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Ukraine war: Crimea base explosions; Putin accuses US; and Moscow slams 'lies' over nuclear weapons

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By Joshua Askew  & Alasdair Sandford  with AP/Reuters
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A man cleans an apartment destroyed after Russian shelling in Nikopol, Ukraine, Monday, Aug. 15, 2022.
A man cleans an apartment destroyed after Russian shelling in Nikopol, Ukraine, Monday, Aug. 15, 2022.   -   Copyright  Kostiantyn Liberov/Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

1. 'No need' to use nukes in Ukraine, says Russia

Russia has "no need" to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, its defence minister said on Tuesday, calling speculation that Moscow might deploy nukes "absolute lies".

"From a military point of view, there is no need to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine to achieve the set goals," said Russia's defence minister Sergei Shoigu at a conference in Moscow. 

"The main purpose of Russian nuclear weapons is to deter a nuclear attack," he added. 

Russia has the second most amount of nuclear weapons in the world, possessing approximately 5,977 nuclear weapons.

In 2021, the country spent an estimated $8.6 billion (Є8.47 bn) to build and maintain its nuclear arsenal, according to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. 

HANDOUT/AFP
a handout video footage released by the Russian Defence Ministry on April 20, 2022 shows the launching of the Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile by Russia.HANDOUT/AFP

"The media are spreading speculation about the alleged use of Russian tactical nuclear weapons in the course of the special military operation, or about the readiness to use chemical weapons," said Shoigu. "All these informational attacks are absolute lies."

He also alleged Ukrainian military operations were being coordinated by the United States and Britain, and that NATO had ramped up its presence on Russia's borders "several times over."

Last week Russia halted US inspections of its nuclear stockpiles as part of an international arms control treaty, known as NEW START.

In reference to the Obama-era accord, which controls both US and Russian nukes, Shoigu said the situation was "difficult" and that negotiations are "a two-way street".

International experts have said Russia's unilateral move to freeze inspections is an attempt to pressure the US over Western sanctions due to its invasion of Ukraine. 

2. Putin accuses the US of destabilising the world

Russia's President accused the United States of whipping up hostilities in Ukraine on Tuesday, as part of an alleged effort to maintain its global hegemony. 

Speaking at an international security conference, Vladimir Putin claimed Washington was turning Ukraine into an "anti-Russia" bulwark, which is why Russia invaded the country. 

“They need conflicts to retain their hegemony,” Putin said. “That’s why they have turned the Ukrainian people into cannon fodder."

"The situation in Ukraine shows that the United States is trying to drag the conflict out," he continued. "It acts in exactly the same way trying to fuel conflicts in Asia, Africa and Latin America.”

The speech, delivered to security officials from around the world, is the latest attempt by the Russian leader to rally support amid bruising Western sanctions.  

Putin also claimed that US House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi's recent visit to Taiwan -- which provoked the ire of China -- was part of an alleged plan by Washinton to create global instability. 

“The American adventure in Taiwan wasn't just a trip by an irresponsible politician," said Putin. "It was part of a deliberate and conscious US strategy intended to destabilise the situation and create chaos in the region and the entire world." 

He called the US visit a "blatant demonstration of disrespect for another country's sovereignty and its own international obligations."

The Russian leader claimed that “Western globalist elites" were trying "to shift the blame for their own failures to Russia and China,” adding that “no matter how hard the beneficiaries of the current globalist model try to cling to it, it's doomed.”

”The era of the unipolar world order is nearing its end," Putin added.

3. 'Too dangerous' to inspect Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant: Russia

Any attempt by the UN nuclear agency to inspect the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant cannot pass through Ukraine's capital Kyiv as it is "too dangerous", according to a senior Russian diplomat.

"Imagine what it means to pass through Kyiv -- it means they get to the nuclear plant through the front line," RIA news agency quoted Igor Vishnevetsky, an official in Russia's Foreign Ministry, as telling journalists.

"This is a huge risk, given that Ukraine's armed forces are not all made up in the same way," he said, without making clear what this meant. 

