Day 397: Putin’s, Lukashenka’s nuclear threats spark concerns?

Putin threatens to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. The Ukrainian troops maintain control of Bakhmut. A Russian missile strike hit the center of Slovyansk, in Donetsk region.

Putin threatens to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus

U.S. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Sunday that the U.S. has not seen “any indication he’s [Putin] made good on this pledge or moved any nuclear weapons around. We’ve, in fact, seen no indication he has any intention to use nuclear weapons, period, inside Ukraine,” Kirby said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

On March 25, Putin said Russia will station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. The move comes in response to Britain’s decision last week to provide Ukraine with armor-piercing rounds containing depleted uranium (that are by no means nuclear weapons). Putin said Russia had helped Belarus convert 10 aircraft to make them capable of carrying tactical nuclear warheads. He also said Moscow had already transferred an Iskander missile system, which can be fitted with nuclear warheads, to Belarus. Russia will complete the construction of a special storage facility for tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus by July 1, Putin said.

Even China responded to Putin’s threats. “All sides should focus on diplomatic efforts for a peaceful settlement of the Ukraine crisis and work together for de-escalation,” Mao Ning, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, said at a regular press briefing.

“In January last year, the leaders of the five nuclear-weapon states issued a joint statement noting that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought, and stressed that war between nuclear-weapon states should be avoided and strategic risks reduced,” said Mao Ning.

Secretary of Russia’s Security Council, Nikolay Patrushev has warned that Russia has the weapons to destroy any enemy, including the United States. “American politicians trapped by their own propaganda remain confident that, in the event of a direct conflict with Russia, the United States is capable of launching a preventive missile strike, after which Russia will no longer be able to respond,” Patrushev told a state Russian newspaper Monday. “Russia is patient and does not intimidate anyone with its military advantage. But it has modern unique weapons capable of destroying any adversary, including the United States, in the event of a threat to its existence”, he said. He did not specify what he meant by that.

After the collapse of the USSR Russia has “corrected its mistakes” and can now maintain its security “against outside threats”, Patrushev said.

Ukrainian Armed Forces continue to maintain control of Bakhmut

Commander of Ukraine’s ground forces Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi made another visit to the hottest spots on the Bakhmut axis, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said on Monday. “The situation in the city is consistently difficult,” Syrskyi said. He assessed the situation in the area and took measures to tackle the issues that obstruct the efficiency of combat assignments. Syrskyi also made decisions “aimed at strengthening Ukraine’s capabilities to deter and defeat the Russian forces,” according to the Ministry of Defense.

“The defense of Bakhmut is due to military necessity. Skillful use of the city’s defense possibilities, fortifications, and fighting holes lies at the basis of the defense,” Syrskyi is quoted as saying. The most intense phase of the battle for Bakhmut continues, he said. 

Last week, President Zelenskyi made a visit to the Bakhmut area. On Monday, he visited the frontline positions of the Ukrainian troops in Zaporizhzhia region.

Russian missile strike hits center of Slovyansk, in Donetsk region

On Monday morning, the Russian forces struck Slovyansk with two S-300 missiles. Two people were killed and 29 others injured in the attack, according to an updated toll issued by head of the Donetsk regional military administration Pavlo Kyrylenko. The strike damaged a number of municipal and office buildings, five multi-story houses, and seven private houses.

WSJ’s forecast for Ukraine’s counteroffensive

After months of new weapons deliveries from the West, Ukraine is poised to punch back at Russia’s invasion forces in coming weeks—a high-risk campaign that will set the course of subsequent battles and potential peace negotiations. Ukraine’s operational plans remain confidential, but some aspects of what is to come are discernible from a look at the equipment each side has—or doesn’t have—and their recent performance on the battlefield, an article by the Wall Street Journal says.

Kyiv’s prospects will depend on its ability to coordinate different types of troops, including artillery units, tank corps and foot soldiers, in what are known as combined-arms maneuvers. Ukrainian forces have been training for months in Western Europe and the U.S. to use modern equipment and to operate on a battlefield in large formations.

Ukraine won’t be able to launch a NATO-style assault, because neither side controls Ukraine’s skies. Instead, strategists say, Ukraine will probably launch a big attack—or multiple smaller attacks—using ground-based precision long-range weaponry including rockets and artillery, much of it donated by Western allies.

Following an initial fusillade of artillery and rockets, Ukrainian ground forces are likely to advance in large numbers, much as U.S. troops would. A big difference is that U.S. or allied forces would be led by a vanguard of modern main battle tanks, while Ukrainian forces will only have a small number of them. Behind a front wave of tanks would likely follow dozens of armored fighting vehicles. Some, such as the French AMX-10s and U.S. Bradley Fighting Vehicles, resemble tanks.

Where Ukraine will strike Russian troops remains an unknown.

Ukraine in Flames, latest episodes

Latest Chinese-russian alliance and its “peacemaking” ambitions. Ukraine in Flames #380 

Xi Jinping has concluded his visit to moscow, and political experts say the trip shows russia is becoming increasingly dependent on China. China, the world’s second superpower, is a senior partner to a russia now weakened and isolated by its brutal aggression in Ukraine and more dependent than ever on China for economic, technological, and diplomatic support. Watch Ukraine in flames #380 to find out about the change in the power dynamic between russia and China and the Chinese 12-point peace plan and how it’s perceived from the Ukrainian point of view.


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