Marlborough Express

Foes hold nuclear exercises


Nato and Russia’s military alike staged planned annual nuclear exercises yesterday as the Russian president repeated the unfounded claim that Ukraine plans to set off a radioactiv­e ‘‘dirty bomb’’. On the battlefron­t, Russian forces pounded more than 40 Ukrainian villages over the past day.

Russian President Vladimir Putin remotely monitored the drills of his strategic nuclear forces, which involved multiple practice launches of ballistic and cruise missiles in a show of force. Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to Putin that the exercise simulated a ‘‘massive nuclear strike’’ retaliatin­g for a nuclear attack on Russia.

The Biden administra­tion said Russia provided advance notice of the annual drills. Nato is carrying out its own long-planned annual nuclear exercises in northweste­rn Europe.

Without providing any evidence, in remarks carried by Russian TV, Putin said Ukraine plans to ‘‘use a so-called ‘dirty bomb’ as a provocatio­n’’ and contended the United States was using Ukraine as a ‘‘battering ram’’ against Russia and its regional allies, turning the country into a ‘‘testing ground for military-biological experiment­s’’.

It was the first time Putin himself made the unsubstant­iated dirty bomb allegation, which his officials have been repeating since last week.

Ukraine and its Western allies have denied the claims and contend that Russia, facing setbacks on the battlefiel­d, might itself try to detonate a ‘‘dirty bomb’’ – which uses explosives to scatter radioactiv­e waste to sow terror – or go further and tap its vast nuclear weapon arsenal.

Shoigu yesterday called his counterpar­ts from India and China to share Moscow’s concern about ‘‘possible Ukrainian provocatio­ns involving a ‘dirty bomb’,’’ according to the Russian Defence Ministry.

Nato Secretary-general Jens Stoltenber­g called Russia’s unsubstant­iated statements ‘‘absurd’’.

‘‘Allies reject this blatantly false accusation, and Russia must not use false pretexts to escalate the war further,’’ Stoltenber­g told reporters at Nato headquarte­rs in Brussels.

He underlined that the 30-nation military organisati­on ‘‘will not be intimidate­d or deterred from supporting Ukraine’s right to self-defence for as long as it takes’’.

Despite the Western dismissals, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted that Moscow had informatio­n about ‘‘an ongoing preparatio­n in Ukraine for such a terror attack’’.

Slovenia’s government said Russia has been engaging in a disinforma­tion campaign about the ‘‘dirty bombs,’’ using a 2010 photo from the European Union country’s Agency for Radioactiv­e Waste titled ‘‘Ukraine’s capacities to create the dirty bomb’’. The photo shows bags containing smoke detectors bearing inscriptio­ns in Slovenian reading ‘‘radioaktiv­no,’’ or radioactiv­e. The Slovenian government says the detectors contain a radioactiv­e source but it isn’t one of those listed below the photo in the Russian Foreign Ministry release. Slovenia’s government said on Twitter that its radioactiv­e waste is stored safely and is not used for dirty bombs.

While continuing to issue unsubstant­iated claims that Ukraine is planning provocatio­ns, Putin also is still sending signals that he’s open to negotiatio­ns with Kyiv. The latest message came via Umaro Mokhtar Sissoco Embalo, President of Guinea Bissau, who visited Kyiv to meet with President Volodymr Zelenskyy.

‘‘I was in Russia with President Putin, who asked me to forward you what we spoke about, something he thinks would be very important. He wishes and thinks that a direct dialogue should happen between your two countries,’’ the Guinea Bissau leader said.

At a press conference, Zelenskyy responded that a prerequisi­te for talks would be Russia’s recognitio­n of Ukraine’s territory, borders and sovereignt­y.

The two sides have managed limited co-operation on certain issues, such as the exchange of prisoners of war and repatriati­on of remains.

Yesterday, the head of Ukraine’s presidenti­al office, Andriy Yermak, reported on Telegram that Russian forces had handed over 10 Ukrainian servicemen held as prisoners of war. They also turned over the body of an American volunteer, US Army veteran Joshua Alan Jones, who Yermak said fought for Ukraine and died in combat.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price confirmed the repatriati­on, without naming Jones. Price said the US ‘‘is appreciati­ve of Ukraine for including recovery of this individual’s remains in its negotiatio­ns with Russia’’.

On the battlefron­t, Ukrainian officials said fighting in more than 40 villages killed at least two civilians and sustained the terror that forces people into air raid shelters each night.

Russian forces launched five rockets, 30 air strikes and more than 100 multiple-launch rocket system attacks on Ukrainian targets, the Ukrainian armed forces general staff said.

A Ukrainian official reported that a Russian strike hit a gas station in the city of Dnipro, killing two people, including a 25-yearold pregnant woman in a car with her husband. He was reported seriously hurt in the attack. –AP

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