President Vladimir Putin put Russia’s nuclear deterrent forces on high alert Sunday in response to what he called “aggressive statements” from NATO countries.
Putin announced the plan during a televised meeting with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu and Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces general Valery Gerasimov. “Western countries aren’t only taking unfriendly economic actions against our country, but leaders of major NATO countries are making aggressive statements about our country,” Putin said. “So I order to move Russia’s deterrence forces to a special regime of duty.”
The “special regime of duty” will put Russia’s anti-nuclear forces in a heightened sense of alert, an escalation of tensions from a country with more than 5,000 nuclear warheads. This is possibly the second time Putin has raised the specter of a nuclear war since Russia invaded Ukraine.
In a televised speech announcing the war on February 23, Putin said he planned to demilitarize Ukraine and smeared Kyiv’s leadership as “Nazis.” If the West intervened, he said, “the consequences will be such as you have never seen in your entire history.”
Nuclear experts took Putin’s words as an oblique threat to Russia’s status as a nuclear power. “Putin intended to convey a nuclear component to the threat,” Jeffrey Lewis, nuclear expert and professor at Middlebury Institute of International Studies, told Motherboard. “But the way that it is always done is in a roundabout way.”
The escalation in tensions comes as Moscow and Kyiv plan to meet in Pripyat along the border with Belarus.