(Bloomberg) -- Russia started combat drills to practice the use of tactical nuclear weapons, a show of force to the US and its allies over President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine. 

Troops are training with Iskander missiles deployed on land launchers and aircraft equipped with hypersonic Kinzhal weapons for the previously announced exercises, Russia’s Defense Ministry said in a statement on its Telegram channel. The ministry didn’t specify for how long the training would continue. 

Putin ordered the drills the day before he was sworn in this month for a fifth presidential term, in response to what Russia called “provocative” Western statements. That came after France raised the idea of sending ground troops to Ukraine and the UK said it would allow Kyiv’s forces to strike Russia with British-made weapons. 

The Russian leader has repeatedly brandished the threat to use nuclear weapons since the start of his February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, drawing condemnation from the US and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies. Chinese President Xi Jinping, who hosted Putin at talks last week, has also warned in the past that the use of nuclear weapons is a red line for Beijing.

At a military parade commemorating the victory against Nazi Germany in World War II on May 9, Putin warned his country’s “strategic forces are always on combat alert.” In October, Russia rehearsed its ability to deliver a “massive” retaliatory nuclear strike. 

Still, in March, Putin told the state-run RIA Novosti news service that there’s never been a need to use tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine, and the thought had never crossed his mind. 

Read more: How Serious Is Putin’s Threat to Use Nuclear Weapons?: QuickTake

Russia’s Southern Military District is conducting the drills, which include both ground and aviation forces, according to the Defense Ministry. Russian state TV broadcast footage of troops practicing with missile systems on vehicles bearing the “Z” symbol that the country’s military has adopted during its war in Ukraine. 

Tactical nuclear weapons refer to less powerful warheads that can be used on a battlefield, as opposed to strategic arms the US and Russia could launch at each other’s homeland using intercontinental ballistic missiles. 

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