Russia on Tuesday took its case to the UN Security Council that Ukraine is preparing to use a “dirty bomb” on its own territory, an assertion dismissed by Western and Ukrainian officials as misinformation and a pretext for intensifying the war.
Moscow sent a letter detailing the allegations to the United Nations on Monday, and Russia raised the issue at a closed meeting with the Security Council.
“We’re quite satisfied because we raised the awareness,” Russia’s Deputy U.N. Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy told reporters. “I don’t mind people saying that Russia is crying wolf if this doesn’t happen because this is a terrible, terrible disaster that threatens potentially the whole of the Earth.”
He said the evidence was in intelligence information that had been shared with Western counterparts with the “necessary level of clearance.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov repeated on Tuesday Russia’s allegations and said the West was foolish to dismiss them.
They follow hints from Moscow that it might be forced to use a tactical nuclear weapon against Ukraine, whose president, Volodymyr Zelensky, said the dirty bomb allegation showed Moscow was planning such an attack and seeking to blame Kyiv.
With Ukrainian forces advancing into the Russian-occupied Kherson province, threatening a major defeat for Moscow, Russian officials phoned their Western counterparts on Sunday and Monday to air their suspicions.
Russia accused the Kyiv government of ordering two organizations to create a dirty bomb, an explosive device laced with radioactive material, without giving any evidence.
France, Britain and the United States said the allegations were “transparently false” and Washington warned Russia there would be “severe consequences” for any nuclear use.
“Russia would be making an incredibly serious mistake for it [to] use a tactical nuclear weapon,” U.S. President Joe Biden said on Tuesday. “I’m not guaranteeing you that it’s a false flag operation yet, we don’t know. But it would be a serious mistake.”
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Britain’s Deputy UN Ambassador James Kariuki told reporters: “This is pure Russian misinformation of the kind of we’ve seen many times before and it should stop.”
Russia’s defence ministry said the aim of a dirty bomb attack by Ukraine would be to blame Moscow for the radioactive contamination, which it said Russia had begun preparing for.
In an apparent response to Moscow’s allegation, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said it was preparing to send inspectors to two unidentified Ukrainian sites at Kyiv’s request, both already subject to its inspections.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told reporters the inspectors would receive full access, and he called on Moscow to demonstrate the same transparency as Ukraine.
Russia’s state news agency RIA has identified what it said were the two sites involved – the Eastern Mineral Enrichment Plant in the central Dnipropetrovsk region and the Institute for Nuclear Research in Kyiv.
President Vladimir Putin has not spoken publicly about the dirty bomb allegations, but said on Tuesday Russia needed to streamline decision making in what it calls its “special military operation” to rid its neighbour of extremists. Ukraine and its allies accuse Moscow of an unprovoked war to grab territory.
Mr. Putin, speaking at the first meeting of a new council to manage the government’s work, said increased co-ordination of government structures and regions was necessary.
Ukraine’s nuclear energy operator said Tuesday that Russian forces were performing secret work at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, activity that could shed light on Russia’s claims that the Ukrainian military is preparing a “provocation” involving a radioactive device.
Energoatom, the Ukrainian state enterprise that operates the country’s four nuclear power plants, said Russian forces have carried out secret construction work over the last week at the occupied Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine.
Russian officers controlling the area won’t give access to Ukrainian staff running the plant or monitors from the UN’s atomic energy watchdog that would allow them to see what the Russians are doing, Energoatom said Tuesday in a statement.
Energoatom said it “assumes” the Russians “are preparing a terrorist act using nuclear materials and radioactive waste stored at” the plant. It said there were 174 containers at the plant’s dry spent fuel storage facility, each of them containing 24 assemblies of spent nuclear fuel.
“Destruction of these containers as a result of explosion will lead to a radiation accident and radiation contamination of several hundred square kilometres of the adjacent territory,” the company said.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier arrived in Ukraine on Tuesday on his first visit since Russia invaded on Feb. 24, as Berlin hosted what it said was a conference on a “Marshall Plan” to rebuild Ukraine, a reference to the U.S. initiative to rebuild Western Europe at the end of the Second World War.
Thousands have been killed, and homes and factories destroyed since Mr. Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine.
Since Russian forces suffered major defeats in September, Mr. Putin has doubled down, calling up hundreds of thousands of reservists, announcing the annexation of occupied territory and repeatedly threatening to use nuclear weapons.
Mr. Steinmeier said Berlin was working to help Ukraine with air defence equipment and would focus on assisting with repairs to infrastructure such as power grids before winter arrives.
Mr. Zelensky told the Berlin conference via video link that Russian rockets and Iranian-made drones had destroyed more than a third of his country’s energy sector, but that Kyiv had yet to receive “a single cent” for a recovery plan worth $17-billion.
The European Commission urged EU countries and companies to donate more to Ukraine’s energy sector.
“When we win this war, history will remember those who stood by our side in our darkest hour as well as those who openly supported the aggressor,” the Ukrainian Defence Ministry said in a tweet. “But most of all, it will remember those who stood idly by and pretended they didn’t see a genocide happening in the middle of Europe.”
In southern Ukraine, Russia has ordered civilians in Kherson to evacuate territory it controls on the western bank of the Dnipro River, where Ukrainian forces have been advancing this month after Russia claimed to have annexed the area.
A defeat for Russia there would be one of its biggest setbacks in the conflict.
A Reuters reporter in a remote hamlet near part of the Kherson front line heard neither artillery nor shooting.
Residents in the village, which cannot be identified under Ukrainian military regulations, said they hoped Russian forces who had shelled them in the past would soon withdraw.
“You fall asleep at night and you don’t know if you will wake up,” said Mikola Nizinets, 39, as dozens of villagers waited to collect water, food packets and simple wood-burning stoves delivered by aid volunteers.
With no power or gas and little food or potable water in the area, many residents have fled, abandoning cattle to roam among expended munitions poking from the soil.
– With reports from the Associated Press