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May 21, 2022
Putin Conducts Nuclear Drills As U.S. Defense Secretary Says Russia ‘Poised To Strike’ Ukraine

Putin Conducts Nuclear Drills As U.S. Defense Secretary Says Russia ‘Poised To Strike’ Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin oversaw the test launches of nuclear-capable ballistic and cruise missiles Saturday amid intensifying Russian military activity near Ukraine’s border, a day after President Joe Biden said Moscow has decided to invade Ukraine.

The Ukrainian Territorial Defence Forces take part in a military drill outside Kyiv on February 19, … [+] 2022. (Photo by SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP via Getty Images)

AFP via Getty Images

Key Facts

The test launches displayed Russia’s ability to strike from air, ground and sea, with the Kremlin releasing videos showing a ground vehicle firing an intercontinental ballistic missile; a frigate launching a Zircon hypersonic “ship-killer” missile, which is still under development; and a Tu-95MS bomber launching a cruise missile.

Putin presided over the tests from a Kremlin command center with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, whose country, north of Ukraine, is hosting tens of thousands of Russian troops staging exercises, according to a Kremlin pool report.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Saturday during a visit to Lithuania that Russian troops are “uncoiling and are now poised to strike,” echoing Biden’s assertion Friday that U.S. intelligence suggests Russia is planning to launch an invasion within the next week.

Amid increased shelling in Donetsk, a city in eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists, Reuters reported “multiple explosions” were heard in the city Saturday morning, though the source of the explosions was not immediately clear.

Denis Pushilin, the leader of the Moscow-backed separatists in the Donetsk region, ordered a full military mobilization Saturday, citing “immediate threat of aggression” from Ukrainian forces, a day after directing women and children to evacuate to Russia.

Ukraine denied the allegation, and it and the U.S. say increased violence across the ceasefire line this week is part of Russia’s continued attempt to create a pretext to justify an invasion of Ukraine.

Big Number
150,000. That’s the number of troops U.S. officials say Russia has amassed along the Ukrainian border. Russia has said it has been reducing its military presence at the border–a claim U.S. officials say is false, citing intelligence showing Russia has increased the number of troops at the border.

Key Background
Biden said Friday he is “convinced” Russia has decided to invade Ukraine “in the coming week … in the coming days.” He added Russia is actively conducting a disinformation campaign as a pretext for an invasion, including blaming Ukrainian forces for a spike in violence in Donetsk. The U.S. also believes the Russian government was behind cyberattacks that knocked the websites of Ukraine’s two largest banks offline earlier this week. Deputy National Security Advisor Anne Neuberger said Friday the U.S. has “technical information” linking the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate to Tuesday’s attacks. She added Russian cyber actors have “likely” targeted the Ukrainian government websites to “collect intelligence and preposition to conduct disruptive cyber activities,” which could be leveraged in the event of a Russian invasion. 

Further Reading
Putin launches nuclear drills as U.S. says Russia poised to invade Ukraine (Reuters)

Russia ‘poised to strike’ Ukraine, U.S. defense secretary says (Reuters)

Ukraine rebels mobilize troops amid Russia invasion fears (Associated Press)

Putin Has Decided To Invade Ukraine, Biden Says U.S. Intelligence Indicates (Forbes)

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