Russia conducted nuclear submarine exercises beneath the North PoleRussian nuclear units carried out Arctic exercises in international waters beneath the North Pole over the weekend, Damien Sharkov reports for Newsweek. The exercise featured the presence of several Borei-class ballistic missile submarines. These subs are among the most technologically advanced and capable of Russia’s current ballistic missile submarine fleet, and they function as a nuclear deterrent. The timing of the exercise is thought to be a response to NATO’s decisions on Feb. 5 to reinforce its eastern military position along the Russian border.

However, Russia has said that the exercise was instead simply part of the country’s shift towards reinforcing its position within the Arctic. “In particular we focused on hazard and threat detection, but also on missile launching and navigation manoeuvres, ice reconnaissance, submerging and emerging from ice, using torpedoes to undermine ice and many other issues,” Vadim Serga, captain of Russia’s North Fleet, said in a translation provided by Newsweek. The increasing integration of nuclear forces into Russian military drills have led Britain’s defense minister on Feb. 6 to voice concern over how Moscow how “lowered the threshold” for the use of nuclear weapons. Russia’s military doctrine allows for the use of nuclear weapons in response to a conventional attack that threatens the state’s existence.

British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon told Reuters that “[t]here is three-fold concern, first that they (the Russians) may have lowered the threshold for use of nuclear. Secondly, they seem to be integrating nuclear with conventional forces in a rather threatening way and … at a time of fiscal pressure they are keeping up their expenditure on modernizing their nuclear forces.” More