Ukraine has accused Russia of engaging in “dirty blackmail”, in response to a warning from Moscow that Kyiv was planning to escalate the war by using a “dirty bomb” on the battlefield.
“Russia’s dirty blackmail looks very primitive,” Andriy Yermak, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s chief of staff, said on a Telegram channel post on Monday.
His comments followed statements by Zelenskyy and Ukraine’s western allies including the US, UK and France rejecting claims made by Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu at the weekend that Kyiv was planning to use a conventional explosive to spread radioactive material.
Shoigu initiated calls on Sunday with western defence officials including Lloyd Austin of the US, Ben Wallace of the UK, Sébastien Lecornu of France, as well as Hulusi Akar of Turkey.
“The situation in Ukraine, which has a steady tendency to further, uncontrolled escalation, was discussed . . . Army General S Shoigu expressed his concerns to his French colleague about possible provocations from Ukraine with the use of a ‘dirty bomb’,” Russia’s defence ministry said in a statement summing up one of the calls.
Yermak suggested Shoigu’s comments amounted to an attempt to pressure foreign backers into cutting supplies of weaponry and pressuring Kyiv into peace talks that would stall efforts to militarily liberate more than 15 per cent of territory in eastern and southern regions still occupied by Russia.
He said Russians were “cowards who dream of negotiations to stop their collapse”. He added: “There will be no negotiations. And everything dirty will remain with the Russian Federation in isolation, in which it will definitely end up.”
Yermak described Russian president Vladimir Putin’s faltering full-scale invasion of Ukraine launched eight months ago as “the dirty war with the civilian population and terror after defeats on the battlefield”.
He was speaking hours after the US, UK and France issued a joint statement warning Russia against using false claims of an alleged Ukrainian effort to use a “dirty bomb” as a pretext to escalate the war.
“Our countries made clear that we all reject Russia’s transparently false allegations that Ukraine is preparing to use a dirty bomb on its own territory,” the statement read. “The world would see through any attempt to use this allegation as a pretext for escalation. We further reject any pretext for escalation by Russia.”
The three countries pledged to “continue supporting Ukraine and the Ukrainian people with security, economic, and humanitarian assistance in the face of President Putin’s brutal war of aggression”.
Russia had launched a two-week missile and “kamikaze” drone strike campaign that systematically targeted Ukraine’s power infrastructure, triggering nationwide blackouts far from the front line. Russian forces continue to lose ground in the face of a Ukrainian counteroffensive.
In its daily report on Russia’s invasion, the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said on Sunday: “Shoigu likely sought to slow or suspend western military aid to Ukraine and possibly weaken the Nato alliance in scaremongering calls with several Nato defence ministers.”
Russia’s Interfax news agency reported that Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesperson, told journalists on Monday that “their distrust of the information that was transmitted by the Russian side does not mean that the threat of using such a ‘dirty bomb’ ceases to exist. The threat is obvious.”
Zelenskyy, in an overnight video address to the nation, described Shoigu’s “phone carousel” on Sunday as a sign that Russia was preparing a false flag provocation and had plotted to blame Kyiv for it.
“If Russia calls and says that Ukraine is allegedly preparing something, it means one thing: Russia has already prepared all this,” he said.
As part of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum signed by the US, UK and Russia, Ukraine surrendered the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal inherited from the USSR in return for security guarantees. The country has no nuclear weaponry but operates four atomic generation plants, including the southern Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant which Russia’s forces occupied early in the invasion.
Additional reporting by Felicia Schwartz in Washington