Russian nuclear military train spotted moving even as Ukrainian forces make fresh gains
The development came even as NATO warned member states that Russia's state-of-the-art Belgorod nuclear submarine has left its White Sea base
Footage of a huge freight train moving specialist military equipment associated with a nuclear-arms wielding division of Russia's Defence Ministry has been spotted on the move, prompting fears of an escalation in the conflict from President Vladimir Putin's forces, even as Ukrainian forces continued to be on the offensive and make gains in parts of the country.
A series of BPM-97 armoured personnel carriers (APCs) and other military vehicles were seen travelling through central Russia in a clip posted on the Telegram messaging app by pro-Russian channel Rybar on Sunday, Daily Mail reported.
The APCs are thought to have been upgraded with more capable turrets, reinforced ambush and mine-proof armour and an air purification system designed to allow its occupants to operate effectively in the face of sustained infantry attacks.
Such advanced military hardware, the likes of which have scarcely been deployed on the frontlines in Ukraine, reportedly belong to the 12th Main Directorate of the Russian MoD.
This specialist division is dedicated to the storage, maintenance and provision of weapons to the likes of the Strategic Rocket Forces, a Russian military branch that controls nuclear missiles and forms a key part of Putin's nuclear programme, Daily Mail reported.
Military analyst Konrad Musyka claimed the deployment of such units could signal a coming escalation in the conflict from the warmongering Russian president or constitute a precursor to large scale nuclear drills.
It comes as NATO warned member states that Russia's state-of-the-art Belgorod nuclear submarine has left its White Sea base, while key Putin ally Ramzan Kadyrov said Russia's military should use 'low-yield nuclear weapons' to turn the tide of the war in Ukraine, Daily Mail reported.
Muzyka said the movement of heavy military hardware belonging to nuke-wielding units does not necessarily mean that Russia is preparing to deploy a nuclear weapon in Ukraine. But he did suggest it could be a 'signal to the West that Moscow is escalating' the conflict, adding that Russia's Strategic Rocket Forces (RVSN) are known to undergo extensive training drills in autumn.
The RVSN is a branch of Russia's armed forces that constitutes a cornerstone of the nation's nuclear defence and deterrence programme, which is the largest and most advanced in the world, Daily Mail reported.
It is made up of dozens of missile regiments who together control thousands of nuclear capable weapons, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and are responsible for the maintenance and protection of their launch centres.
The development unfolded even as Ukrainian troops continued to push forward on Monday with their offensive that has embarrassed Moscow, with Kyiv officials and foreign observers hinting at new gains in the strategic southern region of Kherson that the Kremlin wants to annex.
Kherson has been one of the toughest battlefields for the Ukrainians, with slower progress when compared with Ukraine's breakout offensive around the country's second largest city of Kharkiv, in the northeast, that began last month.
Kherson is one of the four regions ‘illegally’ annexed by Moscow last week after a referendum orchestrated by the Kremlin.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday that two of those regions, Donetsk and Luhansk, are joining Russia with their administrative borders that existed before a conflict erupted there in 2014 between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces.
He noted that the issue of the borders of the two other regions Zaporizhzhia and Kherson remains open.
“We will continue to discuss that with residents of those regions,” Peskov said in a conference call with reporters. He did not provide additional details.
Ukrainian media outlets on Monday highlighted an image of Ukrainian troops displaying flags at a marker for the village of Khreshchenivka, which is in the same area of Kherson where troops apparently have broken through Russian lines.
Ukraine has pressed its counteroffensive in the Kherson region since the summer, relentlessly pummeling Russian supply lines and making inroads into the areas west of the Dnieper River held by the Russians.
The Ukrainian military has successfully used U.S.-supplied HIMARS multiple rocket launchers to repeatedly hit the main bridge across the Dnieper in the city of Kherson and a dam that served as a second main crossing.
It also has struck pontoon bridges that Russia has used to supply its troops on the western bank of the river after the main crossings were made inoperable.
Despite the successful strikes on supply lines, Ukrainian offensive operations in the south so far have been slower and less successful compared with the northeast, as the open terrain easily exposed the attacking force to Russian artillery fire and airstrikes.
Russian military bloggers close to Moscow have increasingly acknowledged that Ukraine has superior manpower, backed by tank units, in the area.
A Russian-installed official in the Kherson region, Kirill Stremousov, admitted in a video statement on Monday morning that the Ukrainian forces have broken through a little deeper. However, he insisted that everything is under control and that Russia's defense system is working in the region.
Russia attacked Ukrainian president Vladimir Zelenskyy's hometown and other targets Sunday with suicide drones, and Ukraine took back full control of a strategic eastern city in a counteroffensive that has reshaped the war.
Russia's recent loss of the eastern city of Lyman, which it had been using as a transport and logistics hub, was a new blow to the Kremlin as it seeks to escalate the war by illegally annexing the four regions of Ukraine and heightening threats to use nuclear force.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's land grab has threatened to push the conflict to a dangerous new level.
It also prompted Ukraine to formally apply for fast-track NATO membership
In his nightly address on Sunday, Zelenskyy discussed the recent liberation of Lyman, a key Russian node for logistics on the front line in the northeast.
“The story of the liberation of Lyman in the Donetsk region has now become the most popular in the media but the successes of our soldiers are not limited to Lyman,” Zelenskyy said.
Lyman, which Ukraine recaptured by encircling Russian troops, is in the Donetsk region near the border with Luhansk.
In his broadcast, Zelenskyy also thanked troops from his hometown near Kherson.
“To the soldiers of the 129th Brigade of my native Kryvy Rih, who distinguished themselves with good results and liberated, in particular, Arkhanhelske and Myroliubivka,” he said.
Those two villages are in the same area where Ukrainian troops have been making advances.
A photo emerged at the weekend showing Ukrainian forces' operation southwest of Novovorontsovka on the banks of the Dnieper River.
Ukraine's presidential office said on Monday that Russian shelling of eight Ukrainian regions over the past 24 hours killed two civilians and injured 14 more.
It also reported advances in the Kherson region and said that the Russian authorities in response restricted people from leaving the city of Kherson, introducing special permits for those who want to leave.
Since the Russian offensive started in February, Ukrainian forces have recently managed to retake swaths of territory, notably in the northeast around Kharkiv, in a counteroffensive in recent weeks that has embarrassed the Kremlin and prompted rare domestic criticism of Putin's war.
(With agency inputs)