Russia-Ukraine War: Vladimir Putin to deploy tactical nukes in Belarus

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a deal Saturday to deploy tactical nuclear weapons into neighboring Belarus, saying the United States has been placing such arms in the territory of its allies for decades.
This handout video grab released by the Russian Defense Ministry on Feb. 21, 2022, shows Russian and Belarus tanks during joint exercises near Brest, Belarus. (AFP)

This handout video grab released by the Russian Defense Ministry on Feb. 21, 2022, shows Russian and Belarus tanks during joint exercises near Brest, Belarus. (AFP)

Tactical Nukes

New developments:

  • “Russia must lose on the battlefield, in the economy, in international relations, and in its attempts to replace the historical truth with some imperial myths. … It is the full-scale defeat of Russia that will be a reliable guarantee against new aggressions and crises.” — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Saturday evening in his daily address.

  • Ukraine didn't receive a peace mediation proposal from China or a proposal to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Zelenskyy told The Japan News.

  • The head of the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency Rafael Grossi will visit the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Eastern Ukraine next week to assess the serious security situation there, Reuters reports.

Russia has “likely launched” at least 71 Iranian-designed Shahed series one-way attack uncrewed aerial vehicles or OWA-UAVS against targets across Ukraine since the beginning of March, according to the British Defense Ministry’s daily intelligence update on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, posted Sunday on Twitter.

The OWA-UAVS attacks stopped for two weeks in late February, but Russia is likely receiving a supply of them again, the ministry said.

Russia is probably launching the aerial vehicles from two axes: from Russia’s Krasnodar krai in the east and from Bryansk oblast in the northeast. These locations, the ministry said, allow Russia flexibility in targeting a broad sector of Ukraine and decreases flying time to targets in the north of Ukraine. The locations are also likely part of a strategy to “further attempt to stretch Ukrainian air defenses.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a deal Saturday to deploy tactical nuclear weapons into neighboring Belarus, saying the United States has been placing such arms in the territory of its allies for decades.

In an interview on Russian state television, translated by Reuters, Putin said “the trigger for his comments was the statement by the British deputy minister of defense that they are going to supply depleted uranium munitions to Ukraine.”

FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, meets with his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Feb. 17, 2023. (Photo by Vladimir Astapkovich/Sputnik/AFP)

Depleted uranium is a byproduct of the uranium enrichment process needed to create nuclear weapons. The rounds retain some radioactive properties, but they can’t generate a nuclear reaction like a nuclear weapon would, RAND nuclear expert and policy researcher Edward Geist said.

Tactical nuclear weapons have a short range and a low yield compared with the nuclear warheads fitted to long-range missiles, which are much more powerful.

The United States has about 200 tactical nuclear weapons. The 4-meter B61 nuclear bombs have yields of 0.3 to 170 kilotons. About half of them are deployed to air bases in Italy, Germany, Turkey, Belgium and the Netherlands.

The U.S. believes Russia has around 2,000 working tactical warheads.

Moscow, which has never deployed its nuclear weapons outside its borders, says it will maintain control over them. However, Putin did not say how many tactical nuclear weapons it would send to Belarus or when it would — only that the construction of the storage facility there would be complete by July 1.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>This handout video grab released by the Russian Defense Ministry on Feb. 21, 2022, shows Russian and Belarus tanks during joint exercises near Brest, Belarus. (AFP)</p></div>
China and Russia target audiences online with deep fakes, replica front pages

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons denounced what it called an extremely dangerous escalation.

"In the context of the war in Ukraine, the likelihood of miscalculation or misinterpretation is extremely high. Sharing nuclear weapons makes the situation much worse and risks catastrophic humanitarian consequences," it said in a tweet.

The U.S. Department of Defense said it would continue to monitor the situation.

"We have not seen any reason to adjust our own strategic nuclear posture, nor any indications Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon," it said in a statement Saturday.

Bakhmut 'being stabilized,' says general

Meanwhile, the top commander of Ukraine's military said Saturday his forces are repelling Russian troops in the arduous, grinding battle for the town of Bakhmut.

“The Bakhmut direction is the most difficult. Thanks to the titanic efforts of the defense forces, the situation is being stabilized,” General Valerii Zaluzhnyi said in a post on Telegram, giving a synopsis of a telephone call with Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, Britain's chief of defense staff.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Ukrainian servicemen head toward Bakhmut in a BMP infantry fighting vehicle on March 22, 2023.</p></div>

Ukrainian servicemen head toward Bakhmut in a BMP infantry fighting vehicle on March 22, 2023.

In its daily intelligence report on Ukraine, the British Defense Ministry said Saturday that “Russia's assault on the Donbas town of Bakhmut has largely stalled. This is likely primarily a result of extreme attrition of the Russian force,” and added Russia is “likely conducting “a more defensive operational design after inconclusive results from its attempts to conduct a general offensive since January 2023” in its campaign in Ukraine. Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) / Twitter

Thousands sheltering underground

Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross says some 10,000 Ukrainian civilians, many who are older or have disabilities, were surviving in grisly circumstances in Bakhmut and surrounding settlements.

"They are living in very dire conditions, spending almost the entire days in intense shelling in the [underground] shelters," said Umar Khan of the ICRC, speaking to a news briefing via video link from Dnipro, Ukraine.

"All you see is people pushed to the very limits of their existence and survival and resilience." (KB/VOA)

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