Ukraine Latest: Russia Says Drone Strikes Town South of Moscow

Vladimir Putin said Russia is preparing to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, escalating a confrontation with the US and its allies.

(Bloomberg) — Vladimir Putin said Russia is preparing to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, escalating a confrontation with the US and its allies. 

Ukraine’s foreign ministry on Sunday called the move “another provocative step of the criminal Putin regime” and asked for an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council. The European Union’s foreign policy chief called hosting Russian nuclear arms in Belarus an “irresponsible escalation” that could result in more sanctions. 

The head of the UN’s nuclear agency will travel to the Zaporizhzhia plant on Wednesday, the second time Rafael Mariano Grossi has crossed the front line in Ukraine to reach the facility, occupied by Russia for the past year.  

Key Developments

  • Putin Says Russia to Place Tactical Nuclear Arms in Belarus 
  • Ukraine Wants UN Security Council Meeting On Putin Nuclear Plan
  • Aging Shadow Fleet Carrying Russian Oil Poses Disaster Risk
  • Russia Seeks 400,000 More Recruits as Latest Ukraine Push Stalls

(All times CET)

Russia Blames Ukrainian Drone for Blast (7:40 p.m.)

Russia’s Defense Ministry said it intercepted a Ukrainian drone, preventing an attack on its territory. Russian aerial defenses destroyed the navigation system of the drone, which came down in Kireyevsk, about 230 kilometers (142 miles) south of Moscow in Russia’s Tula region, the ministry said on its Telegram channel.

The “Tu-141 Strizh unmanned aerial vehicle” was “stuffed with explosive substances,” the official said, according to TASS. Three people sustained “fragmentation wounds” and five residential buildings were damaged, the newswire reported.

Russia’s claim couldn’t be verified, and Ukrainian officials didn’t comment on the incident. Images on social media showed a large crater. 

IAEA Head to Visit Zaporizhzhia Plant: TASS (5 p.m.)

Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, will travel to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on Wednesday, TASS reported, citing Renat Karchaa, adviser to the head of Russia’s Rosenergoatom.

A regular rotation of the IAEA mission at the plant, which has been occupied by Russia for a year, will take place at the same time. The UN nuclear agency announced Grossi’s visit on Saturday without specifying which day it would take place.  

EU’s Borrell Threatens More Sanctions on Russia (3:35 p.m.)

Stationing Russian nuclear arms in Belarus, as Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on Saturday, “would mean an irresponsible escalation & threat to European security,” Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said on Twitter. The EU is ready to respond with more sanctions, he said. 

France’s foreign ministry also condemned Putin’s agreement to deploy nuclear arms in Belarus, calling on Moscow in an emailed statement to show a sense of responsibility. 

Kyiv Calls for Urgent UN Security Council Meeting (2:35 p.m.)

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s government has called for an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council over Russia’s move to station nuclear weapons in Belarus. 

“Ukraine expects effective actions to counteract the Kremlin’s nuclear blackmail” including from permanent members of the council, Ukraine’s foreign ministry said in a strongly-worded statement.  

The Russian president’s vow to station Russian nuclear arms in Belarus is “yet another step by the criminal Putin regime,” the ministry said. 

Russian Hackers Blamed for 300-Plus Cyber Attacks (1:30 p.m.)

Russian hackers have attacked Ukraine’s civil infrastructure websites, especially those of government agencies and local authorities, for more then 300 times since the start of 2023, according to Ukraine’s computer emergency response team. 

The segment is particularly vulnerable due to the lack of adequate cyber protections, the response team said. A year ago, Ukraine’s security and defense sites were the most popular targets for hackers. 

Putin Says Russia, China Not Creating Military Alliance (10 a.m.)

While Russia is cooperating with China in military and technical matters, it’s not setting up a military alliance with Beijing, President Vladimir Putin said in comments broadcast on state television on Sunday.

The nations continue to hold joint drills, and all interactions are transparent, Putin said in a new segment of the interview shown on Saturday, in which he announced plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. Putin also accused the West of building a “new axis” similar to that of Nazi Germany. 

The comments came days after Chinese President Xi Jinping’s first visit to Moscow since the start of the war in Ukraine. Russia, China and Iran this month held a fourth round of naval exercises in the Arabian Sea, while China, Russia and South Africa conducted naval drills in February. 

Kremlin Has Made Belarus ‘A Nuclear Hostage,’ Ukrainian Official Says (10 a.m.)

Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of the Ukrainian Security and Defense Council, said the Kremlin has made Belarus “a nuclear hostage” by announcing it will place tactical nuclear weapons in the country for the first time. 

“It maximizes the level of negative perception and public rejection of Russia and Putin in Belarusian society,” Danilov said in a Twitter post. 

Actor Orlando Bloom Visits Ukraine for UNICEF (9:45 a.m.)

UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Orlando Bloom arrived in Ukraine to support children, the agency’s Ukraine branch said. 

The British star of the “Lord of the Rings” franchise visited a so-called “children’s spot ”in Kyiv — a safe place where Ukrainian children can play, study and receive psychosocial support.

Bloom also visited Ukraine for the UN children’s fund in 2016, when he visited Slovyansk in the Donetsk region. 

Aging Fleet Carrying Russian Oil Poses Disaster Risk (9 a.m.) 

The aftermath of EU sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine mean a vast shadow fleet — often well past its logical use-by date — is ferrying Moscow’s crude oil around the globe. 

The biggest concern is that some older vessels — the global fleet is now the oldest in almost two decades — may not be properly inspected and maintained, leading to an environmental catastrophe at sea. 

Five Civilians Killed Across Eight Regions Early Sunday (8 a.m.)

At least five civilians were killed and 25 injured after Russian attacks on eight Ukrainian regions early Sunday morning, the Ukrainian military’s media center said. Among the targets of a missile attack were two apartment buildings in Avdiivka. 

More than 130 settlements were shelled with various types of weapons, including mortars, artillery, multiple-launch rockets and the S-300 air defense system, Lancet UAV, and tactical aircraft. More then 60 infrastructure targets were hit.

In their ground operations in Ukraine’s Donbas, Russian troops to press in the areas of Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Maryinka directions. Ukrainian army repelled more than 85 attacks within the past day, its General Staff said on Facebook. 

Nuclear Escalation Risk Seen as Low by US Group (7 a.m.) 

The announcement of the deployment of Russian tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus is “irrelevant to the risk of escalation to nuclear war, which remains extremely low,” said analysts at the US-based Institute for the Study of War. 

“Putin is attempting to exploit Western fears of nuclear escalation,” the think tank said in an overnight report. “Russia has long fielded nuclear-capable weapons able to strike any target that tactical nuclear weapons based in Belarus could hit.”

ISW said Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko offered to host Russian nuclear arms as early as November 2021, and that a Russian arms deployment there may be “part of a broader effort to deepen Russian control over Belarus.”  

White House: No Reason to Adjust US Nuclear Position After Putin’s Move (7 a.m.)

US officials are aware of Putin’s announcement Saturday on a plan to locate strategic Russian weapons in Belarus and will monitor the implications, said Adrienne Watson, a spokesperson for the National Security Council at the White House.

“We have not seen any reason to adjust our own strategic nuclear posture nor any indications Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon,” Watson said by email. “We remain committed to the collective defense of the NATO alliance.” 

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