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Russia’s defense chief alleged that Ukraine was planning a “provocation” involving a radioactive device, a claim that has been strongly denied by US, UK and Ukrainian officials.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made the allegations in phone calls with his counterparts in the United States, Britain, France and Turkey.

The Russian Defense Ministry said Mr Shoigu had expressed concern about “possible Ukrainian provocations involving a ‘dirty bomb'”, a device that uses explosives to scatter radioactive waste over a wide area.

Russian authorities have repeatedly advanced allegations that Ukraine may detonate a dirty bomb in a false flag attack and blame Moscow.

The Ukrainian authorities, in turn, accused the Kremlin of developing such a plan.

British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace firmly rejected Mr Shoigu’s request and warned Moscow against using it as a pretext for escalation.

The United Kingdom and the United States rejected Russia’s request.(AP: Ukrainian Operational Command South)

The UK Ministry of Defense noted that Mr Shoigu, in a call with Mr Wallace, “alleged that Ukraine was planning actions facilitated by Western countries, including the UK, to escalate the conflict by Ukraine”.

“The Secretary of Defense has refuted these claims and warned that such allegations should not be used as a pretext for further escalation,” the department said.

The United States also rejected Mr Shoigu’s “patently false allegations”, White House National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said in a statement.

“The world would see through any attempt to use this allegation as a pretext for escalation.”

In a televised address on Sunday evening, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy suggested that Moscow was preparing the ground itself to deploy a radioactive device on Ukrainian soil.

“If Russia calls and says Ukraine is supposed to prepare something, it only means one thing: Russia has already prepared everything,” Zelenskyy said.

“Uncontrollable Escalation”

The mention of the dirty bomb threat in Mr. Shoigu’s calls seems to indicate that the threat of such an attack has reached an unprecedented level.

The French Armed Forces Ministry said Mr Shoigu had told his counterpart, Sébastien Lecornu, that the situation in Ukraine was rapidly worsening and “tending to an uncontrollable escalation”.

People walk on the rubble of a building.
Russia builds defensive positions in occupied areas.(PA: Emilio Morenatti)

“There seems to be a shared feeling that tensions have approached the level that could increase the real threat to all,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, the head of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, a Moscow-based group. best specialists in foreign affairs.

The rise in tensions comes as Russian authorities reported the construction of defensive positions in occupied areas of Ukraine and border regions of Russia.

This reflects fears that Ukrainian forces could attack along new sections of the 1,000 kilometer front line of the war, which enters its ninth month on Monday.

In recent weeks, Ukraine has focused its counter-offensive mainly on the Kherson region.

Their relentless artillery strikes cut off major crossing points on the Dnipro River, which cut the southern region in two, leaving Russian troops on the western bank short of supplies and vulnerable to encirclement.

Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Russian-installed regional administration in Kherson, said in a radio interview on Sunday that Russian defensive lines “have been strengthened and the situation has remained stable.”

The region is one of four that Russian President Vladimir Putin illegally annexed last month and brought under Russian martial law on Thursday.

The city of Kherson has been in Russian hands since the early days of the war, but Ukrainian forces have made progress in reclaiming it.

About 20,000 Kherson residents have moved to places on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River, the Kremlin-backed regional administration reported.

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Residents are slowly returning to looted towns in eastern Ukraine.(Greg Jennett)

Ukraine’s military said on Sunday that the Russian army had also withdrawn its officers from areas of the West Bank, leaving newly mobilized and inexperienced forces.

The Ukrainian claim could not be independently verified.

As Ukraine heads south after liberating the northern Kharkiv region last month, authorities in Russia’s western provinces bordering northeast Ukraine appeared nervous.

The governor of Russia’s Kursk region, Roman Starovoit, said on Sunday that two defensive lines had been built and a third would be completed by November 5.

Defensive lines have also been established in the Belgorod region, Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said.

Russia builds defenses to slow Ukrainian advance

A Ukrainian soldier reacts to fire from a self-propelled artillery vehicle.
Analysts say Russia’s targeting of power plants was partly aimed at damaging morale.(PA: LIBKOS)

Other defensive positions were being built in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine, said Yevgeny Prigozhin, a millionaire Russian businessman who owns the Wagner Group, a mercenary military company that has played a leading role in the war.

Mr Prigozhin said his company was building a “Wagner line” in the Luhansk region, another of the Ukrainian provinces Mr Putin illegally annexed last month.

Mr Prigozhin released images last week showing a section of newly constructed defenses and trench systems southeast of the city of Kreminna.

Britain’s Ministry of Defense said on Sunday that “the draft suggests that Russia is making a significant effort to prepare defenses in depth behind the current front line which are likely to deter any swift Ukrainian counter-offensive.”

Russian forces captured Luhansk several months ago.

Pro-Moscow separatists declared independent republics in the region and neighboring Donetsk eight years ago, and Mr Putin made control of both provinces a goal at the start of the war.

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Russia launches new massive strikes on Ukrainian power grid.