Lukashenko alters Belarusian warplanes to carry nuclear weapons under deal with Putin

Ukraine's Zelenskky says world narrowly escaped a radiation disaster when electricity to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was cut off for hours

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko during a meeting in Russia. AFP
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Belarus has modified its warplanes to carry nuclear armaments, the country’s president and long-time ally of Russia, Alexander Lukashenko, said.

The leader known as Europe’s last dictator said he had previously agreed with President Vladimir Putin to alter the fleet of Su-24 aircraft.

The landlocked former Soviet republic, which borders Russia, does not have its own nuclear weapons.

In the months leading up to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, Belarus hosted Russian troops on its territory for training exercises. It also allowed its land to be used as a springboard for the Russian military to launch its incursion into Ukraine in February.

Russia earlier this month suspended a pact that allowed American and Russian inspectors to visit each other’s nuclear weapons sites.

Inspections under the 2010 New Start treaty had been on hold during the Covid-19 pandemic. But the Russian foreign ministry said it was unwilling to restart the trips, arguing that US sanctions imposed after the invasion of Ukraine prevented Russian inspectors travelling to the States.

The treaty limits each nation’s deployed strategic warheads to 1,550 and imposes limits on delivery systems. In February 2021 it was extended for five years.

A woman holds bread after attending a distribution of humanitarian aid in Bakhmut, Ukraine. Reuters

Meanwhile Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskky has said the world narrowly escaped a radiation disaster when electricity to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was cut off for hours. The site in south-eastern Ukraine is the largest of its kind in Europe.

Mr Zelenskyy urged international bodies to work at pact to force Russian troops to vacate the facility.

He said Russian shelling on Thursday had sparked fires in the ash pits of a nearby coal power station, which disconnected the plant from the power grid. A Russian official blamed Ukraine for the incident.

Back-up diesel generators ensured power supply that is vital for cooling and safety systems at the plant, Mr Zelenskyy said, praising the Ukrainian technicians who operate the plant under the gaze of the Russian military.

"If our station staff had not reacted after the blackout, then we would have already been forced to overcome the consequences of a radiation accident," Mr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address on Thursday.

"Russia has put Ukraine and all Europeans in a situation one step away from a radiation disaster... Every minute that Russian troops remain at the nuclear power station there is a risk of global radiation catastrophe.”

As the war in Ukraine drags into its seventh month, President Putin and his defence minister Sergey Shoigu are understood to have sacked six top generals for advancing too slowly, the British army said.

The UK’s Ministry of Defence pointed to Mr Shoigu’s comments on Wednesday to the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation as a possible cover-up for the Kremlin’s debilitating war. Mr Shoigu claimed Russia was deliberately slowing the pace of its military campaign in Ukraine, driven by the need to reduce civilian casualties.

“This is almost certainly deliberate misinformation,” the British Ministry of Defence wrote on Twitter.

“Russia’s offensive has stalled because of poor Russian military performance and fierce Ukrainian resistance. Under Shoigu’s orders, the forces operating in Ukraine have repeatedly missed planned operational timelines.

“It is highly likely that Shoigu and President Putin have fired at least six generals for not advancing quickly enough.

“On the day Shoigu was speaking, a Russian SS-26 Iskander short-range ballistic missile struck a train in the town of Chaplyne, reportedly killing at least two children.

“This highlights Russia’s willingness to cause collateral damage when it perceives there is military advantage in launching missile or artillery strikes.”

The strike in Chaplyne in the eastern Dnipropetrovsk region killed 25 people including two children, and injured 31, the Ukrainian presidency said.

"An 11-year-old boy was killed under the rubble, another 6-year-old died in a burnt-out car near the station," Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy chief of the presidential administration, said on Telegram.

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Updated: August 26, 2022, 12:02 PM