Developments in Nuclear Weapons Around the World

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How The U.K. Will Test Its New Nuclear Warhead Without Setting One Off​



The U.K. Ministry of Defense has shared details about how it plans to make sure its future A21 nuclear warhead works as intended without actually detonating one. Though this kind of testing is not new in concept, the British government says it has been expanding and improving its capabilities specifically to support work on its next-generation warhead. When ready, the A21s will go into U.S.-made Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
Information about the A21 warhead and related developments were included in a Defense Nuclear Enterprise Command Paper that the U.K. Ministry of Defense (MoD) released earlier today. The A21, which was previously known publicly simply as the Replacement Warhead Program, is also now called Astraea. Often translated as "star-maiden," Astraea is the name of a minor ancient Greek goddess of purity and justice. The United Kingdom's nuclear deterrent capability is currently made up entirely of four Vanguard class submarines capable of firing nuclear-armed Trident IIs. An equal number of new Dreadnought class boats is set to replace them replace the Vanguards in the next decade or so.

"The U.K. committed to replacing our sovereign warhead in parliament in February 2021," according to the newly released MoD white paper. "Using modern and innovative developments in science, engineering, manufacturing, and production at AWE [the Atomic Weapons Establishment], we will ensure the UK maintains an effective deterrent for as long as required."
British authorities say that the country's existing stockpile is being maintained at least during the development of the A21. This could help explain the announcement in 2021 that the country's total stockpile size would grow for the first time since the end of the Cold War. Work on the A21 is part of a multi-billion-pound effort to modernize the British nuclear enterprise as a whole. Just last year, authorities in the United Kingdom announced plans to invest another three billion pounds, or nearly $3.8 billion at the current rate of exchange at the time of writing, to support this overall effort, according to the white paper released today.
Details about the A21 are scant and its estimated yield is unknown. The MoD does say that the Astraeas will be loaded into Mk 7 re-entry vehicles, a new design that will also be used with the now-in-development U.S. W93 warhead, which we will come back to later.


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The Royal Navy's Vanguard class submarines are the United Kingdom's current launch platform Trident II nuclear-tipped submarine-launched ballistic missiles. These boats are set to be replaced by examples of the new Dreadnought class starting in the early 2030s

The A21 "will be the first U.K. warhead developed in an era where we no longer test our weapons underground, upholding our voluntary moratorium on nuclear weapon test explosions," the MoD's new nuclear white paper says. "This is possible because of the long history of technical expertise and extensive investment in UK modelling and simulation, supercomputing, materials science, shock and laser physics at AWE."
The British government voluntarily took up a policy position to end nuclear testing in 1995. The country signed the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) the following year and ratified that agreement in 1998. The U.S. government, which has a very close relationship with its British counterparts, including in the development of nuclear weapons, also has a voluntary moratorium in place against nuclear testing and has signed the CTBT, but has not ratified its participation in that treaty. China and Israel have also signed, but not ratified the CTBT, and Russia de-ratified its participation last year. India, Pakistan, and North Korea have never signed the treaty. Russia's withdrawal from the deal has raised concerns about new live nuclear testing, but the Kremlin has insisted it will only do so if the United States does so first.

In the United Kingdom, "we have developed unique and world-leading technology to validate the U.K.’s warhead stockpile. The Orion laser helps our physicists and scientists research the physics of those extreme temperatures and pressures found in a nuclear explosion to better understand the safety, reliability, and performance of nuclear warheads," the MoD's white paper explains. "Orion is used collaboratively with U.K. academia and U.S. teams in their National Laboratories."


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A Trident II missile without any live warheads is seen here after launch from the submerged U.S. Navy Ohio class nuclear ballistic missile submarine USS Rhode Island during a test in 2019. USN

"Supercomputing is also a crucial capability, enabling simulations that allow us to develop a safe, assured warhead without detonation," the newly released document adds. "AWE has recently commissioned a supercomputer named Valiant, one of the most powerful computers in the U.K., to validate the design, performance and reliability of our nuclear warhead."

A facility in France called EPURE, which British and French authorities operate together, will also support the A21's development.

