Russia said on Monday that it would hold military exercises with troops based near Ukraine to practice for the possible use of battlefield nuclear weapons, a provocative warning aimed at discouraging the West from deepening its support for Ukraine.

These weapons, often referred to as “tactical,” are designed for battlefield use and have smaller warheads than the “strategic” nuclear weapons meant to target cities. Russia’s Defense Ministry said that President Vladimir V. Putin had ordered an exercise for missile, aviation and naval personnel to “increase the readiness of nonstrategic nuclear forces to carry out combat missions.”

The announcement of the exercise was Russia’s most explicit warning in its more than two-year invasion of Ukraine that it could use tactical nuclear weapons there. The Kremlin said it came in response to comments by two European leaders that raised the prospect of more direct Western intervention in the war.

The exercise, the Defense Ministry said, would involve forces of the Southern Military District, an area that covers Russian-occupied Ukraine and part of Russia’s border region with Ukraine. It said the exercise would take place “in the near future.”

The order ratchets up tensions with the West at the start of a week of extensive publicity for Mr. Putin. His inauguration scheduled for Tuesday, followed on Thursday by the annual Victory Day celebration, which commemorates the Soviet victory in World War II.

It also coincided with a visit to Europe by President Xi Jinping of China, which has pledged a “no limits” alliance with Russia. China has provided support to Russia’s military industry, U.S. officials say, despite persistent lobbying from the West that it refrain from aiding Russia’s war effort.


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