Russian President Vladimir Putin’s latest nuclear saber-rattling has not prompted the U.S. to alter its strategic stance, the White House said Monday.
Putin announced plans Saturday to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, an ally that shares borders with Russia, Ukraine and three NATO countries. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the U.S. has not seen “any indications” the Kremlin intends to use nuclear arms.
“We remain committed to the collective defense of the NATO alliance,” Jean-Pierre said at a press briefing. “But we have not seen any reason, right now, to change or adjust our posture.”
Putin’s justification for moving the nukes, that Britain plans to provide Ukraine with rounds containing depleted uranium, was dismissed by U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, who said the armor-piercing ammunition is not a nuclear threat, it is common on the battlefield and Russia also uses it.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell tweeted that Putin’s decision was an “irresponsible escalation & threat to European security,” a position echoed by NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu.
Russia’s response to the West? We don’t care.
“Such a reaction, of course, cannot change Russia’s plans,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “The president explained everything in his statements. There is nothing to add.”
►Secretary of State Antony Blinken chaired a virtual panel session Tuesday on “A Just and Lasting Peace in Ukraine” featuring Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
►Prosecutors in Poland say a foreign national suspected of spying for Russia will be held for three months pending investigation. The suspect, in Poland since January, has collected information about key infrastructure and security procedures, prosecutors said.
French President Emmanuel Macron intends to discuss a resolution to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine when he meets with Chinese leader Xi Jinping next month during a trip to Beijing and Guangzhou.
In a statement in English, on the upcoming visit, Élysée said Monday that the two leaders would hold “extensive discussions” on the war that is in its second year.
“The presidents of France and China will hold extensive discussions on the war in Ukraine to work toward restoring peace and compliance with international law, particularly the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine,” the statement said.
Xi has tried to position himself as a peace broker in the conflict and traveled to Moscow last week to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Macron will visit China from April 5-8, Élysée announced.
The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant has lost several of its power transmission cables during the war, and the perilous situation at Europe’s largest nuclear plant “isn’t getting any better,” the U.N.’s atomic energy chief warned.
International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Grossi, who visited the plant with Zelenskyy, said the plant on multiple occasions has had to switch to emergency diesel generators to power its essential cooling systems to prevent a meltdown. The situation at the plant remains tense, Grossi said, because of the heavy military presence around it and a blackout that recently hit the facility. But he said his seventh trip to Ukraine underlined his commitment to provide support for “as long as it takes.”
Russia is enhancing Iran’s abilities to conduct cyberwarfare, including digital surveillance, a sign of a growing military cooperation between the countries that the U.S. considers a threat, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.
In exchange, Teheran has sold the Kremlin drones to use in the war against Ukraine and agreed to send Moscow missiles and ammunition, the newspaper reported.
Russia has resumed its campaign of suicide drone attacks on Ukrainian civilians and infrastructure, launching more than 70 of the Iranian-made Shahed aerial vehicles in March, the British Defense Ministry said in an update. That follows a two-week pause in February probably caused by a scarcity of supply.
Besides the technological help, Iran wants Russian helicopters and warplanes, the Journal said.
A top official in Kyiv on Monday challenged a section in a U.N. report on human rights in Ukraine that said searches in the buildings of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate could be discriminatory.
The report, released last week by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, raises concerns about Russian bombings that killed Ukraine civilians and severely damaged infrastructure. It also takes issue with harsh treatment of Ukrainians in Russian-controlled territory.
But it includes concerns for the treatment of Russian sympathizers in areas still under Ukrainian control – and the government’s treatment of the church with strong Russian ties. The church has faced backlash amid the discovery of Russian passports and anti-Ukrainian propaganda during nationwide raids on its religious sites.
The report stressed the need to ensure that “all those facing criminal charges enjoy the full spectrum of applicable fair trial rights.”
Ukraine Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko, in a Facebook post, urged the U.N. agency to refrain from “unbalanced political assessments” and base its reports on facts.
“Ukraine is a democratic state in which freedom of religion is guaranteed,” Nikolenko said. “At the same time, freedom does not equal the right to engage in activities that undermine national security.”
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are launching a full-court press to hold Russia accountable for war crimes it is accused of committing in Ukraine. A pair of House and Senate committees will hold hearings in mid-April to bring attention to atrocities such as the civilian massacres in Bucha and Mariupol that U.S. officials are helping the Ukrainian government investigate and prosecute.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, plans to have the Ukrainian prosecutor general and victims of war crimes appear before the panel on April 19.
“Any person in the U.S. can relate to the situation: A brutal, aggressive killer just got into your house and is killing your children, and is raping people for no reason, just because they thought they can do that,” Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova told USA TODAY. Read more here.
Ukraine has suffered 22,424 civilian casualties since the start of the war, including 8,401 killed and 14,023 injured, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights announced. The agency “believes that the actual figures are considerably higher” because counts in many areas have been delayed or are pending corroboration. Chief among those areas the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces of the Donbas, where Russians occupy most of the territory and where fighting in recent month has been the most brutal.
Contributing: The Associated Press