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Putin Supervises Strategic Nuclear Drill

A Russian intercontinental ballistic missile is test-fired in this undated photo. President Vladimir Putin on Thursday oversaw a large-scale nuclear arms drill that involved the test-firing of strategic land- and sea-based missiles. A Russian intercontinental ballistic missile is test-fired in this undated photo. President Vladimir Putin on Thursday oversaw a large-scale nuclear arms drill that involved the test-firing of strategic land- and sea-based missiles. (Russian Strategic Missile Forces photo)

Russia on Thursday conducted a nuclear response drill involving the launches of land- and sea-based missiles, amid continuing tensions with the West.

President Vladimir Putin supervised the nuclear exercise, which he asserted had been in the works since November -- months before friction with NATO skyrocketed over Russia's incursion into Ukraine, the Associated Press reported.

The drill involved the simulation of a large-scale retaliatory nuclear attack in response to a strike on Russia, according to Russian news reports. As part of the exercise, a Topol intercontinental ballistic missile was fired from the Plesetsk launch facility in the northwestern part of the country, and two submarines assigned to the Pacific and Northern fleets test-fired long-range ballistic missiles, according to the Russian defense ministry.

Strategic bombers also participated in the drill, according to the state-controlled ITAR-Tass news service.

Putin supervised the exercise from defense ministry headquarters where he was accompanied by the presidents of Belarus, Armenia, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Tensions between Russia and NATO have risen to their highest point since the end of the Cold War. U.S. European Command head Gen. Philip Breedlove on Tuesday said the alliance would weigh whether to permanently base military personnel in Eastern Europe as a response to events in Ukraine.

Were NATO to take that step, Russia could retaliate by fielding tactical Iskander missiles in the Kaliningrad exclave, which borders multiple alliance countries, the former head of the Russian defense ministry's international agreements department told RIA Novosti.

"Russia is a nuclear power," Lt. Gen. Yevgeny Buzhinsky said. "If NATO becomes more active, we will deploy a division of Iskander missiles in [the] Kaliningrad region.

Moscow has warned repeatedly over the years that it could deploy the ballistic missile to its exclave, which is situated between Poland and Lithuania. The latter country earlier this week said Russia had unilaterally suspended a bilateral agreement that permits Lithuania to inspect Russian forces in Kaliningrad.

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