On Monday, the UN said it had assessed its ability to provide logistical and security support to a possible mission by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to the Russian-controlled plant. 

Russia's Tass news agency quoted Vishnevetsky as saying that any such mission had no mandate to address the "demilitarisation" of the plant that Kyiv has demanded. 

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant -- Europe's largest -- has been bombed multiple times since it was captured by Russian troops early on in the war. 

Both sides have pointed figures over the attacks on the plant in southern Ukraine, with Kyiv blaming Russia for basing troops and military equipment there. 

The UN and International Atomic Energy Agency have issued stark warnings about the risks of fighting near the plant, with the UN chief claiming the world was on the brink of nuclear catastrophe. 

French President Emmanuel Macron called on Tuesday for the withdrawal of Russian forces from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, underlining the "risks" that their presence poses to the security of the site. 

In a phone conversation with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy, he expressed "his concern about the threat posed by the presence and actions of the Russian armed forces," the Elysée Palace said.

The French president also "expressed his support" for the IAEA's proposal to send a mission to the site "as soon as possible" to inspect it.

4. Blasts shake Russian military base in occupied Crimea

A Russian military facility in Crimea has been hit by several explosions, just days after a similar incident on the occupied peninsula. 

Moscow previously claimed the blasts were triggered by a fire at an ammunition depot in the town of Mayskoye in northern Crimea, however it has now said "sabotage" is to blame. 

Two people were left injured, said Russian-appointed local officials. 

A separate fire broke out at a nearby power sub-station and a railway was also damaged.

Ukraine has not claimed responsibility for the attack, however an adviser to the country's presidential office described it as "demilitarisation in action" while hinting that the explosions were not accidental. 

Russia has given no indication on what kind of sabotage was involved or by whom. 

Footage shared online showed a large fireball and plumes of smoke rising high into the sky, with the alleged fire breaking out in the early hours of the morning. 

Last week, several Russian warplanes were destroyed in an apparent Ukrainian attack on a military base in the west of Crimea. 

Russian officials said this incident, which caused huge amounts of damage and left craters visible from space, was an accident. 

Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, which many Ukrainians see as the first act of their war with Moscow.

It has since used the Black Sea peninsula to stage attacks on Ukraine and as a base for Russia's Black Sea fleet. 

The UK Ministry of Defence said the incident had "significantly degraded" the ability of Russia's navy in the Black Sea. 

Ukraine has not confirmed or denied it is involved in the string of attacks in Crimea. 

5. Ukraine 'beats back Russian attacks'

Ukraine's army said on Tuesday thwarted more than a dozen Russian attacks in the country’s east and north yesterday.

Russian advances were repelled by Ukrainian forces around Kharkiv and key cities in the Donbas, Ukraine's eastern industrial heartland that Moscow has pushed to capture in recent months.

“They failed completely and chaotically retreated to their previous positions," the Ukrainian military's general staff posted on Facebook, saying Russian troops had attempted to take Kramatorsk, one of the last cities in Donetsk province remaining under Ukrainian control.

In the same post, it said Russian forces had advanced on Bakhmut, a strategic town in the Donetsk region.

Capturing this town would have paved the way for Russia to take Kramatorsk and the de facto Ukrainian administrative capital of Donetsk, Sloviansk.

The Donetsk region is one of two provinces that make up the Donbas, where fighting has largely been focused in recent months since Kremlin forces retreated from around Kyiv.

Elsewhere in Ukraine, residential areas in Nikopol were shelled by Russian troops. The city in southern Ukraine has suffered a series of attacks in recent weeks, with civilian casualties being reported. 

Russian officials announced that they had captured Luhansk -- the other part of the Donbas -- earlier last month, though Kyiv has repeatedly claimed there is a small pocket of Ukrainian resistance enduring near the region's border.

In the same update, Ukraine's military said Russia failed to break through Ukrainian defence lines in the northern Kharkiv region, home to Ukraine’s second-largest city.

They were “met harshly and thrown back," the update read.

Euronews cannot independently verify these claims.

