Russia is carrying out its threats and has begun delivering nuclear warheads to European Union neighbor Belarus, President Alexander Lukashenko said on Thursday, as the Russian army is in a delicate situation in Ukraine pending of an imminent counter-offensive by Ukrainian forces.

Mr Lukashenko, who was in Moscow on Thursday for a regional summit, was unable to say whether the weapons in question were already in his country, but explained that his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, who had brandished the threat in March, had told him the day before that he had signed the decree allowing the transfer.

“The transfer of nuclear charges has begun,” Lukashenko said in a video posted on Telegram.

Russia for its part did not immediately comment.

The Russian president announced on March 25 that Moscow would deploy “tactical” nuclear weapons on the territory of Belarus, a country also bordering Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine, fueling fears of an escalation. of the ongoing conflict in the latter country.

The announcement had been loudly denounced by the international community, Westerners in particular, especially since the Russian leader has since the start of his assault on his Ukrainian neighbor in February 2022 raised the possibility of recourse to atomic weapon.

Opponent in exile Svetalana Tikhanovskaïa denounced Thursday on Twitter a threat “for all of Europe”.

“When it comes to tactical nukes, most are as powerful as the one that killed 140,000 people in Hiroshima,” she added.

On the ground in Ukraine, the paramilitary group Wagner has begun the transfer to the Russian regular army of its positions in the devastated city of Bakhmout (east).

This operation takes place at a time when the Russian army is in a delicate situation, having lost according to the Ukrainians 20 square kilometers in the north and south.

“We are in the process of withdrawing units from Bakhmout today. By June 1, most of them will be relocating to rear bases,” Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigojine said in a video broadcast on Telegram.

A Ukrainian deputy defense minister, Ganna Maliar, confirmed that Wagner’s men had left their positions to Russian regular troops “in the outskirts of Bakhmout”. She added that Ukrainian forces were keeping a foothold in the southwest of this industrial city which was the scene of the longest and deadliest battle of the Russian offensive.

Mr. Prigojine estimated Wednesday the number of deaths in the ranks of his group at 10,000 inmates recruited from Russian prisons and a similar proportion, not precisely quantified, of his professional fighters.

Ukraine says it is banking on its breakthrough around this city to achieve its “tactical encirclement”.

“The (Russian) enemy is trying to stop our advance on the flanks with artillery fire. They are reinforcing the flanks with additional units,” Maliar said Thursday.

The Ukrainian Air Force reported overnight a new Russian attack by 36 Iranian-made Shahed drones on the south of the country, all of which were destroyed.

Russia “continues to terrorize Ukraine” with its night attacks, President Volodymyr Zelensky denounced on Telegram.

Russian authorities on the Crimean peninsula, annexed by Moscow in 2014, said they shot down six Ukrainian drones overnight.

The Russian military also said it had sent fighter jets to prevent two US strategic bombers from violating its border over the Baltic Sea, for the second time this week.

In Russia itself, the authorities were confronted on Monday and Tuesday with the largest armed incursion by a group of fighters from Ukraine since the start of the conflict.

One of the two organizations that claimed responsibility, the “Russian Freedom Legion”, considered “terrorist” by Moscow, declared on Telegram on Wednesday evening that it had two killed and 10 wounded in its ranks during the incursion. Moscow claimed to have killed “more than 70” assailants.

On the diplomatic level, the European Union on Thursday asked China to use its influence on Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine.

The Beijing envoy Li Hui was received in Brussels by Enrique Mora, right-hand man of the head of European diplomacy Josep Borrell, before going to Moscow on Friday.

“The EU expects China, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, to work for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all Russian military forces and equipment from all Ukrainian territory,” he said. underlined a press release from EU diplomacy.

In Paris, around twenty representatives of the Russian opposition in exile met on Wednesday to talk about the “depoutinisation” of the country, with the defeat of Moscow’s forces in Ukraine as a prerequisite.

05/25/2023 19:21:49 –         Moscow (AFP) –          © 2023 AFP