Ukrainian soldiers have vowed to ‘fight until the end’ after Russia issued a chilling warning to the final troops defending the besieged city of Mariupol – but Volodymyr Zelensky warned the Kremlin is trying to ‘destroy everyone there’.
Russia gave Ukrainian soldiers an ultimatum to ‘surrender or die’, urging them to lay down their arms by 6:00 am Moscow time (0300 GMT) and to evacuate before 13:00pm, on Sunday after the Russian Defence Ministry claimed their troops had cleared the urban area of the city – with only a small unit of Ukrainian fighters remaining in the giant Azovstal steelworks in the south-eastern port.
In a statement, the defence ministry said: ‘The Russian Armed Forces offer the militants of nationalist battalions and foreign mercenaries from 6am (Moscow time) on April 17, 2022, to stop any hostilities and lay down their arms. All who lay down their arms are guaranteed that their lives will be spared.’
With the last Ukrainian fighters in Mariupol refusing to surrender and accept Russia’s now-expired ultimatum, Ukrainian MP for Odesa, Oleksiy Goncharenko, told BBC News the last defenders will ‘fight until the end’.
He said: ‘I spoke with them yesterday, and I know that they’re going to fight until the end.’
Goncharenko referred to the continuing siege of Mariupol as ‘a real genocide’ and said it was considered that ‘more than 20,000 people’ have been killed in the port city.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said the Kremlin ‘is deliberately trying to destroy everyone who is there’ and asked the West for more heavy weapons immediately to have any chance of saving the port city on the Sea of Azov as Russian air strikes continue.
‘Either our partners give Ukraine all of the necessary heavy weapons, the planes, and without exaggeration immediately, so we can reduce the pressure of the occupiers on Mariupol and break the blockade,’ he said, ‘or we do so through negotiations, in which the role of our partners should be decisive.’
Were it to fall, it would be the the first major city to be taken by Russian forces since the invasion began on February 24.
In Kyiv, renewed Russian air strikes hit an armaments factory, despite Moscow shifting its military focus to gaining control of the eastern Donbas region and forging a land corridor to already-annexed Crimea.
‘During the night, high-precision, air-launched missiles destroyed an ammunitions factory near the settlement of Brovary, Kyiv region,’ Russia’s defence ministry said, the third such air strike near the capital in as many days.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk urged Russian forces to allow evacuations from Mariupol, which Moscow’s forces claim to have brought under their control, though Ukrainian fighters remain holed up in the city’s fortress-like steelworks.
Earlier, Mr Zelensky had told Ukrainian journalists that the situation in Mariupol, which has come at a horrific cost to trapped and starving civilians, could scuttle attempts to negotiate an end to the war.
A Russian Defence Ministry spokesman said on Saturday that Ukrainian forces had been driven out of most of the city and remained only in the Azovstal steel mill, where tunnels allow the defenders to hide and resist until they run out of ammunition.
The Russians already control what is left of the city after weeks of bombardment. Striking the steel plant to take the rest is part of Russia’s preparations for the anticipated assault in eastern Ukraine.
