Fact Check

40 Million Russians in Drills for Possible Nuclear Strike

The drills were part of a disaster exercise, not an indication of an imminent nuclear war.

Published Oct 4, 2016

40 million Russians conducted drills for an imminent nuclear strike.
What's True

Millions of Russians engaged in emergency drills beginning on 4 October 2016, according to the English-language web site belonging to its emergencies ministry.

What's False

The drills are meant to prepare the country for a large-scale disaster, but the ministry overseeing them made no specific mention of nuclear fears.

On 3 October 2016, alarmist and conspiracy web sites posted stories claiming that 40 million Russian citizens participated in required emergency drills.  The sites linked the drills with what they characterized as an imminent threat of a nuclear attack on the United States:

Given the terrible state of relations between Russia and the west, with the US having paid to foment the overthrow of the elected President of Ukraine, and our ongoing efforts to forcibly overthrow the President of (Russian ally) Syria, with NATO having surrounded Russia (after promising in the 1990's not to do that) and now activating "Missile Defense" systems in Poland and Romania which are capable of shooting down Russian Missiles, have the Russians finally had enough abuse from us? Are they going to put an end to it using the ONLY language understood by the US Government and it's NATO puppets? (The only language the feds understand is Force)

Russia is indeed holding a large-scale, three-day disaster drill involving 40 million people starting on 4 October 2016, but nothing in official statements about the drills (at least the ones in English) mention fears of a nuclear strike. According to a bulletin posted on the English-language web site belonging to Russia's Ministry of Emergency Situations, or EMERCOM:

The All-Russian civil defense drill started today in Russia. The first stage of the drill is practicing organization of civil defense actions, disaster and fire management, notification and gathering of senior officials of federal and regional executive authorities, local governments and civil defense forces, deployment of civil defense management system on all levels, readying civil defense communication and notification system.

According to EMERCOM, the topic of the drill is "Organization of civil defense during large natural and man-caused disasters in the Russian Federation." The four-day drill consists of three stages: Stage 1 is dedicated to "organization of civil defense actions." Stage 2 is "Planning and organization of civil defense actions. Deploying a team of civil defense forces and facilities designed to respond to large disasters and fires." Stage 3 involves "Organization of actions of civil defense management bodies and forces for response to large disasters and fires."

The notion of widespread drills have predictably caused alarm by some American publications, considering they began the same day Vladimir Putin withdrew from a landmark nuclear security agreement that was entered into as part of the framework for ending the Cold War in 2000:

Times have changed, Mr. Putin wrote in the decree signed on Monday. “The threat to strategic stability posed by the hostile actions of the U.S. against Russia, and the inability of the U.S. to deliver on the obligation to dispose of excessive weapons plutonium under international treaties” forced Russia’s hand, he wrote.

While the idea that millions of Russian citizens and emergency personnel are drilling for a potentially massive disaster might be unsettling to some, we found no indication that the drills are related to anything more specific than the country readying for either a natural or man-made disaster of unknown origins.

However, state-run television has sent mixed signals about the drill. RT, which operates an English-language broadcast geared for Western viewers but funded by the Russian government, claims the drills are routine and held yearly since 2012, and that 4 October is the country's Civil Defense Day. RT claims that in 2013, a similar drill was even larger in scale:

This year’s exercise is not exceptional in terms of scale. For example, the drill of 2013 involved over 60 million people.

But Russian citizens were reportedly told on Defence Ministry-run Zvezda TV that "Schizophrenics from America are sharpening nuclear weapons for Moscow." Further, the Russian publication Pravda reported that EMERCOM is undertaking a project to build shelters capable of protecting all of Moscow's 12 million residents in case of a nuclear strike.


EMERCOM. "Vladimir Puchkov: All-Russian civil defense drill to help make public management of response to large disasters more efficient."   4 October 2016.

Superstation95. "Nuclear Attack Pending? Russia Putting 40 Million Citizens into 5,000 Shelters from October 4 - 7 as Military "Exercise" -- UPDATE: U.S. Cuts Ties with Russia over Syria."   3 October 2016.

Kramer, Andrew. "Vladimir Putin Exits Nuclear Security Pact, Citing ‘Hostile Actions’ by U.S."   The New York Times. 3 October 2016.

RT. "40 million Russians involved in annual 4-day defense drills."   4 October 2016.

Pravda. "Moscow prepared for possible nuclear attack - EMERCOM."   30 September 2016.

Payton, Matt. "Russia launches huge nuclear war training exercise that 'involves 40 million people'"   The Independent.5 October 2016.

Bethania Palma is a journalist from the Los Angeles area who has been working in the news industry since 2006.

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