"EPURE is a technologically-advanced hydrodynamic facility at Valduc, in France, near Dijon. Hydrodynamic testing uses radiography to measure the performance of materials at extreme temperature and pressure," according to the nuclear white paper. "While the UK and France maintain operational independence, the facility will be jointly managed, with both nations performing sophisticated experiments to inform their modeling of the performance and safety of the nuclear weapons without undertaking nuclear explosive tests."

As noted, these kinds of nuclear test capabilities are not new. Other countries also make use of such testing options to support nuclear weapons research in lieu of setting off actual warheads. However, in addition to the mention of the new Valiant supercomputer, the new MoD nuclear white paper does say that "replacing the U.K. warhead is a long-term programme [sic], driving modernisation and construction at AWE, HMNB Clyde and the hydrodynamics facility at EPURE, in France."

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A view inside a portion of the Orion laser test facility.

British Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) are currently loaded with an existing domestically-designed warhead with an unknown yield, which may be derived from the U.S. W76. The U.K. warhead and U.S. W76-series types both use the Mk 4-series re-entry vehicles.
"In 2023, the U.K. completed an update of its warhead, transitioning from the Mk 4 to the Mk 4A by replacing non-nuclear components," the new MoD nuclear white paper says, appearing to use the re-entry vehicle nomenclature. "The Mk 4 warheads are being disassembled and their component elements reused, recycled, or safely disposed of."

U.S. Trident II SLBMs are currently loaded with either W76-series or W88 warheads, the latter of which reportedly have yields of around 475 kilotons. Two versions of the W76 are known to be in U.S. service today, the improved W76-1 that also uses the upgraded Mk 4A re-entry vehicle and has an estimated yield of around 100 kilotons, and the W76-2, a specially designed lower-yield type. The W76-2's yield may be as low as five kilotons. The Trident II, also known as the Trident D5, is a multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) design and a single one of these missiles can be loaded with up to 14 individual warheads, depending on type.

As already mentioned, the U.S. and U.K. governments are very closely tied together when it comes to the Trident II missile and the warheads that go into them.

"The U.K. accesses a shared [Trident II] missile pool. Missiles are loaded into our submarines in Kings Bay, Georgia, U.S. The U.K.-manufactured warheads are mated to the missiles at HMNB Clyde [His Majesty's Naval Base Clyde]," the new U.K. nuclear white paper notes. "This enables mutual assurance of performance and safety. It remains one of the most enduring and effective examples of a strategic partnership between the two nations."
When the United Kingdom might start deploying Trident II missiles loaded with new A21 warheads is unclear. The Astraea is being developed in parallel with the U.S. W93, which is expected to begin entering service in the 2030s, and the former may well be derived, at least in part, from the latter. The use of a more "sovereign" warhead design would help the United Kingdom keep domestic nuclear weapon production capacity alive. It would also help ensure the indepdence of the country's sole nuclear deterrent capability.

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The Airix flash x-ray radiographic machine, one of the specialized test instruments at EPURE.

Details about the W93, including details about just how 'new' the design is, are also limited.
"The W93 Modernization Program was established to support the Navy’s identified need for a new reentry body. Anchored on previously tested nuclear components, the W93 will incorporate modern technologies to improve safety, security, and flexibility to address future threats," the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration said its in most recent annual Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan report. "The W93 will not require additional nuclear explosive testing to be certified."

Questions have been raised in the past about whether the U.S. Department of Energy, which oversees the production of America's nuclear weapons and the sustainment of the country's stockpile, has the resources needed to make large volumes of new or at least new-ish warheads. The capacity to produce plutonium "pits," as well as advanced non-nuclear materials including an aerogel codenamed Fogbank that you can read more about here, have been cited as potential limiting factors.

The early 2030s is also when the Royal Navy hopes to begin replacing its existing Vanguard class nuclear ballistic submarines, or SSBNs, with the new Dreadnought class boats. The Vanguard class submarines have 16 missile tubes and the future Dreadnought class ones will have 12. The MoD has also said in the past that only eight of the tubes on each Dreadnought class submarine will be operational, with the other four being filled with ballast to ensure the boat remains stable.

