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Ukraine updates: Kyiv slams Russia's Belarus nuclear plan

March 26, 2023

Kyiv says it wants UN Security Council action after Moscow announced plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. Russia's leader has accused the West of building an axis against Moscow. DW rounds up the latest.

Launchers carrying Tochka tactical missiles
Putin said he had struck a deal with Belarusian leader Lukashenko on tactical nuclear weaponsImage: Vadim Savitsky/Russian Look/picture alliance

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry on Sunday said it was seeking an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council to counter Russia's "nuclear blackmail" over a planned move to deploy tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a decision to station the weapons there a day earlier — sending a warning to NATO, and escalating a standoff with the alliance over its military support for Ukraine.

"Ukraine expects effective actions to counteract the Kremlin's nuclear blackmail from the United Kingdom, China, the United States and France," Kyiv's foreign ministry said. 

"We demand that an extraordinary meeting of the UN Security Council be immediately convened for this purpose," it added.

Earlier, one of the chief advisers to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Sunday said Russian plans to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus would cause destabilization there.

Although the move was not a major surprise, it is one of the most significant nuclear developments since Russia launched its invasion in February last year.

The head of Ukraine's National Security and Defence Council, Oleksiy Danilov, called the announcement "a step towards internal destabilization of the country."

He said it would maximize the level of "negative perception and public rejection" of Russia and Putin among Belarusians.

"The Kremlin took Belarus as a nuclear hostage," he tweeted.

Another of Zelenskyy's advisers on Sunday mocked the announcement as "too predictable."

"Making a statement about tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, he admits that he is afraid of losing and all he can do is scare with tactics," Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted.

Putin's stationing nukes in Belarus 'must be condemned'

Here are some of the other notable developments concerning the war in Ukraine on Sunday, March 26:

Lithuania calls for new sanctions against Russia

Lithuania will call for new sanctions in response to Russia's plans to place tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, according to its Foreign Ministry.

The ministry said that, "Together with its Euro-Atlantic partners, Lithuania will decide how to react to these militaristic plans of the Russian and Belarusian regimes."

"As one of the response measures, Lithuania will call for the adoption of new sanctions," it added.

EU threatens new sanctions on Belarus over Russian nukes

The European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell urged Belarus not to host Russian nuclear weapons, saying it could face further sanctions if it did.

"Belarus hosting Russian nuclear weapons would mean an irresponsible escalation and threat to European security. Belarus can still stop it, it is their choice. The EU stands ready to respond with further sanctions," he wrote on Mastodon. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the deployment was similar to the United States, which stores such weapons in bases across Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey.

Germany and NATO said the analogy was deceptive.

"The comparison made by President Putin to nuclear sharing in NATO is misleading and does not justify the step announced by Russia," an official in German foreign office told AFP.

NATO also joined the criticism, with spokeswoman Oana Lungescu saying "NATO allies act with full respect of their international commitments."

"Russia's nuclear rhetoric is dangerous and irresponsible," added Lungescu.

Drone strike reported deep inside Russia

Authorities said that three people were injured and three buildings were damaged in a drone strike in the town of Kireyevsk in Russia.

"A Ukrainian Tu-141 Strizh UAV was the cause of an explosion in the town of Kireyevsk, Tula region," Russian state-run news agency Tass quoted a law enforcement agency source as saying.

"The drone was packed with explosives," the source added.

The drone struck the center of Kireyevsk, about 300 kilometers (180 miles) from the border with Ukraine and 175 kilometers (110 miles) south of Moscow. 

Kyiv has not yet commented on the incident.

Putin says West forming axis, not Russia and China

Russian President Vladimir Putin says Moscow and Beijing are not building a military alliance and that cooperation between their armed services is "transparent."

Putin made the comments in a broadcast on Sunday, days after he hosted Chinese leader Xi Jinping in the Kremlin.

At their meeting, the pair professed friendship and they pledged closer ties, including in the military sphere, as Russia struggles to make battlefield gains in Ukraine.

"We are not creating any military alliance with China," Putin said on state television. "Yes, we have cooperation in the sphere of military-technical interaction. We are not hiding this. Everything is transparent, there is nothing secret."

The Russians hiding in the woods to escape conscription

Putin, meanwhile, accused the United States and NATO of seeking to build a new global "axis"

Beijing has refrained from criticizing Putin's decision and has touted a peace plan for Ukraine — something the West dismisses as a ruse to buy Putin more time to rebuild his forces in Ukraine.

The US has recently voiced concern that Beijing could start arming Russia although China has denied this.

Russia appears to have restocked on Iran drones

The UK Ministry of Defence says Russia has likely launched at least 71 Iranian-designed Shahed series one-way attack uncrewed aerial vehicles against targets across Ukraine.

These attacks followed a two-week pause in such drone attacks in late February 2023. Russia has likely started receiving regular resupplies of small numbers of Shahed drones, the ministry's daily report said.

British analysts think Russia is likely launching Shaheds from two axes: from Russia's Krasnodar Krai in the east and from Bryansk Oblast in the northeast.

"This allows Russia flexibility to target a broad sector of Ukraine and decreases flying time to targets in the north of Ukraine," said the report, adding that this was likely to be a further attempt to stretch Ukrainian air defenses.

No more 'dangerous' money printing to fund war

The governor of Ukraine's central bank has said the country will no longer resort to "dangerous" monetary financing to fund the war against Russia.

National Bank of Ukraine chief Andriy Pyshnyi was speaking to the Financial Times newspaper in an interview published on Sunday.

Kyiv's central bank was last year forced to print billions of hryvnia, Ukraine's currency, to plug a budget shortfall.

Pyshnyi said the course of action had "created huge risks for macro-financial stability" and added that an "open conflict" with the government over the issue had been resolved.

"It was a quick remedy, but very dangerous," Pyshnyi told the newspaper.

More on the war in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin says he struck a deal with his Belarusian counterpart to station tactical nuclear weapons on that country's territory. It would be the first time Moscow has based the arms outside the country since the mid-1990s.

Howitzers without GPS, rocket launchers restricted to short-range: The US is sending Ukraine weapons with critical limitations. Observers say US officials are trying to avoid a confrontation with Russia.

Russia's assault on Bakhmut has largely stalled amid heavy attrition of Moscow's forces, according to a British report. Meanwhile, Russia's parliamentary speaker proposes banning ICC activities. Catch up with Saturday's updates here.

lo,rc/kb (dpa, AFP, Reuters, AP)

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