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The nuclear training coincided with the visit to Moscow by Rose Gottemoeller, acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, to discuss a new round of U.S.-Russian strategic arms talks.

The exercise did not come up during the meeting between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Berlin Feb. 26.

Arms control experts say the Russians are required to notify the United States under the New START treaty of major strategic nuclear exercises that involve bomber flights.

It is not known whether the nuclear weapons were transported by air, rail, or truck during the 12th GUMO exercise.

Chief of the Russian General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov mentioned the nuclear exercise Feb. 22 when he said a surprise inspection of both conventional and nuclear forces was held.

Gerasimov said the exercises involved the 12th GUMO and the Central and Southern military districts and that they were the largest maneuvers of its kind in 20 years.

The drills began with orders for forces to go to “higher states of combat readiness and carry out combat training missions,” the website Russian Defense Policy reported. The exercises were also reported by the Voice of Russia and the Russian Defense Ministry website.

Several hundred pieces of equipment, 7,000 troops, and 48 aircraft took part, the general said.

The drills also involved moving forces to exercise areas far from normal deployment locations.

Gerasimov said the 98th Air-Assault Division at Ivanovo and the 4th Air Forces and Air Defense Command near Rostov performed well.

The troops were transported in IL-76 jets to an area near Chelyabinsk, which has large nuclear facilities, in difficult weather conditions.

Forces of a long-range aviation group and air defense also conducted bombing exercises and performed well, Gerasimov said.

The general did not say how the 12th GUMO fared in the exercises but said that overall “a number of systematic deficiencies in the state of combat readiness and lever of personnel training” were uncovered.

A 2008 State Department cable described the 12th GUMO as one of several key military units with direct control over nuclear weapons. “An attack or exploitation of any one of these could leave elements of the arsenal vulnerable,” the cable said. “While the impact on the U.S. might not be immediate, the danger of such elements falling into terrorists’ or extremists’ hands could pose a serious threat to the national security of the United States.”

Another cable said nine 12th GUMO sites were being modernized in 2008.

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