s humanitarian coordinator for Ukraine, Denise Brown, said. 

“These are barbaric consequences of this war, that 20% of the community can be wiped out in seconds,” Brown said in a message on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Ukrainian officials condemned the attack.


The VOA is the Voice of America

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