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Personnel at the Pantex plant in Texas load a Mk 4A reentry vehicle containing a W76-1 warhead into a container for transport. The W76-2 warhead fits inside the same reentry vehicle.

The rationale for this reduction in total missile tubes is not entirely clear, but reflects a similar trend in the United States. The U.S. Navy's new Columbia class SSBNs, the first of which it hopes will be delivered before the end of the decade, will have 16 missile tubes. It existing Ohio class SSBNs have 24 tubes, but four of those on each boat have already been deactivated as a result of arms control agreements with Russia. U.S. authorities have consistently said the Columbia design will not represent any kind of reduction in America's overall nuclear deterrent capacity.
The new details about the British A21 warhead and related developments do come amid questions about the state of the U.K. end of the Trident II program following a failed live-fire test of one of these missiles earlier this year. This is the second British Trident II test launch in a row that has failed, with the other having occurred in 2016. Both tests were conducted off the coast of the United States and authorities in the United Kingdom have been tight-lipped about the exact circumstances surrounding these incidents. In the 2016 failure, the missile reportedly flew off course and its self-destruct feature was initiated to prevent it from heading over the United States.

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A clay brick, weighing 2.5 kilograms, sits on top of a block of aerogel weighing just 2 grams. Fogbank is understood to be an advanced material of this kind.

Altogether, how the development and deployment of the A21 warhead, as well as the fielding of the Dreadnought submarines and other related nuclear modernization efforts, will proceed remains to be seen. What we do know is that U.K. government plans to use lasers, supercomputers, and other advanced simulation and modeling capabilities to obviate the need to detonate one of the Astraeas to validate its design.

 

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IMPORTANT: “Washington will have to answer in full!”

The attack on the Armavir strategic early warning radar is an attack on Russian nuclear capability and ALLOWS A NUCLEAR RESPONSE according to Russian nuclear doctrine. “Of course we could theoretically with low probability imagine, that it to be a fake by the Ukrainian Army on its own initiative.

However, given Washington’s deep involvement in this armed conflict, the version that the United States does not know about Ukrainian plans to attack Russia’s missile defense system can be discarded. Washington will have to answer in full. We are not only standing on the threshold, but already on the edge, beyond which the collapse of the strategic security of nuclear powers will begin.”

That’s how the Russian senator Dmitry Rogozin accused the United States of involvement in the drone strike on the strategic early warning radar station in Armavir. The station in Armavir is part of Russia's nuclear deterrent forces, an attack on which, according to the military doctrine of the Russian Federation, is a reason for Moscow to use nuclear weapons.

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IMPORTANT: “Washington will have to answer in full!”

The attack on the Armavir strategic early warning radar is an attack on Russian nuclear capability and ALLOWS A NUCLEAR RESPONSE according to Russian nuclear doctrine. “Of course we could theoretically with low probability imagine, that it to be a fake by the Ukrainian Army on its own initiative.

However, given Washington’s deep involvement in this armed conflict, the version that the United States does not know about Ukrainian plans to attack Russia’s missile defense system can be discarded. Washington will have to answer in full. We are not only standing on the threshold, but already on the edge, beyond which the collapse of the strategic security of nuclear powers will begin.”

That’s how the Russian senator Dmitry Rogozin accused the United States of involvement in the drone strike on the strategic early warning radar station in Armavir. The station in Armavir is part of Russia's nuclear deterrent forces, an attack on which, according to the military doctrine of the Russian Federation, is a reason for Moscow to use nuclear weapons.

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Senior U.S. Officials have reportedly conveyed to the Ukrainian Government that they are Extremely Concerned about Two Attacks recently by the Ukrainian Armed Forces that attempted to Strike at Russian Nuclear Over-the-Horizon Early-Warning Radar Sites along the Southern Border of the Country. With an Attack by Ukrainian One-Way “Suicide” Drones on a Early-Warning Site near the Town of Armavir in the Krasnodar Krai Region, believed to have caused Damage to a Radar System; while another Attack on an Early-Warning Site near the City of Orsk along the Russian Border with Kazakhstan, which is over 1,100 Miles from Ukraine, is believed to have Failed. U.S. Officials state that these Sites have No Involvement with the Russian War in Ukraine and that Attacks on them could Dangerously Unsettle the Russian Government who may see this as an attempt at “Blinding” them to a Western Nuclear Attack.
 

