India says BBC documentary on PM Modi is ‘propaganda’ 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi adjusts his hair during a rally in Mumbai, India, on Janury 19, 2023. (Photo courtesy: AP)
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Updated 20 January 2023

India says BBC documentary on PM Modi is ‘propaganda’ 

  • The documentary questioned Modi’s leadership during the 2002 Gujarat riots 
  • The violence erupted after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims caught fire, killing 59 

NEW DELHI: India’s foreign ministry on Thursday dismissed a BBC documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi which questioned his leadership during the 2002 Gujarat riots as “propaganda.” 

Modi was the chief minister of the western state of Gujarat when it was gripped by communal riots that left more than 1,000 people dead — most of them Muslims. The violence erupted after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims caught fire, killing 59. 

Accused of failing to stop the rioting, Modi denied the accusations and was exonerated in 2012 following an inquiry by India’s top court. Another petition questioning his exoneration was dismissed last year. 

Terming the BBC documentary a “propaganda piece” meant to push a “discredited narrative,” foreign ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said a “bias,” “lack of objectivity,” and “continuing colonial mindset” is “blatantly visible” in it. 

“It makes us wonder about the purpose of this exercise and the agenda behind it, and we do not wish to dignify such efforts,” he told a news conference. 

The BBC, contacted for comment, said the documentary was “rigorously researched” and involved a “wide range” of voices and opinions, including responses from people in Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). 

“We offered the Indian Government a right to reply to the matters raised in the series – it declined to respond,” a BBC spokesperson said. 
 


Afghan girls struggle with poor internet as they turn to online classes

Updated 9 sec ago

Afghan girls struggle with poor internet as they turn to online classes

  • One of the most striking changes since Taliban were first in power from 1996 to 2001 is the explosion of internet
  • The Taliban administration has allowed girls to study individually at home and has not moved to ban the internet

KABUL: Sofia logs in to class on a laptop in Kabul for an online English course run by one of a growing number of educational institutes trying to reach Afghanistan's girls and women digitally in their homes. 

But when the teacher calls on Sofia to read a passage her computer screen freezes. 

"Can you hear me?" she asks repeatedly, checking her connection. 

After a while, her computer stutters back to life. 

"As usual," a fellow student equally frustrated with the poor communications sighs as the class gets going again. 

Sofia, an Afghan student, takes notes during an online class, at her house in Kabul, Afghanistan, on March 18, 2023. (REUTERS)

Sofia, 22, is one of a growing stream of Afghan girls and women going online as a last resort to get around the Taliban administration's restrictions on studying and working. 

Taliban officials, citing what they call problems including issues related to Islamic dress, have closed girls' highschools, barred their access to universities and stopped most women from working at non-governmental organisations. 

One of the most striking changes since the Taliban were first in power from 1996 to 2001, is the explosion of the internet. 

Virtually no one had access to the internet when the Taliban were forced from power in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. 

After nearly two decades of Western-led intervention and engagement with the world, 18% of the population had internet access, according to the World Bank. 

The Taliban administration has allowed girls to study individually at home and has not moved to ban the internet, which its officials use to make announcements via social media. 

But girls and women face a host of problems from power cuts, to cripplingly slow internet speeds, let alone the cost of computers and wifi in a country where 97% of people live in poverty. 

"For girls in Afghanistan, we have a bad, awful internet problem," Sofia said. 

Her online school, Rumi Academy, saw its enrolment of mostly females rise from about 50 students to more than 500 after the Taliban took over in 2021. 

It has had hundreds more applications but cannot enrol them for now because of a lack of funds for teachers and to pay for equipment and internet packages, a representative of the academy said.

Sana, an Afghan teacher, teaches during an online class, at her house in Kabul, Afghanistan, on February 28, 2023. (REUTERS)

 'Too hard'

Sakina Nazari tried a virtual language class at her home in the west of Kabul for a week after she was forced to leave her university in December. But she abandoned it in frustration after battling the problems. 

