On 26 October, Russia’s President Putin told a meeting of intelligence officials from the CIS group of ex-Soviet countries that the West was “pumping” Ukraine with heavy weapons, adding, “There are also plans to use a so-called dirty bomb for provocations.” CBNW Deputy Editor David Oliver examines this allegation and its implications for the protracted war in Ukraine.

It was the first time Putin himself has made the dirty bomb allegation. A ‘dirty bomb’ – correct term, radiological dispersal device (RDD) – uses explosives to scatter radioactive waste or other radioisotope to contaminate property and people and to sow terror. While such weapons may not have the devastating destruction of a nuclear explosion, they expose areas to radioactive contamination that could last for years.

Russian misinformation
Western allies have dismissed as absurd the idea that Ukraine would contaminate its own land with toxic waste when Russia is on its back foot on the battlefield. Russia has provided no proof of the allegation.

Britain’s deputy UN ambassador, James Kariuki, called the allegations “pure Russian misinformation of the kind we’ve seen many times before.” Western officials have expressed fear the warning looks designed to serve as the justification for some kind of Russian battlefield escalation at a time when Ukrainian forces are advancing inside Russian-occupied Kherson province.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels on 26 October that the 30-nation military organisation “will not be intimidated or deterred from supporting Ukraine’s right to self-defence for as long as it takes.”

Russia’s nuclear exercise
Under the provisions of the New START Treaty, Russia is obliged to provide advance notification of any nuclear exercises. It notified the United States that it would be carrying out its annual nuclear exercise, codenamed Grom or Thunder, in October. The Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu made a statement saying that the aim of Russian nuclear exercises on land, sea and air were for military command and control to practise carrying out “a massive nuclear strike by the strategic nuclear forces in retaliation for the enemy’s nuclear strike.”

The Russian exercises, held against a backdrop of a flagging campaign in southern and eastern Ukraine, involved a Yars ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) launched from Plesetsk cosmodrome some 800 km (500 miles) north of Moscow, and a Sineva ballistic missile fired from the Barents Sea to the remote Kura test site in Kamchatka province in Russia’s Far East.

NATO exercise: Steadfast Noon
Russia’s nuclear drills coincided with air forces from across NATO exercising nuclear deterrence capabilities involving dozens of aircraft over north-western Europe that began on 17 October 2022. The exercise, which ran until 30 October, was a routine, recurring training activity and is not linked to any current world events. It practiced NATO’s nuclear strike mission with dual-capable aircraft (DCA) and the B61 tactical nuclear bombs that the US deploys in Europe.

Exercise Steadfast Noon involved 14 countries and up to 60 aircraft of various types, including fourth- and fifth-generation fighter jets, as well as surveillance and tanker aircraft. Non-nuclear aircraft also participated in the exercise under NATO’s Support of Nuclear Operations with Conventional Air Tactics (SNOWCAT) programme, which is used to enable military assets from non-nuclear countries to support the nuclear strike mission without being formally part of it.

As in previous years, US Air Force B-52 long-range bombers will take part. This year, they flew from Minot Air Base in North Dakota. The training flights took place over Belgium, which hosted the exercise, as well as over the North Sea and the UK. No live weapons are used.

“Safe, secure and effective”
“Steadfast Noon” is hosted by a different NATO ally each year. “This exercise helps ensure that the Alliance’s nuclear deterrent remains safe, secure and effective,” said NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu. NATO’s new Strategic Concept, adopted by Allied leaders at the Madrid Summit in June 2022, makes clear that “the fundamental purpose of NATO’s nuclear capability is to preserve peace, prevent coercion and deter aggression.” It stressed that, “as long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance. NATO’s goal is a safer world for all; we seek to create the security environment for a world without nuclear weapons.“

Russian Yars intercontinental ballistic missile test launch.
©Russian MoD