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Russia’s nuclear threats are losing their power​




Russia is once again waving around its nuclear weapons. Last week, Vladimir Putin warned Nato countries against allowing Ukraine to use western munitions to strike Russia. The Russian leader warned of “serious consequences” and said that Ukraine’s allies should be aware of the “small territory” and “dense population” of many European countries.

In case this was too vague, Dmitry Medvedev followed up with a more blood-curdling threat. Russia’s former president cited Putin’s words and added: “The use of tactical nuclear weapons can also be miscalculated. This would be a fatal mistake.”

Medvedev has a reputation as a man who is fond of strong drink. But Moscow has also taken actions recently to underline its threats, with Russian troops conducting nuclear drills near the border with Ukraine.

These moves have not deterred several Nato nations, including the US, from taking the latest step up the escalation ladder by approving the use of their weapons inside Russian borders. This latest move by Nato nations reflects a mix of confidence and nervousness. On the positive side, the US and its European allies are now less concerned about the threat that Russia will go nuclear than they were 18 months ago.

On the negative side, they are also increasingly uneasy about the situation on the battlefield. The new willingness to allow Ukraine to strike back at enemy artillery positions and missile bases — even if they are inside Russia itself — reflects a concern that Ukraine is gradually losing the war. As a result, Kyiv’s western backers feel compelled to tolerate a greater level of risk to keep Ukraine in the fight.

The west’s willingness to take on this level of risk represents a dramatic shift in thinking since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022. Back then, Nato countries were nervous about providing Ukraine with any offensive weapons. The provision of each new significant capability to Kyiv — long-range missiles, tanks, fighter jets — has been accompanied by prolonged, sometimes agonised, debate in the west and by nuclear threats from Russia.

But each time the Nato countries have crossed a threshold, the Kremlin has failed to make good on its nuclear threats. And that has made it easier for the western alliance to take the next step.

But the fact that the US and its allies are no longer quite so anxious about Russia’s nuclear posturing does not mean that they dismiss the threat completely. Indeed, there are some western officials who remain very uneasy about the potential for escalation involved in authorising the use of weapons, provided by the west, to strike Russian territory.

Their concern is that Russia will regard this latest step as the escalation of a proxy war by the west and could make what it regards as a symmetrical response — involving counterstrikes on Nato territory. That might lead Russia and Nato very close to the direct conflict that western leaders have always sought to avoid.

Russian military doctrine is believed to assume that Moscow cannot prevail in a conventional war with the west, and so to envisage the early use of nuclear weapons. Despite talk by Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, of eventually stationing French troops on Ukrainian soil, the western alliance is still trying to maintain its clear red line against direct involvement in a conflict with Russia. When Iran recently loosed off a barrage of missiles at Israel, the US and its allies got directly involved in shooting them down.

Ukraine has received no such support against Russian missile assaults on cities and infrastructure — partly because of the risk that western air forces might end up shooting directly at Russian forces. Even now, the US has put significant restrictions on how far Ukraine can go in striking back against Russian forces with US-provided weapons. The new policy is that Ukraine is free to strike at Russian forces that are firing into Ukraine from just across the border. But strikes at targets deep inside Russian territory are still off the table.

Despite the concerns about Russia’s potential response to this latest move, US decision makers still think that the circumstances that could trigger a Russian nuclear response are fairly distant. The two situations that are most often mentioned are if the Russian army is about to be routed on the battlefield; or if Ukrainian ground forces threaten Crimea, which Russia formally annexed in 2014. The closest that the world has come to a real nuclear crisis over Ukraine, so far, was in October 2022 — when Russia suffered a series of catastrophic setbacks in the war, including the loss of Kherson.

