Russia's nuclear forces reportedly are preparing their largest maneuvers in two decades, an exercise involving the test-firing of missiles and flights by dozens of bombers in a massive simulation of an all-out nuclear war.
President Vladimir Putin is expected to oversee the maneuvers, which are apparently aimed at demonstrating the revival of the nation's military might and come ahead of Russian elections in March.
The business newspaper Kommersant said the exercise was set for mid February and would closely resemble a 1982 Soviet exercise dubbed the "seven-hour nuclear war" that put the West on edge.
Official comments on the upcoming exercise have been sketchy. The chief of Russia's Strategic Missile Forces, Col.-Gen. Nikolai Solovtsov, was quoted by the Interfax-Military News Agency as saying the planned maneuvers would involve several launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles in various regions of Russia, but he wouldn't give further details.
Kommersant said the maneuvers would involve Tu-160 strategic bombers test-firing cruise missiles over the northern Atlantic. Analysts describe such an exercise as imitating a nuclear attack on the United States.
As part of the exercise, the military is planning to conduct several launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles, including one from a Russian nuclear submarine in the Barents Sea, Kommersant report said.
The military also plans to launch military satellites from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakstan and the Plesetsk launch pad in northern Russia _ a simulation of the replacement of satellites lost in action, Kommersant said.
Pavel Felgenhauer, an independent military analyst, said the military has regularly held nuclear exercises that were timed to coincide with the annual test-firing of aging Soviet-built missiles.
Putin has repeatedly pledged to rebuild Russia's military might and restore pride to the demoralized service.