Moscow accuses Ukraine yet again of plotting a "false flag" operation.
Ukraine and its allies have denounced such allegations as cunning misinformation campaigns, accusing Russia of orchestrating incidents itself, and pre-emptively blaming Ukraine as a cop-out.
Russia has claimed that Ukraine is plotting a nuclear catastrophe on its own territory in order to pin the blame Moscow ahead of a critical United Nations summit.
Radioactive materials have been smuggled into Ukraine from an unspecified European nation, and Kyiv is planning a large-scale "provocation," according to a statement issued by Russia's defence ministry on Sunday.
"The goal of the provocation is to accuse Russia's army of supposedly conducting indiscriminate strikes on dangerous radioactive installations in Ukraine, resulting in radioactive material leaking and contamination of the region," it claimed.
Moscow has accused Kyiv on numerous occasions of plotting "false flag" operations with non-conventional weapons containing biological or radioactive materials. Nothing like that has actually occurred.
On January 12, 2022, a Russian tank T-72B3 fires during drills at the Kadamovskiy firing range in the Rostov area of southern Russia. Credit: AP
Moscow's accusations came as Ukrainian authorities persuaded US legislators to urge US President Joe Biden's administration to send F-16 fighter jets, claiming that the planes would improve Ukraine's capacity to strike Russian missile systems.
On the margins of the Munich Security Conference, Ukrainian officials, including Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, met with Democrats and Republicans from the US Senate and House of Representatives over the weekend.
“They told us that they want [F-16s] to suppress enemy air defences so they could get their drones” beyond Russian front lines, said Senator Mark Kelly, a former astronaut who flew US Navy aircraft in battle.
When asked if he would accept Ukraine's plea for F-16s, Biden responded "no" last month.
Officials from the Biden administration stated on Sunday that the US should focus on giving weapons that can be deployed immediately on the battlefield rather than fighter planes that require substantial training.
They did not, however, rule out the possibility of supplying F-16s outright.
"Discussions will continue in the coming weeks and months," shared US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield on CNN.
The meeting, which was mostly focused on Ukraine, took place just days before the anniversary of Russia's invasion. After a string of Russian setbacks, the sides have been embroiled in protracted combat, particularly in the eastern Donbas region.
Kelly noted that while it took at least a year of training to master all of the F-16's capabilities, Ukrainian pilots could be taught to execute "a limited number of things … in a few months".
On Saturday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken attended a conference in Munich. Credit: AFP-JIJI
'Don't be afraid of provoking Putin.'
Support for arming Ukraine with modern NATO-standard jet fighters is growing on both sides of the Atlantic. The United Kingdom has stated that it will provide training.
Nonetheless, both sides have been unwilling to deploy their airpower in a substantial way since the war began.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham stated that American senators widely backed training Ukrainian pilots on F-16s and predicted that the Biden administration would soon agree.
He stated that he was not concerned that the F-16s would intensify the confrontation. “Don’t worry about provoking Putin; worry about beating him,” he stated on ABC News.
Requests for advanced aircraft follow last month's agreement by France, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Germany to equip Kyiv with modern combat tanks.
From the start of what Russia refers to as its "special military operation," the United States has supplied around $30 billion in military aid to Ukraine.
Several Western officials have suggested that Ukraine's allies should prioritize basic logistics such as artillery ammunition over modern fighter aircraft.
Josep Borrell, the European Union's foreign policy leader, issued a grave message about Ukraine's diminishing stocks of ammunition and other lethal armaments as it fights back against Russia's invasion.
“Ukraine is in a critical situation from the point of view with ammunition available,” he said. “This shortage of ammunition has to resolve quickly – it’s a matter of weeks.”
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated China is considering sending weaponry to Russia, warning Beijing that such shipments would "create a significant problem".
Blinken told CBS News that China was "considering giving military assistance" ranging "from ammo to the weapons themselves".
Joseph Borrell. Credit: National Observer
Russian assaults continue as the debate over arms supplies heats up.
Ukrainian forces said they were ready to defend one of the possible targets of a fresh Russian onslaught in the small town of Siversk in the country's east.
Siversk, which had a pre-war population of 10 000, is 35 kilometres north of Bakhmut, the scene of severe combat in recent weeks, and on a straight path to Sloviansk, another important Donetsk area town.
"If they captured Bakhmut, we would be semi-encircled since the Siverskyi Donets River is on our left flank, and the enemy would move from the right, and it is probable that they will cut us off if they reach the Bakhmut highway," stated Han, the deputy Siversk battalion commander.
According to one soldier defending Siversk, the enemy has outgunned Ukraine's primarily Soviet-era weaponry.
“We have one artillery attack from our side and the Russians can do it five times more,” shared Stefan, a 30-year-old soldier. “It’s very difficult for the guys who are standing, especially at the first line of defence. They just feel it too much.”
Taking Bakhmut would provide a stepping stone for Russian soldiers to push on two larger cities farther west, Kramatorsk and Sloviansk.
But, given the time required and the sacrifices inflicted, Ukraine and its Western allies believe that triumph there would be mostly symbolic for Russia.