Chris Lange, FISM News
Russia and Belarus on Wednesday put ink to paper to formalize a March agreement for the deployment of Russian tactical nuclear missiles to Belarusian territory.
“In the context of an extremely sharp escalation of threats on the western borders of Russia and Belarus, a decision was made to take countermeasures in the military-nuclear sphere,” Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said in Minsk Wednesday during a meeting with Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin, the Associated Press reported.
“Deployment of nonstrategic nuclear weapons is an effective response to the aggressive policy of countries unfriendly to us,” Khrenin said in remarks carried by Russia’s state-run Tass news agency.
The deployment, announced by Putin in March, reportedly included Iskander-M missiles capable of carrying conventional or nuclear warheads and Su-25 aircraft that had been converted to use nuclear weapons. The Kremlin leader said at the time that the action was necessary to protect Russia’s “territorial integrity” against threats from the West.
NATO at the time condemned Putin’s nuclear rhetoric as “dangerous and irresponsible” but nonetheless indicated that it did not see any need to adjust its own nuclear posture. Ukraine accused Russia of taking Belarus “hostage.”
Shoigu said that the nuclear weapons will remain under Russian control as well as any decisions regarding their use.
US OFFICIALS: UKRAINE LIKELY BEHIND KREMLIN DRONE ATTACK
A U.S. intelligence assessment indicates that Ukraine was likely responsible for a failed drone attack on the Kremlin earlier this month as well as several other killings and incursions on Russian territory. The assessment was informed by intercepted Ukrainian and Russian communications, The New York Times reported, citing U.S. officials. The Times added that the discovery of the covert operations has made Washington officials uncomfortable.
The intercepted comms included conversations between Ukrainian officials discussing the attack and their shared belief that Kyiv was responsible. The assessment also indicated that officials intercepted Russian conversations confirming that the incident was not a Kremlin false flag operation. U.S. intelligence officials said that it was unclear if Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had been aware of the plot.
“We immediately said that the Kyiv regime was behind this,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday during his daily press briefing with reporters, per Reuters.
The May 3 attack reportedly involved two drones that were shot down by Russian air defenses. The Kremlin accused Ukraine of the attempted assassination of President Putin and immediately launched a terrorism probe.
“We immediately said that the Kyiv regime was behind this,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said when asked about the report, Reuters reported.
Ukraine has denied involvement in the drone attack.
PRIGOZHIN CONFIRMS THAT 20K WAGNER TROOPS KILLED IN BAKHMUT BATTLE
Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin has confirmed Western estimates that he lost more than 20,000 fighters in the 10-month battle for Bakhmut. The admission came during an interview with Konstantin Dolgov, a pro-war political strategist, published late on Tuesday, according to reporting by The Hill.
Prigozhin also had harsh words for the Kremlin, saying that its efforts to “demilitarize” Ukraine have backfired. He added that Kyiv’s military has become stronger with newly acquired Western weapons and training. He further acknowledged that Russian soldiers have killed Ukrainian civilians, despite the Kremlin’s vehement denials.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Wednesday that Prigozhin’s comments were in line with U.S. intelligence estimates. The White House said earlier this month that Russian forces had likely suffered around 100,000 casualties and 20,000 deaths since December. Kirby said at the time that roughly half of those killed were likely Wagner troops.
Kirby said that Prigozhin’s admissions were likely motivated by a desire to claim credit for “whatever they’ve been able to achieve in Bakhmut” in combination with a desire to “publicly embarrass the Ministry of Defense further that the cost was borne in blood and treasure by Wagner, and not by the Russian military.”
MORE THAN 100 UKRAINIAN SOLDIERS RELEASED IN LATEST PRISONER EXCHANGE
Ukraine secured the release of 106 captured soldiers in a prisoner exchange with Russia on Thursday, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s chief of staff Andriy Yermak said.
The soldiers, including eight officers, were captured in Bakhmut, where Kyiv’s forces maintain they still have a foothold despite Russian claims to the contrary.
“Every one of them is a hero of our state. Many of the ones we are returning from captivity were considered missing. The relatives of these people have gone through a difficult time,” Yermak said.
A prisoner exchange was conducted in the Bakhmut direction. It is reported that 106 Ukrainian servicemen were returned from captivity. Among them 8 officers and 98 soldiers and sergeants of which many were considered missing. pic.twitter.com/CmgzppgWHF
— NOELREPORTS 🇪🇺 🇺🇦 (@NOELreports) May 25, 2023
Reuters reported that information about the number of prisoners Russia received in the exchange was not immediately available.