Putin stokes fear of nuclear war as TU-95 ‘Bear’ bombers spotted close to Ukraine

Ukraine: Vladimir Putin launches missile in warning

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Western military experts have grown more and more concerned that the Russian leader may resort to using his nuclear arsenal in Ukraine, as he becomes increasingly frustrated at his army’s lack of progress in the war. Russian forces have met fierce resistance and struggled to make any major breakthrough so far in the ill-fated military campaign. On Monday, four TU-95s were photographed flying in the Kaluga region of Russia, not far from the Ukraine border.

The bombers, also known as Bears, can pack a heavy payload and and come equipped with KH-55 cruise missiles.

The missile comes in both conventional and nuclear variants and has a range of up to 3,000 kilometres.

The Russian airforce currently has over 50 of these bombers, which can carry 16 cruise missiles each.

In addition to the KH-55, the Bears can also fire Kh-101 and nuclear Kh-102 stealth cruise missiles, which skim at low altitude and boast a reduced radar-cross section.

These deadly missiles can hit targets up to 5,500 kilometres away.

The TU-95 first entered service during the Cold War in 1952 as a result of the Soviet Union’s desire to develop its own strategic bomber force to match that of the United States.

It boasted a huge fuel capacity and could fly over nine thousand miles just using internal fuel.

Dozens of the bombers were supposed to fly across the Arctic Circle and drop nuclear bombs on targets over the United States in the event of a attack by NATO on the Soviet Union.

It comes as new satellite images appear to show Kalibr missiles being loaded onto Russian submarines in Sevastopol.

The missiles can be fitted with thermonuclear warheads and have a range of between 1,500 and 2,500 kilometres.

Benjamin Pittet, an open source intelligence analyst for the Genre for Information Resilience, tweeted: “Satellite imagery from 15 April likely shows a Kilo-class submarine being loaded with Kalibr missiles in the port of Sevastopol.

“A second Kilo-class submarine is visible in the flooded dry dock, probably undergoing maintenance.”

Russia boasts a total of about 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons, as part of its atomic arsenal.

The tactical nukes can be deployed over relatively short distances, which distinguishes them from strategic atomic weapons.

They can also be loaded onto various types of missiles which are normally used to deliver conventional explosives and can be even fired as artillery shells.

The tactical nuclear weapons are not as powerful as the strategic ones, although they can still cause massive destruction.

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They vary in size and power, ranging from one kiloton up to around 100 kilotons.

By way of comparison, strategic nuclear weapons are thought to be at least 800 kilotons.

Experts fear that Putin may be tempted to use his tactical nuclear weapons.

Dr Patricia Lewis told the BBC that the Russian President could view the smaller nukes as part of his conventional weaponry.

The head of the international security programme at the Chatham House think tank said: “They might not see it as crossing this big nuclear threshold.”

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