President Zelensky has admitted the situation in Mariupol remains ‘extremely severe’ and called on the west to provide the country with heavy weaponry
Moscow gave Ukrainian soldiers an ultimatum to ‘surrender or die’ by 3am GMT on Sunday after the Russian Defence Ministry claimed their troops had cleared the city – with only a small unit of Ukrainian fighters remaining in the giant Azovstal steelworks in the south-eastern port
Experts say the fall of Mariupol, seen as strategically vital for Russian plans to attack eastern Ukraine , is inevitable. But holdouts in their underground bases hope to make conquering the Sea of Azov port as hard as possible for the attackers
Ukrainian fighters are putting up a hellish last stand in tunnels under an abandoned Stalingrad-esque Azovstal steel plant (pictured) in Mariupol as Russian forces close in on the besieged port city
Experts say the fall of Mariupol, seen as strategically vital for Russian plans to attack eastern Ukraine , is inevitable. But holdouts in their underground bases at the steelworks (pictured) hope to make conquering the Sea of Azov port as hard as possible for the attackers
The Ukrainian MP for Odesa, Oleksiy Goncharenko, told BBC News that the last defenders in Mariupol won’t surrender to Russia. He said: ‘I spoke with them yesterday, and I know that they’re going to fight until the end’
But despite the offer, there have been no reports of soldiers laying down their arms with Kyiv yet to respond to the statement – as Russian air strikes continue on Mariupol, according to Ukraine’s military
Russian servicemen (pictured) on Tuesday secured Mariupol’s Drama Theatre which was destroyed in a missile strike on March 16
At least 300 people died when Mariupol’s drama theatre (pictured, Russian servicemen secure the destroyed building) was targeted in a Russian missile strike, despite being marked ‘children’
Mariupol’s partially destroyed drama theatre which was hit on March 16 by a Russian airstrike as part of an intense campaign by Moscow’s forces who are trying to take the city
Service members of pro-Russian troops load rocket-propelled grenades into an infantry combat vehicle amid fighting near the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol
Crosses are placed at a burial site of local residents killed in Mariupol as Russian forces continue a brutal siege of the city
Experts say the fall of Mariupol, seen as strategically vital for Russian plans to attack eastern Ukraine, is inevitable. But holdouts in their underground bases hope to make conquering the Sea of Azov port as hard as possible for the attackers.
The urban landscape of the Azovstal steelworks where Ukrainian forces, who took refuge at the site following reports Russia had used chemical weapons, plan to take on the invaders seems almost tailor-made for guerrilla warfare, with sprawling rail lines, warehouses, coal furnaces, factories, chimneys and tunnels.
The maze-like area is a metal works complex, Azovstal, owned by Metinvest, which has been the focus of urban fighting in Mariupol, just like the nearby Azovmash factory which makes rail components, cranes and other large metal structures.
Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov in southeastern Ukraine, has seen the worst fighting of the seven-week-long war. Home to 400,000 people before Russia’s invasion, the city has been reduced to rubble by Russian shelling.
Over 20,000 civilians are believed to have been killed, tens of thousands remain trapped in the city, and countless numbers have fled. It is one of a number of sites were international investigators believe war crimes have taken place – including the bombing of a maternity war and of a theatre sheltering hundreds of people.
Capturing Mariupol would allow Russian forces in the south, which came up through the annexed Crimean Peninsula, to fully link up with troops in the Donbas region, Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland and the focus of the anticipated offensive.
Ukraine’s deputy defence minister, Hanna Malyar, said on Sunday that Mariupol’s defenders have tied up significant Russian forces besieging the city.
She described the city as a ‘shield defending Ukraine’ that prevents the Russian troops encircling the city from advancing to other areas of the country.
Ms Malyar said that the Russians have continued to hit Mariupol with airstrikes and appeared to be preparing an amphibious landing to beef up their forces in the city.
Meanwhile, scattered Russian attacks elsewhere in Ukraine were an explosive reminder to Ukrainians and their Western supporters that the whole country remains under threat from an invasion now in its eighth week.
Russia says it blew up a Ukrainian munitions factory near Kyiv overnight using cruise missiles fired from ships in the Black Sea (pictured being launched)
Moscow says the factory was used to manufacture the same kinds of missiles that were used to sink the Moskva, its Black Sea flagship, on Thursday
After failing to capture Ukraine’s capital and the humiliating loss of the flagship of its Black Sea Fleet, Russia’s military command vowed to step up missile strikes on the capital, Kyiv.
The Russians said they hit an armoured vehicle plant on Saturday, a day after targeting a missile plant.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said Saturday’s strike killed one person and wounded several. He advised residents who fled the city earlier in the war not to return.
