Russia Says Drone Strikes Town South of Moscow

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

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Ukraine’s foreign ministry on Sunday called the move “another provocative move by the criminal Putin regime” and called for an urgent UN Security Council meeting. The EU foreign policy representative described the stationing of Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus as an “irresponsible escalation” that could lead to further sanctions.

The head of the United Nations nuclear agency will travel to the Zaporizhzhia plant on Wednesday, Rafael Mariano Grossi crossing the frontline in Ukraine for the second time to reach the plant, which was occupied by Russia last year.

Important Developments

  • Putin calls on Russia to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus

  • Ukraine wants a UN Security Council meeting on Putin’s nuclear plan

  • Aging Shadow Fleet powered by Russian oil poses risk of disaster

  • Russia seeks 400,000 more recruits since recent Ukraine push stalls

(All times CET)

Russia blames Ukrainian drone for explosion in region south of Moscow (6 p.m.)

A Ukrainian drone caused an explosion in the town of Kireyevsk, about 230 kilometers south of Moscow in Russia’s Tula region, TASS reported, citing a spokesman for local law enforcement agencies.

The “Tu-141 Strizh unmanned aerial vehicle” was “packed with explosives,” the official said, according to TASS. Two people suffered “shrapnel wounds” and three residential buildings were damaged.

Russia’s claim could not be verified and Ukrainian officials did not comment on the incident. Images on social media showed a large crater.

Grossi’s visit to Zaporizhia plant will take place on Wednesday, says TASS (5 p.m.)

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

At the same time, there will be a regular change of the IAEA mission in the plant, which has been occupied by Russia for a year. The UN nuclear agency had announced Grossi’s visit on Saturday without specifying what day it would take place.

EU’s Borrell says further sanctions against Russian plan are possible (3:35 p.m.)

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

The French Foreign Ministry also condemned Putin’s approval of the stationing of nuclear weapons in Belarus and called on Moscow in an e-mail statement to show responsibility.

Kyiv calls for urgent UN Security Council meeting (2:35 p.m.)

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government has called an urgent UN Security Council meeting over Russia’s plans to station nuclear weapons in Belarus.

“Ukraine expects effective measures to counter 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 promise to station Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus is “another step by the criminal Putin regime,” the ministry said.

Russian hackers launched over 300 cyber attacks this year (1:30 p.m.)

According to Ukraine’s Computer Emergency Response Team, Russian hackers have attacked Ukraine’s civil infrastructure websites, particularly those of government agencies and local authorities, more than 300 times since early 2023.

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

Putin Says Russia and China Won’t Create Military Alliance (10am)

While Russia cooperates with China on military and technical matters, it does not enter into a military alliance with Beijing, President Vladimir Putin said in a commentary aired on state television on Sunday.

The nations continue to conduct joint exercises and all interactions are transparent, Putin said in a new segment of the interview shown on Saturday, announcing plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. Putin also accused the West of building a “new axis” similar to Nazi Germany’s.

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 held a fourth round of naval exercises in the Arabian Sea this month, while China, Russia and South Africa held naval exercises in February.

Kremlin has made Belarus a ‘nuclear hostage’, says Ukrainian official (10am)

Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s Security and Defense Council, said the Kremlin had made Belarus “a nuclear hostage” by announcing it would deploy 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 (9:45am)

UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Orlando Bloom has come to Ukraine to support children, the organization’s Ukrainian branch said.

The British star of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ franchise visited a so-called ‘Children’s Place’ in Kiev – a safe place where Ukrainian children can play, learn and receive psychosocial support.

Bloom also visited Ukraine for the UN Children’s Fund in 2016 when he visited Sloviansk in the Donetsk region.

Aging Fleet With Russian Oil Poses Disaster Risk (9am)

The aftermath of EU sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine means a vast shadow fleet – often well past its logical expiration date – is hauling Moscow’s crude oil around the world.

The biggest concern is that some older ships – the world’s fleet is now the oldest in nearly two decades – may not be properly inspected and maintained, causing an environmental disaster at sea.

Five civilians killed in eight regions early Sunday (8am).

At least five civilians were killed and 25 injured in Russian attacks on eight Ukrainian regions early Sunday morning, the Ukrainian military media center said. Two apartment buildings in Avdiivka were among the targets of a rocket attack.

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

In their ground operations in Ukraine’s Donbass, Russian troops are pushing towards Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Maryinka. The Ukrainian army has repelled more than 85 attacks over the past day, its general staff said on Facebook.

Think Tank Says Risk of Nuclear Escalation Remains Low (7am)

The announcement of the deployment of Russian tactical nuclear weapons in 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.

“Putin is trying to exploit Western fears of a nuclear escalation,” the think tank said in a late night report. “Russia has long deployed nuclear-capable weapons capable of hitting any target that tactical nuclear weapons from Belarus could hit.”

ISW said Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko offered to deploy Russian nuclear weapons as early as November 2021 and that a Russian deployment there “could 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 (7am)

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

“We have seen no reason to adjust our own strategic nuclear stance, nor any indication that Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon,” Watson said via email. “We remain committed to the collective defense of the NATO alliance.”

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