Russia says U.S. lowering ‘nuclear threshold’ with newer bombs in Europe

  • Russia warns US of new B61s
  • The Pentagon: A long-planned upgrade
  • Russia says NATO is strengthening nuclear plans
  • Pentagon: B61 upgrades not included in Ukraine
  • Russia: new bombs are strategically important

LONDON, Oct 29 (Reuters) – Russia said on Saturday that the immediate deployment of US B61 nuclear weapons to NATO bases in Europe would lower the “nuclear threshold” and that Russia would consider it in its military strategy.

Russia has about 2,000 operational nuclear weapons while the United States has about 200 such weapons, half of which are at bases in Italy, Germany, Turkey, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Amid the crisis in Ukraine, Politico reported on Oct. 26 that the United States told a closed NATO meeting this month that it will accelerate the deployment of the B61 version, the B61-12, and new weapons arriving at European bases. In December, several months earlier than planned.

“We cannot ignore the plans to upgrade nuclear weapons, those explosives that end up in Europe,” Russian Deputy Minister Alexander Grushko told the RIA news agency.

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The 12-ft B61-12 gravity bomb carries a lower yield of nuclear war than most previous versions but is more accurate and can penetrate underground, according to a study by the Federation of American Scientists published in 2014.

“The United States is modernizing them, increasing their accuracy and reducing the power of the nuclear payload, that is, they are turning these weapons into ‘weapons of war’, thus reducing the nuclear range,” said Grushko.

The Pentagon said it would not discuss the details of US nuclear weapons and the Politico article was wrong as the United States had long planned the development of its B61 nuclear weapons.

“The modernization of US B61 nuclear weapons has been ongoing for years, and plans to safely and reliably replace older weapons with upgraded versions of the B61-12 are part of a systematic and systematic modernization effort,” Pentagon spokesman Oscar Seara said.

“It was not connected in any way to the current events in Ukraine and was in no way precipitated,” Seara said in an emailed statement.

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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked the worst confrontation between Moscow and the West since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis when the two Cold War superpowers came closest to nuclear war.

President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly said that Russia will defend its territory with all available means, including nuclear weapons, if attacked.

The comments raised some concern in the West after Moscow announced last month that it had seized four Ukrainian regions where its forces control their territory. Putin says the West has engaged in a nuclear war against Russia.

‘STRATEGIC ESSENCE’

US President Joe Biden said on Oct. 6 that Putin had brought the world closer to “Armageddon” than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis, although Biden later said that he did not think that Putin would use a sophisticated nuclear weapon.

Putin has not talked about using a sophisticated nuclear weapon but has said he suspects Ukraine could detonate a “dirty bomb”, a claim Ukraine and the West say is false.

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The US B61 nuclear bomb was first tested in Nevada shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis. Under Barack Obama, US president from 2009 to 2017, the development of a new version of the bomb, the B61-12, was approved.

Russia’s Grushko said Moscow would have to consider the Lockheed Martin F-35 to drop such a bomb. NATO, he said, has already strengthened the nuclear facilities of its military planning.

NATO “has already made decisions to strengthen the nuclear component of the alliance’s military plans,” Grushko said.

The Russian ambassador in Washington, Anatoly Antonov, said on Saturday in Telegram that the new B61 bombers have “strategic importance” as Russia’s nuclear weapons are kept, but these US bombers will be only a short flight from Russia’s borders.

The United States, according to the US 2022 Nuclear Posture Review published on Thursday, will strengthen nuclear deterrence with the F-35, B61-12 bombers and nuclear-armed air-launched cruise missiles.

Edited by Frances Kerry and Helen Popper

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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