‘We’re not ruling out further strikes on the capital,’ he said. ‘If you have the opportunity to stay a little bit longer in the cities where it’s safer, do it.’
Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said the plant was among multiple Ukrainian military sites hit with ‘air-launched high-precision long-range weapons’.
Russia warns the US to stop arming Ukraine
Russia told the US to stop sending weapons to Ukraine, warning of ‘unpredictable consequences’ if it continues to do do.
The warning was delivered in the form of an official diplomatic note, which was seen by the Washington Post.
It said that American and NATO shipments of the ‘most sensitive’ weapons were ‘adding fuel’ to the conflict, which is now nearing its second month.
The two-page note was delivered after Biden had agreed to a new $800million delivery of military aid to Ukraine, including heavy artillery and shells, helicopters and armoured personnel carriers.
‘What the Russians are telling us privately is precisely what we’ve been telling the world publicly — that the massive amount of assistance that we’ve been providing our Ukrainian partners is proving extraordinarily effective,’ a senior US official said about the note.
The Ukrainian president’s office reported missile strikes and shelling in eight regions across the country between Friday and Saturday.
The governor of the Lviv region in western Ukraine, which has been only sporadically touched by the war’s violence, reported air strikes on the region by Russian Su-35 aircraft that took off from neighbouring Belarus.
In Kharkiv in the north-east, Mayor Ihor Terekhov said three people were killed and 34 wounded on Saturday.
One explosion believed to have been caused by a missile sent rescue workers scrambling near an outdoor market. The workers said one person was killed and at least 18 wounded.
‘All the windows, all the furniture, all destroyed. And the door, too,’ recounted resident Valentina Ulianova.
The day before, rockets hit a residential area of Kharkiv, killing a 15-year-old boy, an infant and at least eight other people in Ukraine’s second-largest city, officials said.
Nate Mook, a member of the World Central Kitchen NGO run by celebrity chef Jose Andres, said in a tweet that four workers in Kharkiv were wounded by a strike. Mr Andres tweeted that staff members were unnerved but safe.
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer, who met with Vladimir Putin this past week in Moscow – the first European leader to do so since the invasion began February 24 – said the Russian president is ‘in his own war logic’ on Ukraine.
In an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Mr Nehammer said he thinks Mr Putin believes he is winning the war and ‘we have to look in his eyes and we have to confront him with that, what we see in Ukraine’.
Mr Nehammer said he told Mr Putin what he saw during a visit to the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, where more than 350 bodies have been found along with evidence of killings and torture under Russian occupation, and ‘it was not a friendly conversation’.
Mr Zelensky estimated that 2,500 to 3,000 Ukrainian troops have died in the war, and about 10,000 have been wounded. The office of Ukraine’s prosecutor general said on Saturday that at least 200 children have been killed, and more than 360 wounded.
Russian forces also have taken captive some 700 Ukrainian troops and more than 1,000 civilians, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Ms Vereshchuk said on Saturday.
Ukraine holds about the same number of Russian troops as prisoners and intends to arrange a swap but is demanding the release of civilians ‘without any conditions,’ she said.
Russia’s warning of stepped-up attacks on Kyiv came after it accused Ukraine on Thursday of wounding seven people and damaging about 100 residential buildings with airstrikes in Bryansk, a region bordering Ukraine. Ukrainian officials have not confirmed hitting targets in Russia.
Russian Maj Gen Vladimir Frolov, whose troops have been among those besieging Mariupol, was buried on Saturday in St Petersburg after dying in battle, Governor Alexander Beglov said.
Ukraine has said several Russian generals and dozens of other high-ranking officers have been killed in the war.
It comes as the UK’s Ministry of Defence gave an intelligence update on Sunday morning and said ‘Russian forces continue to redeploy combat and support equipment from Belarus towards eastern Ukraine’.
Russian missile strikes on military facility near Kyiv – linked to the production of missiles that hit Russian warship Moskva
They wrote: ‘Russian artillery continues to strike Ukrainian positions throughout the east of the country where Russia plans to renew its offensive activity.
