The Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that after more than 15 months of war in Ukraine, the long-awaited Ukrainian counteroffensive has begun, and that Russia will transfer tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus next month.

“We can say with certainty that this offensive has begun,” Putin was quoted by the Russian Interfax news agency as telling reporters on Friday.

Putin stated that there had been heavy fighting for five days, and that the Ukrainians hadn’t achieved their objectives on any sector of the front.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin told his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko on Friday that Russia will transfer tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus next month.

Putin said in televised remarks at the meeting in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi that the storage facilities in Belarus will be completed by the seventh or eighth of July, allowing the transfer of weapons to begin.

Putin announced in March that he would deploy weapons to Belarus for the first time, intensifying a confrontation with the United States and its NATO allies, who have sent Ukraine billions of dollars in weapons to help it fight the Russian invasion.

Putin insists the Kremlin is sticking to its commitments to nuclear non-proliferation by committing to arms control, though Russia has trained Belarusian forces to store and use special tactical munitions for short-range Iskander missiles as part of the initiative.

On Friday, the United States announced the provision of new military aid to Ukraine, including air defense equipment and ammunition, worth $2.1 billion.

“This move underscores Ukraine’s continued commitment to both Ukraine’s near-term critical capabilities and the enduring capabilities of the Ukrainian Armed Forces to defend its territory and fight against Russian aggression in the long term,” the Pentagon said in a statement on its website.

The new aid includes additional ammunition for Patriot air defense systems, Hawk air defense systems and missiles, and 105 mm and 203 mm artillery shells.

In addition to the Puma unmanned aerial systems and ammunition for the laser-guided missile system, in addition to supporting training and maintenance activities, according to the same statement.

The United States will also continue to support training as well as maintenance and support activities for Ukrainian forces.

The Pentagon concluded by saying, “The United States will continue to work with its allies and partners to provide Ukraine with the capabilities to meet its immediate battlefield needs and long-term security assistance requirements”.

In a related context, the International Court of Justice announced that it had accepted requests from 32 member states of the United Nations to participate in the “genocide case” brought by Ukraine against Russia.

The main judicial body of the United Nations said, in a statement, that it “has decided to accept applications for participation from 32 countries in the case relating to allegations of genocide under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide”.

Besides the members of the European Union, countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand are also among the countries whose participation applications have been accepted, according to the statement.

The court asked countries (not all of them mentioned) that had accepted their applications to participate in the case to submit written observations by July 5.

On February 26, Ukraine filed a lawsuit against Russia over a dispute over the interpretation, application and implementation of the Genocide Convention.

On March 18, 2022, Moscow rejected an order issued by the International Court of Justice to stop the Russian military operation in Ukraine.

“We cannot pay any attention to this ruling,” Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for the Russian presidency, said at the time.

Peskov added, “Moscow cannot agree with the court’s order, and will not take it into account”.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has expressed concern over the decrease in cooling water available to the Zaporizhia nuclear plant in Ukraine after the Kakhovka Dam in the nearby Dnipro River was blown up.

The IAEA said it was “carefully monitoring the condition of the dam surrounding the Great Cooling Basin due to the increasing pressure caused by the massive loss of water on its other side”.

The Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, said on Friday that the agency, which has deployed observers at the Russian-occupied Zaporizhia nuclear plant, is closely monitoring the situation.

The explosion of the Kakhovka Dam in the southern Kherson region on Tuesday caused huge amounts of water to flow, flooding many Ukrainian and Russian-occupied regions.

Huge amounts of water flow from the Kakhovka reservoir, which is a potentially serious problem for the Zaporizhia plant, which is located at the northern end of the reservoir.

On Thursday, work was going at full speed to replenish cooling water reserves, and although the reactors are shutdown, they still need the cooling water that is usually pumped from the reservoir.

Grossi said Europe’s largest nuclear power plant is not in danger in the short term, but the disaster causes new, serious difficulties for the Zaporizhia nuclear plant at a time when the nuclear safety and security situation is already very fragile and potentially dangerous during a military conflict.

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