US Defense Chief Warns About Potential Nuclear Spiral

(Bloomberg) — Powerful blasts shook the area of ​​Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant over the past day, including more than a dozen on Sunday morning, the UN’s atomic agency said. Some buildings and systems have been damaged, but none critically so far.

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Russian special services plan “provocations” on targets in Belarus, including the Ostrovets nuclear power plant near the Lithuanian border, Ukraine’s defense intelligence said. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin warned of a potential “dangerous spiral of nuclear proliferation” spinning off from Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nears the nine-month mark, a top aide to President Volodymyr Zelensky said holding talks with Moscow now would be “capitulation.” UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a new air defense package for Ukraine after traveling to Kyiv on Saturday.

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Key Developments

  • Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Atomic Site Damaged by Powerful Blasts

  • Ukrainians Endure Widespread Blackouts After Russia’s Attacks

  • Sunak Visits Ukraine to Offer Major UK Air Defense Package

  • UK Skeptical on Macron Call for Talks, Says Ukraine Must Decide

  • Kazakhstan Vote Sets Stage for Putin Ally to Move Past Riots

On the Ground

Russian forces fired missiles at civilian infrastructure in Kramatorsk and Sviatohirsk in the northern Donetsk region over the past day, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in an update. Four missile strikes, almost sixty multiple rocket launcher attacks and one aerial bombardment were made. Kyiv’s forces repelled Russian attacks in Bilohorivka in the Luhansk region and settlements including Spirne and Bakhmutin in the Donetsk region. Moscow’s troops are bolstering defenses and supply lines near Kryvyi Rih in central Ukraine and Kherson, and continue shelling Ukrainian forces on the recaptured right bank of the Dnipro River. Russian units that withdrew from Kherson this month are being redeployed to Luhansk, Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia, according to the Institute for the Study of War.

(All times CET)

Ukraine FM Calls for Ban on Russian ‘Propaganda’ (5:20 pm)

Ukraine’s foreign minister called for a ban on “Russian state propaganda in the EU and elsewhere.”

In a tweet, Dmytro Kuleba said commentators on Russian state television were inciting “genocide” by admitting that a campaign to bomb critical Ukrainian infrastructure was meant “to inflict unbearable conditions on the lives of civilians.”

Some 50% of Ukraine’s electricity systems have been damaged by a weeks-long campaign of Russian missiles and drone strikes.

Macron Speaks with IAEA’s Grossi After Zaporizhzhia Blasts (4:30 pm)

French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, on Sunday after blasts shook the area of ​​Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, according to a statement from the Elysee presidential palace.

Macron will speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday, the statement said. The French leader has suggested that Ukraine look to restart talks with Moscow.

Finland, Poland Urge Using Russian Assets to Help Ukraine (4 pm)

Finland and Poland will push for the assets of Russia that have been frozen by the European Union to be used to help rebuild Ukraine.

The two countries plan to raise the issue at the DATE European Council meeting and will push the European Commission to find a legal way to use the assets to help reconstruct Ukraine, Prime Ministers Sanna Marin and Mateusz Morawiecki told a joint news conference in Helsinki.

UN Agency Cites ‘Powerful’ Blasts at Atomic Plant, No Critical Damage (12:30 pm)

“Powerful explosions” shook the area of ​​the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine, the UN’s atomic agency said, adding that there had been no critical damage so far.

Ukrainian forces fired on the plant, Russian state media reported, citing an official from Russia’s nuclear power operator. There was no comment from Kyiv. Moscow and Kyiv have traded blame for months of sporadic shelling of the facility.

“Whoever is behind this, it must stop immediately,” said Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Ukraine Warns of Russian Provocations in Belarus (11:30 am)

Russia plans to stage “provocations” on key Belarusian infrastructure, including the Ostrovets nuclear power plant in the northwest, and blame Kyiv and NATO countries, Ukraine’s defense intelligence agency warned.

“The location of the alleged ‘incidents’ is the territory bordering EU countries and Ukraine — in particular, the Grodno and Brest regions,” the agency said on its website.

There was no comment from Russia. The Ostrovets plant is located about 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania.

German Agency Says Winter Blackouts May Be Needed (12 pm)

Germany’s top civil protection authority warned of potential temporary regional power outages in winter, with risks increasing from January and February.

“The cause will not only be energy shortages, but also the targeted, temporary shutdown of the grids by the operators, with the aim of protecting the grids and not endangering the overall supply,” Ralph Tiesler, president of the Federal Office for Civil Protection , told Welt am Sonntag.

Europe’s largest economy is at the center of the region’s energy crisis after Russia cut natural gas shipments in retaliation for sanctions over the war in Ukraine. The government has been reluctant to say whether power cuts might be necessary this winter.

Aide Says Negotiating With Russia Would Be ‘Capitulation’ (10:15 am)

A top aide to President Volodymyr Zelensky pushed back on attempts by allies to persuade Ukraine to negotiate with Moscow, saying such talks would be “capitulation.”

“When you have the initiative on the battlefield, it’s slightly bizarre to receive proposals like: ‘you will not be able to do everything by military means anyway,'” Mykhaylo Podoliak told AFP in an interview.