‘Though Russia’s operational focus has shifted to eastern Ukraine, Russia’s ultimate objective remains the same. It is committed to compelling Ukraine to abandon its Euro-Atlantic orientation and asserting its own regional dominance. ‘
This comes as Russia is willing to use nuclear weapons to bring a catastrophic end to its invasion of Ukraine, Zelensky warned last night – as he urged the world to ‘prepare’ for the worst by stocking up on anti-radiation medicine and building air raid shelters.
The comedian-turned-war time leader made the doomsday warning during an interview with national media, before sharing the clip via his Telegram channel.
He made a similar announcement on Friday, when he said it could not be ruled out that desperate Russian dictator Vladimir Putin would use tactical nukes, as his war against Ukraine continues to stall.
The Russian strongman ramped up his offensive today, taking revenge on Ukraine for the downing of his Moskva warship on Thursday, by mercilessly shelling eight towns including Kyiv, Kharkiv and Lviv.
Elsewhere, a second British fighter was paraded on TV after being captured by Russian forces in Mariupol, while Russia lost its eighth top general in the latest blow to Putin’s botched war.
It comes after Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told CNN in a recent interview that Moscow would use a nuclear weapon on Ukraine in the case of an ‘existential threat’, while Russian military doctrine includes the ‘escalate to de-escalate’ principle of launching a small nuke to regain the initiative in war.
Zelensky said tonight: ‘We shouldn’t wait for the moment when Russia decides to use nuclear weapons… We must prepare for that.’
Communal workers clear buildings destroyed following bombardment, killing two people and injuring eighteen others, in Kharkiv on Saturday
Zelensky made a similar announcement on Friday, when he said it could not be ruled out that desperate Russian dictator Vladimir Putin would use tactical nukes, as his war against Ukraine continues to stall. (Pictured: Putin on a guided tour of guided missile cruiser Moskva, which sunk this week and may have been carrying nuclear weapons)
A man stands in a building with a collapsed facade at the Vizar company military-industrial complex, after the site was hit by overnight Russian strikes, in the town of Vyshneve, near Kyiv, on April 15, 2022
There are fears that Russia’s sunken Moskva cruiser (pictured) could have been carrying nuclear warheads when it was sunk on Thursday
The neptune anti-ship missile believed to have sunk the Moskva this week
A Russian military convoy moves on a highway in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces near Mariupol, Ukraine, on Saturday
Service members of pro-Russian troops ride on armoured vehicles in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict on a road leading to the city of Mariupol
An ambulance car is wrecked following a military strike by Russian forces in Sivierodonetsk, Luhansk, on Saturday
A Ukrainian soldier waits in position amid Russian attacks in Sivierodonetsk, Luhansk on Saturday
Ukrainian service members pictured Saturday as they rest on a street in Sivierodonetsk, Luhansk
A mother hugs her daughter as they wait for a bus to flee from Sloviansk city, in Donetsk district, to travel to Rivne , in western Ukraine, on Saturday
Local residents Serhii and Liubov stand next to their house, destroyed during Russia’s invasion in the village of Kukhari, in Kyiv region on Saturday
Members of the Ukrainian military walk amid debris after a shopping center and surrounding buildings were hit by a Russian missile strike on April 16, 2022 in Kharkiv
Damaged Ukrainian Army military trucks are pictured in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces in Mariupol, on Saturday
The gutted remains of vehicles are seen at Mariupol’s Illich Iron & Steel Works Metallurgical Plant, the second largest such business in Ukraine
A Mariupol resident looks at a damaged apartment building following heavy fighting on Saturday
Servicemen of Donetsk People’s Republic militia walk past damaged apartment buildings in Mariupol on Saturday
Mystery surrounds fate of Moskva crew as Russia claims they are safe and well in short video
Mystery last night surrounded the fate of the crew of Russia’s lost Black Sea flagship as Ukraine claimed they had all perished while Russia broadcast footage that it claimed was of the sailors safe and well.
