Vladimir Putin To Oversee Nuclear Missile Drills Amid Ukraine-Russia Standoff

Russian President Vladimir Putin will oversee nuclear missile drills on Saturday involving Russian "strategic forces," the Russian military announced on Friday, according to the Interfax news agency.

The military drills will include the launch of ballistic and cruise missiles, the Russian defense ministry said.

"The air forces, the Southern military district forces, strategic cruise missile forces and Northern and Black Sea naval fleets," will be among those involved in the exercises on Saturday, the defense ministry was quoted as saying.

According to Interfax, the ministry said the drills had been planned in advance to check the "readiness" of launch combat crews, warship crews and strategic missile carriers, as well as the "reliability" of its nuclear and conventional weapons.

It comes as fears continue to grow of an imminent Moscow-led invasion of Ukraine. President Joe Biden's administration on Thursday said that Russia could invade Ukraine in the coming days.

As Russia said this week that it had begun pulling troops from Ukraine's borders, a senior Biden administration official told reporters on Wednesday evening that the U.S. believes that Russia is, in fact, adding more troops near Ukraine.

"Yesterday, the Russian government said it was withdrawing troops from Ukraine," the official said. "They received a lot of attention for that claim, both here and around the world. But we now know it was false."

"We have now confirmed that in the last several days, Russia has increased its troop presence along the Ukrainian border by as many as 7,000 troops, with some arriving as recently as today," they said, without elaborating.

The Biden administration official said that Russia could fabricate allegations to use as a "false pretext" to justify an invasion.

"We have already seen an increase in false claims by the Russians in the past few days, including reports of an unmarked grave of civilians allegedly killed by the Ukrainian Armed Forces, statements that the U.S. and Ukraine are developing biological or chemical weapons, and that the West is funneling in guerrillas to kill locals," the official said.

"Each of these allegations is categorically false, and we expect more false reports from Russian state media over the coming days," they said.

"We don't know what form of false pretext will take, but we hope the world is ready. Just as Russia's claims about withdrawing troops were false, so will be whatever pretext they invent to justify this war of choice."

Western officials have estimated some 150,000 Russian troops are massed at the border with Ukraine. Moscow has consistently denied that it is planning to invade.

In Ukraine, local authorities are preparing for civilian evacuations, including in the city of Donetsk, as fears grow of a possible invasion, the country's top general, Lt. Gen. Valery Zaluzhny said in a statement.

"I officially declare: the armed forces of Ukraine continue to observe the Minsk agreement and the rules of international humanitarian law, and do not plan any offensive operations or the shelling of civilians," he said.

Update 02/18/22, 6:21 a.m. ET: This article was updated with additional background.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin
Russia's President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting on economic issues in Moscow on February 17, 2022. Putin is expected to oversee nuclear missile drills on Saturday, the Russian military announced on Friday, according to the Interfax news agency. ALEXEY NIKOLSKY/Sputnik/AFP/Getty Images