Ukraine demands emergency UN meeting over Putin nuclear plan
Ukrainian servicemen fold the national flag over the coffin of their comrade Andrii Neshodovskiy during the funeral ceremony in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, March 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
By Karl Ritter in Kyiv
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s government on Sunday called for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council to “counter the Kremlin’s nuclear blackmail” after Russian President Vladimir Putin revealed plans to station tactical atomic weaponsin Belarus.
One Ukrainian official said that Russia “took Belarus as a nuclear hostage.”
But Moscow said it was making the move in response to the West’s increasing military support for Ukraine. Putin announced the plan in a television interview that aired on Saturday, saying it was triggered by a U.K. decision this past week to provide Ukraine with armor-piercing rounds containing depleted uranium.
Putin argued that by deploying its tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, Russia was following the lead of the United States. He noted that Washington has nuclear weapons based in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey.
“We are doing what they have been doing for decades, stationing them in certain allied countries, preparing the launch platforms and training their crews,” he said.
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry condemned the move in a statement Sunday and demanded an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council.
“Ukraine expects effective action to counter the Kremlin’s nuclear blackmail by the U.K., China, the U.S. and France, including as permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, which have a special responsibility to prevent threats of aggression using nuclear weapons,” the statement read. “The world must be united against someone who endangers the future of human civilization.”
Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, tweeted Sunday that Putin’s announcement was “a step towards internal destabilization” of Belarus that maximized “the level of negative perception and public rejection” of Russia and Putin in Belarusian society. The Kremlin, Danilov added, “took Belarus as a nuclear hostage.”
In Russia, authorities said three people were injured when a Ukrainian drone caused an explosion Sunday in a town far from the two countries’ border. The state-run news agency Tass reported authorities identified the drone as a Ukrainian Tu-141.
The explosion damaged residential buildings in the town of Kireyevsk in the Tula region, about 300 kilometers (180 miles) from the border with Ukraine and 175 kilometers (110 miles) south of Moscow. It left a crater about 15 meters (50 feet) in diameter and five meters (16 feet) deep, according to media reports.
The Russian state-run news agency Tass reported authorities identified the drone as a Ukrainian Tu-141. The Tu-141 went into service in the Soviet army in the 1970s. It reportedly was retired from service in 1989, then reintroduced in Ukraine in 2014. It has a range of about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles)
Ukraine has not yet commented on the incident.
On Saturday, Putin argued that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has long asked to have nuclear weapons in his country again to counter NATO. Belarus shares borders with three NATO members — Latvia, Lithuania and Poland — and Russia used Belarusian territory as a staging ground to send troops into neighboring Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.
Both Lukashenko’s support of the war and Putin’s plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus has been denounced by the Belarusian opposition.
Tactical nuclear weapons are intended for use on the battlefield and have a short range and a low yield compared with much more powerful nuclear warheads fitted to long-range missiles. Russia plans to maintain control over the ones it sends to Belarus, and construction of storage facilities for them will be completed by July 1, Putin said.
Russia has stored its tactical nuclear weapons at dedicated depots on its territory, and moving part of the arsenal to a storage facility in Belarus would up the ante in the Ukrainian conflict by placing them closer to Russian aircraft and missiles already stationed there.
The U.S. said it would “monitor the implications” of Putin’s announcement. So far, Washington hasn’t seen “any indications Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon,” National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said.
In Germany, the foreign ministry called it a “further attempt at nuclear intimidation,” German news agency dpa reported late Saturday. The ministry went on to say that “the comparison drawn by President Putin to NATO’s nuclear participation is misleading and cannot be used to justify the step announced by Russia.”
Kirsten Grieshaber contributed to this report from Berlin.
Austin hopes F-16 fight jet training for Ukrainian pilots will begin in coming weeks
WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Thursday he hopes that training for Ukrainian pilots on American-made F-16 fighter jets will begin in the coming weeks, bolstering Ukraine in the long run but not necessarily as part of an anticipated spring counteroffensive against Russia.
Austin spoke as defense leaders from around the world assembled for a virtual meeting to discuss the ongoing military support for Ukraine. They were expected talk about which countries will provide F-16s, and how and where the pilot training will be done.
The officials will also get an update on the war effort from Ukrainian leaders, including preparation for that anticipated counteroffensive and how the allies, who have faced their own stockpile pressures, can continue to support Kyiv’s fight against Russia.
