April 22, 2024

Lithuania will sanction Russia for its plans to station nuclear weapons in Belarus, officials say

From CNN’s Hira Humayun

The Lithuanian flag flutters in Vilnius, Lithuania, in 2019.
The Lithuanian flag flutters in Vilnius, Lithuania, in 2019. (Ints Kalnins/Reuters)

Lithuania’s Foreign Ministry said it will call for new sanctions against Russia in response to plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, according to a statement released Sunday.

The ministry said this will be part of its discussions with its Euro-Atlantic partners on how to respond to Russia and Belarus’ latest plans and called it “yet another attempt by two unpredictable dictatorial regimes to threaten their neighbours and the entire European continent.”

“These are desperate moves by (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and (Belarusian leader Alexander) Lukashenko to create another wave of tension and destabilisation in Europe. These actions are dragging Belarus further into the war with Ukraine and into confrontation with the democratic world,” the ministry stated.

“Belarus, which is increasingly losing its sovereignty, supports and aids Russian aggression, and gets integrated more and more closely into Russia’s military plans, is an additional risk factor for the Baltic region,” the ministry added.

Authorities urge residents to evacuate Ukrainian town as constant Russian attacks disrupt utilities

From CNN’s Kostan Nechyporenko and Hira Humayun

The aftermath of shelling in Avdiivka on March 26.
The aftermath of shelling in Avdiivka on March 26. (Ukraine’s Presidential Office)

Authorities in the Ukrainian town of Avdiivka — located in the eastern Donetsk region — are urging people to evacuate as critical resources like mobile service and electricity are disrupted by Russian shelling, a top regional official said.

Starting Sunday, the town’s utilities will be shut off as “more and more of the town is shelled and destroyed daily,” Vitalii Barabash, the head of Avdiivka military administration, said in a Telegram post.

“The town is being wiped off the face of the earth. You have to leave the town — if the public utilities (personnel) are evacuated,” he said. “We will evacuate utilities in several stages. There was an incoming hit near the utility company facility today.”

The regional leader said mobile coverage for the town will be shut off, too. He also cautioned that people will not be able to charge their phones, because in the coming days there will be nobody to service the generators or run the mobile tower.

“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,” he said.

“That’s why you need to move out, you need to get ready for this. Especially those with children,” he said, “Real life shows that basements will not save you at the rate they are hitting the town with airstrikes now. Soon, I think Avdiivka may become a second Marinka — that is, nothing of the town will remain.”

About Avdiivka: The town is located just north of Donetsk city, a large metropolitan area.

The industrial town, home to a large smelting plant, has been shelled persistently since the Russian invasion began. However, in recent weeks Russian ground attacks in the area have intensified.

Some Ukrainian officials have said that the town could become a second Bakhmut, the mostly abandoned city where Ukrainian and Russian forces have fought for weeks to what is, at this moment, a bloody stalemate.

Barabash has said in previous updates that civilian evacuations from the town are perilous, with a “road of death” leading out of town that’s monitored by Russian troops who “immediately open fire.”

CNN’s Svitlana Vlasova contributed to this report.

Russian shelling in Donetsk killed 2 people and left another wounded, Ukrainian official says

From CNN’s Josh Pennington

At least two people died, and one person was wounded by Russian shelling in several areas of Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region overnight Saturday into Sunday, according to Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of the region’s military administration.

Kyrylenko said one of the people killed was in the town of Chasiv Yar, west of Bakhmut, and the other was in Pivnichne Toretske, a village to the south.

Homes were damaged in the industrial city of Kostyantynivka and the nearby community of Predtechyne, according to the Ukrainian leader. Shelling hit several other towns around the region, too, he said.

CNN cannot independently verify Kyrylenko’s claims.

Russia claims 3 people injured in explosion caused by Ukrainian drone in Russia’s Tula region

From CNN’s Mariya Knight in Atlanta

Russia says a Ukrainian drone caused an explosion that wounded three people the country’s Tula region, about 140 miles south of Moscow, Russian state news agency TASS reported Sunday.

“The explosion in the city of Kireyevsk in the Tula region was caused by a Ukrainian Tu-141 Strizh unmanned aerial vehicle. The drone was stuffed with explosive substances,” a spokesperson for the local law enforcement agencies told TASS.

“Fragments of the Ukrainian Tu-141 Strizh drone have been retrieved from the blast,” the Russian official added.

According to TASS, “two young men received fragmentation wounds and one more person was slightly hurt. Three apartment blocks and four household structures were damaged.”

Ukraine has not commented on the incident so far, and CNN has not been able to independently verify Moscow’s claim.

