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.
Court of Appeal overturns ruling directing Ottawa to help repatriate men in Syria
OTTAWA — The Federal Court of Appeal has overturned a judge’s declaration that four Canadian men being held in Syria are entitled to Ottawa’s help to return home.
In a ruling released Wednesday, a three-member panel of the Court of Appeal said the federal government is not obligated under the law to repatriate the men.
The Canadians are among the many foreign nationals in Syrian camps and jails run by Kurdish forces that reclaimed the strife-torn region from the extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
The latest ruling sets aside a January decision by Federal Court Justice Henry Brown, who directed Ottawa to request repatriation of the men from the squalid conditions as soon as reasonably possible and provide them with passports or emergency travel documents.
Brown said the men were also entitled to have a representative of the federal government travel to Syria to help facilitate their release once their captors agree to hand them over.
The men include Jack Letts, whose parents John Letts and Sally Lane have waged a campaign to pressure Ottawa to come to his aid.
“The Federal Court of Appeal made a clear choice to perpetuate the arbitrary detention and torture of my son and the other Canadian detainees,” Lane said Wednesday.
“The decision is nothing but victim-blaming and narrow legalese that stands in utter contempt of human rights law and fails to rise to the challenge of the moment. From the very start, Canada has held the key to their release, and it refuses to unlock the prison doors that the Kurds are willing to hold open for them.”
The identities and circumstances of the three other Canadian men are not publicly known.
The federal government had argued that Brown mistakenly conflated the recognized Charter right of citizens to enter Canada with a right to return — effectively creating a new right for citizens to be brought home by the Canadian government.
The Federal Court of Appeal agreed, saying the judge’s interpretation “requires the Government of Canada to take positive, even risky action, including action abroad,” to facilitate the men’s right to enter Canada.
“Such a right would have potentially limitless scope. It would cover cases ranging from the repatriation of someone detained abroad for whatever reason, including the alleged violation of foreign law in a foreign land, to the payment of ransom to foreigners holding a Canadian citizen hostage.”
The Court of Appeal stressed that Canadian state conduct did not lead to the men being in northeastern Syria, prevent them from entering Canada, or cause or continue their plight. “The respondents’ own conduct and persons abroad who have control over them alone are responsible.”
The appeal judges said while the government is not constitutionally or otherwise legally obligated to repatriate the men, their ruling “should not be taken to discourage the Government of Canada from making efforts on its own to bring about that result.”
Lawyer Lawrence Greenspon, who represents the three men other than Letts, said Wednesday their families were “disappointed with the result.”
He said they are “seriously looking at appealing” by way of an application for a hearing in the Supreme Court of Canada.
Amid the legal proceedings, Greenspon reached an agreement with the federal government earlier this year to bring home six Canadian women and 13 children who had been part of the court action.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2023.
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.
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