Russia stops sharing missile test info with US, opens drills
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a cabinet meeting via videoconference at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, March 29, 2023. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
By Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow
MOSCOW (AP) — Russia will no longer give the U.S. advance notice about its missile tests, a senior Moscow diplomat said Wednesday, as its military deployed mobile launchers in Siberia in a show of the country’s massive nuclear capability amid fighting in Ukraine.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies that Moscow has halted all information exchanges with Washington after previously suspending its participation in the last remaining nuclear arms pact with the U.S.
Along with the data about the current state of the countries’ nuclear forces routinely released every six months in compliance with the treaty, the parties also have exchanged advance warnings about test launches. Such notices have been an essential element of strategic stability for decades, allowing Russia and the United States to correctly interpret each other’s moves and make sure that neither country mistakes a test launch for a missile attack.
The termination of missile test warnings marks yet another attempt by Moscow to discourage the West from ramping up its support for Ukraine by pointing to Russia’s massive nuclear arsenal. In recent days, President Vladimir Putin announced the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons to the territory of Moscow’s ally Belarus.
Last month, Putin suspended the New START treaty, saying Russia can’t accept U.S. inspections of its nuclear sites under the agreement at a time when Washington and its NATO allies have openly declared Moscow’s defeat in Ukraine as their goal. Moscow emphasized that it wasn’t withdrawing from the pact altogether and would continue to respect the caps on nuclear weapons the treaty set.
The Foreign Ministry initially said Moscow would keep notifying the U.S. about planned test launches of its ballistic missiles, but Ryabkov’s statement reflected an abrupt change of course.
“There will be no notifications at all,” he said in remarks reported by Russian news agencies when asked if Moscow would also stop issuing notices about planned missile tests. “All notifications, all kinds of notifications, all activities under the treaty. will be suspended and will not be conducted regardless of what position the U.S. may take.”
Ryabkov’s announcement followed U.S. officials’ statement that Moscow and Washington have stopped sharing biannual nuclear weapons data that were envisioned by the New START treaty. Officials at the White House, Pentagon and State Department said the U.S. had offered to continue providing this information to Russia even after Putin suspended its participation in the treaty, but Moscow told Washington it would not be sharing its own data.
The New START, signed in 2010 by then-Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev, limits each country to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 deployed missiles and bombers. The agreement envisages sweeping on-site inspections to verify compliance.
The inspections have been put on hold since 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Discussions on resuming them were supposed to have taken place in November 2022, but Russia abruptly called them off, citing U.S. support for Ukraine.
As part of the Russian drills that began Wednesday, Yars mobile missile launchers will maneuver across three regions of Siberia, Russia’s Defense Ministry said. The movements will involve measures to conceal the deployment from foreign satellites and other intelligence assets, the ministry said.
The Defense Ministry didn’t say how long the drills would last or mention plans for any practice launches. The Yars is a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile with a range of about 11,000 kilometers (over 6,800 miles). It forms the backbone of Russia’s strategic missile forces.
A Defense Ministry video shows trucks carrying the missiles driving from a base to go on patrol. The maneuvers involve about 300 vehicles and 3,000 troops in eastern Siberia, according to the ministry.
The exercise took place days after Putin announced a plan to deploy the tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, Russia’s neighbor and ally. Such weapons are intended for use on the battlefield and have a relatively short range and a much lower yield compared with the long-range strategic missiles fitted with nuclear warheads that are capable of obliterating whole cities.
Putin’s decision on the tactical weapons followed his repeated warnings that Moscow was ready to use “all available means” — a reference to its nuclear arsenal — to fend off attacks on Russian territory.
Ryabkov said Wednesday that Putin’s move followed the failure by Kyiv’s allies to heed previous “serious signals” from Moscow because of what he described as the “fundamental irresponsibility of Western elites before their people and international security.”
“Now they will have to deal with changing realities,” he said, adding: “We hope that NATO officials will adequately assess the seriousness of the situation.”
Russian officials have issued a barrage of hawkish statements since their troops entered Ukraine, warning that the continuing Western support for Kyiv raised the threat of a nuclear conflict.