"I couldn't continue," she said. "It's too hard to access internet in Afghanistan and sometimes we have half an hour of power in 24 hours." 

Seattle-based Ookla, which compiles global internet speeds, put Afghanistan's mobile internet as the slowest of 137 countries and its fixed internet as the second slowest of 180 countries. 

Some Afghans have started calling on SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk to introduce its satellite internet service Starlink to Afghanistan, as it has done in Ukraine and Iran, posting requests for help on Twitter, which he owns. 

"We also call on Elon Musk to help us," Sofia said. 

"If they would be able to (introduce) that in Afghanistan, it would be very, very impactful for women." 

SpaceX spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment. 

Online schools are trying their best to accommodate Afghanistan's pupils. 

Daniel Kalmanson, spokesperson for online University of the People, which has had more than 15,000 applications from Afghan girls and women since the Taliban took over, said students could attend lectures at any time that conditions allowed them to, and professors granted extensions for assignments and exams when students faced connection problems. 

The non-profit group Learn Afghanistan, which runs several community-based schools in which some teachers run classes remotely, makes its curriculum available for free in Afghanistan's main languages. 

Executive director Pashtana Durrani said the group also ensured that lessons were available via radio, which is widely used in rural areas. She was working with international companies to find solutions to poor internet access but said she could not elaborate. 

"Afghanistan needs to be a country where the internet is accessible, digital devices need to be pumped in," Durrani said. 

Sofia said Afghan women had grown used to problems over years of war and they would persevere no matter what. 

"We still have dreams and we will not give up, ever." 


Myanmar junta chief vows continued crackdown, then elections

Updated 30 min 38 sec ago

Myanmar junta chief vows continued crackdown, then elections

  • Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military deposed Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government
  • Min Aung Hlaing: Military will take ‘decisive action’ against opponents and ethnic rebels supporting them

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar: Flanked by tanks and missile launchers, Myanmar’s junta chief Monday vowed no letup in a crackdown on opponents and insisted the military would hold elections — weeks after admitting it did not control enough territory to allow a vote.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military deposed Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government over two years ago after making unsubstantiated claims of electoral fraud.
The putsch sparked renewed fighting with ethnic rebels and birthed dozens of anti-junta “People’s Defense Forces” (PDFs), with swathes of the country now ravaged by fighting and the economy in tatters.
The military will take “decisive action” against its opponents and ethnic rebels supporting them, Min Aung Hlaing told an audience of around 8,000 service members attending the annual Armed Forces Day parade in the military-built capital Naypyidaw.
“The terror acts of NUG and its lackey so-called PDFs need to be tackled for good and all,” he said, referring to the “National Unity Government,” a body dominated by ousted lawmakers working to reverse the coup.
The junta would then hold “free and fair elections” upon the completion of the state of emergency, he said.
Last month, the military announced an extension of a two-year state of emergency and postponement of elections it had promised to hold by August, as it did not control enough of the country for a vote to take place.
“Serenity and stability are vital” before any election could go ahead, Min Aung Hlaing told the parade.
Planes flew overhead spewing smoke in the yellow, red and green of the national flag and a flight of five Russian-made Sukoi Su-30 jets roared past.
Women lined the streets leading to the parade ground to garland marching soldiers with flowers, images on state media showed.
Armed Forces Day commemorates the start of local resistance to the Japanese occupation during World War II, and usually features a military parade attended by foreign officers and diplomats.
Two years after the coup, the situation in Myanmar is a “festering catastrophe,” United Nations human rights chief Volker Turk said earlier this month, adding that the military was operating with “complete impunity.”
More than 3,100 people have been killed in the military’s crackdown on dissent since the coup, according to a local monitoring group.
More than a million people have been displaced by fighting, according to the UN.
In December, the junta wrapped up a series of closed-court trials of Suu Kyi, jailing her for a total of 33 years in a process rights groups have condemned as a sham.