6. Zelenskyy, Erdogan and Guterres to meet on Thursday — UN

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres will travel to Ukraine on Thursday for a meeting with the Ukrainian and Turkish presidents to discuss grain exports from Ukrainian ports, his spokesman said on Tuesday.

Stéphane Dujarric said at a press briefing that Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelenskyy had invited the UN leader to a trilateral meeting with Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to be held in the western city of Lviv.

He described Turkey as a "key" element in the international agreement signed in Istanbul in July to allow grain exports from Ukraine. The need for a political solution to the conflict, and the standoff over the nuclear plant at Zaporizhzhia would also be discussed, he added.

On Friday Guterres will visit Odesa, one of the three Ukrainian ports used under the international deal that has already allowed the departure of 21 ships loaded with corn and wheat.

The UN leader will end the trip in Istanbul on Saturday to visit the Joint Coordination Centre (JCC) that oversees the agreement. 

7. Former UN chief Ban Ki-moon urges world to remember Bucha victims

Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the world on Tuesday to honour civilians killed when Russian ground forces failed to take Kyiv and eventually retreated from the surrounding area.

The former South Korean diplomat who led the United Nations from 2007 to 2016 visited Bucha, the city northwest of the Ukrainian capital where hundreds of civilians were found dead in late March.

“It’s hard to express my feelings. It’s a horrendous atrocity. It’s a crime against humanity and (those responsible) should be held accountable,” Ban told The Associated Press after visiting the Church of St. Andrew the Apostle.

Authorities said 116 bodies were found in a mass grave near the church after Russian soldiers pulled out.

“All the people killed here without any reason should be fully honoured and remembered in the history of humankind," Ban said.

He travelled to Ukraine as part of an international peace initiative known as The Elders, which former South African President Nelson Mandela founded in 2007.

Ban was joined by former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate like the late Mandela. Santos also described the massacre of Ukrainian civilians as a crime against humanity.

Local authorities say 458 bodies have been found in the Bucha area since the city's 33-day Russian occupation ended. The victims include 12 children, who in most cases were killed with their parents.

8. Too many of 'Putin's oligarchs and bribe-takers' remain sanction-free — Navalny

The jailed Russian dissident Alexei Navalny has complained via social media that "almost nothing" has been done against "Putin's oligarchs and bribe-takers", despite strong rhetoric from the West about imposing sanctions.

In what he describes as a "rage thread" on Twitter, the staunch critic of the Kremlin takes a swipe at decision-makers for inconsistencies, claiming that numerous figures in the Russian elite have escaped punishment.

"On the one hand, at the level of the European Parliament, the U.S. Congress and Senate, and national parliaments, there is full support for massive sanctions against bribe-takers and warmongers," he said.

"On the other hand, as soon as it comes to concrete work, everything crumbles to dust in the depths of the executive branch. Nothing happens. The leaders make big speeches, but the decisions get stuck somewhere."

Navalny asks how Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller is not on the European sanctions list, unlike Rosneft chief Igor Sechin. He wants to know why US sanctions do not include Roman Abramovich. Only 46 of the Forbes list of the 200 richest Russians are under EU, US or UK sanctions, he says.

The dissident goes on to name several more oligarchs he says have escaped sanctions.

"No one is demanding to get these Putin lovers summarily executed, to set their yachts and villas on fire and destroy them. No, we only propose a travel ban and freezing of assets. If they hate the West so much, they shouldn't travel there!" he tweeted.

On Monday a post appeared on Navalny's social media accounts saying prison officials had ordered him to  serve at least three days in solitary confinement because of his activism.

Vladimir Putin's fiercest foe was arrested in January 2021 upon returning from Germany, where he had been recuperating from nerve-agent poisoning he blamed on the Kremlin. He received a 2½-year sentence for violating the conditions of his parole while outside Russia.

In March, Navalny was sentenced to nine years in prison on charges of fraud and contempt of court, allegations he rejected as a politically motivated attempt by Russian authorities to keep him behind bars for as long as possible.

Additional sources • AFP