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Russian recruits take a bus near a military recruitment center in Krasnodar. AP/PA Images

Drone attack hits Ukraine as US warns Russia of ‘consequences’ over nuclear weapons

A massive fire and explosion was caused in the port of Odessa.

LAST UPDATE | 26 Sep 2022

AN OVERNIGHT DRONE strike near the Ukrainian port of Odesa has sparked a massive fire and explosion, military officials said.

The attack came just hours after the United States vowed to take decisive action and promised “catastrophic consequences” if Russia uses nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

The air strike was the latest in a series of drone attacks on the key southern city in recent days.

The latest strike hit a military installation, detonating ammunition. Firefighters are struggling to contain the blaze, the Ukrainian military’s southern command said.

Concerns are growing that Russia may seek to escalate the conflict once it completes what Ukraine and the West see as illegal referendums in parts of Ukraine under its control.

The voting, which ends on Tuesday, took place after thousands of residents had already fled. Images have shown armed Russian troops going door-to-door to pressure Ukrainians into voting.

Russia is widely expected to declare the results in its favour, a step that could see Moscow annex the territory and give it the pretext to seek to defend it as its own territory under the Russian nuclear umbrella.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in an interview broadcast yesterday, confirmed reports that the United States has sent private warnings to Russia to steer clear of nuclear war.

russia-ukraine-war People wait to receive humanitarian aid at the distribution point in the recently retaken town of Izium. Evgeniy Maloletka / PA Evgeniy Maloletka / PA / PA

“We have been very clear with the Russians publicly, and, as well as privately, to stop the loose talk about nuclear weapons,” Blinken told the CBS News programme 60 Minutes in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

“It’s very important that Moscow hear from us and know from us that the consequences would be horrific. And we’ve made that very clear,” Blinken said.

“Any use of nuclear weapons would have catastrophic effects for, of course, the country using them, but for many others as well.”

Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, said in a separate interview that Russia would pay a high price if it made good on veiled threats to use nuclear weapons in the conflict.

‘Scare the whole world’

“If Russia crosses this line there will be catastrophic consequences for Russia. The United States will respond decisively,” he told NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday.

“We have been clear and specific about what that will entail.”

Washington’s message has been more detailed in private conversations with their Russian counterparts, he said, without elaborating.

“So, the Russians understand where we are. We understand where we are. We are planning for every contingency,” Sullivan said in separate comments to ABC’s This Week.

“And we will do what is necessary to deter Russia from taking this step.”

Russia and the United States are the world’s largest nuclear weapons powers, but separate from the threats of planetary destruction, Russian military doctrine permits the use of tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield to force an enemy to retreat.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, asked during a news conference Saturday at the United Nations about Putin’s comments, said only that Moscow’s doctrine “is an open document.”

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told “Face the Nation” that Putin’s veiled nuclear threat “could be a reality,” saying Russian military activity at nuclear power plants in Ukraine are “the first steps of his nuclear blackmail.”

“He wants to scare the whole world,” the Ukrainian leader said of Putin.

“I don’t think he’s bluffing. I think the world is deterring it and containing this threat. We need to keep putting pressure on him and not allow him to continue,” Zelenskyy added.

No country has used nuclear weapons on the battlefield except the United States in 1945, when it destroyed the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing more than 200,000 people. Imperial Japan surrendered days later, ending World War II.

Rocket attack

Elsewhere, a Russian rocket attack targeted a village in south-eastern Ukraine. The attack struck an unnamed village and the regional centre of Zaporizhzhia, regional military official Oleksandr Starukh said.

He posted pictures of damaged buildings and said unspecified infrastructure also had been damaged and fires were sparked by the attack.

Meanwhile, the first batches of Russian troops mobilised by Moscow have begun to arrive at military bases, the British military said.

In an online intelligence briefing, the UK Ministry of Defence said “many tens of thousands” had been called up. However, the Russians face challenges ahead.

“Unlike most Western armies, the Russian military provides low-level, initial training to soldiers within their designated operational units, rather than in dedicated training establishments,” the MoD said.

Under normal circumstances, two battalions deploy while a third remains behind to train. But in the Ukraine war, even the third battalion is deploying, weakening that training, the MoD added.

Additional reporting from © AFP 2022

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