Voter turnout ticks up in Cuba legislative elections

Updated 27 March 2023

Voter turnout ticks up in Cuba legislative elections

  • Latest provisional figures show voter turnout stood at 70.33 percent
  • Modest increase from the 68.5 percent who voted in last November’s municipal elections

HAVANA: Cuba’s government managed to mobilize voters on Sunday for National Assembly elections, the results of which were a foregone conclusion, as it pushed back against a recent abstentionist trend in the communist-ruled nation.
As many as eight million eligible voters selected from the 470 candidates on the ballot — 263 women and 207 men — are vying for the 470 seats in the congress.
But what was really in play was the number of Cubans refusing to vote.
The opposition had called on citizens to abstain, with one opposition Twitter account branding the vote a farce.
Voting is not obligatory and abstention has risen steadily in recent years.
On Sunday the nation’s 23,648 polling stations closed at 7:00 p.m. (2300 GMT), an hour later than initially announced by authorities.
According to the latest provisional figures released by the National Election Council, as of 5:00 p.m. turnout stood at 70.33 percent.
That marked a modest increase from the 68.5 percent who voted in last November’s municipal elections, the lowest turnout since the island’s current electoral system was set up in 1976.
Last September about 74 percent of eligible Cubans voted in a referendum on a new family code, down from the 90 percent turnout in the 2019 referendum on a new constitution.
Cuba’s communist government does not allow opposition, so most parliamentary candidates are members of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC).
Candidates still must receive 50 percent of votes to be elected.
Voters had two choices: they could tick the names of any number of individual candidates, or they could select the “vote for all” option.
“I voted for the unified vote because, despite the needs, the difficulties that this country can have, I could not imagine” abstaining, Carlos Diego Herrera, a 54-year-old blacksmith in Havana, said.
He said abstaining would be like voting “for those that want to crush us, the Yankees.”
Washington has imposed sanctions on the island nation since 1962, three years after the communist revolution that saw Fidel Castro take power after overthrowing US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista.
Student Rachel Vega, 19, also said she voted for all candidates, considering it “a step forward right now” that would “improve the situation in the country.”
President Miguel Diaz-Canel is among the candidates, as is his predecessor, 91-year-old Raul Castro.
“With the united vote we defend the unity of the country, the unity of the revolution, our future, our socialist constitution,” said Diaz-Canel, 62, after voting in Santa Clara, 175 miles (280 kilometers) southeast of Havana.
The opposition scoffed at the turnout figures, with dissident Manuel Cuesta Morua of the Council for the Democratic Transition in Cuba warning about “the government’s electoral mathematics.”
“At 9am it reports that 18.2 percent of the electorate has voted. At 11am it says 41.66 percent — that is, in less than two hours the turnout increased by 23.46” points, he said on Twitter. “Impossible!!! The polling stations are empty.”
Final figures will be released Monday.


Saudi Arabia’s ‘vision and generosity are very well-suited’ to WHO’s work on global health issues, says WHO Foundation CEO

Updated 27 March 2023

Saudi Arabia’s ‘vision and generosity are very well-suited’ to WHO’s work on global health issues, says WHO Foundation CEO

  • Anil Soni says Middle East’s humanitarian and health crises need both ‘immediate assistance and long-term solutions’
  • Praises aid agency KSrelief’s ‘incredible model’ and Saudi Vision 2030’s focus on nonprofit efforts and philanthropy

LONDON: The WHO Foundation was set up in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic to marshal new resources from philanthropists, foundations, businesses, and individuals to support the World Health Organization’s mission. 

Both WHO, which is a specialized agency of the UN, and the WHO Foundation are based in Geneva but the latter is a non-profit, grant-making body that is legally independent from WHO.

Anil Soni joined as CEO with a 20-year track record of improving healthcare in poorer countries and a goal to raise $1 billion a year by 2023. He told Arab News, in a written interview, how his foundation supports and complements WHO’s efforts while respecting its intergovernmental nature.

