Russia held fresh nuclear drills today as Germany joined America in pledging to send some of its most advanced weapons systems to Ukraine.
Video showed Yars launchers – capable of carrying nuclear missiles that can hit almost any country on earth – taking part in exercises in the Ivanovo region, just to the west of Moscow.
The drills involved 1,000 troops ‘dispersing’ the launchers – the first move on the outbreak of a nuclear war – and came just hours after Joe Biden said he will send advanced rocket artillery to Ukraine.
Meanwhile Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor who has been criticised for his lackluster support of Kyiv, then pledged to send its most up-to-date IRIS-T anti-aircraft missile systems to help thwart Russia jet and cruise missile attacks.
Russia held nuclear drills today (pictured), just hours after Biden announced he is sending advanced rocket artillery to Ukraine
Moscow said Yars launchers – capable of firing nuclear missile at virtually any country – practiced ‘dispersing’, which would be the first move at the outbreak of nuclear war
The Russian defence ministry said 1,000 soldiers and 100 pieces of equipment took part in the drill in the Ivanovo region
The Russian MoD said the exercises included ‘strategic rocket men work[ing] out the issues of bringing missile systems to field positions, making marches up to 62 miles , dispersing units with a change in field positions, their engineering equipment, organising camouflage and combat protection.’
It added: ‘At the same time, a number of measures are being taken to detect, block and destroy conditional saboteurs, including the use of new Typhoon-M combat anti-sabotage vehicles equipped with unmanned aerial vehicles.
‘In addition, during the manoeuvres, the Listva remote demining vehicle was used to escort the Yars mobile ground-based missile system on combat patrol routes.
‘According to the legend of the exercise, conditional saboteurs planted remotely controlled explosive devices on the route of the column. The MDR neutralised them on the side of the road.
‘One of the highest priority tasks of the exercise was to work out a wide range of issues on the search for and destruction of conditional sabotage and reconnaissance formations in the daytime and at night.
‘A commandant’s service has been organised along the routes of autonomous launchers, which is engaged in the protection of a convoy with large-sized equipment and monitors its passage through control points.
‘The exercise makes it possible to improve the level of training of personnel, the coherence of formations and military units of the Strategic Missile Forces.’
The newest German surface-to-air system can range 25 miles and hit targets up to 12 miles in the air, which is much further and higher than current Ukrainian systems.
It can be used to shoot down jets and bombers, but also cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, and other large-calibre rockets that Russia has used to bombard some of Ukraine’s largest cities.
Scholz is also said to be in favour of giving Ukraine multiple-launch rocket systems of the kind America will be sending, according to Die Welt.
The newspaper said the Chancellery is coordinating the move closely with the USA.
It is not clear whether the German rocket systems would be in addition to the ones Biden mentioned, or whether Berlin would send its American-made systems to Ukraine and then back-fill them from US stockpiles.
Germany says it will be sending its most-advanced anti-air system – the IRIS-T SLR – to Ukraine to counter Russian jets and missile attacks
America is thought to be sending the high mobility artillery rocket system – or HIMARS – to Kyiv to help its troops counter similar Russian systems
Annalena Baerbock, the German foreign minister, told parliament on Wednesday that the West must give Ukraine long-term support until it is ready to strike a peace deal with Russia on its own terms.
Ms Baerbock said Putin ‘fundamentally changed’ strategy after failing to take Kyiv quickly, and is now ‘counting on’ the staying power of Ukraine’s allies running out.
‘We need staying power in supporting Ukraine,’ she said.
She also fended off criticism of delays in fulfilling promises to send weapons, telling lawmakers that ‘stuff has to arrive and above all the soldiers must be able to use it.’
Ukraine has been begging its Western allies to send more-advanced weapon systems to aid in its fight against Russia in the Donbas region, where its forces are believed to be suffering heavy casualties.
Kyiv has largely been given old Soviet stocks from neighbouring ex-Soviet nations until now, but these are out-gunned compared to some of the more up-to-date equipment Putin has now committed.
There are also concerns that ammunition – which is manufactured by Russia – will soon run out with no way to get more.
Biden announced the supply of long-range rocket artillery to Ukraine late Tuesday as part of a new $700million package of equipment due to be unveiled today.
‘We have moved quickly to send Ukraine a significant amount of weaponry and ammunition so it can fight on the battlefield and be in the strongest possible position at the negotiating table,’ Biden wrote in the New York Times.
While he did not specify exactly what would be sent, a senior official briefed journalists that Ukraine would be getting the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System or HIMARS.
The system is based on the M270 MLRS – a Soviet-era system specifically designed to outgun Russia – but is lighter and easier to manoeuvre, making it ideal for unleashing a barrage and then escaping before the enemy has time to fire back.
In addition to the rocket systems it has promised, the U.S. package will include helicopters, Javelin anti-tank weapon systems, tactical vehicles, spare parts and more, two senior administration officials said Tuesday.
Ukraine has been calling for advanced rocket artillery systems for weeks to help thwart Russian attacks in the east, and help them launch counter-attacks
Biden said ammunition supplied to Kyiv will not be capable of striking deep into Russia and that he has received guarantees the system will not be used for attacks on Russian soil, amid fears of the conflict escalating into a wider war.
Russia, however, warned of an increased risk of direct confrontation with the US and NATO, accusing Washington of ‘purposefully adding fuel to the fire.’
Moscow views the U.S. plans ‘negatively,’ Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Wednesday, saying the Kremlin doesn’t trust Kyiv’s assurances that the rocket systems will not be used to attack Russia.
The announcements come as a regional governor said Russian forces now control 70% of Sievierodonetsk, a city that is key to Moscow’s efforts to complete their capture of the Donbas, where Ukrainian and Russian-backed separatists have fought for years and where the separatists already held swaths of territory.
Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai said in a post on the Telegram messaging app that some Ukrainian troops have pulled back from the city, though he later told The Associated Press that the troops who remained were battling it out in the streets.
The only other city in Luhansk that the Russians have not yet captured, Lysychansk, is still ‘fully’ under Ukrainian control, he said – but it would likely be next.
‘If the Russians manage to take full control over Sievierodonetsk within two to three days, they will start installing artillery and mortars and will shell Lysychansk more intensively,’ Haidai said.
Zelenskyy, meanwhile. said the country is losing between 60 and 100 soldiers a day in the fighting and that another 500 are wounded.
He told the U.S. TV channel Newsmax on Tuesday night that ‘the most difficult situation is in the east of Ukraine and southern Donetsk and Luhansk,’ two regions that make up the Donbas.
In southern Ukraine, a regional governor sounded a more positive note, saying Russian troops are retreating and blowing up bridges to prevent a possible Ukrainian advance. Vitaliy Kim, governor of the Mykolayiv region, said in messages on Telegram on Wednesday that Russia was on the defensive.
‘They are afraid of a counterattack by the Ukrainian army,’ Kim wrote. He didn’t specify where the retreat was happening. The parts of the Mykolayiv region which have been held by Russian forces in recent days are close to the large Russia-held city of Kherson.
Zelenskyy said in his nightly address there had been ‘some success in the Kherson direction’ for Ukraine.