Amid repeated accusations between the warring sides that the other was planning to escalate their conflict by using an unconventional weapon, President Joe Biden on Tuesday warned Russia that it would be a “serious mistake” to detonate a weapon nuclear.
For three days, the Russians have groundlessly accused Kyiv of planning to launch a so-called dirty bomb, which sows terror by scattering radioactive waste when it explodes. The Ukrainians responded by saying that Moscow is establishing a pretext to use a nuclear weapon in a war that it is losing on the battlefield.
Biden said it was unclear if the Kremlin was trying to set the stage for a nuclear attack, but repeated his administration’s previous warnings against such a move.
“Let me say that Russia would be making an incredibly grave mistake if it used a tactical nuclear weapon,” Biden said. “I’m not giving you any guarantees yet that this is a false flag operation – I don’t know – but that would be a big mistake.”
Earlier today, Ukraine’s nuclear power operator said Russian forces were carrying out covert work at the occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant – the largest of its kind in Europe – raising fears they were planning a radiological attack .
►Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has accused the US-led West of increasing arms supplies and providing intelligence to the Kyiv regime in a bid to ‘destroy our age-old national state’ .
►Norway’s internal security agency said it arrested a man who entered the country as a Brazilian citizen but is suspected of being a Russian spy.
►German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has arrived in Kyiv for his first visit to Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion. He said he wanted to “send a signal of solidarity to Ukrainians”. In April, Ukraine made it clear that Steinmeier was unwelcome because of his earlier support for closer ties with Russia, which he later said was a mistake.
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Facing a swift backlash for their timing and message, 30 progressive House Democrats on Tuesday withdrew the letter they sent to President Joe Biden the day before urging him to negotiate an end to Russia’s war in Ukraine. .
With two weeks to go until the midterm elections and amid increasingly desperate Russian attempts to reverse course on the battlefield, the letter appeared to undermine US support for Ukraine, urging Biden to pursue “a proactive diplomatic push, redoubling efforts to seek a realistic framework for a ceasefire.”
Many fellow Democrats and Ukrainian officials, who have said Russian President Vladimir Putin will not negotiate in good faith, denounced the letter, causing a stunning reversal. Biden argued that it was up to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to decide the terms of a peace deal with Russia.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, chair of the Progressive Caucus, said in a statement that the letter was written months ago and needed further review before publication. She also sought to steer her content away from comments last week by GOP House Leader Kevin McCarthy that Republicans won’t give Ukraine a “blank check” if they retake the House.
“The proximity of these statements has left the unfortunate impression that the Democrats, who have firmly and unanimously supported and voted for every package of military, strategic and economic assistance to the Ukrainian people, are somehow aligned with the Republicans who seek to end U.S. support for President Zelenskyy and Ukrainian forces,” Jayapal’s statement read.
Russia’s attack helicopter fleet is taking a hit from Ukraine’s man-portable air defense systems, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said in its latest war assessment.
There have been at least 23 verified losses of Russian Ka-52 HOKUM attack helicopters in Ukraine since the invasion, representing more than 25% of Russia’s fleet of 90, according to the assessment. Dozens of other helicopters were also shot down.
“Russia continues to fail to maintain sufficient air superiority to reliably provide effective (air) support near the front line,” the assessment said. “And her artillery ammunition is running out.”
Russian commanders are likely to resort to high-risk attack helicopter missions as one of the few options available to provide close support to troops in combat, according to the assessment.
The rejection by a Russian court of Brittney Griner call of a nine-year prison sentence for drug possession means the WNBA basketball star “will continue to be wrongfully detained in intolerable circumstances after having to endure another sham court proceeding today,” said National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.
Sullivan said the administration continues to discuss with Russian officials a possible prisoner exchange, and he praised Griner’s family for their “courage in the face of these unimaginable circumstances.”
Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond Law School, said the Russian court granted a quick resolution, unlike the appeals process in US federal courts.
“Griner’s best hope now appears to be some form of prisoner swap with Russia,” he said.
Griner, who appeared in a Moscow region courtroom via video link from a cell in her detention center, was arrested on February 17 after police said they found vaping canisters containing cannabis oil in his luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport. Griner, 32, said she inadvertently rushed them and had no criminal intent. A week after her arrest, Russia invaded Ukraine and US-Russian relations plummeted to near historic lows, complicating efforts to free her.
International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi said the agency was preparing to inspect two Ukrainian nuclear facilities as Russia claimed Ukraine was developing a “dirty bomb”.
Ukraine requested the inspection after its nuclear energy company Energoatom claimed that Russia was carrying out unauthorized construction work near the dry spent nuclear fuel storage facility at the Zaporizhzhia plant. Energoatom has warned that destroying the containers stored there could lead to radioactive contamination over hundreds of square kilometres.
The head of Russia’s Chechnya region, backed by the Kremlin, said the Russian military should destroy Ukrainian towns in retaliation for Ukrainian bombardment of Russian towns along the border.
Authorities in Russia’s Kursk and Belgorod regions reported Ukrainian shelling that damaged infrastructure and residential buildings. Ramzan Kadyrov said on Telegram that if a “shell flies into our region, entire cities must be wiped off the face of the Earth so that they never think they can shoot in our direction.”
Kadyrov has often criticized the Russian military effort. Earlier this month, Kadyrov said Colonel-General Alexander Lapin should be sacked after withdrawing from the town of Lyman in the Donetsk region.
“If I had succeeded, I would have demoted Rabbit to the rank of soldier, deprived him of his rewards and sent him to the front line to wash away his shame with a rifle in his hand,” Kadyrov wrote on Telegram.
Contribute: The Associated Press