Ukraine Latest: Putin Plans to Station Nuclear Arms in Belarus

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(Bloomberg) -- Vladimir Putin said Russia is preparing to station tactical nuclear weapons in neighboring Belarus, escalating a confrontation with the US and its allies. The Russian president said storing the weapons there won’t breach its non-proliferation obligations.

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The head of the UN’s nuclear agency will travel to the Zaporizhzhia plant in the coming week, the International Atomic Energy Agency said on its website. It will be the second time Rafael Mariano Grossi has crossed the front line in Ukraine to reach the facility, occupied by Russia for the past year.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, during a phone call with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, “highlighted the importance Turkey attaches to the immediate cessation of the Russia-Ukraine conflict through negotiation,” according to a readout from Ankara.

Key Developments

  • Ukraine Official Creditors Extend Freeze to 2027 Amid IMF Loan

  • Germany Wants EU To Place End-User Controls On Sanctioned Tech

  • Russia Seeks 400,000 More Recruits as Latest Ukraine Push Stalls

  • Credit Suisse, UBS Among Banks in DOJ Russia-Sanctions Probe

  • Putin Says Russia Will Station Tactical Nuclear Arms in Belarus

(All times CET)

Putin Says Russia Will Station Tactical Nuclear Arms in Belarus (6:52 p.m.)

President Vladimir Putin said Russia is preparing to station tactical nuclear weapons in neighboring Belarus, escalating a confrontation with the US and its allies over the war in Ukraine.

Moscow isn’t handing control of the weapons to Belarus, and won’t be in breach of its non-proliferation obligations under an agreement with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Putin said in comments broadcast on state television Saturday.

IAEA’s Grossi Will Travel to Zaporizhzhia Atomic Plant Next week (6 p.m.)

Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, will travel to Europe’s largest nuclear power plant next week, his second time crossing the front line to reach the facility, the agency said on its web site.

Grossi plans to “assess first-hand the serious nuclear safety and security situation at the facility,” occupied by Russia since the earliest days of the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine.

In a statement, Grossi said he wants “to see for myself how the situation has evolved since September, and to talk to those operating the facility in these unprecedented and very difficult circumstances.” The IAEA has had expert teams on site at Zaporizhzhia since that initial visit, yet Grossi described the situation there was “still precarious.”

Russian Army Shells Humanitarian Aid Station in Kherson (3:25 p.m)

Russian troops shelled a humanitarian aid distribution point in Kherson, leaving two people hospitalized with shrapnel wounds, the state regional administration said on Telegram.

The incident comes a day after a Russian missile destroyed a “point of invincibility” — a location set up by Ukraine’s government to provide free basic services to residents — in the city of Kostyantynivka in eastern Ukraine. The strike killed five, including three elderly women.

Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s chief of staff said on Telegram that Chasiv Yar and Toretsk, near Bakhmut in the Donetsk region were shelled by Russia with one fatality reported in each town.

Erdogan Urges ‘Immediate Cessation’ of Conflict (1 p.m.)

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke by phone with Vladimir Putin, thanking Russia’s president for helping to facilitate another extension of the Black Sea safe-transit deal for Ukrainian grain exports, according to a readout from Ankara.

Erdogan highlighted the importance of “the immediate cessation” of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine through negotiations, according the readout.

A Kremlin readout made no reference to efforts to end the war in Ukraine. Russia said the pair also discussed Syria, and normalization process of Syria-Turkey relations.

Zelenskiy Chief of Staff Warns Not to Soften on Sanctions (12:59 p.m.)

Hours after Poland’s prime minister said there’s waning interest in parts of Europe about imposing additional sanctions on Moscow, Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s chief of staff warned against wavering resolve.

“There must be no softening for sanctions against Russia,” Andriy Yermak wrote on Twitter and Telegram, saying that “severe sanctions provide security” and that there must be no “manipulations” on the subject of food security.

“We need to expand sanctions and to approach in detail the issue of firms used by the enemy to find ways, albeit complicated, to get components for weapon production,” Yermak posted in Ukrainian.

Germany Wants EU To Place End-User Controls On Sanctioned Tech (12:13 p.m.)

Germany wants EU nations to introduce end-user controls on technological and electronic goods that Russia could be using for military purposes in Ukraine, the country’s economy minister said. It’s part of the EU focus on clamping down on the circumvention of ten rounds of sanctions on Russia.