There was one weekend when western officials became seriously concerned that Russia might be on the point of going nuclear. But that crisis also created a new playbook for how to deal with Russian nuclear threats, when they look really serious. Step one is to talk to Russian counterparts and to threaten direct and massive western involvement in the conflict. Step two is to talk to other major powers — in particular, China and India — and to get them to warn Russia off, preferably in public. For the moment, this playbook is back in the desk drawer. But it may have to be brought into operation once again before the Ukraine war comes to an end — one way or another.
 

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Revealed - NATO plan to get US troops to the front line to fight RUSSIA: Alliance prepares for rapid deployment of American soldiers amid fears Moscow is plotting major war with Europe​


NATO is drawing up plans to send American troops to the frontlines of Europe in the event of an all-out conflict with Russia, it has been revealed.

New 'land corridors' are being carved out to quickly funnel soldiers through central Europe without local bureaucratic impediments, allowing NATO forces to pounce in an instant should Putin's devastating war in Ukraine move further west.

The plans are said to include contingencies in case of Russian bombardment, letting troops sweep into the Balkans via corridors in Italy, Greece and Turkey, or towards Russia's northern border via Scandinavia, officials told The Telegraph.

Tensions have ratcheted up in recent weeks, with Russian President Vladimir Putin openly acknowledging the 'possibility' of 'a full-scale Third World War' as he threatens 'fatal consequences' for western allies allowing Ukraine use of their weapons on Russian soil.

Ukraine's challenge in repelling the Russian invasion has moved European leaders to take a harder stance on Moscow as the war rages on into its third year, some now threatening to send troops east and making record investments into defence.

According to the plans American soldiers would land at one of five ports across Europe, four allowing access to the western Ukrainian border and a fifth reaching the Russian border via Finland.

NATO already had plans in place for US troops to deploy in the Netherlands before moving towards Poland by train in the event of war.

But amid warnings from Norway's top general that Europe only has two to three years to prepare before Russia could realistically attack the bloc, NATO is said to be exploring possible countermeasures.

The expanded corridors are hoped to offer a failsafe in case logistical or communication lines are severed, shoring up routes to quickly move across Europe should Russia target a member state.

In the event the route through central Europe becomes compromised, allied troops would be able to move through Italy into Slovenia and the Balkans, bypassing the Alps and Switzerland.

The aim of the plans would be to ensure armies could rush through Europe without delays caused by local regulations and checkpoints - as the French government observed difficulty moving tanks through borders en route to Romania.

Greece and Turkey - also both NATO members - could also provide routes through to Romania and towards the southern coast of Ukraine under the plans.

And a fifth route through Norway and Sweden into Finland could allow troops to reach the Russian border in the north since Finland's accession to the bloc in April last year.

NATO leaders agreed last year to prepare 300,000 troops to be kept in a state of high readiness to defend the bloc in case of an attack on a member state - just under half the force Napoleon sent to Russia in his disastrous 1812 campaign.

Russia meanwhile continues to amass forces. The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) thinktank assessed that the Russian military began 2023 with a 'highly disorganised force in Ukraine' of around 360,000 troops, rising to 410,000 by the summer.

By the beginning of this year, they reported, there were 470,000 troops in occupied territories.

In December, NATO tested its readiness for war in Europe with joint tabletop exercises involving the UK and allies in the Baltic.

The exercises aimed at 'clarifying roles and responsibilities', addressing possible challenges of organising various forces around a common offensive.

France also announced plans in March to deploy 37 Leclerc tanks in Romania to ensure readiness, further strengthening an international battalion in the east.

French President Emmanuel Macron has urged NATO unity against a belligerent Russian aggressor, warning 'the rules of the game has changed' in a recent speech in Paris.

'The fact that war has returned to European soil, and that it is being waged by a nuclear-armed power, changes everything,' he told an audience at the Sorbonne late in April.

Macron warned that Europe is 'not armed against the risks we face' abroad and urged his allies on the continent to avoid overreliance on the US for security.

As Putin and his allies continue to labour threats of nuclear Armageddon - and Russia prepares mobile nuclear bunkers for civilians - Macron has appealed to allies to form a 'European defence initiative' and commit more to spending on defence.