In a humiliation for the Kremlin and Russia’s navy, the Moskva sank on Thursday shortly after being struck by two Neptune anti-ship missiles.
It took the Kremlin a day to acknowledge that the guided missile cruiser had been lost, although it claimed the vessel went down as it was being towed to port after a fire broke out on board.
Ukraine yesterday claimed the entire 510 crew of 12,500-ton vessel, including Anton Kuprin, the commander of the Black Sea Fleet, had died. If true, it would represent the Russian navy’s greatest loss of life at sea since World War II.
Natalia Gumeniuk, a spokeswoman for Ukraine’s southern military forces, said: ‘We saw that other ships tried to assist it, but even the forces of nature were on Ukraine’s side because the storm made both the rescue operation and crew evacuations impossible.’
The Russian defence ministry denied those claims and insisted the crew had been successfully evacuated and returned to their base in the Crimean city of Sevastopol.
Last night, a 38-second video emerged on social media that claimed to show the crew being greeted by Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov, commander of the Russian Navy, in a military parade in Crimea.
The veracity of the footage could not be verified and several dozen people were pictured on Friday holding a vigil in a town square in Sevastopol. A wreath left by a Russian navy monument bore the message: ‘To the Moskva and its crew.’
Anti-radiation medicine and air raid shelters would be needed, he said, adding that the Russians ‘can use any weapon, I’m convinced of it’.
The interview was broadcast by six Ukrainian news websites.
It came after a tough day of shelling from Russian forces as they sought revenge over the sinking of the Moskva flagship, which is believed to have seen most of the roughly 500 crew perish – although 54 were rescued by a Turkish vessel, according to Lithuanian authorities.
It represented Russia’s biggest single naval loss since 1945 – although Russia last night broadcast footage claiming the sailors were safe and well.
Satellite images released Saturday showed the pride of Putin’s Black Sea Fleet burning while other vessels are scrambled to rescue those onboard before it sank.
Radar satellite imagery of the northern Black Sea on April 13 appears to pinpoint the Soviet-era Moskva warship, which Ukraine said was struck by two Neptune cruise missiles fired by one of its batteries near the port city of Odesa. Other vessels are also seen in attendance, with reports suggesting they are rescue vessels.
Naval News found the Moskva in satellite imagery that employed synthetic aperture radar (SAR), technology that can ‘see’ through clouds. The satellite which took the image passed over the area at around 6.30pm local time on Wednesday, the publication said.
It pinpointed the coordinates of a ship matching the Russian vessel and its dire situation to 45°10’43.39″N, 30°55’30.54″E – a position east of Snake Island in the Black Sea, 80 nautical miles from Odesa and 50 nautical miles away from the closest stretch of Ukrainian coastline.
‘Based on analysis by multiple people, we are confident that this shows Moskva’s final hours,’ Naval News said in its report.
The sinking this week sparked a number of ‘revenge attacks’ by Putin’s forces yesterday.
Darnyts’kyi, a suburb in south Kyiv, was among the first to be hit before dawn, when a tank repair factory was blown up, killing one.
Four cruise missiles were then fired on Lviv, which Ukraine intelligence says were shot down before they could inflict carnage.
But another Ukrainian was killed and 18 injured when a warship-launched missile rocked Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city.
The flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet – the Soviet-era guided missile destroyer Moskva – has suffered heavy damage and may have sunk after Ukraine claimed to have shot it with two anti-ship cruise missiles
Moskva could have been carrying warheads to fit into the tip of its Moskva’s P-1000 supersonic cruise missiles, which are designed to take out American aircraft carriers
Radar satellite imagery of the Black Sea on April 13 appears to pinpoint the Moskva warship, which Ukraine said was struck by two Neptune cruise missiles fired by one of its batteries near the port city of Odesa. Other vessels are seen in attendance
There was also a missile blitz on the port city of Mykolaiv, where a military vehicle workshop was destroyed, according to Russia, as well as intense shelling in Donbas, Mariupol and Luhansk, which is set to be the focus of Putin’s fresh offensive.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said between 2,500 and 3,000 Ukrainian troops had died in the war, with 10,000 injured.