WHO Foundation CEO Anil Soni. (Supplied)

Arab News: Can you describe how the WHO Foundation arranges support from donors and how the money is spent by WHO?

Anil Soni: The WHO Foundation’s purpose is to be a bridge between the lifesaving and vital work of WHO and the various communities that can help power that work through their engagement, partnership and of course, generosity.

We are raising resources from multiple partners from the private sector and beyond to help WHO deliver lifesaving medicines and supplies to people in need.

World challenges such as the Turkiye-Syria earthquakes, the food crisis in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa and the conflict in Ukraine are great examples of where we are facing crises that affect all of us and have to come together.

Such adversities cannot be tackled by any single sector alone. WHO is part of several international organizations of the United Nations, but the UN and the governments are not enough. We have to make sure we are collaborating with individuals and businesses too. 

Photo taken on June 10, 2012 shows Dr. Omar Saleh [2-L], the emergency coordinator for WHO in Somalia, attending to a young patient at a hospital in the Hudur region. (AFP file)

All contributions matter, even small ones, as these add up to enabling life-changing initiatives. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, we had a campaign called “Go Give One.” Five dollars bought a vaccine, the same amount of money that could go into buying a cup of coffee. Businesses and philanthropists were donating millions of dollars, and that’s important, but every single contribution counts.

In terms of how we mobilize the money, we do it in several ways. We are brokering catalytic, transformative ways of engaging with philanthropists and businesses looking for opportunities to contribute to change and be part of the solution.

In the case of the earthquakes that affected millions and led to more than 50,000 life losses (the biggest death toll in over a decade since the Haiti earthquake), WHO continues to procure and quickly deliver lifesaving tools in Turkiye and Syria.

One of our closest partners is Spotify. Spotify created an opportunity for its listeners to contribute to the relief efforts in Turkiye and Syria by helping direct individuals (Spotify users) to our donation webpage.

Each donation directly supports relief efforts for those affected, including mental health services, physical rehabilitation, medicines, and other tools or commodities needed to reduce the risk or respond to communicable diseases from poor access to hygiene, clean water, and health services.

Q: Aid agencies have been criticized over the perception of unfair aid distribution and assistance in earthquake-hit areas, particularly in relation to Syria and its different areas of control. How can aid in this complicated context be made more equitable? 

A: Often, people at risk and in need are in environments that are the subject of intense political debate or literally in the crossfire of conflict. This is one of the reasons why WHO’s work is so important, as it operates everywhere. It is a UN agency that is itself a collaboration between member states. Hence, all the world’s governments participate in the operations and governance of WHO.

INNUMBERS

501,000 People who died from tuberculosis in Africa in 2021.

43,000 Excess deaths caused by hunger and poor health in Somalia in 2022.

57,300 Deaths in Turkiye and Syria caused by Feb. 6 earthquakes.

Furthermore, WHO’s emergency teams are in all regions of the world, so they continue to operate in Syria through years of conflict and are one of the few that have done so. It is crucial not to be biased against people’s needs because of the nature of a political situation or conflict. Quite the opposite, this is about healthcare, delivering medical services, and doctors whose job is not to deal with politics but to ensure people in need receive adequate healthcare.

I was really inspired by Dr. Tedros (Adhanom Ghebreyesus), the head of WHO, who visited Syria last month. He was the first UN principal to enter northwest Syria in over a decade because of the conflict. In the first hours after the earthquakes, WHO distributed 183 metric tons of supplies to more than 200 health facilities inside northwest Syria from partner warehouses in Azaz and Idlib.

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (C) visits a shelter for people displaced by the disaster in Kafr Lusin near the Turkish border on March 1, 2023, during his first ever visit to rebel-held areas of war-ravaged Syria. (AFP)

Following this, WHO delivered 297 metric tons of emergency supplies and essential medicines to earthquake-affected areas of the country, allowing 3,705,000 treatments, including ones for trauma management, diabetes, and pneumonia.