Only in March, US President Joe Biden said there was no need for the US to send more troops to bolster Poland's border ahead of a request for more personnel and military equipment.

Polish officials, as in France, have refused rule out sending troops to meet Russia as it plans to field the biggest army in Europe by 2035.

Warsaw, a historic foe of Moscow, has been warning the west of complacency and rearming since before the invasion, already spending 2.4 per cent of its GDP on defence by 2022 - third after the US and Greece. This rose to around four per cent this year.


Former Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said in November 2022 that Poland must have an army so powerful that 'it does not have to fight due to its strength alone', promising it would have 'the most powerful land forces in Europe' - a role traditionally held by France.

A year later, the UK announced a £4bn air defence deal with Poland 'strengthening European security' by providing Polish forces with enhanced ground-based air defences capable of taking out incoming threats up to 40km away.

Poland has since agreed a 1.5bn euro deal for the supply of Carl Gustaf M4 recoilless rifles and ammunition, capable of taking out combat vehicles including tanks.

Last March, the US also agreed to sell Poland 800 Hellfire missiles 'and related equipment' worth $150mn, as well as 116 Abrams tanks at $1.4bn.

Warsaw also allowed the US to establish its first permanent garrison in Poland - a mostly symbolic move the US ambassador said was a sign 'the United States is committed to Poland and the NATO alliance, and that we are united in the face of Russian aggression'.

NATO figures show the UK spent around 2.3 per cent on defence in 2023 - a figure Keir Starmer has promised to raise to 2.5 per cent under a Labour government in line with Tory pledges.

At present, however, Britain maintains its smallest army since the Napoleonic era - with a strength of around 75,000.

Last week, a Russian military expert suggested Russia would be able to knock out Britain's nuclear deterrent 'in one day' in the event of an all-out war.

Dr Yuri Baranchik, Deputy Director of the RUSSTRAT Institute, claimed France would likely prove more of a challenge but would likewise be no match for a Russian attack.

Russia has stepped up its rhetoric on the possibility of war as NATO urges wider spending on defence and repeals limits on Ukraine using ally-supplied weapons to fire on Russian targets in Russia.

Asked about the possibility of direct confrontation after securing his fifth term in office in March, Putin said: 'I think everything is possible in the modern world … it is clear to everyone that this will be one step away from a full-scale Third World War.'

Only last week, Putin warned that western countries would suffer 'grave consequences' if they allowed their weapons to be fired from Ukraine into Russia.

'In Europe, especially in small countries, they should be aware what they are playing with,' the Russian president said during a visit to Uzbekistan.

'They should remember that, as countries with small, densely populated territories... They should keep this in mind before talking about striking Russia.'

In December, Putin said to the contrary that Moscow had 'no interest' in attacking NATO, dismissing US President Joe Biden's suggestion that Russia would not stop at Ukraine as 'nonsense'.

'Russia has no reason, no interest — no geopolitical interest, neither economic, political nor military — to fight with NATO countries,' Putin said at the time.

Top Norwegian General General Eirik Kristoffersen has suggested Russia would not yet be a position to strike Europe in any case - but likely could build up its capacity within a matter of years.

'At one point someone said it'll take 10 years, but I think we're back to less than 10 years because of the industrial base that is now running in Russia,' General Kristoffersen said in an interview in Oslo on Monday.

'It will take some time, which gives us a window now for the next two to three years to rebuild our forces, to rebuild our stocks at the same times as we are supporting Ukraine,' he added, noting Putin's public aversion to war with NATO.

Putin has maintained he is open to peace talks, Russian sources telling Reuters last month that the Kremlin is ready to stop the war and recognise current battlefield lines.

Zelenskyy has long maintained that he will not negotiate with Russia directly, but has also urged Western leaders to pressure Russia into peace by 'all means' necessary amid fears Kyiv lacks the resources needed to go on repelling the invasion.

Claiming Russia was dropping 3,200 guided bombs on Ukraine each month, with the war now in its third year, he asked reporters: 'How do you fight that?'


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The US is starting preparations for World War III, folks.

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