Away from the battlefield, the Kremlin has made repeated claims without evidence that Kiev is preparing to use a “dirty bomb,” a weapon that combines conventional explosives with radioactive material — a charge denied by the United States. Other Western countries.
US officials said Moscow’s accusations raised the risk that Russia itself was planning a radiation attack.
In a statement on Tuesday, Ukraine’s nuclear energy operator Energotum issued a similar warning, citing the Russian military’s control over the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant in Enerhodre. “Energoatom assumes that such actions by the invaders may indicate that they are preparing for a terrorist act using the nuclear material and radioactive waste stored at the ZNPP site,” the statement said.
Renewed fears of some form of radiation attack have added to the ominous sense that Putin’s war in Ukraine is growing deadlier and more dangerous, as each side tries to redraw the facts on the ground before winter.
Ukraine is pushing hard for more regional gains, while Russia this month began a relentless bombing campaign against Ukraine’s energy system, using missiles and attack drones in an apparent attempt to plunge the country into cold and darkness and recoup battlefield losses.
As Ukraine continues to make gains, pro-Kremlin military bloggers and analysts on Tuesday confirmed new setbacks for Russia’s forces, including the occupied Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine, where Russia has its strongest hold.
“Ukrainian forces have resumed a counteroffensive in the direction of Luhansk,” the pro-Russian Vargonzo project said in its daily military update, adding that Ukrainian forces had taken control of a key highway between the Luhansk towns of Svatovin and Kreminna.
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“Russian artillery is actively operating on the left bank of the Serebets River, trying to prevent the transfer of reinforcements to the enemy, but the situation is very difficult,” Vargonso said.
In the Donetsk region, Wagner paramilitaries, commanded by St. Petersburg businessman Yevgeny Prigogine, appeared to be pushing back from Bakhmut, where mercenaries had held the city for weeks and made little progress. Military experts have said the capture of Bakhmut has little strategic value, but Prigozhin sees an opportunity to win a political prize while regular Russian military units lose ground in other war zones.
Ukrainian forces recaptured a concrete factory on the eastern outskirts of Bakhmut, the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War reported on Monday. On Sunday, Prigogine admitted that Wagner’s effort had slowed, saying the mercenaries were only gaining “100-200 meters a day.”
“Our units are constantly encountering the toughest enemy resistance, and I note that the enemy is well prepared, motivated, confident and cohesive,” Prigogine said in a statement published by the press service of his catering company. “It doesn’t stop our fighters from moving forward, but I can’t comment on how long it will take.”
In the southern Kherson region, one of the four Moscow claims to have captured, Russian troops appeared to be preparing to defend the city of Kherson, amid speculation they would give up the key position and retreat east of the Dnieper River.
Russian forces are establishing “defensive positions” on the eastern bank of the Dnieper, leaving small avenues of possible retreat from the western bank, the Ukrainian military said in an operational update on Tuesday.
Speculation has been rife for weeks that Moscow is preparing to abandon Kherson, after Ukrainian forces have made steady advances in a southern direction.
“I don’t know all the nuances and plans of the command, but I do not rule out the surrender of Kherson from a military point of view, because now its defense will turn into a failure,” a famous Russian military blogger, writing under the name Sapysky Veterana, wrote in a Telegram post. “But if a decision had been made in Moscow to fight until victory, there would be nothing tragic about the surrender of Kherson, because this war has been here for a long time.”
Moscow will have no choice. “The Russian position in Upper Kherson Oblast, however, is unlikely,” the Institute for the Study of War said.
Kremlin-installed officials are forcing residents to evacuate the west bank of the Dnieper while claiming without evidence that Kyiv is preparing an attack on the Kakhovka hydroelectric plant, as well as “dirty bomb” allegations.
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The United States, France and Britain have accused Moscow of using the dirty bomb accusations, and they have warned that Putin’s government could face additional sanctions from the West.
The Kremlin on Tuesday described Washington’s distrust of Russia’s claims as a “permissive and frivolous approach”.
After a two-week bombing campaign by Moscow that systematically targeted energy infrastructure, Kyiv is increasingly worried about civilians enduring a bitter winter. Ukrainian officials have pressed European officials over the past few weeks for more sophisticated weapons, particularly the advanced air defense systems needed to counter Russian airstrikes.
The country is also facing an urgent cash crunch, with officials raising questions about how Ukraine will get funding to keep services running during the brutal weeks and months. An early October report from the World Bank suggested that Ukraine’s economy would shrink by 35 percent this year.
On Tuesday, Germany and the European Union held a conference in Berlin on reconstruction, although the conversation seemed particularly premature as Russian attacks inflict new damage every day.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukraine needs $38 billion in emergency financial aid for the next year alone. But while top officials regularly trumpet the EU’s support for Ukraine, there are questions about short- and long-term follow-through.
Although European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has announced plans to help Ukraine by 2023, EU officials acknowledge delays in delivering nearly $9 billion in loans promised earlier this year to Kyiv.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen has in recent weeks pressed European counterparts to increase financial aid to Kiev and implicitly questioned the decision to replace grants with loans.
“We call on our partners and allies to join us by quickly delivering on their existing commitments to Ukraine and doing more,” Yellen said this month. In a video speech at a European Council summit in Brussels last week, Zelenskiy called out European leaders for failing to provide needed financial aid quickly enough.
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“Thank you for the funds already allocated,” Zelensky said. “But no decision has been made yet on the remaining $6 billion from this package – which is critically needed this year.”
“It is within your power to reach an agreement in principle to provide this assistance to our state today,” he continued.
With current demands not being met, some wonder how seriously the EU’s promises of an effort of Marshall Plan proportions should be taken. A Q&A published by Germany’s Group of Seven presidency ahead of Tuesday’s meeting indicated that the event would not include a “pledge part”. Instead, the goal is to “underline that the international community is united and resolute in its support for Ukraine.”
In private conversations, some EU diplomats have raised questions about whether the group should allocate resources to rebuilding a country still largely at war, especially given Europe’s own energy and economic crisis.
As von der Leyen spoke in Berlin on Tuesday, the focus in Brussels was on efforts to find common ground among the EU’s own member states on emergency energy measures.