Q. What are the main healthcare challenges facing the Middle East and North Africa region? How can mobilizing additional funding for WHO address these challenges? Can this go beyond monetary assistance to address the structural issues behind health inequality?

A: That’s the aspiration because otherwise, we will continue to face these emergencies and inequitable needs. The MENA region is striking at the moment because it is home to a number of simultaneous humanitarian and health crises that need both immediate assistance and long-term solutions.

Events such as the earthquakes in Turkiye and Syria, the conflict in Syria and the cholera outbreaks in Lebanon and Syria are acute and products of climate change or long-term dynamics that require sustained response and commitment.

The region now more than ever is uniquely positioned to support with its burgeoning economic prosperity among residents and the public and private sectors. It is vital to raise the necessary resources and awareness of how every single contribution plays a huge role in tackling humanitarian crises, which is what we do at the WHO Foundation.

A Syrian medic administers COVID-19 vaccine provided by the WHO and UNICEF to people in Syria's northeastern city of Qamishli on May 24, 2021. (AFP)

But equally important is the need to address the structural issues and the systemic reasons behind inequalities and fully leverage the resources of some of our partners. For example, we’re not just looking to our partners as a source of capital. We are also looking into how they can help us mobilize humanitarian efforts through their platform, talent, ability and own supplies.

I mentioned Spotify earlier. They helped us engage millions of listeners to gather resources to build up local health systems and become better prepared for emergency response.

So, part of what we’re trying to do in terms of raising those resources and brokering these partnerships is not just responding in the moment of an emergency but also ensuring that the underlying health systems are being built up, that there are community healthcare workers and adequate supplies.

We think about long-term financing and building systems strong enough to allow us to be agile in our response to an emergency or even help predict future crises (that is, potential disease outbreaks).

Q. How is the WHO Foundation helping to improve global preparedness? Does this apply merely to COVID-19 and readiness for future pandemics or does it include other emerging health threats (environmental, nutritional, etc.)? How can states like Saudi Arabia prepare?

A: WHO and the WHO Foundation work collaboratively and proactively to improve preparedness. For example, we are setting up emergency hubs in Kenya, Senegal, and South Africa to bolster health security across the African continent. This helps ensure lifesaving medical supplies and equipment are shipped within 24-48 hours of the declaration of an emergency, reducing deployment time by up to 60 days.

WHO Foundation CEO Anil Soni in Kenya. (Supplied). 

These regional emergency hubs work closely and cooperatively with governments for a joint emergency response, prepositioning of medical supplies and equipment, training facilities, and infectious diseases monitoring. But these emergency hubs are not limited to tending to diseases. They also help boost living quality, such as ensuring a continued supply of clean water to avoid risks of waterborne diseases like cholera.

WHO is always looking ahead, whether that’s analyzing trends in climate change or forecasting geopolitical outcomes, to anticipate better where our support will be most needed. We also work with governments and health leaders to help them navigate health crises their nation may have yet to experience.

Regarding Saudi Arabia, the vision and generosity of the Kingdom and its close collaboration with businesses and its people are very well-suited to this. As I understand it, particularly in the context of Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia is addressing how it can ensure that they recognize the interconnectedness between our well-being, the well-being of others, and the well-being of our neighbors. There’s a term in South Africa called “Ubuntu,” which means “I am because you are.”

It essentially recognizes interconnectedness and that the only way I will prosper is if I’m making sure that I’m being thoughtful about your needs because we depend on each other. I think this resonates with Saudi Arabia’s leadership role in the region and that supporting countries and communities inside and outside the Kingdom’s borders is essential to the welfare of the people in Saudi Arabia itself. 

Q. What is your opinion of Saudi Vision 2030’s Health Sector Transformation Program? Do you believe its focus on equitable and accessible health care coincides with the WHO Foundation’s own mission and values?