NATO calls Russia’s nuclear rhetoric “dangerous and irresponsible”

From CNN’s Xiaofei Xu in Paris and Mariya Knight in Atlanta

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during the Russian-Chinese talks at the Grand Kremlin Palace, on March 21, in Moscow, Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during the Russian-Chinese talks at the Grand Kremlin Palace, on March 21, in Moscow, Russia. (Contributor/Getty Images)

Russia’s announcement that it will move tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus is “dangerous and irresponsible,” a NATO spokesperson told CNN Sunday.

“NATO is vigilant, and we are closely monitoring the situation. We have not seen any changes in Russia’s nuclear posture that would lead us to adjust our own,” said NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu in a statement.

“Russia’s reference to NATO’s nuclear sharing is totally misleading,” Lungescu continued, referring to Putin’s claims that his move would merely mirror those of Western nations.

“NATO allies act with full respect of their international commitments. Russia has consistently broken its arms control commitments, most recently suspending its participation in the New START Treaty,” she said.

“Russia must return to compliance and act in good faith,” Lungescu said.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief also condemned Putin’s announcement.

“Belarus hosting Russian nuclear weapons would mean an irresponsible escalation & threat to European security.  Belarus can still stop it, it is their choice,” Josep Borrell, who serves as the EU’s top diplomat, said in a tweet. “The EU stands ready to respond with further sanctions.”


Ukrainian official: Russia has stepped up its artillery strikes in parts of eastern Ukraine

From CNN’s Kostan Nechyporenko and Radina Gigova

Artillery strikes have intensified near the eastern Ukrainian cities of Kupyansk and Lyman in recent weeks, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s military said Sunday.

“This area has been leading in the number of artillery strikes for several weeks now,” said Serhii Cherevatyi, who represents the Eastern Grouping of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

The area has seen 370 artillery and Multiple Launch Rocket System strikes over the last day alone, Cherevatyi said on national television.

The spokesperson said the attacks differ from those in the besieged city of Bakhmut, because Wagner mercenary forces have been conducting those assaults, whereas Kupyansk and Lyman are being targeted by regular Russian troops.

Russian forces in the Kupyansk-Lyman area are mostly reinforced by conscripted Russian troops, Cherevatyi said.

“They are engaged in more ‘classical’ combat operations, so their losses are somewhat lower,” the spokesperson said. (Bakhmut, by contrast, has been compared to a “meat-grinder” for its wave after wave of casualties.)

So far, Russian forces have been unable to make significant breakthroughs against Ukrainian defenses in the region, according to Cherevatyi.

Ukraine has enough forces to hold the line in Bakhmut despite constant attacks, military spokesperson says

From CNN’s Kostan Nechyporenko and Radina Gigova

Ukrainian servicemen prepare to fire a T-72 tank on the front line near Bakhmut on March 26.
Ukrainian servicemen prepare to fire a T-72 tank on the front line near Bakhmut on March 26. (Sergey Shestak/AFP/Getty Images)

Russia has kept up its attacks on the eastern Ukrainian town of Bakhmut, but the Ukrainian military is able “control the enemy’s actions” and has “enough forces to hold the front line,” a spokesperson for Ukraine’s military said Sunday.

Serhii Cherevatyi, who represents the Eastern Grouping of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, shared the update on national television. He was asked to clarify remarks by the commander in chief of Ukraine’s military, who said Friday that the situation in Bakhmut has been “stabilized.”

“‘Stabilizing the situation’ means that we see and control the enemy’s actions,” Cherevatyi said.

“We understand the direction of the enemy’s actions. We understand the enemy’s plans. We know our forces and the means we rely on. We know we have enough forces to hold the front line. And we know where our reserves are and what we can use to back us up,” he continued. “And we know how we can strike at the enemy in order to bleed the enemy to the maximum, to weaken the enemy and to bring down his offensive potential.”

An aerial view of Bakhmut on March 26.
An aerial view of Bakhmut on March 26. (Libkos/AP)

Cherevatyi said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s recent visit to the front lines helped demonstrate the military’s command of the situation on the battlefield.

“Everyone knows the course of their actions, everyone knows their algorithms, there is coherence, there is an understanding of what to do. This is stabilization,” the spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, the Russian onslaught is fierce, with “dense shelling” and a total of 268 attacks in the Bakhmut sector over the last 24 hours, according to Ukraine’s military. Cherevatyi said Russia made 94 attacks in Bakhmut alone.

Troops engaged directly in combat 17 times in the region over that period, including 13 times directly in the city of Bakhmut.

