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Pentagon postpones nuclear missile test launch amid Russian alert

This image taken with a slow shutter speed on Oct. 2, 2019, and provided by the US Air Force shows an unarmed Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile test launch at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. (Photo via AP)

The US military says that it will postpone a nuclear missile test launch scheduled for this week to avoid any possible misunderstanding in light of Russia’s recent decision to put its nuclear forces on higher alert.

On Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin put the country’s nuclear deterrence forces on “high alert,” reacting to aggressive statements by NATO’s leading members.

"Top officials of leading NATO nations indulge in making aggressive statements about our country,” Putin told a briefing. “Therefore, I am ordering the minister of defense and the chief of the general staff to put the deterrence forces of the Russian army into special combat duty mode.”

On Wednesday, the Pentagon said it will postpone the scheduled test launch of a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile, in a bid to lower soaring tensions.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the decision was made by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

"We recognize, at this moment of tension, how critical it is that both the United States and Russia bear in mind the risk of miscalculation and take steps to reduce those risks," said Kirby.

The nuclear-capable Minuteman III is key part of the US military's strategic arsenal and has a range of 6,000-plus miles (9,660-plus km). It can travel at a speed of nearly 15,000 miles per hour (24,000 kph).

US Senator Jim Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he was disappointed by the decision, noting that the test was crucial to ensuring the country’s nuclear deterrent stayed effective. The Pentagon, however, stated the delay would have no impact.

Putin’s decision on Sunday came a day after Germany and other European countries said they would speed weapons and other military assistance to help Ukraine battle Russian forces. It also followed a warning by UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss that if Russia's military operation in Ukraine was not "stopped," it could lead to a conflict with NATO.

"If we don't stop Putin in Ukraine, we are going to see others under threat: the Baltics, Poland, Moldova. And it could end up in a conflict with NATO," Truss said on Sunday.

NATO has escalated its war of words against Russia since Thursday, when Putin announced a “special military operation” aimed at “demilitarization” of the Donetsk and Lugansk Republics in eastern Ukraine.

Announcing the operation, Putin said the mission was aimed at “defending people who for eight years are suffering persecution and genocide by the Kiev regime.”

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