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Echoes of the Cold War: Strategic Implications of Russia’s First Tactical Nuclear Drill Since Soviet Era

Written by: Ludovico Caprio

Edited by: Dimitra Pateraki

Supervised by: Riccardo Angelo Grassi

For the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia announced the beginning of a two-phase tactical nuclear exercise in Southern Russia, near Rostov-on-Don and close to parts of Ukraine currently under control by Russian forces. The drills included the participation of Belarus troops and simulated the deployment of non-strategic nuclear weapons with the upgraded ‘Iskander ballistic missile systems and ‘Khinzal’ hypersonic missiles. Moscow states that the military drill is a direct response to ‘militant statements’ from Western leaders, especially from the United States, France and Britain, who have recently reiterated their continued financial and military support to Ukraine (Trevelyan, 2024). However, the pattern and timing of these exercises point towards a bigger strategic objective. Beyond the official statements, these exercises are a strategic move intended to intimidate the West and divide NATO from within. Russia is trying to demonstrate its nuclear capabilities and readiness, thereby frightening those Western countries who are showing support to Ukraine. The move serves as a message to NATO nations weighing further military aid in the region. These drills are going on against a backdrop of heightened global tensions, with nuclear language seeing a resurgence in international communication and collaboration. These exercises not only display military strength but also assess the extent to which Western nations are willing to stand up to or cooperate with Russia (Trevelyan, 2024).

The paper will first detail the specifics of the Russian tactical nuclear exercise, explaining in depth the two phases that characterised this exercise, its motives and objectives. Then, the paper will assess potential future threats and analyse the strategic response of the West as it once again comes to terms with Russian nuclear rhetoric.