The United Nations said it had confirmed the deaths of 1,982 Ukrainian civilians, but that figure does not include those killed in blockaded cities such as Mariupol.
It comes as a second British fighter was captured in the besieged city before being paraded on TV on Saturday.
Ex-British Army soldier Shaun Pinner, 48, was known to have been serving as a ‘contract soldier’ with Kyiv‘s forces fighting off the Russian invasion.
Looking clean-shaven with no visible wounds, he said on the broadcast: ‘I am Shaun Pinner. I am a citizen of the United Kingdom. I was captured in Mariupol.
‘I am part of 36th brigade, 1st Battalion Ukrainian Marine. I was fighting in Mariupol for five to six weeks and now I am in the Donetsk People’s Republic.’
His capture comes after Russia seized 28-year-old former care worker Aiden Aslin on Tuesday. He had also been fighting in Ukraine. There is concern for his safety amid fears that he could treated as a spy by the Kremlin.
Brit fighter Shaun Pinner has been captured by Russian forces after surrendering in Mariupol. He was paraded on Russian television looking clean-shaven with no visible wounds. He said on the broadcast: ‘I am Shaun Pinner’
Shaun Pinner, 48, was known to have been serving as a ‘contract soldier’ with Kyiv forces, fighting side by side with Ukrainian marines to defend the key strategic port of Mariupol
He reportedly told his Russians captors that ‘he doesn’t want war and wants to go home’
Pinner was shown on a military TV channel linked to war journalist Andrey Rudenko.
He reportedly told the Russians that ‘he doesn’t want war and wants to go home’.
Pinner now faces interrogation by the Russian Investigative Committee, it was announced yesterday.
He was described as ‘an English mercenary who served in the 36th brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Marines as a stormtrooper and is now in captivity.
‘This is the second Englishman caught in Mariupol,’ the TV report added.
His fate in the hands of the Russians and the separatist authorities in Donetsk remains uncertain.
Major General Vladimir Frolov, deputy commander of the 8th Guards Combined Arms unit, was given a military funeral in St Petersburg yesterday.
It’s not known how or where he died, but the timing of his funeral suggests Frolov was killed in the past few days.
His 8th Combined Arms Army was fighting in Kherson, near Crimea last month when commander Andrei Mordvichev was killed.
Frolov was buried in St Petersburg today after being killed in an unspecified part of Ukraine
Lt Col Miras Bashakov (left) is the 34th colonel killed in the war, while Denis Mezhuev (right) died last week
Frolov ‘sacrificed his life so that children, women and the elderly in Donbas would not hear bombs exploding again’, the St Petersburg governor said as his friend was laid to rest.
The general was from a military family and ‘died the death of the brave in battle against Ukrainian nationalists’, Alexander Beglov added.
He was ‘a true patriot, a brave and courageous man’ who ‘honestly and to the end fulfilled his military and human duty.
‘People will not forget their heroes. Eternal memory to him.’
Russia also lost its 34th colonel of the war, tank battalion commander Miras Bashakov, according to reports yesterday.
He became the 42nd high-ranking officer known to have died in a war that has haemorrhaged Putin’s top brass.
The scale of the death toll invalidates Putin’s claim that his ‘special military operation’ is going according to plan.
It came after Zelensky had warned on Friday that the world should be worried about the threat Putin poses as he becomes increasingly desperate, echoing comments made by CIA director William Burns.
Mr Burns said Thursday that Russia’s battlefield setbacks raised the risk that Putin could deploy a tactical or low-yield nuclear weapon.
