Russia is “modernizing and expanding its nuclear arsenal,” U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin warned in remarks Friday.
“As the Kremlin continues its cruel and unprovoked war of choice against Ukraine, the whole world has seen Putin engage in deeply irresponsible nuclear saber-rattling,” Austin said at a ceremony for the new commander of the U.S. Strategic Command.
With close to 6,000 warheads, Russia has the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world, according to Reuters. The U.S. and Russia together hold about 90% of the world’s nuclear warheads, the news wire reported.
Russia has previously said it will prioritize building its nuclear infrastructure in 2023. But this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed concerns he would use nuclear weapons in Ukraine. He said his reminders about Russia’s nuclear weapon arsenal are a “factor of deterrence” rather than one of escalation.
BACKGROUND:Russia’s war renews nuclear disaster fears. What to know about the dangers of radiation.
PREVIOUS REPORTING:Putin dismisses nuclear weapons concerns
“We haven’t gone mad,” he said Wednesday. “We are fully aware of what nuclear weapons are.”
Still, President Joe Biden has questioned Putin’s intentions in repeatedly talking about Russia’s nuclear weapon supply.
“So make no mistake,” Austin said Friday. “Nuclear powers have a profound responsibility to avoid provocative behavior, and to lower the risk of proliferation, and to prevent escalation and nuclear war.”
►The U.S. will send an additional $275 million in military aid to Ukraine, including ammunition and systems to detect and counter drones, U.S. officials told the Associated Press.
►Bulgarian lawmakers approved the country’s first military aid package to Ukraine after months-long disputes over the issue between political parties. The country previously agreed to repair Ukrainian military equipment at its factories but refused to send weapons directly.
►In an interview released Friday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg expressed concerns that fighting in Ukraine could escalate into a war between Russia and NATO. “It is a terrible war in Ukraine. It is also a war that can become a full-fledged war that spreads into a major war between NATO and Russia,” he said. “We are working on that every day to avoid that.”
►Iran’s support to the Russian military “is likely to grow in the coming months” as Russia attempts to obtain more weapons, Britain’s defense ministry said in a Saturday update.
Eastern Ukrainian city ‘turned into burnt ruins,’ Zelenskyy says
Bakhmut has been “turned into burnt ruins” by Russian forces after more than half a year of shellings in the Eastern Ukrainian city, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address Friday.
“Bakhmut, Soledar, Maryinka, Kreminna. For a long time, there is no living place left on the land of these areas that have not been damaged by shells and fire,” he said. “The occupiers actually destroyed Bakhmut, another Donbas city that the Russian army turned into burnt ruins.”
GRAPHICS:Mapping and tracking Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
While some buildings still stand in Bakhmut, the city has endured a long siege and its residents have in the past spent weeks without water and power.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of Russia’s Donetsk region, which includes Bakhmut, estimated seven weeks ago that 90% of Bakhmut’s population of 70,000 had fled since the war.
If Russia takes control of Bakhmut, it would rupture Ukraine’s supply lines and allow Russian forces to push toward key Ukrainian strongholds in Donetsk.
Netflix clip shows Zelenskyy interview interrupted by sirens
Netflix says it will release an interview of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy conducted in Kyiv by David Letterman, an episode of “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction” set to premiere on Monday.
In a promotional clip released by Netflix, emergency sirens go off in the background as the t interview was being conducted in a safe location.
According to translations in the clip, Zelenskyy says the sound of sirens has become “a habit” for many Ukrainians.
“That’s unfortunate because I think that the war shouldn’t be a habit,” he told Letterman. “Sometimes we are so accustomed to sirens that we disregard them … And to me, sirens are a reminder that the war is not over.”
Contributing: The Associated Press
Contact News Now Reporter Christine Fernando at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @christinetfern.