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Since the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine, much of the West, and especially NATO, has done its best to stay out of actual combat, partly because NATO getting involved directly could trigger a nuclear response from Russia. And, Putin gave a speech last month that essentially said Russia wasn’t afraid to use nuclear weapons if provoked.
Now, despite rising tensions, Russia and NATO countries are running nuclear exercises. Starting Monday, 14 NATO members will participate in “Steadfast Noon,” which runs for two weeks. The Russian defense ministry confirmed Thursday it had conducted exercises involving ground-based missile systems, but it hasn’t yet said if it will go through with a Grom strategic nuclear exercise, which usually happens in October.
Western leaders have stressed that the exercises are routine, and they are monitoring Russia’s movements “as we always do.” But, the West has made it clear that even a small-scale nuclear attack by Russia would lead to a large-scale reaction by NATO.
Russia has “various weapons of destruction” and will “use all the means available to us,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin in an address in September. “I’m not bluffing.”
“Putin is saying he is not bluffing. Well, he cannot afford bluffing, and it has to be clear that the people supporting Ukraine and the European Union and the member states and the United States and NATO are not bluffing neither,” said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell. “Any nuclear attack against Ukraine will create an answer. Not a nuclear answer but such a powerful answer from the military side that the Russian army will be annihilated.”
“This is why you don’t want to have extraordinarily overheated rhetoric at the same time you’re going to do a nuclear exercise," a Western official told Reuters, speaking anonymously. “Because then we do have an additional challenge to really be sure that the actions that we see, the things that are occurring, are actually an exercise and not something else."