​‘They’ll ridicule us’: Ukraine defense minister ‘claims’ Russia used nukes

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A reported claim by Ukraine’s Defense minister that Russia used tactical nuclear weapons against his troops sparked sarcastic comments from Moscow and criticism from the rival Ukrainian Interior Ministry.

The allegations, by Col. Gen. Valery Geletey, were first reported by Roman Bochkala, one of the Ukrainian journalists accompanying the minister in his recent trip to Poland.

“So Russia did use tactical nuclear weapons against Ukrainian troops,” the journalist wrote on his Facebook page, citing Geletey’s words.

The nuclear weapons in question are rounds for 2S4 Tyulpan self-propelled mortars. The journalist reported the minister as saying that Russia supplied some of those to rebel forces and used at least two 3-kiloton nuclear rounds in the battle for Lugansk airport.

“If it were not for the Tyulpans, we could have been holding the airport for months and nobody would have ousted us from it,” the general was cited as saying.

Ukraine's Defense Minister Valery Geletey (RIA Novosti)

The allegations understandably provoked a small media storm in Ukraine and even comments from the Russian Defense Ministry, which expressed doubt that a general could actually have said it.

If the minister did say all that, the Russians joked, then “the Ukrainian security service should investigate what the Polish friends slipped into Geletey’s glass.”

“Speaking seriously, Geletey’s habit of justifying the failures of the punitive operation in southeastern Ukraine with the alleged actions of the Russian armed forces start to resemble paranoia,” the Russian ministry added.

And ever-sarcastic Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who supervises Russian defense and security, tweeted a picture of Geletey with his hands stretched out saying: “they nuked us with a bomb this big.”

The Ukrainian general himself later denied the nuclear allegations, saying that the journalist had misinterpreted his words.

“Everyone knows that Russia is de facto using Ukrainian territory as a testing range for its new weapons,” Geletey wrote on his Facebook page. “What else than for testing did the Russians send 2S4s into our territory?”

“I stress that only competent specialists armed with special equipment may test whether or not a nuclear or any other weapon that we don’t know of was used. In particular they need to take radiation samples on the ground. Unfortunately, we cannot do that because Lugansk airport is currently under control of the terrorists and the Russian military,” he added.

The minister apparently is not completely honest, since direct access is not required to collect evidence of a nuclear detonation, even a small one. For instance, North Korea’s underground nuclear tests were independently proven to be genuine thanks to surveillance planes and monitoring stations equipped with radioactive isotope detectors.

Ukraine's Interior Minister Arsen Avakov (RIA Novosti / Alexandr Maksimenko)

The 2S4 mortar can hardly be called new as well, even if Geletey bothered to provide any evidence of its presence in eastern Ukraine. Russia, or rather the Soviet Union, stopped producing them in 1988, although some remain in service. Other countries in possession of the weapon include Iraq, Libya and the Czech Republic, although it’s not immediately clear whether any of theirs remain in working order.

If anything, the defense minister and the journalist, who misreported his words, have given ammo to critics of Ukraine, saidAnton Gerashchenko, an aide to Interior Minister Arsen Avakov.

“Why would anyone make such statements that can be easily checked and proven false?” he wrote on his Facebook page. “In the end Russia and the entire world will now ridicule us. Too bad, it’s nothing new for us.”

The two Ukrainian ministries involved in the military campaign against rebel forces in the east have been trading accusations lately. The latest round of bickering this week came after Geletey said in an interview that “there were no real heroes” among the commanders of the Interior Ministry’s National Guard, who are now seeking seats in parliament. Avakov responded with a demand for an apology from his fellow minister.