As relations between Russia and the US disintegrate as a result of the escalating proxy war in Syria, which today culminated with Putin halting a Plutonium cleanup effort with the US, shortly before the US State Department announced it would end negotiations with Russia over Syria, tomorrow an unprecedented 40 million Russian citizens, as well as 200,000 specialists from "emergency rescue divisions" and 50,000 units of equipment are set to take part in a four day-long civil defense, emergency evacuation and disaster preparedness drill, the Russian Ministry for Civil Defense reported on its website.
According to the ministry, an all-Russian civil defense drill involving federal and regional executive authorities and local governments dubbed "Organization of civil defense during large natural and man-caused disasters in the Russian Federation" will start tomorrow morning in all constituent territories of Russia and last until October 7. While the ministry does not specify what kind of "man-caused disaster" it envisions, it would have to be a substantial one for 40 million Russians to take part in the emergency preparedness drill. Furthermore, be reading the guidelines of the drill, we can get a rather good idea of just what it is that Russia is "preparing" for.
The website adds that "the main goal of the drill is to practice organization of management during civil defense events and emergency and fire management, to check preparedness of management bodies and forces of civil defense on all levels to respond to natural and man-made disasters and to take civil defense measures." Oleg Manuilov, director of the Civil Defence Ministry explained that the exercise will be a test of how the population would respond to a "disaster" under an "emergency" situation.
Some further details, on the 3-stage, 4 day drill:
I stage: organization of civil defense actions
The stage is going to practice notification and gathering of senior officials of federal and regional executive authorities, local governments and civil defense forces, deployment of civil defense management system on all levels, readying civil defense communication and notification system. After the National Crisis Management Center have brought the management signals, all management bodies, state authorities, forces and facilities on duty and people will be notified through notification systems available.
II stage: Planning and organization of civil defense actions. Deploying a team of civil defense forces and facilities designed to respond to large disasters and fires.
The stage plans to practice deployment a mobile interagency multi-functional team of civil defense forces and facilities in each federal district in order to carry our rescue and other urgent operations, civil defense actions and to deploy special civil defense units in constituent territories; putting rescue military units, divisions of the federal fire service, rescue units on standby. The stage provides for the team to be reinforced, activation of backup control centers and practicing collecting and exchanging information in the field of civil defense.
III stage: Organization of actions of civil defense management bodies and forces for response to large disasters and fires.
The stage will deal with the use of the civil defense team to respond to large disasters and fires, setting up aerial and mobile control centers, revising of routes for save evacuation of people, organization of vital services; taking off fire and rescue units of the federal fire service to put out fires and conduct rescue operations at potentially dangerous facilities, including closed administrative territorial entities.
The drill will rehearse radiation, chemical and biological protection of the personnel and population during emergencies at crucial and potentially dangerous facilities. Fire safety, civil defense and human protection at social institutions and public buildings are also planned to be checked. Response units will deploy radiation, chemical and biological monitoring centers and sanitation posts at the emergency areas, while laboratory control networks are going to be put on standby.
The fact that among the measures tasked for the civil defense team will be a response to "disasters and fires" as well as the rehearsal of "radiation, chemical and biological protection", makes it clear that Russia is about to hold its biggest nuclear war drill since perhaps the end of the Cold War.
Why now? Perhaps, in addition to the sharp deterioration in relations between Russia and the west, where tensions are on par with the cold war, another answer may come from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford, who last week warned Congress that the implementation of a No Fly Zone in Syria as proposed by John Kerry recently, and a centerpiece of Hillary’s foreign policy strategy, would result in World War III.
During testimony before the Senate Committee on Armed Services last week General Joseph Dunford rang the alarm over a policy shift that is gaining more traction within the halls of Washington following the collapse of the ceasefire brokered by the United States and Russia in Syria saying that it could result in a major international war which he was not prepared to advocate on behalf of. Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi asked about Hillary Clinton’s proposal for a no fly zone in Syria in response to allegations that Russia and Syria have intensified their aerial bombardment of rebel-held East Aleppo since the collapse of the ceasefire.
"What about the option of controlling the airspace so that barrel bombs cannot be dropped? What do you think of that option?" asked Wicker. "Right now, Senator, for us to control all of the airspace in Syria would require us to go to war against Syria and Russia. That is a pretty fundamental decision that certainly I’m not going to make," said the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff suggesting the policy was too hawkish even for military leaders.
As a reminder, Hillary Clinton strongly argued in favor of a no fly zone ever since October 2015, just days after Russia began a bombing campaign aimed at maintaining the stability of the Syrian government. "I personally would be advocating now for a no fly zone and humanitarian corridors to try to stop the carnage on the ground and from the air, to try to provide some way to take stock of what’s happening, to try to stem the flow of refugees," said Clinton in an interview with NBC in October 2015.
Despite the warnings, the former Secretary of State and current presidential candidate, who has a well-known hawkish position towards regime change and matters related to Russia, has continued to advocate this position which has gained traction in recent weeks among top US diplomats.
Clinton is note alone: as the WSJ reported in June, more than 50 US diplomats endorsed a notorious dissent memo, demanding that that the Obama administration employ military options against Assad, such as the implementation of a no fly zone if not a direct attack against the Syrian regime. The argument from the diplomats is that the situation in Syria will continue to devolve without direct action by the US military, an argument of dubious legality if undertaken unilaterally without a UN Security Council resolution but which as Sputnik reports, the US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power has been laying the groundwork for under the controversial “right to protect” theory of international law arguing that Russia’s opposition to a resolution should be ignored because they are a party to the conflict.
Russia, in turn, has countered that if the Assad regime falls then terrorist groups including ISIS and al-Nusra Front will likely fill the resulting power vacuum descending the country into an even greater harbor for international terrorism. Ultimately, the Syrian conflict is fundamentally about the transport of energy, and whether Russia maintains its dominance over European natural gas imports, or if - with the Syrian regime deposed - a Qatar natural gas pipeline can cross the territory and make its way to Europe.
As for the Russian nuclear war drill, we can only hope that any such rising hints of nuclear warfare remain in the realm of the purely theoretical.