In remarks published Tuesday, Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of Russia’s Security Council, which Putin chairs, sternly warned the U.S. and its allies against harboring hopes for Russia’s defeat in Ukraine.
Patrushev alleged that some American politicians believe the U.S. could launch a preventative missile strike on Russia to which Moscow would be unable to respond, a purported belief that he described as “short-sighted stupidity, which is very dangerous.”
“Russia is patient and isn’t trying to scare anyone with its military superiority, but it has unique modern weapons capable of destroying any adversary, including the United States, in case of a threat to its existence,” Patrushev said.
Collapse of major dam in southern Ukraine triggers emergency as Moscow and Kyiv blame each other
By Vasilisa Stepanenko And Susie Blann in Kherson
KHERSON, Ukraine (AP) — A major dam in southern Ukraine collapsed Tuesday, triggering floods, endangering crops in the country’s breadbasket and threatening drinking water supplies as both sides in the war scrambled to evacuate residents and blamed each other for the destruction.
Ukraine accused Russian forces of blowing up the Kakhovka dam and hydroelectric power station on the Dnieper River in an area that Moscow has controlled for over a year, while Russian officials blamed Ukrainian bombardment in the contested area. It was not possible to verify the claims.
The environmental and social consequences quickly became clear as homes, streets and businesses flooded downstream and emergency crews began evacuations; officials monitored cooling systems at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant; and authorities expressed concern about supplies of drinking water to the south in Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014.
In the downstream city of Kherson, a woman who gave her name only as Tetyana waded through thigh-deep water to reach her flooded house and rescue her dogs. They were standing on any dry surface they could find but one pregnant dog was missing. “It’s a nightmare,” she kept repeating, declining to give her full name.
Both Russian and Ukrainian authorities brought in trains and buses for residents. About 22,000 people live in areas at risk of flooding in Russian-controlled areas, while 16,000 live in the most critical zone in Ukrainian-held territory, according to official tallies. Neither side reported any deaths or injuries.
A satellite photo Tuesday morning by Planet Labs PBC analyzed by The Associated Press showed a large portion of the dam’s wall, more than 600 meters (over 1,900 feet), missing.
The dam break added a stunning new dimension to Russia’s war, now in its 16th month. Ukrainian forces were widely seen to be moving forward with a long-anticipated counteroffensive in patches along more than 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) of front line in the east and south.
It was not immediately clear whether either side benefits from the dam’s collapse, since both Russian-controlled and Ukrainian-held lands are at risk. The damage could also hinder Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the south and distract its government, while Russia depends on the dam to supply water to Crimea.
Although Kyiv officials claimed Russia blew it up to hinder the counteroffensive, observers note that crossing the broad Dnieper would be extremely challenging for the Ukrainian military. Other sectors of the front line are more likely avenues of attack, analysts say.
Even so, Nigel Gould-Davies, a senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the alleged Russian destruction of the dam “betrays a lack of confidence, a profoundly defensive measure, the lack of confidence in Russia’s longer-term prospects” in the war.
Experts have previously said the dam was in disrepair, which could also have led to the breach. David Helms, a retired American scientist who has monitored the reservoir since the war began, said in an email that it wasn’t clear if the damage was deliberate or simple neglect from Russian forces occupying the facility.
But Helms also noted a Russian history of attacking dams.
Underscoring the global repercussions, wheat prices jumped 3% after the collapse. It’s unclear whether the surge in wheat prices was due to a real threat of floodwaters destroying crops. Ukraine and Russia are key global suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other food to Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia.
Authorities, experts and residents have expressed concern for months about water flowing through — and over — the Kakhovka dam. After heavy rains and snow melt last month, water levels rose beyond normal, flooding nearby villages. Satellite images showed water washing over damaged sluice gates.
Amid official outrage, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy convened an urgent meeting of the National Security Council. He alleged Russian forces set off a blast inside the dam structure at 2:50 a.m. (2350 GMT Monday, 7:50 p.m. EDT Monday) and said about 80 settlements were in danger. Zelenskyy said in October that Russia had mined the dam and power plant.