“We have looked at the export data for many states of the former Soviet Union, and many of the countries bordering Russia,” Robert Habeck told reporters in Copenhagen. “It is very, very striking with the movement of lorries over the years, and all of a sudden it has quadrupled since the beginning of the sanctions.”

Polish PM Says Appetite for Fresh Sanctions Waning (10:46 a.m.)

Mateusz Morawiecki said the appetite for an 11th round of EU sanctions against Russia is waning in some European capitals as the focus turns to fully implementing measures imposed in the ten previous rounds.

Nevertheless, the Polish prime minister told Radio RMF that an 11th round of measures against Moscow was still possible within two months, and that he’s “optimistic” the bloc will ramp them up.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has repeatedly called for more sanctions against Russia, including on Thursday during a speech by video link to an EU leaders. “The protraction with new European sanctions packages is becoming unpleasant,” Zelenskiy said.

Ukraine Plans to Double Oil Transit Fee, Kommersant Reports (9:30 a.m.)

Ukraine plans to double its transit fee for Russian oil that passes through its territory in the Druzhba pipeline to eastern Europe, Kommersant reported, citing sources it didn’t identify.

The proposal would increase the tariff as of April 1 to €27.20 per ton ($29.30) through the pipeline’s southern branch, which delivers oil to Hungary, Slovakia and Czech Republic, the newspaper reported. Ukrtransnafta JSC blamed the increase on the cost of repairing infrastructure damaged by Russian missile strikes, it said.

Russian Assault on Bakhmut ‘Largely Stalled,’ UK Says (8 a.m.)

The Kremlin’s months-long assault on Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine “has largely stalled” as a result of “extreme attrition” in Russian forces there, the UK defense ministry said, adding that Kyiv’s forces have also suffered heavy casualties.

The situation has also likely been made worse by tensions between Russia’s defense ministry and the Wagner mercenary group, both of whom contribute troops to the effort to take the Donestsk town, the ministry said in a Twitter thread.

Russia has likely shifted its focus toward Avdiivka, south of Bakhmut, and to the Kremina-Svatove sector in the north, aspiring mostly to stabilize its front line, the UK said. The Institute for the Study of War, a US-based think tank, said Russian forces conducted limited attacks along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kremina line on Friday.

Zelenskiy Says Counteroffensive Timing Dependent on Weapons Donations (7 a.m.)

Ukraine’s army is unable to start a new offensive against Russia in the nation’s east because of a shortage of necessary weapons, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told Japan’s largest newspaper.

“We can’t launch [a counteroffensive] yet. Without tanks, artillery and HIMARS, we cannot send our brave soldiers to the front lines,” Zelenskiy told the Yomiuri Shinbun, according to the Russian news agency Tass.

He also again noted Ukraine’s shortage of ammunition, hammering home a point made repeatedly.

Ukraine Creditors Extend Freeze to 2027 (12:30 a.m.)

Ukraine’s group of official creditors have extended a debt repayment standstill until 2027, while the war-ravaged country receives an emergency aid program under the International Monetary Fund.

The agreement came among other financing assurances given Thursday by the group, a key step to unlocking billions of dollars the nation needs to weather Russia’s invasion, now in its second year.

The creditor plan follows an IMF staff-level agreement secured earlier this week for a $15.6 billion package, setting up the first loan to a nation at war in the institution’s 77-year history.

Read more: Ukraine Official Creditors Extend Freeze to 2027 Amid IMF Loan

Biden Downplays Significance of Deepening Russia-China Ties (10:25 p.m.)

President Joe Biden said he “doesn’t take lightly” the prospect of a growing alliance between China and Russia but countered that the US is making gains in strengthening international opposition to Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.

“We have significantly expanded our alliances. I haven’t seen that happen with China and Russia or anybody else in the world,” Biden said Friday, days after visit by Chinese leader Xi Jinping to Putin in Moscow that saw the two nations pledge to deepen ties.

Russia Seeks 400,000 More Recruits (4:45 p.m.)

The Kremlin has dialed back plans for a further offensive in Ukraine this spring after failing to gain much ground and will focus on blunting a new push by Kyiv’s forces expected to begin soon.

The Kremlin is seeking to sign up as many as 400,000 contract soldiers this year to replenish its ranks, according to people familiar with the planning who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss matters that aren’t public.

Read more: Russia Seeks 400,000 More Recruits as Latest Ukraine Push Stalls

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