During the march on Moscow on June 24, some of the mercenaries of Wagner PMC headed towards a fortified base of the Russian army, where nuclear weapons are stored, Reuters writes, having analyzed video of the group’s movements and talked to local residents.
According to the agency, the Wagnerites reached the town of Talovaya in the Voronezh region, where the Russian military engaged them. Just near this place one of the Defense Ministry’s Ka-52 helicopters was shot down. The goal of the mercenaries was to break through to the Voronezh-45 base.
Kyrylo Budanov, head of Ukraine’s military intelligence service, told Reuters that the rebels had managed to make their way to the base with nuclear weapons. According to him, the Wagnerites were going to get their hands on small nuclear charges that can be carried in a backpack. Budanov says the rebels wanted to “raise the stakes” in this way.
The only obstacle to this plan was the door to the nuclear storage facility, the head of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry’s GUR said. He did not provide any proof of his words and also refused to specify whether Kyiv had discussed the situation with Washington and other allies.
Budanov’s version was partially confirmed by a source with military connections close to the Kremlin. According to him, Wagner PMC “managed to get into the zone of special attention”. “The Americans were agitated because nuclear warheads are stored there”, the interlocutor added.
The incident caused concern in the Kremlin and encouraged early talks with the rebels mediated by Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko, a source among authorities in the Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine said.
However, White House National Security Council spokesman Adam Hodge could not confirm the information. “At any point in time, we had no evidence that nuclear weapons or materials were at risk”, he said.
It is “virtually impossible for a non-state actor to disrupt Russia’s nuclear security”, said Matt Korda, a senior fellow and head of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists.
“If you had someone who could get their hands on nuclear weapons, they would find weapons stored in a state of incomplete assembly. It involves installing specialized equipment”, Korda noted. He added that such weapons require the cooperation of the 12th Directorate of the Russian Defense Ministry, which is responsible for protecting Russia’s nuclear arsenal.
Nuclear weapons that can be carried in a backpack were created during the Cold War era and by the early 1990s Russia and the United States had agreed to destroy them, Reuters recalls. However, former U.S. nuclear nonproliferation officials concede that Russia may have broken its promise.
According to a UN report, Voronezh-45 is one of Russia’s 12 national-level nuclear weapons storage sites. Previously, neither Western officials nor Russian authorities reported that the Wagner PMCs could have gotten their hands on nuclear weapons.