Podoliak laid out a wish list for new arms deliveries from Western allies, including 50 to 70 multiple rocket launcher systems, 200 tanks, and 100 artillery systems.

Zelensky Focused on Donetsk in Military Advisers’ Meeting (9:30 am)

Zelensky met Saturday with top military and intelligence advisers. The situation in Donetsk — where Russia is reportedly relocating troops who have been evacuated from the Kherson region as well as new conscripts — was in focus, according to a posting on the presidential website.

Other topics included the restoration of energy supplies in newly de-occupied territories, and the overall situation with Ukraine’s energy system after a month of Russian airstrikes on key facilities.

Russian Retreat From Kherson More Orderly, UK Says (8am)

Withdrawal of Russian troops from west of Kherson was “conducted in relatively good order compared to previous major Russian retreats during the war,” the UK defense ministry said.

Vehicle losses by Kremlin forces could probably be counted in the tens rather than the hundreds, the ministry said in a Twitter thread.

The relative success “is likely partially due to a more effective, single operational command under General Sergei Surovikin,” who was appointed in early October to lead Russia’s efforts in Ukraine.

Putin Ally Favored in Kazakh Presidential Vote (6:26 am)

The Central Asian state of Kazakhstan holds a presidential election on Sunday, with the incumbent, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, expected to romp to victory without meaningful opposition.

An ally of President Vladimir Putin, who sent in troops to help crush protests earlier in the year, Tokayev has nevertheless been openly defiant of the Russian leader over the war in Ukraine.

Read more: Kazakh Vote Sets Stage for Putin Ally to Move Past Riots, Purges

US Defense Chief Warns of Possible ‘Nuclear Spiral’ (11 pm)

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin warned of a potential “dangerous spiral of nuclear proliferation” as a by-product of Russia’s war in Ukraine, but said NATO wouldn’t be “dragged into Putin’s war of choice.”

“Russia’s invasion offers a preview of a possible world of tyranny and turmoil,” Austin said Saturday at the Halifax International Security Forum in Canada. “It’s an invitation to an increasingly insecure world haunted by the shadow of nuclear proliferation.”

The Russian president’s “fellow autocrats are watching. And they could well conclude that getting nuclear weapons would give them a hunting license of their own,” Austin said.

Iran, Russia in Deal on Drone Production: Washington Post (5:30 p.m.)

Vladimir Putin’s government reached an agreement with Tehran to start manufacturing Iranian-designed drones on Russian soil, the Washington Post reported, citing intelligence seen by US and Western officials.

The deal was inked during a meeting in Iran in early November and the countries are moving ahead rapidly to transfer designs and key components with an eye to starting production within three months, the newspaper reported.

Five More Ships Sail Under Black Sea Initiative (5:30 pm)

Five vessels left Ukrainian ports on Saturday carrying a total of 244,143 tons of grains and other food products, the Black Sea Grain Initiative’s coordination center said.

Among the cargoes was one carrying 62,843 tons of sunflower meal for China. Others carried wheat and corn to South Korea, rapeseed to Belgium, and soybeans to Egypt.

Sunak Meets With Zelensky, Offers Air Defense (2:30 pm)

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Saturday made his first visit to Kyiv since taking office in October to affirm the UK’s continued support for Ukraine’s war efforts.

The UK will provide air defense equipment worth £50 million ($59 million) to help protect Ukrainians from a barrage of Russian strikes on critical infrastructure.

In a Facebook post, Ukraine’s president said the pair discussed “the most important issues both for our countries and for global security.”

Read more: Sunak Visits Ukraine to Offer Major UK Air Defense Package

First Kyiv-Kherson Train Arrives (2 pm)

The first train from Kyiv to Kherson since Russia’s invasion in February arrived early Saturday, carrying some 200 passengers, days after Ukrainian troops wrested the southeastern city from Moscow’s control.

“This is our victory train!” Kyrylo Tymoshenko, an official with the Ukrainian presidential office, said on Telegram.

US to Allocate Up to $20 Million to Buy Ukraine’s Grain (1:49 pm)

The US, through USAID, has become the first country to back a Ukrainian initiative for developed countries to purchase its grain for countries in need, said Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called in his address to the G20 this week to fund new shipments of grain around the anniversary of the 1930s Holodomor famine, orchestrated by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to punish farmers in Ukraine who resisted collective farms. An estimated 7 million people died in the famine.

Russia Plans More ‘Covert Mobilization Efforts,’ ISW Says (11:30 am)

Russian officials “are preparing for further covert mobilization efforts” to shore up troop numbers, according to the Institute for the Study of War.

Telegram channels in Russia have discussed indicators that the Kremlin is preparing for a second mobilization wave, the US-based military analysts said in an update. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Oct. 31 declared a formal end to the Kremlin’s earlier partial mobilization.

An image was circulated of a draft summons to a man in St. Petersburg reportedly told to report for service in January. Russian “milbloggers” also circulated claims that general mobilization will begin in December or January, ISW said, adding that “it is evident that Russian authorities never fully halted mobilization efforts.”

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