A: Similarly to Saudi Arabia’s Health Sector Transformation Program, the WHO Foundation believes in equitable and accessible healthcare. To speak more broadly in terms of the Vision 2030, there’s also a focus on nonprofit efforts and a culture of strategic philanthropy.

Infographic courtesy of Saudi Arabia's Vision2030 site

Even though there’s the government’s leadership, the rest of the nation is encouraged to contribute, including businesses and individuals, to addressing national challenges and fostering development. This idea of everyone playing a role in achieving goals is consistent with our mission at the WHO Foundation. 

We’ve had to react to so much these last years, such as a pandemic that much of the world didn’t predict, the effects of climate change even though it’s been brewing over time, and natural disasters that have periodicity and history.

If we look back, earthquakes and tsunamis have caused so much damage over the decades, and the question is, are we preparing for such catastrophic events? If all we’re doing is reacting and not preparing, the effects will be greater, and the loss will be unnecessary.

I say all of that because, when a government like Saudi Arabia works backward all the way from 2030, proactively and not just reactively, it sets an important lesson for all of us and demonstrates how much progress we could make by simply being prepared.

Displaced Yemenis receive medical treatment at a health clinic run by Saudi Arabia's KSrelief in Yemen's war-ravaged western province of Hodeida, on February 24, 2021. (AFP)

Q. What is the WHO Foundation’s assessment of Saudi Arabia’s role in supporting nations in the wider region, including the medical interventions of KSrelief? Does the Kingdom have a greater role to play in future humanitarian and disaster responses?

A: KSrelief is an incredible model, and we’re learning a lot from the existing collaboration between KSrelief, WHO and other international humanitarian partners. The generosity of KSrelief has been tremendous, but it’s not just about the number of dollars; they’re also thoughtful about the quality of aid and the policy frameworks necessary to ensure the positive impact intended. We want to replicate and build from this type of partnership and engagement.

Q. In what ways does the WHO Foundation want to mobilize greater private capital and public-private partnerships to advance the mission of WHO in Saudi Arabia and the wider region?

A: A part of what we are trying to do at the WHO Foundation is help stakeholders in Saudi and other countries in the region understand the critical role WHO plays. Though it was prominent throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, WHO is not just about responding to the pandemic; it responds to various emergencies; it’s operating in settings other agencies are not; it’s thinking and preparing for future emergencies.

Last month, WHO released its Global Health Emergency Appeals, enhancing preparedness and response to 54 ongoing health emergencies. And, of course, there’s all the normative work of WHO, the degree to which it acts as the world’s FDA, CDC, and NIH. 

Yemeni children receive treatment at a hospital in the capital Sanaa on October 11, 2016 during a cholera outbreak confirmed by the World Heath Organization. (AFP)

We hope that by raising awareness and amplifying the understanding of WHO and its initiatives, we can engage the tremendous generosity of the region and mobilize regional stakeholders to help WHO achieve its humanitarian goals.

Philanthropy is a key tenet of Islam. What role can zakat play in the WHO Foundation’s fundraising work in the region?

A: I’ve been so blessed to have had the opportunity of getting to know different communities and faiths around the world and be inspired by different ones. Zakat is very inspiring and something I practice in my life. Even though I am a Hindu and an American, I allocate 5 percent of my income after tax to charity and to civic causes every year.

While zakat and sadaqah are particular elements of the Muslim faith, there’s great consistency between zakat and sadaqah and tithing. This culture of giving presents a tremendous opportunity to fund gaps in global humanitarian health crises and ensure help is directed to where it is most needed. I think the tradition of giving in faiths can inspire greater philanthropy, generosity, and collaboration in the future.

