Russian President Vladimir Putin has moved 11 nuclear bombers 115 miles from a NATO border, elevating concerns that a tactical nuclear attack may be imminent.
The strategic bombers have been deployed to Russia’s Olenia airbase, which is on the Kolskyi Peninsula near the border of Norway.
Satellite images published by Planet Labs show the buildup of seven Tu-160 strategic bombers and four Tu-95 Bear-H intercontinental bombers.
There are also reports that Russia’s base has Kh-101 cruise missiles — which can carry conventional or nuclear warheads — that may be used against Ukraine.
According to Norwegian fact-checking publication Faktisk, the aircraft are usually positioned at Engel’s airbase, which is more than 440 miles southeast of Moscow and roughly 1,950 miles from Norway.
News of Putin’s strategic realignment of nuclear-capable aircraft comes one day after NATO officials held a closed door meeting in preparation for a nuclear exercise and the same day the Russian president met with Asian allies.
U.S. officials reiterated their pledge to defend NATO territory, despite warnings from Russia about Ukraine joining NATO.
“Kyiv is well aware that such a step would mean a guaranteed escalation to a World War III,” deputy secretary of Russia’s Security Council, Alexander Venediktov, told Russia’s TASS news agency. “The suicidal nature of such a step is understood by NATO members themselves.”
“We are committed to defending every inch of NATO’s territory – if and when it comes to that,” said U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told an audience at an academy in Brussels that the Russian military would be “annihilated” if Putin followed through with a nuclear attack.
“And then, there is the nuclear threat and Putin is saying he is not bluffing. Well, he cannot afford bluffing,” Borrell said. “And it has to be clear that the people supporting Ukraine and the European Union and the Member States, and the United Stated and NATO are not bluffing neither.”
He added, “And any nuclear attack against Ukraine will create an answer, not a nuclear answer but such a powerful answer from the military side that the Russian Army will be annihilated, and Putin should not be bluffing.”
As NATO officials continue to press ahead with additional funding and military supplies for Ukraine, Putin is shoring up alliances with his Asian counterparts.
“The situation in the world and the region, which is growing more complicated, is pushing us toward reinvigorating all the mechanisms of our interaction,” Putin stated at a Russia-Central Asia summit. “Efforts [are taking place] from the outside to interfere in the development of our cooperation in many areas, disrupt the honest ties and close engagement in politics, economy and the humanitarian area that have been shaped throughout history.”