US military and intelligence officials believe Russia is planning a major nuclear weapons exercise this month as a warning to Nato not to intervene if President Vladimir Putin decides to invade. Ukraine.
General Mark Milley, chairman of the joint committee, and Avril Haines, director of national intelligence, told lawmakers in the House of Representatives on Thursday that Putin plans to begin the exercises in mid-February, according to a report Congressional aide has knowledge of the caucus.
Russia usually holds annual nuclear exercises – which include testing intercontinental ballistic missiles from land, sea and air – in the fall. But the US believes Putin decided to keep them earlier this year as a show of force in case he ordered his troops to continue invading Ukraine.
The US believes that the optimal time for a Russian invasion would be from mid-February to the end of March.
Holding exercises to coincide with an invasion would send a powerful reminder to Nato of the strength of Moscow’s nuclear forces, the largest in the world. Russia has just under 4,500 nuclear warheads in its stockpile, according to the Federation of American Scientists.
“It would be an extremely provocative and harbinger of messages if they did it concurrently with an invasion,” said Rebeccah Heinrichs, a nuclear weapons policy expert at the Hudson Institute in Washington. Ukraine strategy.
The US has yet to determine whether Putin decided to invade Ukraine. But with its allies, Washington is increasingly worried about Russia’s continued military buildup around the border with Ukraine.
Over the past two weeks, Russia has increased the number of battalion-level combat groups – possibly from 750 to 1,000 – deployed in the border area from 60 to 83, according to a Nato source. Another 14 BTGs are also transiting to the border area. The US believes Russia has also deployed between 1,200 and 2,100 special operations troops in the region.
New battalion-level combat groups and other corps are deployed in the region, bringing the total number of Russian forces in the region to more than 100,000.
Washington estimates that Russia has deployed enough forces for a limited offensive but only 70 percent of the troops needed for an all-out invasion, including an assault on Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital.
American military experts believe that Russia is capable of deploying enough forces for an all-out invasion by mid-February, coinciding with the scheduled start of nuclear weapons exercises.
Earlier this week, President Joe Biden ordered deploy 2,000 US troops to Poland and Germany, in an attempt to signal to Putin about the strength of the Nato alliance. On Thursday, the US accused Russia of prepare to make an attack of Ukraine or the West, in a campaign of “false flags” designed to create a pretext for an invasion.
On Tuesday, Putin accused the United States of trying to “draw” Russia into armed conflict and said it was ignoring Russia’s security concerns and its demands for assurances that NATO would not recognize Ukraine in the future.
Russian leader get support from Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday when he visited Beijing for the opening of the Winter Olympics. In a joint statement, they said they were “opposed to Nato’s further expansion”.
A senior US official said that China should have used the meeting with Putin to encourage him to de-escalate in Ukraine.
“If Russia continues to invade Ukraine and China looks the other way, it shows that China is willing to tolerate or tacitly support Russia’s efforts to coerce Ukraine even if they embarrass Beijing and cause trouble. harm European security and jeopardize global peace and economic stability,” he said.
Monitor Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter