Russia’s atomic arsenal is edging closer and closer to Europe’s doorstep, concerning new satellite images show — as the Kremlin desperately rattles its nuclear sabers while losing ground in Ukraine.
Satellite imagery reviewed by Norwegian fact-checking outlet Fakstik shows a growing number of nuclear-capable long-range bombers at Russia’s Olenya air base — some 100 miles from the Norwegian and Finnish borders.
The Cold War era Tupolev Tu-160 weapons are the largest, heaviest and fastest strategic bomber in service of any nation, capable of traveling more than twice the speed of sound.
Designed to strike strategic targets in a nuclear war with North America, the bomber can carry both nuclear and conventional weaponry.
The number of TU-160s stationed at Olenya — in Russia’s Kola province — has steadily increased since the summer.
There were no strategic bombers of any sort stationed there prior to August 12, the Jerusalem Post reported last month.
A little more than a week later, on August 21, satellite imagery showed four Tu-160’s at the base. They were joined by a trio of slower Tu-95 strategic bombers sometime in the following month, the paper reported.
By October 7, there were seven Tu-160s visible on Olenya’s tarmac, along with four of the older Tu-95s — for a total of eleven nuclear-capable strategic bombers within spitting-distance of Finland and Norway.
Norway is a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization — NATO — and Finland is expected to become a member by the end of the year.
Finland formally declared its intent to join NATO in May amid Putin’s brutal and unwarranted war with Ukraine — with the Atlantic alliance’s 30 allies signing an accession protocol for the Nordic countries in July.
Ratification, however, is likely to take up to a year.
Russia has repeatedly warned of consequences if Finland and Sweden joined the US-led alliance.
One of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest allies threatened that there would no longer be a “nuclear-free” Baltic if the country joined.
“There can be no more talk of any nuclear-free status for the Baltic — the balance must be restored,” Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, said in April.
Since then Putin has made a series of blunt nuclear threats against Ukraine and its Western allies — stressing last month that his words were “not a bluff.”
“When the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, to protect Russia and our people, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal,” Putin said in September ahead of his claim to annex a fifth of Ukraine.
“It’s not a bluff,” the strongman added.
In response, President Biden vowed that America and its allies are “fully prepared” to “defend every single inch of NATO territory” — yet still conceded that the risk of nuclear “Armageddon” is at the highest level since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
While strategic bombers have been spotted in the northern province of Kola before, it is usually in the context of a training exercise — and not during wartime.
Experts say the redeployment of Russia’s long-range nuclear-capable bombers are part-and-parcel of Putin’s nuclear posturing.
“Deployment and training with strategic bombers is in itself a form of nuclear deterrence, so in the big picture it can be read as part of Putin’s nuclear weapons threats,” Lars Peder Haga, an associate professor at the Norwegian Air Force School, told Fakstik.