The Russian government is holding a nationwide emergency drill that mobilizes civil defense forces on a massive scale, a move prompted by rising tensions between Russia and the United States regarding Syria – tensions some in the Kremlin believe could start a nuclear war.
The exercise, which started Tuesday and involves more than 200,000 emergency services workers, comes on the heels of news that Russia began last week deploying a battery of Russian S-300 air defense missile launchers in Syria. The NATO code name for the system is SA-10 Grumble. Capable of striking both manned aircraft and cruise missiles, it is the first time the Russians have ever deployed the advanced weapons system outside of their borders.
The pro-Kremlin Interfax news service says EMERCOM, the Russian emergency services ministry, is performing the drill through October 7. Quoting civil defense chief Oleg Manuilov, the article says the drill will affect up to 40 million Russians – about a quarter of the nation's population – as well as use 50,000 pieces of unspecified emergency equipment.
"In practice, the (emergency) notification will be issued and we will gather the governing federal departments and agencies, Russian Federation authorities, and local governments," said Manuilov.
Among other things, the drill will practice issuing protective gear, distributing sanitary supplies, and establishing casualty collection points, he said. Civil defense officials will also inspect local hospitals and clinics to determine their readiness and "quality of care" offered during an emergency.
The article called the drill and the training it offers a "reality check."
Recent pro-Kremlin media reports have claimed in shrill tones that the United States wants to use its nuclear arsenal to punish Russia for its hand in the Syrian conflict.
For example, Channel Zvezda has repeatedly broadcast shows claiming events in the Middle East will prompt a "big war" between the U.S. and Russia. The Russian Ministry of Defense operates the nationwide television channel and frequently uses it as a medium to disseminate propaganda and programming-friendly to the Russian military.
Talks between the U.S. and Russia in an effort to broker a Syrian cease-fire ended Monday. The U.S. ended negotiations after accusing the Kremlin of joining with the Syrian Air Force in carrying out a brutal bombing campaign against the besieged city of Aleppo.
Meanwhile, Russian officials confirmed the placement of the S-300 battery at a Syrian naval base soon after FOX News broke the story, according to RT News.
"This system is designed to ensure the safety of the naval base in Tartus and ships located in the coastal area," said Igor Konashenkov, a Russian Defense Ministry spokesman. "The S-300 is a purely defensive system and poses no threat."
However, anti-Syrian rebels battling Russian forces such as the Al-Nusra Front possess no air power, raising the question of whether the air defense missiles are there to threaten U.S. aircraft patrolling the area or knock out a potential U.S. cruise missile strike.
The S-300 system is considered one of the most capable air defense systems in the world. First deployed in 1979, it has gone through recent upgrades and modifications which allow it to target multiple threats quickly and accurately.