EU says Russia’s nuclear plan threatens European security; head of UN’s atomic energy agency to visit Zaporizhzhia

EU says Russia’s nuclear plan threatens European security; head of UN’s atomic energy agency to visit Zaporizhzhia
Russian President Vladimir Putin (centre), accompanied by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko (left), after disembarking from a plane upon his arrival at the National Airport Minsk, Belarus, on 19 December 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Sergey Karpuhin / Sputnik / Kremlin Pool)

The head of the UN’s nuclear agency will travel to the Zaporizhzhia plant this week, the International Atomic Energy Agency said on its website. It will be the second time Rafael Mariano Grossi has crossed the front line in Ukraine to reach the facility, occupied by Russia for the past year.

Vladimir Putin said Russia was preparing to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, escalating a confrontation with the US and its allies. The US will monitor the implications of Putin’s move, the White House’s National Security Council said.

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” and a threat to European security that could result in more sanctions.

Key developments

EU’s Borrell says more sanctions possible on Russian plan

Stationing Russian nuclear arms in Belarus, as 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 was ready to respond with more sanctions, he said.

Kyiv calls for urgent UN Security Council meeting

President Volodymyr Zelensky’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 launched more than 300 cyber attacks this year

Russian hackers have attacked Ukraine’s civil infrastructure websites, especially those of government agencies and local authorities, more than 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 defence sites were the most “popular” targets for hackers.




Putin says Russia, China not creating military alliance

While Russia is cooperating with China in military and technical matters, it’s not setting up a military alliance with Beijing, 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,’ says Ukrainian official

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

“It maximises 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

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 “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.

Ageing fleet carrying Russian oil poses disaster risk 

The aftermath of EU sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine means 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 Ukrainian regions

At least five civilians were killed and 25 injured after Russian attacks on eight Ukrainian regions early on Sunday morning, the Ukrainian military’s media centre 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 drones. More than 60 infrastructure targets were hit.

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

Risk of nuclear escalation remains low, says think tank

The announcement of the deployment of Russian tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus was “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 (ISW).

“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.”

The 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

US officials were aware of Putin’s announcement on Saturday on a plan to locate strategic Russian weapons in Belarus and would 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 defence of the Nato alliance.” DM


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