MOSCOW has accused the US of secretly staging a mock nuclear attack on Russia with TEN bomber planes 20km from their border.
Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said the Kremlin had noticed a significant increase in activity by American strategic bombers, which he said had carried out 30 flights close to Russia this month.
He claims that is 2.5 times more than the same period last year.
Shoigu complained of what he said was a simulated US nuclear strike against Russia earlier this month.
He said: "The defence minister underlined that during the US military exercises 'Global Thunder', 10 American strategic bombers rehearsed launching nuclear weapons against Russia from the western and eastern directions.
"The minimum proximity to our state border was 20km."
Shoigu said Russian air defence units had spotted and tracked the US strategic bombers and taken unspecified measures to avoid any incidents.
His ministry’s TV channel Zvezda interpreted his comments as him saying “NATO activity dictates the need to maintain nuclear forces on combat readiness.”
The Pentagon has hit back insisting its drills were announced publicly at the time and adhered to international protocols.
This comes at a time of high tension with Washington over Ukraine, with US officials voicing concerns about a possible Russian attack on its southern neighbour – a suggestion Russia has denied.
Moscow has in turn accused the United States, NATO and Ukraine of provocative behaviour, pointing to US arms supplies to Ukraine, Kiev's use of Turkish drones against Russian-backed separatists and NATO exercises close to its borders.
Pentagon spokesperson Anton Semelroth said: "These missions were announced publicly at the time, and closely planned with Strategic Command, European Command, allies and partners to ensure maximum training and integration opportunities as well as compliance with all national and international requirements and protocols."
Top Russian and US military officers, Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, spoke by telephone but neither side disclosed the contents of the conversation.
Global Thunder, which this year put US nuclear-capable B-52 bombers through their paces, is the US Strategic Command's annual nuclear and command exercise designed to test and demonstrate the readiness of America's nuclear capabilities.
President Vladimir Putin referenced the apparent episode last week, complaining of Western strategic bombers carrying "very serious weapons" close to Russia.
He said the West was taking Moscow's warnings not to cross its "red lines" too lightly.
Shoigu made the comments in a video conference with Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe. He said that US bomber flights close to Russia's eastern borders were also a threat to China.
"Against this backdrop, Russo-Chinese coordination is becoming a stabilising factor in world affairs," said Shoigu.
Russia and China agreed at their meeting to step up cooperation between their armed forces when it came to strategic military exercises and joint patrols, the defence ministry said.
Earlier this month, Russia warned relations with the West are “almost at boiling point” as tensions mount over migrants at the Poland-Belarus border.
With Nato and Russian forces playing cat and mouse games, Putin has said he would “simply destroy” any country that encroached on his country’s territory.
Recent days have seen US officials warn Russia may be plotting an imminent invasion of Ukraine, with the Kremlin massing 100,000 troops on their border.
And Putin's regime has been accused of stoking the unfolding migrant crisis between Belarus and Poland and even sent their own nuclear bombers into the area.
Belarus – dubbed Europe's last dictatorship – has been accused of "weaponising" migration against the EU sparking a tense stand-off along their border with Poland with troops on both sides.
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