Ukraine Situation Report: Russia Resumes Tactical Nuke Drills

Russia says its forces have begun the second stage of drills to practice the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons alongside Belarusian troops.

byThomas Newdick|
Russia said its troops had started the second stage of drills to practise the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons alongside Belarusian troops after what Moscow said were threats from western powers. The ministry said the drills were aimed at ensuring that the two countries’ military personnel and equipment were ready to protect their sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Russian Ministry of Defense
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Russia has begun the second phase of its exercise practicing the use of tactical nuclear weapons, maneuvers that were announced last month as a response to what Moscow claims are provocative threats from the West. The drills also follow earlier Kremlin warnings of an increased risk of nuclear confrontation as Western allies continue their military support of Ukraine.

The Russian Ministry of Defense announced today on Telegram that Russian and Belarusian troops have started the second stage of the exercise, which is being carried out in Russia’s Southern Military District and involves the joint training of Russian and Belarusian units “for the combat use of non-strategic nuclear weapons.”

“The exercise is aimed at maintaining the readiness of the personnel and equipment of units for the combat use of non-strategic nuclear weapons of Russia and Belarus in order to unconditionally ensure the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Union State,” the ministry said.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov today said that the Russian tactical nuclear drills were made necessary by wider tensions in Europe and the hostile actions of the United States and European powers. At the same time, Peskov told a briefing that drills of this kind were normal practice.

So far, videos released by the Russian Ministry of Defense show troops practicing the use of Iskander-M short-range ballistic missiles as well as Kinzhal air-launched ballistic missiles and their associated MiG-31K carrier aircraft. Videos also show Tu-22M3 long-range bombers armed with Kh-22 or Kh-32 supersonic standoff missiles, which can also be nuclear armed. At least some of the footage is taken from the first phase of the same exercise.

Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, a close Kremlin ally, said in April that “several dozen” Russian tactical nuclear weapons had been deployed in Belarus under an agreement announced last year by himself and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Before diving into more developments from the conflict in Ukraine, The War Zone readers can review our previous coverage here.

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On the battlefield, there are claims from Russia today that its forces have captured two more villages in Ukraine, one in the Kharkiv region in northeast Ukraine, and the other in the eastern Luhansk region. The two villages are Tymkivka and Miasozharivka, respectively, and the Russian Ministry of Defense says that both are now under the control of its forces, according to a report from Russia’s state-run TASS news agency.

A day earlier, the Russian Ministry of Defense claimed that the Russian military had taken control of the village of Staromaiorske in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine.

Russian troops “continued to advance into the depths of the enemy’s defense and liberated the settlement of Staromaiorske”, located southwest of the Russian-held city of Donetsk, the Russian Ministry of Defense said. The loss of the frontline village would be a significant symbolic blow to Kyiv since it is one of the few that Ukrainian forces managed to recapture in last year’s counteroffensive.

Lt. Col. Nazar Voloshyn, the spokesperson for the Khortytsia Group of Forces, part of the Ukrainian Ground Forces, refuted the Russian claim, telling the Kyiv Independent that Ukrainian forces continue to repel Russian troops in Staromaiorske.

Elsewhere in the Donetsk region, there are reports that Russian forces are making progress in their efforts to capture the strategic Ukrainian town of Chasiv Yar. This objective is located on high ground around 12 miles to the west of Bakhmut, a town Russian forces seized a year ago after extensive and bloody fighting. It’s anticipated that Russia aims to use Chasiv Yar as a staging point to launch new advances in the direction of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk.

Lt. Col. Voloshyn meanwhile says that Ukrainian forces remain in control of the small town of Ivanivske on the eastern outskirts of Chasiv Yar, contrary to rumors that this has fallen to the Russians.

“Regarding Ivanivske, I can say this: the settlement belongs to Ukraine, and the [Ukrainian] Defense Forces control this sector,” Voloshyn said, adding that Russia continues to launch strikes and ground assaults in the area.

“As of this morning, 350 strikes were recorded in the Chasiv Yar area, including 254 during the past day.” The majority of the attacks — 222 — targeted Ivanivske. Over the past week, 1,233 strikes were recorded in the village, Voloshyn said.

The claims of each side have not yet been independently verified.

Ukraine is reportedly seeing more benefits of the policy change that allows it to use Western-supplied long-range weapons to strike targets within Russian borders. In particular, the beleaguered city of Kharkiv, in the northeast of Ukraine, is said to be having some respite after long being a strategic target for the Russians.

According to Kharkiv’s mayor, Ihor Terekhov, the ability to use undisclosed long-range weapons to hit back at Russian missile and drone launch positions across the border has already led to a reduction in strikes on Ukraine’s second city.

