Russia claims that US bombers flying only 20 km from Russia’s border were rehearsing a nuclear strike on Russia from two different directions earlier this month, the Defence Ministry said in a statement on November 23.
The Pentagon dismissed Russia’s comments on nuclear tests, saying its drills were announced publicly at the time and adhered to international protocols, Reuters reports.
President Putin accused the West of escalating tensions in Ukraine and not taking Russia’s “red lines” seriously in a speech to the Foreign Ministry a week earlier.
"Western partners are escalating the situation by supplying Kyiv with lethal modern weapons and conducting provocative manoeuvres in the Black Sea," Putin said.
Tensions between Russia and the West have escalated dramatically in the last three weeks following a report by US intelligence that Russia was massing troops on Ukraine’s border and could be preparing to attack.
Kirill Budanov, head of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence, said more than 92,000 military personnel are gathered near the Ukrainian border, and he expects an invasion in late January or early February.
The New York Times reported that US intelligence has warned European allies there is “little time left” to prevent conflict in Ukraine. US Senator Robert Menendez proposed a clause to be included in the defence-spending bill that would trigger a “cascade of sanctions” should Russia attack Ukraine that is due to be passed shortly.
The Kremlin countered, saying the West is whipping up “hysteria” and there was nothing unusual about troop movements within Russia. At the same time, the Kremlin pointed to US-led naval exercises in the region in the Black Sea and US-Estonian exercises in the Baltics.
The situation has been inflamed after Turkey sold TB2 Bayraktar military drones earlier this year, which Kyiv used against rebels for the first time earlier this month. The Kremlin said the sale of this advanced military technology would only destabilise the situation in Ukraine further.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said that Moscow had noted a significant increase in the activity of US strategic bombers, which he said had carried out 30 flights close to Russia this month. That, he said, was 2.5 times more than the same period last year.
Shoigu complained in particular of what he said was a simulated US nuclear strike against Russia earlier this month.
"The defence minister underlined that during the US military exercises 'Global Thunder', 10 American strategic bombers rehearsed launching nuclear weapons against Russia from the western and eastern directions," Shoigu was quoted as saying in a defence ministry statement as cited by Reuters. "The minimum proximity to our state border was 20 km.”
"These missions were announced publicly at the time, and closely planned with (Strategic Command), (European Command), allies and partners to ensure maximum training and integration opportunities as well as compliance with all national and international requirements and protocols," said Lieutenant Colonel Anton Semelroth, a Pentagon spokesperson who was cited by Reuters.
The top Russian and US military officers, Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, spoke by telephone on November 23 but neither side disclosed the contents of the conversation.
Global Thunder, which this year put US nuclear-capable B-52 bombers through their paces, is the US Strategic Command's annual nuclear and command exercise designed to test and demonstrate the readiness of US nuclear capabilities.