23 January 2015

Russia's Nuclear Forces Conduct Surprise Drill

January 21, 2015 

Russia’s Nuclear Forces performed a surprise readiness drill on Tuesday, according to state-run Russian media outlets.

The Strategic Missile Forces (RVSN), which control Russia’s Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), began a snap drill on January 20, the reports said,citing a press release from the RVSN. The drills, which are taking place in Western Siberia, will include 1,200 RVSN troops who will perform over 20 different tasks. Emergencies Ministry's troops, as well as Internal Ministry and Federal Security Service forces, were expected to participate in aspects of the drills.

“During the unannounced exercises of the missile forces, a committee will study the current condition in organizing activities by the commanders in completing drills of fighting terrorism as a command unit, missile force regiments and a number of other subdivision units," Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Col. Igor Egorov was quoted as saying of the drills.

RVSN said that “no less” than four such drills will be held in 2015. Earlier this month, Egorov had announced that in 2015, the Strategic Missile Forces “will conduct over 100 command and staff, tactical and specialized drills. The drills will be conducted in complex and tense conditions.” In December, RVSN Commander Colonel General Sergei Karakayev had told reporters that “A total of 14 launches are planned for 2015 - for the flight tests of advanced weapons samples and controlling technical readiness of missile systems adopted for service.” As of last summer, Russia had planned on conducting 16 ICBM test launches in 2014.

This focus on strengthening Russia’s strategic deterrent seems to still to continue unabated. Last month, Russia’s Chief of the General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, said that Russia’s nuclear forces would be the Defense Ministry’s top priority this year. Part of this will include becoming better equipped at using new and modernized platforms, including the 38 new ICBMs that Russia acquired in 2014. It will also include incorporating new personnel into the RVSN. In August of last year, the RVSN announced that it will add an additional 8,500 troops to its force through 2020. According to Newsweek, the RVSN currently boasts about 18,000 troops.

Russia’s modernization efforts come at a time when its nuclear relationship with the U.S. is fraying. The Boston Globe reported earlier this week that Russia severed nuclear security ties with the United States last month.

“The Russians informed the Americans that they were refusing any more U.S.” help protecting their largest stockpiles of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium from being stolen or sold on the black market,” the report said, citing three unnamed American officials. The U.S. and Russia have previously cooperated on protecting Russian nukes as part of the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program, which began in the 1990s shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Zachary Keck is managing editor of the National Interest. You can find him on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.

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