 


Ukraine demands emergency UN meeting over Putin nuclear plan

Updated 26 March 2023

Ukraine demands emergency UN meeting over Putin nuclear plan

  • Putin said his plan was triggered by a UK decision this past week to provide Ukraine with armor-piercing rounds containing depleted uranium

KYIV: Ukraine’s government on Sunday called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to “counter the Kremlin’s nuclear blackmail” after Russian President Vladimir Putin revealed plans to station tactical atomic weapons in Belarus.
One Ukrainian official said Russia “took Belarus as a nuclear hostage.”
Further heightening tensions, an explosion deep inside Russia wounded three people Sunday. Russian authorities blamed a Ukrainian drone for the blast, which damaged residential buildings in a town just 175 kilometers (110 miles) south of Moscow.
Russia has said the plan to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus comes in response to the West’s increasing military support for Ukraine. Putin announced the plan in a TV interview that aired Saturday, saying it was triggered by a UK decision this past week to provide Ukraine with armor-piercing rounds containing depleted uranium.
Putin argued that by deploying its tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, Russia was following the lead of the United States. He noted that Washington has nuclear weapons based in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkiye.
“We are doing what they have been doing for decades, stationing them in certain allied countries, preparing the launch platforms and training their crews,” he said.
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry condemned the move in a statement Sunday and demanded an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.
“Ukraine expects effective action to counter the Kremlin’s nuclear blackmail by the UK, China, the US and France,” the statement read, saying these countries “have a special responsibility” regarding nuclear aggression.
“The world must be united against someone who endangers the future of human civilization,” the statement said.
Ukraine has not commented on Sunday’s explosion inside Russia. It left a crater about 15 meters (50 feet) in diameter and five meters deep (16 feet), according to media reports.
Russian state-run news agency Tass reported authorities identified the drone as a Ukrainian Tu-141. The Soviet-era drone was reintroduced in Ukraine in 2014, and has a range of about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles).
The explosion took place in the town of Kireyevsk in the Tula region, about 300 kilometers (180 miles) from the border with Ukraine. Russia’s Defense Ministry said the drone crashed after an electronic jamming system disabled its navigation.
Similar drone attacks have been common during the war, although Ukraine hardly ever acknowledges responsibility. On Monday, Russia said Ukrainian drones attacked civilian facilities in the town of Dzhankoi in Russia-annexed Crimea. Ukraine’s military said several Russian cruise missiles were destroyed, but did not specifically claim responsibility.
In December, the Russian military reported several Ukrainian drone attacks on long-range bomber bases deep inside Russia. The Russian Defense Ministry said the drones were shot down, but acknowledged that their debris damaged some aircraft and killed several servicemen.
Also, Russian authorities have reported attacks by small drones in the Bryansk and Belgorod regions on the border with Ukraine.
On Saturday, Putin argued that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has long asked to have nuclear weapons in his country again to counter NATO. Belarus shares borders with three NATO members — Latvia, Lithuania and Poland — and Russia used Belarusian territory as a staging ground to send troops into neighboring Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.
Both Lukashenko’s support of the war and Putin’s plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus has been denounced by the Belarusian opposition.
Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, tweeted Sunday that Putin’s announcement was “a step toward internal destabilization” of Belarus that maximized “the level of negative perception and public rejection” of Russia and Putin in Belarusian society. The Kremlin, Danilov added, “took Belarus as a nuclear hostage.”
Tactical nuclear weapons are intended for use on the battlefield and have a short range and a low yield compared with much more powerful nuclear warheads fitted to long-range missiles. Russia plans to maintain control over the ones it sends to Belarus, and construction of storage facilities for them will be completed by July 1, Putin said.
Russia has stored its tactical nuclear weapons at dedicated depots on its territory, and moving part of the arsenal to a storage facility in Belarus would up the ante in the Ukrainian conflict by placing them closer to Russian aircraft and missiles already stationed there.
The US said it would “monitor the implications” of Putin’s announcement. So far, Washington hasn’t seen “any indications Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon,” National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said.
In Germany, the foreign ministry called it a “further attempt at nuclear intimidation,” German news agency dpa reported late Saturday. The ministry went on to say that “the comparison drawn by President Putin to NATO’s nuclear participation is misleading and cannot be used to justify the step announced by Russia.”