Russia and NATO carry out nuclear exercises

NATO and Russia held their respective annual nuclear drills on Wednesday, as Russian President Vladimir Putin repeated the baseless accusation that Ukraine plans to set off a radiological cluster bomb, or “dirty bomb.”

Putin followed from a distance the maneuvers of his strategic nuclear forces, which included several practice launches of ballistic and cruise missiles in a display of power. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told the president that the exercise simulated “a huge nuclear attack” in retaliation for an atomic offensive against Russia.

Washington noted that Russia gave advance notice of its annual maneuvers. For its part, NATO conducts its annual nuclear exercises in northwestern Europe.

Speaking on Russian television, Putin said, without presenting evidence, that Ukraine plans to “use a so-called ‘dirty bomb’ as a provocation” and argued that the United States was using Ukraine as a “battering ram” against Russia and its regional allies, turning the country into a “testing ground for military and biological experiments.” It was the first time that Putin himself launched the baseless accusation of a radiological cluster bomb, which his officials have been pushing since last week.

Ukraine and its Western allies have rejected the claims, saying Russia, facing setbacks on the battlefield, could try to detonate a radiological cluster bomb — which uses explosives to detonate radioactive waste — or even go further and lay hands on of its extensive arsenal of nuclear weapons.

Shoigu called his Indian and Chinese counterparts on Wednesday to express Moscow’s concern about “possible Ukrainian provocations around a ‘dirty bomb,'” according to the Russian Defense Ministry.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called Russia’s claims “absurd.”

“The allies reject this clearly false accusation, and Russia must not use false pretexts to escalate the war further,” Stoltenberg told reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

He stressed that the 30-nation military organization “will not be intimidated or dissuaded from supporting Ukraine’s right to self-defense for as long as necessary.”

Despite Western denials, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted that Moscow had information about “preparations underway in Ukraine for such a terrorist attack.”

The Slovenian government said Russia has been involved in a disinformation campaign about the use of “dirty bombs,” using a 2010 photo from the Slovenian Radioactive Waste Agency titled “Ukraine’s ability to create a dirty bomb.”

The photograph shows bags containing smoke detectors with the Slovenian caption “radioaktivno”, or radioactive. The Slovenian government claims that the detectors contain a radioactive source but that it is not one of those described in the photo caption released by the Russian Foreign Ministry. The Slovenian government declared via Twitter that its radioactive waste is stored safely and is not used for the manufacture of dirty bombs.

While backing up his accusations that Ukraine is planning provocative acts, Putin is also sending signals that he is open to negotiations with kyiv. The most recent message was through Umaro Mokhtar Sissoco Embalo, President of Guinea-Bissau, who visited kyiv to meet President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

“I was in Russia with President Putin, who asked me to let him know what we discussed, something he thinks would be very important. He wants and thinks that there should be a direct dialogue between his two countries, ”said the African president.

At a press conference, Zelenskyy responded that a prerequisite for dialogue would be Russia’s recognition of Ukraine’s territory, borders and sovereignty.

On the front lines, Ukrainian authorities say fighting in more than 40 towns has left at least two civilians dead.

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