“We’re going to have to dig deeper, and we’re going to have to continue to look for creative ways to boost our industrial capability,” Austin said before the military leaders began their closed session. “The stakes are high. But the cause is just and our will is strong.”
European countries have said they are talking about which countries may have some of the F-16s available. The United States had long balked at providing the advanced aircraft to Ukraine, and only last weekend did President Joe Biden agree to allow other nations to send their own U.S.-made jets to Kyiv.
“We hope this training will begin in the coming weeks,” Austin said. “This will further strengthen and improve the capabilities of the Ukrainian Air Force in the long term. And it will complement our short-term and medium-term security agreements. This new joint effort sends a powerful message about our unity and our long-term commitment to Ukraine’s self-defense.”
The leaders will also likely discuss Ukraine’s other continuing military needs, including air defense systems and munitions, artillery and other ammunition.
It was not immediately clear whether they will make any firm decisions on the F-16 issue, but initial steps have begun.
Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said Tuesday that training for Ukrainian pilots had begun in Poland and some other countries, though Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said training was still in the planning phase. The Netherlands and Denmark, among others, are also making plans for training.
“We can continue and also finalize the plans that we’re making with Denmark and other allies to start these these trainings. And of course, that is the first step that you have to take,” Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren said, adding that initial discussions about who may have F-16s available to send is underway.
Ukraine has long sought the sophisticated fighter to give it a combat edge as it battles Russia’s invasion, now in its second year.
The Biden administration’s decision was a sharp reversal after refusing to approve any transfer of the aircraft or conduct training for more than a year because of worries that doing so could escalate tensions with Russia. U.S. officials also had argued against the F-16 by saying that learning to fly and logistically support such an advanced aircraft would be difficult and take months.
Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said this week that the U.S. decision on the F-16 was part of a broader long-term commitment to meet Ukraine’s future military needs. He said the jets would not be relevant in any counteroffensive expected to begin shortly.
EU welcomes F-16 jet decision for Ukraine; pilots already being trained
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks with the media as he arrives for a meeting with EU defense ministers at the European Council building in Brussels, Tuesday May 23, 2023. The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Tuesday that the U.S. green light to allow Ukrainian pilots get training to fly F-16s has created an inexorable momentum that will inevitably bring the fighter jets to the Ukrainian battlefield. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
By Raf Casert in Brussels
BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union’s foreign policy chief said Tuesday that the U.S. green light to allow Ukrainian pilots to get training to fly F-16s has created an inexorable momentum that will inevitably bring the fighter jets to the Ukrainian battlefield.
“You know, it’s always the same thing: we discuss, at the beginning everybody is reluctant,” said Josep Borrell, giving the example of the long debate and initial opposition to the dispatch of advanced Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine.
“And at the end — with the Leopards, with the F-16 at the end — the decision comes to provide this military support because it is absolutely needed.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg confirmed that the training decision was the exact thrust necessary toward making the jets available to Ukraine.
“Announcing clearly that they will start training — this is an important step that partly will enable us to deliver fighter jets at some stage,” Stoltenberg said before meeting with EU defense ministers. He said it also proved that the West wouldn’t stand down in the face of Russia, saying such a decision “is sending a very clear signal that we are there for the long term and that Russia can not wait us out.”
Borrell added that training for Ukrainian pilots had already begun in Poland and some other countries, though authorities in Warsaw couldn’t immediately confirm the news. The Netherlands and Denmark, among others, are also making plans for such training.
No decision on actually delivering fourth-generation fighter jets has been taken yet, but training pilots now — a process that takes several months — will help speed up battle readiness once a formal decision is made.
“We can continue and also finalize the plans that we’re making with Denmark and other allies to start these these trainings. And of course, that is the first step that you have to take,” Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren said.
“We will continue discussing with our allies and with countries that might have F-16s available about that next step. But that’s not on the table right now,” Ollongren said.
Ukraine has long begged for the sophisticated fighter to give it a combat edge as it battles Russia’s invasion, now in its second year. And this new plan opens the door for several nations to supply the aircraft and for the U.S. to help train the pilots.
With the decision, the Biden administration has made a sharp reversal after refusing to approve any transfer of the aircraft or conduct training for more than a year because of worries that it could escalate tensions with Russia. U.S. officials also have argued against the F-16 by saying that learning to fly and logistically support such an advanced aircraft would be difficult and take months.
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