A Russian convoy transporting equipment for Russia's nuclear weapons programme has sparked fears that Vladimir Putin could be preparing a test to send a “signal to the West”.
A train operated by the secretive nuclear division and linked to the 12th main directorate of the Russian ministry of defence was spotted in central Russia over the weekend heading towards the front line in Ukraine.
The pro-Russian Telegram channel Rybar shared the footage showing the large freight convoy hauling upgraded armoured personnel carriers and other equipment.
Konrad Muzyka, a defence analyst specialising in Ukraine, said the 12th directorate operated a dozen central storage facilities for nuclear weapons.
"This is actually a kit belonging to the 12th Main Directorate of the Russian MoD,” The Poland-based analyst said. “The directorate is responsible for nuclear munitions, their storage, maintenance, transport, and issuance to units."
Mr Muzyka said it could be a “signalling to the West that Moscow is escalating," in reference to Vladimir Putin's nuclear war warning last week.
However, the expert stressed that the video in no way shows "preparations for a nuclear release".
A senior Western official sought to play down the threat of an imminent nuclear strike. The official said they had seen "no indicators of further concerning movements".
Responding to the reports, the Kremlin said on Tuesday that it did not want to take part in "nuclear rhetoric" spread by the West after a media report that Russia was preparing to demonstrate its willingness to use nuclear weapons in its conflict with Ukraine.
"The Western media, Western politicians and heads of state are engaging in a lot of exercises in nuclear rhetoric right now," a spokesman said. "We do not want to take part in this."
Russia expected to test 'weapon of the apocalypse'
It comes as sources told The Times that Nato had sent an intelligence report to its members and allies alerting them to the fact that Russia is expected to test its nuclear-capable torpedo drone Poseidon, possibly in the Black Sea, which it controls.
The Poseidon torpedo, dubbed the “weapon of the apocalypse”, can be launched from the submarine. According to La Repubblica newspaper, it is about to be tested in the area of the Kara Sea, north of the Russian mainland.
These latest manoeuvres could signal an increasingly desperate Mr Putin’s willingness to escalate the war following a series of embarrassing defeats on the battlefield, including the loss of a key city in Donetsk and the most recent setbacks in the Kherson region.
According to Pentagon officials, the US is considering how to respond to a range of potential scenarios, including fears that Russia could use tactical nuclear weapons.
Last Friday, at a ceremony in which he announced the illegal annexation of four Ukrainian regions, Mr Putin said Russia would use “all available means” to defend the areas
It came as the Biden administration's next security assistance package for Ukraine is expected to include four Himars rocket launchers, munitions, mines and mine-resistant vehicles, two sources who had been briefed on the $625 million package told Reuters on Monday.
The package, expected to be announced as soon as Tuesday, is the first since Russia's declared annexation of Ukrainian territory and the second Presidential Drawdown Authority since Ukraine made large battlefield gains in mid-September.
Himars were instrumental in knocking out Russian supply lines and hitting headquarters behind enemy lines ahead of the recent counter attacks by Ukraine.