Latest in Ukraine: UN Warns Risk of Nukes Use Is Higher Than Ever

 Latest in Ukraine: UN Warns Risk of Nukes Use Is Higher Than Ever

New developments:

"The risk of a nuclear weapon being used is currently higher than at any time since the depths of the Cold War," said Izumi Nakamitsu, U.N. high representative for disarmament affairs. "The war in Ukraine represents the most acute example of that risk."

Nakamitsu's remarks Friday at a Security Council meeting followed Russian President Vladimir Putin's announcement last weekend that he had reached an agreement to station nonstrategic nuclear weapons inside Belarusian territory by July. Belarus is a Russian neighbor and an ally in the invasion of Ukraine.

Nakamitsu said lack of dialogue and the erosion of disarmament and arms control agreements combined with dangerous rhetoric and veiled threats could lead to nuclear escalation. "When it comes to issues related to nuclear weapons, all states must avoid taking any actions that could lead to escalation, mistake or miscalculation," she said.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko threatened Friday that Belarus also could host intercontinental nuclear missiles on its soil in addition to the tactical nuclear weapons Russia has decided to station there.

In an annual address to lawmakers and government officials, Lukashenko said Moscow’s nuclear arms would help protect Belarus, which Lukashenko claimed was under threat from the West.

"I am not trying to intimidate or blackmail anyone. I want to safeguard the Belarusian state and ensure peace for the Belarusian people," said Lukashenko, suggesting he could use such nuclear weapons with Russia's agreement if Belarus was threatened with destruction.

Intercontinental ballistic missiles on Belarusian soil can destroy whole cities from thousands of miles away.Lukashenko said Belarus had enough conventional weapons to counter threats, "but if we see that behind [the threats] lies the destruction of our country, we will use everything we have."

"If necessary, Putin and I will decide and bring in strategic weapons — if needed," he noted.

Lukashenko did not present any proof of such a threat from the West, nor did he provide any indication there were plans to invade Belarus from neighboring Poland, a member of the U.S.-led Western NATO alliance.

Military aid from US

A new $2.6 billion U.S. military aid package that could include air surveillance radars, anti-tank rockets and fuel trucks for Ukraine's fight against Russia is expected to be announced as soon as Monday, U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Friday.

A half-dozen types of munitions, including tank munitions, are also expected to be on the list of equipment that could be finalized over this weekend. The officials added that the dollar amount and specific equipment in the package could change.

Also slated for inclusion were precision aerial munitions, bridging equipment Ukraine would use to assault Russian positions, recovery vehicles to help disabled heavy equipment such as tanks, and additional rounds for NASAMS air defenses that the U.S. and allies have given Kyiv.

According to Reuters, the package's $2.1 billion in weapons aid comes from Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative funding that allows the Biden administration to buy weapons from industry rather than from U.S. weapons stocks.

Bucha anniversary

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke at a ceremony in the town of Bucha to commemorate the anniversary of its liberation from Russia's brutal occupation.

"We must do everything to make Bucha a symbol of justice. Justice for Ukraine, for Europe, for the whole world. That every Russian murderer, executioner and terrorist answer for every crime against our people, against humanity as such. Everything what happened in Bucha, the Russian army carries wherever it goes," Zelenskyy said.

The Ukrainian president said that in the Bucha district of the Kyiv region alone, the Russian occupiers committed more than 9,000 war crimes and killed more than 1,400 civilians — 637 of them in Bucha.

"Old people and very young. Men and women, children ... 37 children were killed by the Russians only here, only in Bucha and near this town," Zelenskyy said, adding that the occupier's accountability for all crimes must be full.

"Only when peace is built on the just foundations of full condemnation of aggression and when the accountability of the one who disturbed the peace is fully ensured, peace can last for long."

The Kremlin's forces occupied Bucha weeks after they invaded Ukraine and stayed for about a month. Once Ukrainian troops retook the town, they found horrific scenes of violence.

In a tweet, Zelenskyy said, "We will never forget the victims of this war, and we will certainly bring all Russian murderers to justice."

Some material for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

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6 of June 2023