But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called it “a deliberate act of sabotage by the Ukrainian side … aimed at cutting water supplies to Crimea.”
White House officials were trying to assess potential impacts of the dam collapse and were looking to see what humanitarian assistance can be provided to Ukrainians who are being displaced, according to a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity and was not authorized to comment publicly.
Both sides warned of a looming environmental disaster. Ukraine’s Presidential Office said some 150 metric tons of oil escaped from the dam machinery and that another 300 metric tons could still leak out.
Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukraine’s President’s Office, posted video showing the flooded streets of Russian-occupied Nova Kakhovka, a city in the Kherson region where about 45,000 people lived before the war.
Ukraine’s Interior Ministry urged residents of 10 villages on the Dnieper’s right bank and parts of the city of Kherson to gather essential documents and pets, turn off appliances, and leave, while cautioning against possible disinformation.
The Russian-installed mayor of occupied Nova Kakhovka, Vladimir Leontyev, said it was being evacuated as water poured in.
Ukraine’s nuclear operator Energoatom said via Telegram that the damage to the dam “could have negative consequences” for the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which is Europe’s biggest, but wrote that for now the situation is “controllable.”
The U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency said there was “no immediate risk to the safety of the plant,” which has been shut down for months but still needs water for its cooling system. It said that IAEA staff on site have been told the dam level is falling by 5 centimeters (2 inches) an hour. At that rate, the supply from the reservoir should last a few days, it said.
The plant also has alternative sources of water, including a large cooling pond than can provide water “for some months,” the statement said.
Ukrainian authorities have previously warned that the dam’s failure could unleash 18 million cubic meters (4.8 billion gallons) of water and flood Kherson and dozens of other areas where thousands live.
The World Data Center for Geoinformatics and Sustainable Development, a Ukrainian nongovernmental organization, estimated that nearly 100 villages and towns would be flooded. It also reckoned that the water level would start dropping only after 5-7 days.
A total collapse in the dam would wash away much of the broad river’s left bank, according to the Ukraine War Environmental Consequences Working Group, an organization of environmental activists and experts documenting the war’s environmental effects.
Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Zelenskyy, said that “a global ecological disaster is playing out now, online, and thousands of animals and ecosystems will be destroyed in the next few hours.”
Video posted online showed floodwaters inundating a long roadway; another showed a beaver scurrying for high ground.
The incident also drew international condemnation, including from German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who said the “outrageous act … demonstrates once again the brutality of Russia’s war in Ukraine.”
Ukraine controls five of the six dams along the Dnieper, which runs from its northern border with Belarus down to the Black Sea and is crucial for the country’s drinking water and power supply.
Ukraine’s state hydro power generating company said the dam’s power station “cannot be restored.” Ukrhydroenergo also claimed Russia blew up the station from inside the engine room.
Ukraine and Russia have previously accused each other of attacking the dam.
Blann reported from Kyiv. Associated Press writer Danica Kirka in London contributed.
Sudan armed raids, bureaucracy hampering life-saving aid, doctor says
A Sudanese evacuee waits at Port Sudan before boarding a Saudi military ship to Jeddah port, on May 3, 2023. A doctor trying to co-ordinate basic medical services after Sudan’s rapid descent into chaos says the government and militias are hampering lifesaving aid and leaving children dying, as Canada crafts its response to the crisis. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Amr Nabil
By Dylan Robertson in Ottawa
As Canada crafts its response to the crisis in Sudan, a doctor trying to co-ordinate basic medical services after the country’s rapid descent into chaos says bandits and bureaucracy are hampering life-saving aid and leaving children to die.
“The people of Sudan are not getting as much care as they could, because our warehouses are being looted and we don’t have safe access to them,” said Javid Abdelmoneim, a Doctors Without Borders emergency-room physician.
In a recent call from Sudan’s Gedaref state, near the border with Ethiopia, Abdelmoneim said the crisis is unlike ones he’s seen in Syria, Ukraine or Ethiopia, not just because of random violence, but also because of bureaucratic hurdles.