Although Russia continues missile and drone strikes against Kharkiv, Terekhobv said that the new development had helped bring relative “calm” to the city.

“This has helped,” Terekhov said. “That is why maybe Kharkiv has … this period of … calm the last couple of weeks … that there were no great strikes as it was, for example, in May,” he added. However, he again called for additional Western-supplied air defenses to help protect his city.

“It is very important to have the weapons on time. It is very important to have these weapons, especially the multi-layered air defense system,” Terekhov told Reuters.

Yesterday, local officials said that Russia launched three guided bombs against Kharkiv, damaging at least two houses.

Heavier bombardment continues elsewhere in the wider Kharkiv region, which has so far led to around 11,500 people arriving in Kharkiv city from areas that are receiving more intense bombardment.

In related news, there have been recent reports of a Ukrainian Air Force strike against a target in Belgorod, western Russia. While apparently not the first time that Ukrainian aircraft have attacked targets within Russian borders, this would be the first instance of such an operation since the United States and other Western allies lifted their ban on long-range weapons they supplied being used on Russian soil.

It’s not known what type of weapon was used, but a Ukrainian military source has told Sky News that the target was a “Russian command node,” close to the border with northeastern Ukraine, that was struck last Sunday.

Finland, which became a NATO member last year, prompted by Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, has launched an investigation after a Russian military aircraft was suspected of violating Finnish airspace in the Gulf of Finland yesterday morning.

The Russian aircraft — the type has not been disclosed — is suspected of making a territorial violation in the eastern Gulf of Finland, off Loviisa. The aircraft flew in Finnish airspace for around two minutes, the Finnish Ministry of Defense says, penetrating as far as 2.5 kilometers (1.6 miles) within the border.

“We take the suspected territorial violation seriously and the investigation has been started immediately,” Finnish Minister of Defense Antti Häkkänen said.

The last confirmed territorial violation of Finnish airspace by a Russian aircraft happened in August 2022, when two Russian fighters entered Finnish airspace in the Gulf of Finland.

A Russian Aerospace Forces Su-34 Fullback strike aircraft — one of the mainstays of the Russian air offensive directed against Ukraine — crashed today in the Caucasus mountains, killing both pilots. Citing the Russian Ministry of Defense, Russian news agencies reported that the aircraft was on a routine training flight when it likely suffered a technical malfunction.

“The aircraft crashed in a deserted area. There is no destruction on the ground,” the defense ministry was quoted as saying.

The Biden administration will lift its ban on allowing the controversial Ukrainian Azov Brigade to use U.S.-supplied weapons, The Washington Post reports.

For decades, the Azov Brigade — which has far-right and ultra-nationalist roots — was prohibited from receiving training or weapons from the United States. Now, a new analysis has found no evidence of human rights violations by the unit, the newspaper states.

“After a thorough review, Ukraine’s 12th Special Forces Azov Brigade passed Leahy vetting as carried out by the U.S. Department of State,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement obtained by the newspaper. The Leahy Law bars U.S. military assistance to foreign units found to have committed such violations.

There are claims — unconfirmed so far — that Russian ground-based air defense units may be poised to leave the occupied Crimean peninsula, either in part or en masse, as these critical assets come under concerted pressure from Ukrainian attacks.

The claims follow statements from the Ukrainian military claiming that it damaged another three long-range surface-to-air missile systems in Crimea over Monday night. According to Ukraine’s General Staff, its forces successfully struck an S-400 system in Dzhankoi and two S-300 systems near Yevpatoriya and Chornomorske, resulting in “significant losses” for Russian air defenses.

Around 20,000 fighters from the notorious Wagner Group private military company were killed during the Russian assault on Bakhmut, the city in eastern Ukraine that was finally captured by the Russians in May 2023, after 10 months of fighting.

An investigation by BBC Russian and the Mediazona news outlet draws upon personal data from Wagner fighters, which also reveal that statements from the late Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin about losses in the capture of the city were heavily whitewashed.

Furthermore, claims from Prigozhin that half of the Wagner fighters were convicts were also heavily downplayed. Instead, the BBC and Mediazona found that, of the 19,547 dead Wagner fighters for which they obtained personal data, 17,175 had been prisoners — equivalent to 88 percent.

More of those convicts were sent to the front from prison camps and pre-trial detention centers.

After Ukraine attacked ferries used to transport military supplies between the Russian mainland and the occupied Crimea peninsula late last month, the Kremlin has apparently now stepped up its use of the Kerch Bridge.

