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

  • Russia warns US about new B61s
  • Pentagon: Very planned modernization
  • Russia says NATO is beefing up nuclear plans
  • Pentagon: B61 upgrades not linked to Ukraine
  • Russia: Newer bombs are strategically important

LONDON, Oct 29 (Reuters) – Russia said on Saturday that the accelerated deployment of modernized U.S. B61 tactical nuclear weapons at NATO bases in Europe would lower the “nuclear threshold” and that Russia would take that into account in the their military planning.

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

Amid the Ukraine crisis, Politico reported on Oct. 26 that the United States said at a closed NATO meeting this month that it would accelerate the deployment of a modernized version of the B61, the B61-12, with the new weapons arriving at the European bases in December, a few months earlier than expected.

“We cannot ignore plans to modernize nuclear weapons, these free-falling bombs that are in Europe,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko told state news agency RIA.

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The 12-foot B61-12 gravity bomb carries a lower-yield nuclear warhead than many previous versions, but is more accurate and can penetrate underground, according to research 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 charge, that is, they are turning these weapons into ‘battlefield weapons,’ thereby lowering the nuclear threshold,” Grushko said.

The Pentagon said it was not going to discuss the details of the US nuclear arsenal and that the premise of the Politico article was wrong, as the US had long planned to modernize its B61 nuclear weapons.

“The modernization of America’s B61 nuclear weapons has been underway for years, and plans to safely and responsibly exchange the older weapons for upgraded versions of the B61-12 are part of an effort by scheduled and long-planned modernization,” Pentagon spokesman Oscar Seara said.

“It is in no way linked to current events in Ukraine and was not accelerated in any way,” Seara said in an emailed statement.

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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked the most serious 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 particular concern in the West after Moscow said last month it had annexed four regions of Ukraine that its forces control parts of. Putin says the West has engaged in nuclear blackmail against Russia.

“STRATEGIC SIGNIFICANCE”

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

Putin has not mentioned the use of a tactical 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, president of the United States from 2009 to 2017, the development of a new version of the bomb, the B61-12, was approved.

Russia’s Grushko said Moscow should also consider the Lockheed Martin F-35 that would drop this bomb. NATO, he said, had already strengthened the nuclear parts of its military planning.

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

Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, said on Telegram on Saturday that the new B61 bombs were of “strategic importance” as Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons were stored, but those US bombs would be a short flight from Russia’s borders.

The United States, according to the 2022 US Nuclear Posture Review released Thursday, will strengthen the nuclear deterrent with the F-35, B61-12 bombers and a nuclear-armed air-launched cruise missile.

Editing by Frances Kerry and Helen Popper

Our standards: the Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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