In mid-April, a longstanding feud between the country’s military and its paramilitary force broke out into a turf war in the capital of Khartoum and led to violence across the country of 46 million people.
That caused Canada and other western countries to evacuate their citizens, who Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said last month “went through hell.”
The conflict has also sparked fears of a massive refugee crisis, with the United Nations migration agency saying last week that 1.3 million people had been displaced.
In Khartoum, a handful of hospitals are running with a skeleton crew of volunteers and staff who put themselves in the line of danger, with sporadic access to fuel, electricity, clean water and basic medical supplies.
It’s even worse outside the capital. At the Gedaref Teaching Hospital, “a number of children died for want of blood in the last week, because blood bags are not available,” Abdelmoneim said.
Across the country, cell service is frequently interrupted as armed groups disable telecommunication networks. An interview with Abdelmoneim was abruptly cut off when he lost internet connectivity for five hours.
“There’s trauma from increased lawlessness and looting. So, you have injured civilians presenting to hospitals late, because they can’t get there if it’s unsafe to move across the city.”
Abdelmoneim said the calamity in Khartoum has led to people fleeing north, where he saw rural hospitals crowded with wounded people from the city of 12 million people, which is no longer sending rural hospitals their basic supplies.
At the coastal city of Port Sudan, where Canadians and others from rich countries have been flown or shipped out to safety, Abdelmoneim saw less-fortunate foreigners languishing.
He said Nigerians, Yemenis and especially Syrians are staying in the homes of strangers, in government buildings or simply camping in the open air.
And his colleagues elsewhere are seeing tens of thousands of Sudanese displaced in the Darfur region and crossing into Chad.
Last week, International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan visited Chad to better understand the flow of refugees and how Ottawa can help support efforts by that country’s government and Canadian groups.
Sajjan has said Canada will be unveiling more aid based on refugee flows and requests from those on the ground.
Yet in Sudan, Abdelmoneim said he’s been able to help Sudanese people far less than he’d expected because of the country’s bureaucracy.
Doctors Without Borders staff who have been stationed inside Sudan for years require bureaucratic approval from the government to cross lines between states within the country, or even to move equipment between states.
Abdelmoneim is a British citizen with Sudanese roots, making him one of the few aid workers who could visit the country without facing a the weeks-long wait for a visa that his colleagues abroad are facing.
He said Sudan seems to have made no effort to streamline any of these processes in the weeks since clashes started. The Canadian Press has sought comment from the Sudanese embassy in Ottawa.
For weeks, the United Nations’s highest officials have urged both warring factions to allow humanitarian groups to access people in need, a plea Abdelmoneim said is being ignored by multiple armed groups.
In mid-May, bandits looted one of his organization’s warehouses, where 140 tonnes of medical and logistical supplies had been allocated for hospitals, clinics and a network of obstetricians and gynecologists.
Already, it was a struggle to move out equipment from the warehouse in the Gabra area, which has become the scene of “overt warfare,” Abdelmoneim said.
Still, he said it’s crushing for him to know his team braved danger without access to a vehicle to prepare 200 rape kits for pick-up, only to have armed men seize them along with other medical equipment.
“We were getting supplies out in a trickle, but then the looting started,” he said.
“You have men with weapons, be they civilian or in uniform, aggressively and violently entering a warehouse space full of medical stock, rendering it completely inaccessible and unusable.”
Armed men ransacked another warehouse in the city of Nyala, but Doctors Without Borders staff managed to hand over some remaining equipment to health officials.
Abdelmoneim says other non-governmental organizations are seeing their offices, warehouses and clinics raided, making it harder for them to help people in desperate need. MSF has gone public with the issue out of a conviction that the world needs to know about violations of the rules of war, even if raising the issue makes donors less likely to donate.
“Even war has rules. Every government needs to pressure warring parties in conflict to respect those rules,” he said.
“The government of Canada has a responsibility to uphold international humanitarian law.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 1, 2023.
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