A Russian military expert has claimed Moscow has been "seeding" nuclear bombs off the US coastline.
The Kremlin has dismissed the claim as "strange", while an independent expert referred to it as an act of "political warfare".
Viktor Baranetz, a former colonel and defence ministry spokesman, told Komsomolskaya Pravda Russia was “quietly 'seeding' the US shoreline with nuclear 'mole' missiles".
The measures - which have not been proven - were "asymmetrical responses" to massive US defence spending, Mr Baranetz said.
They "dig themselves in and 'sleep' until they are given the command," he told the newspaper.
He added: "Oh, it seems I've said too much. I should hold my tongue. In short, we have something to provide an 'asymmetrical' (and cheaper) response to the Americans."
The interview was translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute.
The Kremlin was quick to dismiss the remarks, calling them “strange”.
“I would suggest that you not take newspaper reports like this seriously,” government spokesman spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
But according to James Nixey, head of the Chatham House Russia and Eurasia programme, the outlandish claim was just another episode in the “hybrid war” which he said exists between Russia and the West.
“We are at war,” Mr Nixey told The Independent. “There’s no tanks, no shooting, no one’s dying right now. But Russia and the West aren’t just not getting on, there is a fundamental clash of interests, values and ambitions.”
Moscow realises using the military is no longer the best way of achieving its aims, Mr Nixey said, and will use a number of methods in its place. He explained that while Russia will employ methods such as cyber-attacks, energy manipulation or bribery, the nuclear option remains the “ace in the pack”.
“Russia ebbs and flows its nuclear rhetoric on a frequent basis – through its media, spokespersons and even President – there are ‘constant reminders’ that they are a nuclear power,” Mr Nixey said. He said the message could also be deployed through less official means, such as in journals or at conferences.
While Russia’s status in economic or political terms may be declining, Mr Nixey said its nuclear weapons give it a sense of “superpower parity", which can be played down when events are going well or escalated when “Trump isn’t playing ball”.
“This is another flag they are waving to try to ensure the US becomes more acquiescent,” Mr Nixey said. “It’s political warfare.”
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