Ukraine prepares for cold winter as Putin monitors practise nuclear launch

President Putin watched practice missile launches on Wednesday, as Europe Editor James Mates reports

Ukrainians are bracing themselves for a winter with little heating, water and electricity in parts of the country amid expectations that Russia will continue to target its energy infrastructure.

While officials said that they had managed to impede the massive assault on Ukrainian power plants in some places, in others rockets have "completely" destroyed electrical facilities.

But the government is hoping that with "sensible rationing" the country can get through the winter without running out of gas.

Meanwhile Russian president Vladimir Putin monitored drills of the country’s strategic nuclear forces involving multiple practice launches of ballistic and cruise missiles on Wednesday, in a show of force amid the heightened tensions with the West over the conflict in Ukraine.

Defence minister Sergei Shoigu reported to Putin that the exercise was intended to simulate a “massive nuclear strike” by Russia in retaliation for a nuclear attack on the country.

The manoeuvres followed the Russian leader's warning about his readiness to use “all means available” to fend off attacks on Russia's territory in a clear reference to the country's nuclear arsenals.

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During the Russian drills on Wednesday, a Yars land-based intercontinental ballistic missile was test-fired from the northern Plesetsk launch site. A Russian nuclear submarine in the Barents Sea launched a Sineva ICBM at the Kura firing range on the far-eastern Kamchatka Peninsula.

As part of the exercise, Tu-95 strategic bombers also launched cruise missiles at practice targets.

The Kremlin said in a statement that all tasks set for the exercise were fulfilled and all the missiles that were test-fired reached their designated targets.

The Russian drills came as NATO was holding its own annual nuclear exercises in northwestern Europe that will run until October 30.

The drills, dubbed Steadfast Noon, involve around 60 aircraft, including US long-range B-52 bombers and fighter jets capable of carrying nuclear weapons, but do not involve any live bombs.

Russian manoeuvres involving land, sea and air components of the nuclear triad have taken place on an annual basis to train the country's nuclear forces and demonstrate their readiness. A previous such exercise was held just days before Putin sent troops into Ukraine.

The Biden administration said on Tuesday that Russia gave notice it intended to stage routine drills of its nuclear capabilities. The Pentagon and the US state department said Russia had complied with the terms of the last US-Russia arms control agreement in notifying Washington of the upcoming tests.

A Yars intercontinental ballistic missile is test-fired as part of Russia's nuclear drills from a launch site in northwestern Russia Credit: AP

The Russian nuclear exercise comes amid Moscow’s warnings of a purported Ukrainian plot to detonate a radioactive device commonly known as a “dirty bomb” in a false flag attack to blame Russia.

Putin himself repeated the dirty bomb claim on Wednesday. “We know about the plans to use the so-called dirty bomb for provocations,” he said.

Shoigu, the Russian defence ministry, also called his Chinese and Indian counterparts on Wednesday to discuss the allegation, which Ukraine and its Western allies have strongly rejected.

Authorities in Poland, Ukraine's western neighbour, said they were closely watching Russia’s movements to prepare for the potential use of nuclear or chemical weapons.

Deputy defence minister Marcin Ociepa charged the Kremlin “may reach for nuclear or chemical weapons” in the face of military setbacks in Ukraine.