Russia is not opening military bunkers and civilian shelters amid nuclear weapons exercise

By: Emilia Stankeviciute
June 12 2024

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Russia is not opening military bunkers and civilian shelters amid nuclear weapons exercise

Screenshot of the social media post. (Source: Facebook/Modified by Logically Facts)

Fact-Check

The Verdict Misleading

Russia's nuclear drills focus on military readiness, with no evidence of opening civilian shelters or nationwide alert simulations.

Claim ID b3ee1308

Context:

On May 21, 2024, the Russian Ministry of Defense declared that it had begun tactical nuclear weapons exercises. The announcement caused a stir on social media, with many users speculating about the scale and implications of these drills.

Several posts on Facebook, one of which garnered over 150 likes (archived here), claimed that Russia was conducting a full-scale nuclear weapons alert simulation. These posts suggested that military bunkers and civilian shelters were being opened as if in preparation for a "real war situation."

A screenshot of social media posts claiming that Russia is conducting a full-scale nuclear weapons alert exercise. (Source: Facebook/Modified by Logically Facts)

In fact

According to the Russian Defense Military, it has indeed commenced tactical nuclear weapons exercises involving various military units from its Southern Military District, focusing on increasing the readiness of non-strategic nuclear forces. The drills involve missile units, aviation, and naval forces and are framed as a response to perceived Western threats. The exercises are designed to simulate combat scenarios and enhance strategic deterrence.

Tactical nuclear weapons, unlike strategic ones meant to obliterate cities, are designed for battlefield use. These weapons have a shorter range and lower yield, making them suitable for use in specific military scenarios instead of large-scale destruction.

The exercises are taking place in a border area that includes parts of Ukraine under Russian control. This region's proximity to Ukraine has added to the international tension and concern surrounding these drills.

Despite the provocative nature of these exercises, the U.S. nuclear policy expert Jamie Withorne clarifies: "Video analysis of the exercise suggests it was strictly a procedural test and not preparation for introducing nuclear weapons into the Ukraine War. Thus, it is likely the statements and exercise itself were intended as a political signal."

Beijing-based military expert Wei Dongxu concurs, suggesting that the drills aim to demonstrate Russia's rapid deployment capabilities and prevent impulsive actions by the European Union and NATO. 

Despite the heightened military activity, there is no evidence to support claims that Russia is engaging in nationwide civilian shelter activities or a full-scale alert affecting the entire country. The primary focus of these exercises is military preparedness and deterrence rather than civilian protection measures.

Withorne notes, "Currently, open-source methodologies can help provide tools for monitoring the scale and type of military exercises. For example, satellite imagery can be used to identify military capabilities and their locations in near real-time. Additionally, press and news media coverage can be used to assess both dialogue and imagery to determine the purpose, scale, and relative success of a military exercise. An important aspect of open-source work in this regard is tracking patterns of behavior over time to establish common indicators and, importantly, to be able to identify what uncommon behavior looks like."

The Arms Control Association reported on previous Russian military exercises in 2022 involving simulated nuclear strikes. These actions were primarily for strategic signaling rather than indicating imminent large-scale civilian preparations.

The verdict

While Russia is conducting tactical nuclear weapons exercises with extensive military drills, there is no substantial evidence to support the claim that these activities include opening civilian shelters or a full-scale alert simulation across the entire country. The primary focus remains on military readiness and deterrence.

Thus, the claim that Russia is conducting a full-scale nuclear weapons alert simulation involving civilian shelters is misleading. The exercises are significant but do not reach the extent suggested in the claim.

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