Sunday’s Coverage: Putin Blusters About Russian Nuclear Weapons in Belarus

Map: Institute for the Study of War


In a 182-6 vote, Hungary’s Parliament has approved a bill to allow Finland to join NATO.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who is close to Vladimir Putin, had stalled on the confirmation.

Turkey is now the only one of NATO’s 30 members not to have ratified Finland’s accession; however, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has indicated that he is lifting his months-long blockade.

Both Hungary and Turkey continue to hold up Sweden’s accession.


Germany has joined the denunciation of Vladimir Putin’s declaration that Russian tactical nuclear weapons will be placed in neighboring Belarus.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Andrea Sasse echoed the statements of NATO and other countries that the move is “irresponsible” and “escalatory”: “[This is] another attempt at nuclear intimidation and we consider this rhetoric to be irresponsible and expressly reject it. We will, of course, not be swayed in our course of supporting Ukraine in its self-defense.”


Soldiers of the recently-formed Russian assault unit “Storm” say that, after they suffered “huge” losses in eastern Ukraine, commanders deployed “barrier troops” to stop them from retreating and threatened them with death.

In a video addressed to Vladimir Putin, a group of about two dozen men in military uniform said they were the remnants of the decimated 161-troop unit.

Alexander Gorin said, “We sat under open mortar fire and artillery for 14 days. We took huge losses. Thirty-four people were injured and 22 died, including our commander.”

Gorin explained that commander blocked the survivors’ decision to head back to the Russian army headquarters.

They placed barrier troops behind us and weren’t letting us leave our position….They are threatening to destroy us one by one and as a unit. They want to execute us as witnesses of a completely negligent criminal leadership.

When Storm was formed in January, the Russian Defense Ministry said it was “specifically designed to break through the most complex and echeloned defence sectors of the armed forces of Ukraine”. The unit is made up largely of Russian veterans who took part in Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine in 2014.


Germany has delivered 18 Leopard 2 battle tanks and about 40 Marder infantry fighting vehicles at the Ukrainian border, according to unnamed sources speaking to Der Spiegel.


Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has visited frontline positions in the Zaporizhzhia region in the south of the country today.

Zelenskiy’s office said he “learned about the operational situation, and presented awards to the military”.

Zelenskiy posted a video clip of his meeting with soldiers:

I visited the command post of the “Zaporizhzhia” operational group of troops. I presented orders and medals to employees of the security service of Ukraine, the national guard, the national police, the state border guard service, and the state emergency service of Ukraine.

Thank you for protecting our state, our homes, territorial integrity and life in Ukraine. I wish you good health. I wish you a great victory and it will definitely come true.

Zelenskiy also met International Atomic Energy Agency head Rafael Grossi, who is seeking a protected zone around the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.

Russian officials said earlier today that they will not meet Grossi this week but that the discussion will occur “soon”.


At least two civilians have been killed and 29 wounded in a Russian attack on Slovyansk in the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy posted on Telegram after the initial report of casualties, with a video showing vehicles on fire and debris strewn across the road.

Another day that began with terrorism by the Russian Federation. The aggressor state shelled our Slovyansk. Unfortunately, there is a dead person and victims of various degrees of severity. All services are working on the ground. Help is being provided. Debris clearance is ongoing.

The enemy must know: Ukraine will not forgive the torturing of our people, will not forgive these deaths and wounds. All Russian terrorists will be defeated. Everyone involved in this aggression will be held to account.


Explosions are reported in Russian-occupied Melitopol in southern Ukraine.

Social media video and images showed thick smoke rising in the middle of the city about 8:15 a.m.

The Russian proxy administration said a building in central Melitopol “was partially destroyed” with four people injured and several other buildings damaged.

Russian proxy official Vladimir Rogov said “the air defense system worked” while posting video of emergency services working at the site of a strike. He said that “information about casualties and damage is being clarified”.

Melitopol is a vital link for the Russian occupation between eastern and southern Ukraine, including the Crimea peninsula. It is almost 100 km (62 miles) from frontlines.

TASS also reports an assassination attempt this morning on the police chief in Mariupol, overrun by Russian forces last May after 12 weeks of bombing, ground assaults, and siege that killed tens of thousands of civilians.

A Russian proxy official said a car bomb exploded meters from the police chief: “In the morning, they blew up the car of police chief Mikhail Moskvin. He is alive, everything is in order.”


Officials in a “post-apocalyptic” Avdiivka in the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine are telling civilians to evacuate.

Utilities were shut off Sunday as “more and more of the town is shelled and destroyed daily,” said Vitalii Barabash, the head of the local military administration.

The town is being wiped off the face of the earth. You have to leave….

We will evacuate utilities [personnel] in several stages. There was an incoming hit near the utility company facility today.

Mobile phone coverage is also being shut off. People cannot charge their phones, as there is no service for generators or the mobile tower.

About 2,000 civilians are left in the town, which had a pre-war population of more than 30,000.

Barabash explained:

The prospects for the town are very bad. Every day we have multi-story buildings falling apart. There hasn’t been a day in the last couple of weeks when we haven’t been shelled.

That’s why you need to move out, you need to get ready for this. Especially those with children. Real life shows that basements will not save you at the rate they are hitting the town with airstrikes now.

Having failed to take all of Bakhmut — about 90 km (56 miles) to the north — in a 10-month assault, Russian forces are now shifting their focus to Avdiivka. The town is just north of Russian-occupied Donetsk city.


Russia has added to its nuclear bluster with the announcement that it plans to complete coastal infrastructure for nuclear submarines in the Pacific Ocean.

Russian State media said the submarines can carry Poseidon nuclear-capable super torpedos first produced in January.

The Poseidon is a cross between a torpedo and a drone.

The TASS news agency said a new division is being formed as part of the Submarine Forces of the Pacific Fleet for tasks “of strategic deterrence”.

ORIGINAL ENTRY: There has been widespread international criticism of Vladimir Putin’s declaration that he will put Russian tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, which borders both Russia and Ukraine.

Putin announced the deployment on Saturday in an interview on State TV. It would be the first time since the mid-1990s that Russia has positioned its nuclear weapons outside its territory.

The step has little military effect, as Russia could already use tactical nuclear weapons — from Russian territory or from warplanes — in Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Instead, the Russian leader is apparently trying to generate headlines amid difficulties on the ground for Russia’s last-gasp offensive in eastern Ukraine.

“Effective Actions to Counter Kremlin’s Nuclear Blackmail”

The Ukraine Foreign Ministry responded, “Russia once again confirms its chronic inability to be a responsible steward of nuclear weapons as a means of deterrence and prevention of war, not as a tool of threats and intimidation.”

Ukraine expects effective actions to counteract the Kremlin’s nuclear blackmail from the United Kingdom, China, the United States and France. We demand that an extraordinary meeting of the UN Security Council be immediately convened for this purpose.

Presidential advisor Oleksii Danilov added, “The kremlin took Belarus as a nuclear hostage.”

The US State Department reassured, “We have not seen any reason to adjust our own strategic nuclear posture, nor any indications Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon. We remain committed to the collective defence of the NATO alliance.”

A NATO spokesperson echoed the remarks about Putin’s “dangerous and irresponsible” nuclear rhetoric. The European Union’s foreign policy head Josep Borrell tweeted:

France’s Foreign Ministry noted Russia’s violation of the treaty on intermediate-range nuclear forces “which led to its collapse”, and Putin’s suspension in February of Russian participation in the New Start treaty for nuclear arms reduction.

The Ministry called on Russia to “demonstrate the responsibility expected of a nuclear power”.