White House says no indication yet Putin has made good on his pledge to station nukes in Belarus

From CNN’s Sam Fossum

National Security Council strategic communications coordinator John Kirby answers questions during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, on February 17.
National Security Council strategic communications coordinator John Kirby answers questions during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, on February 17. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters/FILE)

Asked about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s pledge to put tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, National Security Council strategic communications coordinator John Kirby said Sunday: “We’re just going to have to watch and see where this one goes.”

“We have not seen any indication that he’s made good on this pledge, or moved any nuclear weapons around,” Kirby told Margaret Brennan on CBS’ “Face The Nation.”

More context: Putin made the remarks about his plans for tactical nuclear weapons in neighboring Belarus to state television Saturday. Putin added his forces would retain control over any of the weapons it stationed there.

The US has downplayed the move, saying there are no indications Russia was planning to use nuclear weapons. Ukraine says the plans are a “step towards internal destabilization” of Belarus.

Belarus, which is west of Russia on Ukraine’s long northern border, is among Moscow’s closest allies. It helped Russia launch its initial invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, allowing the Kremlin’s troops to enter the country from the north.

Ukraine calls on international allies to take action against “Kremlin’s nuclear blackmail”

From CNN’s Maria Kotenko and Radina Gigova

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s statements about his intentions to deploy tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus are “yet another provocative step” that undermines nuclear disarmament efforts and the “international security system as a whole,” Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement Sunday.

“Despite the horrific crimes against humanity and war crimes that the Kremlin is committing in this war of aggression against a sovereign state, Russia is demonstrating its inability to win on the battlefield,” the ministry said.

“Ukraine appeals to the Belarusian society to prevent implementing criminal intentions of deploying nuclear weapons in Belarus in violation of its obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which will further turn the country into a Kremlin hostage and cause catastrophic consequences for its future,” it said.

Kyiv also appealed to the Group of Seven (G7) alliance and the European Union to warn Belarus authorities of the “long-term consequences” should they accept the weapons on their territory.

Ukraine is expecting the United Kingdom, China, the United States and France — which as permanent members of the UN Security Council have “a particular responsibility to prevent threats of aggression using nuclear weapons” — to act to counter the Kremlin.

“We demand that an extraordinary meeting of the UN Security Council be immediately convened for this purpose,” the ministry said, adding “Ukraine calls on all members of the international community to convey the utmost unacceptability” of the latest “nuclear provocations” by Putin’s regime.

“Russia has once again proven its persistent inability to be a responsible holder of nuclear weapons for the purpose of deterring and preventing war, rather than a tool of threats and intimidation. The world must unite against those who threaten the future of human civilization,” the ministry said.

Eastern Ukrainian city Vuhledar “completely razed to the ground,” as battles rage in Bakhmut, commander says

From CNN’s Radina Gigova and Maria Kostenko

A view of destroyed buildings in Vuhledar, Ukraine on March 26.
A view of destroyed buildings in Vuhledar, Ukraine on March 26. (Head of Donetsk Civil-Military Administration Pavlo Kyrylenko/Handout via Reuters)

The eastern Ukrainian city of Vuhledar has been “completely razed to the ground” as heavy shelling by Russian forces is ongoing in the area, Nazarii Kishak, commander of the machine gun unit with the 72nd separate mechanized brigade, said Sunday on national television.

“The enemy continues to use multiple rocket launchers, and shelling not only the immediate front line and Vuhledar but also the surrounding areas,” he said. “The enemy is constantly shelling all settlements with large caliber weapons. The civilian population is exhausted.”

“Vuhledar has been completely razed to the ground. Everything is burnt out, the city is almost empty. There are a few civilians who help the military. The police have taken away the rest of the people, especially the children who have been staying in basements for almost a month,” Kishak said.

Civilians are living “wherever they can, even in the corridors, hiding from the shelling,” he said. “People are in a very exhausted emotional state of despair. They don’t know what to expect. We are trying to support them, we communicate with them. People have been left without a thing but they still help us, the military.”

When asked if there are signs of exhaustion among the Russian forces, he said, “I’ll tell you this — everyone is exhausted but we have to hold on and defend our country. We are the infantry who must stand until the end, not leaving a single meter of our land.”

Kishak said Russian forces “did suffer heavy losses” but “Russia has lots of reserves.”

“The brigade is standing strong and Ukraine has no reason to worry about the Vuhledar direction,” he said. “But the Bakhmut direction is really difficult. Which is why a very strong commander is there now. Heavy fighting is ongoing there, there are dead and wounded every hour.”

“Our task as Ukrainians is to pray and believe, and then it’s up to God. We have got to win on our land,” he said.

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