A recent video published by a civilian shows a train with fuel tanks moving along the railroad line on the bridge.

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Previously, the Russian government had prohibited the transportation of petroleum products and ammunition across the bridge, due to the risk of accidents or Ukrainian attacks, which could put the bridge out of action.

Instead, oil products and explosive cargoes were transported by sea via ferry or by large landing craft from the Russian mainland. On May 30, Ukraine carried out a strike on Russian ferries in Kerch using the U.S.-supplied Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS).

One result of this attack appears to be Russia switching back to using the bridge. Either the risk is now considered acceptable, or more likely, the shortage of ferries means this is the only way to transport these supplies for the time being.

Russia has put a U.S.-supplied M1A1 Abrams tank on display in Moscow, where it joins other examples of captured Western-supplied hardware. The Abrams appears to be part of the line-up at the Victory Park in Moscow, where the exhibition also includes examples of the U.S.-supplied M2 Bradley and German-supplied Marder infantry fighting vehicles, as well as at least one Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle.

Noteworthy is the fact that the main gun on the Abrams has been installed upside-down.

The Abrams may have had mixed fortunes on the battlefield so far, but the ever-resourceful Ukrainians are apparently still getting good use out of the M830A1 high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) ammunition that its main gun fires.

The following video shows a Ukrainian soldier removing the discarding sabot from the round, which has both anti-armor and anti-personnel capabilities so that it can be repurposed as the warhead for a drone.

The Dutch government is heading up a new initiative that plans to jointly deliver an additional Patriot air defense system to Ukraine. The Dutch are now calling upon other European countries to join the effort, which aims to rapidly bring together a Patriot system, including core components and parts from the Netherlands, with additional components coming from other European countries.

“We are engaged in talks with partners to compile a Patriot system, including training for Ukrainian crews,” said Dutch Minister of Defense Kajsa Ollongren. “With our offer, and consulting with partner countries providing several key parts and munitions, we can provide Ukraine with at least one fully operational system in a short timeframe.”

As part of its ongoing efforts to develop new and expanded drone capabilities, Ukraine has announced the appointment of Vadym Sukharevskyi as the commander of its drone forces. Sukharevskyi moves to the newly created position from his previous job as deputy commander of the armed forces with responsibility for drones.

In February this year, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for the establishment of a separate branch of the armed forces dedicated to drones. This presidential order was signed off by the government last week.

Russia is continuing its attacks against airfields across Ukraine, with the latest target being Dolgintsevo Air Base, near Kryvyi Rih, in central Ukraine. A video published by Russia’s state-run RIA news agency shows an apparent strike by a Lancet one-way attack drone on a Ukrainian Su-25 Frogfoot attack aircraft at Dolgintsevo. The Lancet struck its target despite an anti-drone net being stretched over the parking area.

More drone warfare in the next video, which provides a rare look at the war from the perspective of a Ukrainian first-person-view (FPV) drone operator. According to the report, the 20-year-old individual has already killed “hundreds” of Russian soldiers.

One aspect of the drone war we’re now increasingly seeing is drone-versus-drone combat, in this case, Russian drones dropping munitions on Ukrainian quadcopters.

Drone hunting of another kind in the next video, and the latest appearance of a Ukrainian light aircraft adapted as an anti-drone platform. In the past, we reported on a series of videos showing the use of a propeller-driven Soviet-era Yak-52 training aircraft to attack a Russian Orlan-10 drone. The next video shows a different Yak-52, or at least a different color scheme, with the gunner apparently once again seated in the rear cockpit, training their weapon on a Russian drone, which in turn records the unusual aerial engagement. It seems the target was another reconnaissance drone, intercepted somewhere over southern Ukraine.

Russia, meanwhile, has been making extensive use of helicopters to help hunt for maritime drones in the Black Sea, especially around Crimea. This video shows a Russian Navy Ka-29 assault helicopter flying along the coast near Sevastopol. For the counter-drone mission, this helicopter is fitted with a pair of UPK-23-250 gun pods, each of which contains a 23mm twin-barrel cannon.

There’s hardly a shortage of remarkable footage showing FPV drones in action, but the next compilation of footage is well worth a closer look. The video clips purportedly all originate from units of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), the main internal security agency of the Ukrainian government.

Among the less commonly seen drones in the war in Ukraine is the Penguin C, a long-endurance, long-range uncrewed aircraft system from the Edge Autonomoy company in Latvia. The manufacturer says it has an endurance of up to 25 hours (depending on payload) and a line-of-sight range of 112 miles. This example was captured by Russian forces and the resulting photos provide a good look at key details of the drone.

Contact the author: thomas@thewarzone.com

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