Russia’s Strategic Missile Troops have kicked off large-scale military drills in Southern Siberia, nearly a month after test-firing a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that renewed a missile dispute with the US.
More than 4,000 servicemen and 400 pieces of military hardware, including the Topol-M ICBM mobile launchers, were taking part in the exercise, the Russian Defense Ministry announced on Tuesday.
Russian supersonic fighter jets were also participating in the drills, which were expected to fuel an ongoing missile row between Russia and the US.
The US has long been accusing Russia of violating the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) between Washington and the former Soviet Union, which went into effect in 1991 and expired in 2009.
The treaty banned the two sides from deploying more than 6,000 nuclear warheads atop a total of 1,600 ICBMs and bombers.
The deal was replaced by the New START agreement in 2010, under which Russia and the US agreed to reduce by half the number of strategic nuclear missile launchers they had.
The dispute took the spotlight again in mid-September, when Russia test-fired a RS-24 Yars nuclear missile that can deliver multiple nuclear warheads to targets 11,000 kilometers away.
American officials said the Yars missile’s deployment amounted to a breach of both START agreements, because it was an upgraded version of the Topol-M missile. Russia has denied the accusation, saying the missile is a new design.
US President Donald Trump has also been critical of the START agreements, claiming that they favor Russia.
According to reports, when Russian President Vladimir Putin asked Trump about extending the treaty during their first phone call in February, the American head of state responded by calling it “one of several bad deals negotiated by the [former President Barack] Obama administration.”
An avid supporter of nuclear weapons, Trump ordered the Pentagon in April to review Washington’s nuclear posture.
Unnamed Pentagon officials told US media on Wednesday that Trump had surprised military commanders by asking them for a tenfold increase in the US nuclear arsenal.
The Pentagon has recently granted contracts to American arms manufacturers to develop new ICBMs and nuclear-capable cruise missiles in a bid to replace the US Air Force’s ageing arsenal of strategic thermonuclear weapons.