Amid repeated accusations between the warring parties that the other one plans to escalate their conflict by using a non-conventional weapon, President Joe Biden on Tuesday warned Russia it would be a “serious mistake” to detonate a nuclear arm.
For the last three days the Russians have been making unsubstantiated accusations that Kyiv intends to launch a so-called dirty bomb, which causes terror by scattering radioactive waste when it explodes. The Ukrainians have responded by saying Moscow is establishing a pretext for using a nuclear weapon in a war it’s losing on the battlefield.
Biden said it’s not clear whether the Kremlin is trying to set the stage for a nuclear attack, but repeated previous warnings from his administration against such a move.
“Let me just say, Russia would be making an incredibly serious mistake if it were to use a tactical nuclear weapon,” Biden said. “I’m not guaranteeing you that it’s a false-flag operation yet — don’t know — but it would be a serious, serious mistake.”
Earlier in the day, Ukraine’s nuclear energy operator said Russian forces were performing secret work at the occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant — the largest of its kind in Europe — raising concerns they might be preparing a radiological attack.
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►Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused the U.S.-led West of increasing arms supplies and providing intelligence to the Kyiv regime in an effort to “destroy our centuries-old national statehood.”
►Norway’s domestic security agency says it has detained a man who entered the country as a Brazilian citizen but is suspected of being a Russian spy.
►German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier arrived in Kyiv for his first visit to Ukraine since the start of Russia’s invasion. He said he wanted to “send a signal of solidarity to Ukrainians.” In April, Ukraine made it clear Steinmeier was not welcome because of his previous support of closer ties with Russia, which he later said was a mistake.
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Progressive Democrats take back request that Biden negotiate end to Russia’s war
Facing swift backlash for their timing and message, 30 progressive House Democrats on Tuesday withdrew the letter they sent President Joe Biden the day before urging him to negotiate an end to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Coming two weeks before the midterm elections and amid Russia’s increasingly desperate attempts to reverse course on the battlefield, the letter appeared to undermine U.S. support for Ukraine, pressing 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 won’t negotiate in good faith, denounced the letter, prompting the stunning reversal. Biden has maintained that it’s up to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to decide the terms of a peace deal with Russia.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, chairwoman of the Progressive Caucus, said in a statement the letter was written months ago and required further vetting before its release. She also sought to distance its contents from last week’s comments 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 created the unfortunate appearance that Democrats, who have strongly and unanimously supported and voted for every package of military, strategic and economic assistance to the Ukrainian people, are somehow aligned with Republicans who seek to pull the plug on American support for President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian forces,” Jayapal’s statement said.
Ukraine destroying Russian attack helicopters
Russia’s fleet of attack helicopters is taking a beating at the hands of Ukraine’s portable air defense systems, the British Defense Ministry said in its most recent assessment of the war.
There have been at least 23 verified losses of Russia’s Ka-52 HOKUM attack helicopters in Ukraine since the invasion, representing more than 25% of Russia’s fleet of 90, the assessment says. Dozens of other helicopters also have been shot down.
“Russia is still failing to maintain adequate air superiority in order to reliably carry out effective (airplane) support near the front line,” the assessment says. “And its artillery ammunition is running low.”
Russian commanders are likely resorting to high-risk attack helicopter missions as one of the few options available to provide close support for troops in combat, the assessment says.
White House blasts ‘sham’ Russian appeal hearing in Griner case
A Russian court’s rejection of Brittney Griner’s appeal of a nine-year prison sentence for drug possession means the WNBA basketball star will “continue to be wrongfully detained under intolerable circumstances after having to undergo another sham judicial proceeding today,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan said.
Sullivan said the administration was continuing to talk with Russian officials about a possible prisoner swap, and he lauded Griner’s family for “courage in the face of these unimaginable circumstances.”
Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, said the Russian court dispensed a quick resolution, unlike the appeals process in U.S. 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-area courtroom via video link from a cell at her detention facility, was arrested Feb. 17 after police said they found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. Griner, 32, said she had inadvertently packed them in haste and that she had no criminal intent. One week after her arrest, Russia invaded Ukraine, and U.S.-Russia relations sank to a near-historic low, complicating efforts to free her.
IAEA to inspect two Ukrainian nuke plants after ‘dirty bomb’ claims
International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi said the agency is preparing to inspect two Ukrainian nuclear facilities amid Russia’s claims that Ukraine is 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 Zaporizhzhia plant’s Dry Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage Facility. Energoatom warned that destruction of containers stored there could lead to radiation contamination over hundreds of square miles.
Chechnyan leader wants Ukraine cities ‘wiped off the face of the Earth’
The Kremlin-backed head of the Russian region of Chechnya says the Russian military should destroy Ukraine cities in retaliation for Ukrainian shelling of Russian towns along the border.
Authorities in Russia’s Kursk and Belgorod regions have 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 don’t ever think that they can fire in our direction.”
Kadyrov has been a frequent critic of the Russian military effort. Earlier this month, Kadyrov said Colonel-General Alexander Lapin should be fired after retreating from the Donetsk-region city of Lyman.
“If I had my way I would have demoted Lapin to private, would have deprived him of his awards and would have sent him to the front line to wash off his shame with the rifle in his hands,” Kadyrov wrote on Telegram.
Contributing: The Associated Press