NATO bombers simulate ‘tactical nuclear strike’

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Nuclear bombers launched from Britain will today simulate “tactical strikes” in a week-long series of NATO readiness exercises – with the alliance stressing it would not be “intimidated” by Russia’s threats. Meanwhile, Josep Borrell, the European Union’s top diplomat, has waded in by telling Russian President Vladimir Putin his forces would be “annihilated” should he use tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

RAF jets will be among 60 planes from a dozen NATO member states taking part in an operation hosted by Belgium which has been dubbed Steadfast Noon.

Participating aircraft include US B-52 bombers flying across the Atlantic and F-15 Eagles which took off from RAF Lakenheath in Sussex.

The drills take place against a backdrop of rising international tension, with Putin having made thinly veiled threats about the use of nuclear weapons on a number of occasions since ordering his invasion on February 24.

Speaking after a two-day meeting of defence ministers yesterday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters: “We will not be intimidated.

“Russia’s nuclear rhetoric is dangerous, reckless, and they know that if they use a nuclear weapon against Ukraine, it will have severe consequences.

“Even the use of a smaller nuclear weapon will be a very serious thing and fundamentally changing the nature of the war in Ukraine.”

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A day earlier, Mr Stoltenberg said scrapping Steadfast Noon, which will take place without live weapons, because of the war in Ukraine would have sent a “very wrong signal”.

He emphasised: “Now is the right time to be firm and to be clear that NATO is there to protect and defend all allies.

“This is a long time, planned exercise, actually planned before the invasion of Ukraine.

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“It’s a routine exercise, and it’s an exercise to ensure that our nuclear deterrent remains safe, secure, and effective.”

He added: “NATO’s firm, predictable behaviour, our military strength, is the best way to prevent escalation.

“We are there to preserve peace, to prevent escalation, and prevent any attack on NATO allied countries.

“If we now created the grounds for any misunderstanding or miscalculation in Moscow about our willingness to protect and defend all allies, we would increase the risk of escalation, and that’s the last thing we will do.”

NATO would carefully monitor Russia’s annual Grom exercise which normally takes place in late October, and during which Russia tests its nuclear-capable bombers, submarines and missiles “not least in light of the veiled nuclear threats and the dangerous rhetoric we have seen from the Russian side” Mr Stoltenberg stressed.

Also on Wednesday, a senior NATO official said a Russian nuclear strike on Ukraine would “almost certainly be drawing a physical response from many allies, and potentially from NATO itself”.

The EU is not in itself a member of NATO, given it is a trading bloc rather than an actual country.

Nevertheless, speaking in Bruges, Mr Borrell, who are High Representative is Brussels’ foreign policy supremo, said: “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, and Putin should not be bluffing.”

Ukraine is pushing to join NATO, with President Volodymyr Zelensky unveiling a bid for fast-track membership of the at the end of September.

Alexander Venediktov, the deputy secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, this week told state news agency TASS: “Kyiv is well aware that such a step would mean a guaranteed escalation to a World War 3.

“Apparently, that’s what they are counting on – to create informational noise and draw attention to themselves once again.”

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