Amid flying accusations between Russia and Ukraine that each is planning to use a ‘dirty bomb,’—a bomb laced with nuclear material—Ukraine has called on the United Nations to intervene.
The accusations came over a flurry of phone calls between Russian and western officials Sunday and Monday.
On Sunday, the foreign ministers of France, the UK, and the U.S. held a joint call with Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoygu at Shoygu’s request. During the call, Shoygu reiterated his country’s accusations that Ukraine is planning to use a “dirty bomb” in its own territory against Russian forces.
In a joint press release, the three western countries said they “made clear that we all reject Russia’s transparently false allegations that Ukraine is preparing to use a dirty bomb on its own territory. The world would see through any attempt to use this allegation as a pretext for escalation. We further reject any pretext for escalation by Russia.”
More calls followed on Monday between Russian generals and U.S. and UK generals. On Monday afternoon, a U.S. military official told reporters that there were no indications that Russia has decided to employ a nuclear weapon, biological weapon, or chemical weapon, Reuters reports.
Ukraine has accused Russia of being the nuclear aggressor and has called on international bodies to intervene on behalf of the Budapest Memorandum. The Budapest Memorandum was signed in 1994 by Russia, the UK, and the U.S. as a security measure: These three countries promised to protect Ukraine from nuclear attack in exchange for the disbandment of its nuclear arsenal, which in 1991 had been the third-largest in the world. By 1996, Ukraine had no nuclear weapons within its territories. Since then, as a party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Ukraine has remained free of nuclear weapons.
“Every day, #UAarmy liberates our land from rus dirt. The thought of a “dirty bomb” is repulsive to us … The world should provide a response to rus nuclear blackmail. We demand adherence to paragraph 4 of the Budapest Memorandum,” Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov tweeted on Sunday.
Reznikov has also said on social media that he is in contact with U.S. officials.
In tighter preparation for an anticipated rapid escalation of the war, the U.S. has also deployed the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division to Romania near the Ukrainian border. Nicknamed the ‘Screaming Eagles,’ the elite infantry unit is trained to deploy on any battlefield in the world within hours. It played a crucial role in the European theatre of World War II, but has not been deployed there since then.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s energy grid continues to be targeted for destruction, Reuters reports. Russian President Volodymyr Zelensky said last week that Russia had hit approximately 30% of the country’s energy infrastructure, leaving thousands temporarily without electricity. Volodymyr Kudritskiy, head of Ukraine’s national energy company Ukrenergo, announced that electricity had been restored to more than 1.5 million customers following the assaults.
According to the UK’s military intelligence, Russia has employed Iranian drones, known as kamikaze or suicide drones, to attack deeper into Ukraine in recent weeks, since its stockpile of long-distance precision weapons has been depleted. The UK Defence Ministry also said that Ukrainian forces have become skilled at shooting down the drones as they fly low and slow, and are easily targeted with anti-aircraft ground weapons.
Russia and Ukraine have also accused each other of threatening the demolition of a dam in the contested Kherson region and putting huge swaths of civilians at risk for extreme flooding. The Kakhovka Dam on the Dnieper River is also the site of a large hydroelectric station. The area is currently occupied by the Russian military, but Ukrainian forces are advancing in the region, retaking ground from Russia and closing in on the site, which is also one of the few remaining routes across the Dnieper River available to retreating Russian forces. The region’s main city of Kherson is also near the dam.
Ukraine has accused Russia of mining the dam, while Russia charges that Ukraine has targeted the site and could be planning to use “banned methods of warfare” to attack both the dam and nearby Kherson.
The BBC reports that Zelensky warned it could devastate the water supply to much of the south and leave Europe’s biggest nuclear plant at Zaporizhzhia without cooling water.
“The dam of this hydroelectric power plant holds a volume of about 18m cubic metres of water,” he said. “If Russian terrorists blow up this dam, more than 80 settlements, including Kherson, will be in the zone of rapid flooding. Hundreds of thousands of people could be affected.”
Zelensky has also warned that Russia-annexed Crimea would be deeply affected by the destruction of the dam, as it reportedly provides about 85% of the peninsula’s water supply.
As Ukrainian forces close in on the area, Russia’s occupying authorities announced that they were forming a “local militia” and that men in the region had the “opportunity to sign-up.” Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared martial law in Russian-occupied areas, empowering further mobilisation of the population. Forcing civilians in occupied areas to fight is against the Geneva Convention.
Reuters reports that Russia has been evacuating its own personnel and military away from parts of the front. Russian authorities are also evacuating civilians deeper into Russian-held territory. “The situation today is difficult. It’s vital to save your lives,” Russian Education Minister Sergei Kravtsov explained in a video message. “It won’t be for long,” he consoled them, “You will definitely return.”
The UK has called the evacuations mass deportations of Ukrainian civilians.