It came after the Kremlin said it had placed Russian nuclear forces on high alert shortly after the assault began on February 24, although the US says it has not seen any sign of unusual nuclear movements.
US President Joe Biden is ‘deeply concerned about avoiding a third world war, about avoiding a threshold in which nuclear conflict becomes possible,’ said Burns.
Zelensky reportedly personally asked President Biden to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism – a move with substantial implications for trade and sanctions.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned Friday Russia could use tactical nuclear weapons
Biden did not commit on the subject, sources told the Washington Post.
Such a designation would lead to economic sanctions on nations that continue to do business with Russia, as well as freezing Russian assets in the US.
He spoke a day after Burns issued his warning in a speech April 14, in which he said: ‘Given the potential desperation of President Putin and the Russian leadership, given the setbacks that they’ve faced so far, militarily, none of us can take lightly the threat posed by a potential resort to tactical nuclear weapons or low-yield nuclear weapons.’
US officials have long warned that Putin could resort to increasingly reckless actions, particularly after major setbacks in its invasion, including the failure to take Kyiv or decapitate the regime, substantial troop losses and destruction of heavy armour.
The US this week said it was not able to confirm Ukrainian claims that a Russian drone had dropped a chemical weapon on the besieged city of Mariupol due to distance from the alleged event.
The Azov regiment said a ‘poisonous substance of unknown origin’ was released on Monday.
Leaders have repeatedly warned Russian President Vladimir Putin not to use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine
The fears of a Russian use of tactical nuclear weapons comes after relentless conventional strikes on Ukraine
Russia warned of ‘unpredictable consequences’ after the U.S. announced the latest in a series of aid packages for Ukraine – this time including helicopters, 155 mm howitzer long-range artillery, and Switchblade drones as part of the $800 million effort.
Russia’s invasion, which began in late February, has already brought fears of a nuclear accident, after Russian troops seized and then later abandoned the Chernobyl nuclear plant after holding Ukrainian plant workers hostage for weeks.
Russian forces also fired on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant.
And there are concerns Russia’s Black Sea flagship, the Moskva, could have been carrying nuclear warheads when it was sunk this week.
The Soviet-era guided missile cruiser, sank near the port of Sevastopol on Thursday after Ukraine said it hit the ship with two cruise missiles. Moscow claims it was due to a fire on board, and says it sank in part due to ‘stormy sea conditions.’
Pentagon officials said Friday the US assessment is that Ukrainian forces struck the ship with two Neptune missiles.
Ukrainian rescuers put out a fire on a storehouse after shelling in Kharkiv, Ukraine, 13 April 2022. The city of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, has witnessed repeated airstrikes from Russian forces including satellite cities
‘Given the potential desperation of President Putin and the Russian leadership, given the setbacks that they’ve faced so far, militarily, none of us can take lightly the threat posed by a potential resort to tactical nuclear weapons or low-yield nuclear weapons,’ said Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns
Russia then launched a series of cruise missile strikes on Ukraine overnight in revenge for the sinking – saying it struck a factory near Kyiv that made the weapons used against Moskva.
The strikes illustrated how Moscow can still launch rocket attacks on Ukraine even after withdrawing its forces that had sought to encircle Kyiv.
Mykhailo Samus, director of a Lviv-based military think-tank; Andriy Klymenko, editor of Black Sea News; and Ukrainian newspaper Defense Express all warned that the Moskva could have been carrying two nuclear warheads designed to be fitted to its P-1000 ‘carrier killer’ missiles.
If true, the loss of the warheads into the Black Sea could spark a ‘Broken Arrow’ incident – American military slang for potentially lethal accidents involving nuclear weapons.
‘On board the Moskva could be nuclear warheads – two units,’ Samus said, while Klymenko called on other Black Sea nations – Turkey, Romania, Georgia, and Bulgaria – to insist on an explanation.
‘Where are these warheads? Where were they when the ammunition exploded,’ he asked.