The U.S. has detected no movement of Russian nuclear weapons toward Belarus despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s pledge to place them in neighboring Belarus by July 1, a top U.S. security official said Sunday.
Putin’s controversial nuclear pledge comes as his military struggles to gain ground in Ukraine and his defense ministry cranks up its effort to lure Russians into joining the fight.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby rejected Putin’s justification for moving the nukes – Britain providing Ukraine with rounds containing depleted uranium – saying the armor piercing ammunition is not a nuclear threat, is common on the battlefield and that Russia also uses it.
“If that is in fact the justification, it’s a steak through a straw,” Kirby said on “Face the Nation.” “There is no radioactivity concern with that.”
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell tweeted that Putin’s decision was an “irresponsible escalation & threat to European security. Belarus can still stop it, it is their choice. The EU stands ready to respond with further sanctions.” NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu called Russia’s nuclear rhetoric “dangerous and irresponsible.”
Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, tweeted Sunday that Putin’s announcement was “a step toward internal destabilization” and that Putin “took Belarus as a nuclear hostage.”
But Putin said it was making the move in response to the West’s increasing military support for Ukraine, that he was doing in Belarus what the U.S. has done for decades in Europe. And he pressed his recurring theme that the West was responsible for Russia’s audacious invasion of its neighbor.
“They pretend they had nothing to do with it. They are the initiators of this conflict,” he said. “And today they are handing over millions more munitions, hardware and so on.”
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►Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told graduates of the Institute of the Navy their nation needs “a victory over the enemy at sea as well as on land and in the sky.”
►Hungary supports a cease-fire in Ukraine but does not expect Russia to keep the territories it occupies, Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó said: “Stopping the war and sitting around the table does not mean that you accept the status quo.”
Actor Orlando Bloom paid a weekend visit to Kyiv, stopping at one of almost 200 UNICEF-supported children’s centers in the country. The “Spilno” center is underground in the metro to ensure safety from missile strikes, and for a few hours every day parents can drop off their young children to “give them a sense of normalcy, to play games and just be kids,” Bloom said in an Instagram post. Spilno means “together” in Ukrainian.
Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office reported that since Russia invaded 13 months ago at least 465 children have been killed and 942 wounded. Thousands more children from Russia-occupied areas in Ukraine are believed to have been forcibly deported to Russia, the office says.
Bloom’s film credits include recurring roles in “The Lord of the Rings,” “The Hobbit” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie series.
The Kremlin is intensifying effort to seek volunteers to replenish its troops by advertising cash bonuses and other benefits. Recruiters are making cold calls to eligible men. Enlistment offices are working with universities and social service agencies to lure students and the unemployed.
Both sides anticipate counteroffensives that could mean heavy losses. A mobilization in September of 300,000 reservists sent men scrambling to the borders because most men under 65 are formally part of the reserve. The Kremlin hopes it can “avoid declaring a formal second mobilization wave” after the first one proved so unpopular, according to a recent report by the U.S.-based think tank Institute of the Study of War.
Contributing: The Associated Press