Russia’s ‘Nuclear Brigade’ Spotted Heading Towards Ukraine; Is Putin Planning To Nuke Kyiv?

Russia-Ukraine War: Russia's nuclear signaling has increased in the wake of rapid and steady gains made by the Ukrainian forces in recent weeks in the eastern and southern regions of the country.

A freight train hauling several BPM-97 armored personnel carriers (APCs) and other military vehicles was spotted in central Russia, raising alarms of nuclear escalation by President Putin.

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The BPM-97s are linked to the 12th Main Directorate of the Russian Ministry of Defense, which oversees the country’s nuclear arsenal.

The image and a video of the extensive freight convoy carrying APCs and other military equipment were first shared on the Telegram messaging app by the pro-Russian channel Rybar on October 2.

While it was not immediately apparent where the train was spotted and where it was headed, some OSINT experts geolocated the video to Sergiyev Posad, a Russian city northeast of Moscow, and the train itself was moving in a southwesterly direction, based on which many have suggested that the train was traveling toward the frontline in Ukraine.

The train can be seen carrying several 4×4 BPM-97 Vystrel light armored vehicles, also known as the KAMAZ-43269, fitted with turrets armed with 30mm cannons.

The BPM-97 Vystrel

The BPM-97 APC provides seating for up to 12 troops, including the driver and commander.

The steel armor of the APC provides all-around protection against 7.62mm rounds. The vehicle’s front section can withstand 12.7mm heavy machine gun rounds. The V-shaped hull of the vehicle offers improved mine blast protection.

The latest variant of the APC is fitted with an Epoch BM-30D RCWS (Remote Controlled Weapon Station), armed with a 7.62mm PKTM coaxial machine gun, a top-mounted 30mm AGS-30 automatic grenade launcher, in addition to a 2A42 30mm automatic cannon.

The latest variant of BMP-97 is equipped with an Epoch BM-30D RCWS (VK Военный Осведомитель)

The new RCWS is equipped with optics for day/night combat capabilities and a fire control system, enabling the gunner to aim and control all the firing options from inside the hull under the safety of armor.

The BPM-97s are associated with the so-called ‘counter-sabotage’ security units within the 12th Main Directorate that oversees Russia’s nuclear arsenal. Units from this directorate, known by the Russian acronym 12th GUMO, would be responsible for escorting nuclear weapons to operational units if called upon.

However, the BMP-97s are also used by several other Russian agencies. The initial variant of this APC was developed in the 1990s for Border Guard Units of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia’s internal counter-intelligence agency.

Older version of the BPM-97 with no turret of any kind. (Wikimedia)

After that, versions of the BMP-97s also entered service with Russia’s ‘Rosgvardia,’ or the National Guard, the country’s Federal Penitentiary Service, the Ministry of Emergency Situations, and the Ministry of Defense.

The video and the image make it unclear which unit or units these APCs and other military vehicles belong to. However, the 12th GUMO does have a presence in Sergiyev Posad that includes security units that may be operating the BPM-97s.

Russia Warning To Ukraine?

Konrad Muzyka, a defense analyst, specializing in the Russian and Belarusian Armed Forces, suggested that the movement of these vehicles could be “signaling to the West that Moscow is escalating,” as President Putin warned in late September when he stated that he was not bluffing on the use of nuclear weapons.

Russia’s nuclear signaling has increased in the wake of rapid and steady gains made by the Ukrainian forces in recent weeks in the eastern and southern regions of the country.

Therefore, it is possible that the Russian government could conduct a nuclear readiness exercise involving live-firing strategic weapons systems without nuclear warheads to signal escalation to Ukraine and the West.

Interestingly, Russia’s annual Grom (Thunder) large-scale nuclear readiness drills are usually held around this time.

Nevertheless, there are no clear indications that the latest movement of the BPM-97s or any other future developments related to nuclear weapons could be directly associated with a larger coordinated posture adopted by Russia’s strategic forces in response to the ongoing Ukraine war or tensions with the West.

Reports suggest that the Russian military may have assigned vehicles and personnel from its nuclear security units to fight in Ukraine, based on recent evidence of the presence of members from the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces (RVSN) inside the war-torn country.

The RSVN is responsible for operating and maintaining Russia’s arsenal of nuclear-armed land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM).

The 12th GUMO units could be deployed to guard occupied positions in Ukraine or border areas of Russia to relieve some of the conventional units.

However, as stated earlier, it is unclear which unit or units the BMP-97s observed in the video belong to, and the APCs in question could belong to other Russian security forces.

More clarity on this issue could soon emerge if the BPM-97s, equipped with BM-30D RCWS, appear in or around Ukraine or as part of any nuclear readiness drills elsewhere in Russia.