Ukraine war live updates: Russia is ready for nuclear war, Putin warns, and Moscow will conduct nuclear tests if the U.S. does

Ukrainian drone attacks against Russian regions are continuing Wednesday, with Russian officials reporting attacks on an oil refinery in Ryazan and apartment buildings in Belgorod.

Russia’s Ministry of Defense said air defense systems shot down 65 drones (widely described as UAVs, or unmanned aerial vehicles) over Russian territory.

“During the past night and the morning of March 13, attempts by the Kyiv regime to carry out terrorist attacks using aircraft-type UAVs against targets on the territory of the Russian Federation were stopped,” the ministry said on Telegram on Wednesday.

“In total, air defense forces intercepted and destroyed 65 drones: 29 in the Voronezh region, 11 in the Belgorod region, eight each in the Bryansk and Kursk regions, and one each in the Leningrad and Ryazan regions,” the ministry added.

Three people were injured during an attack by Ukrainian drones on an oil refinery in Ryazan and the facility had been set on fire, the emergency services told news agency RIA Novosti.

Pavel Malkov, the governor of Ryazan, said the refinery had been attacked by a drone. He posted on Telegram Wednesday morning that the fire at the Ryazan oil refinery “has been extinguished” and that “people’s lives are not in danger,” although he confirmed that several people were injured.

A red dawn illuminates cracking towers at the Lukoil-Nizhegorodnefteorgsintez (NORSI) oil refinery, operated by OAO Lukoil, in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia.

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Meanwhile, Belgorod Mayor Valentin Demidov said on Telegram that windows in nine apartments in the city were damaged because of an attack by the Ukrainian armed forces, but no casualties were reported.

CNBC was unable to immediately verify the reports and Ukraine rarely comments on attacks against Russian territory. There has been a notable increase in drone attacks against Russian regions, particularly those on the border with Ukraine, and energy infrastructure, this week. On Tuesday, a drone attack inflicted serious damage on a major Lukoil oil refinery in Nizhny Novgorod, with the facility set on fire in the strike.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures during a meeting with participants of the International Youth Festival, March 6, 2024 in Sirius territory, Sochi, Russia. Putin is visiting the Stavropolsky Krai and Krasnodar Krai regions in the southern part of the country ahead of the presidential elections scheduled March 15-17. 

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Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia is technically ready for a nuclear war but cautioned that such an eventuality is not a near-term prospect.

“From a military-technical point of view, we are, of course, ready. They are constantly with us, constantly in a state of combat readiness,” Putin said in an interview with news channel Rossiya-1 and news agency RIA Novosti published Tuesday, having been asked whether Russia is ready for nuclear war.

Putin said Ukraine’s Western allies had insisted they would not send ground troops into Ukraine, understanding that this would be seen as interventionist and could lead to a direct conflict between NATO and Russia.

Describing U.S. President Joe Biden as a “representative of the traditional political school,” Putin said that “besides Biden and others, there are enough specialists in the field of Russian-American relations and in the field of strategic restraint” that could prevent a nuclear conflict from taking place.

“Therefore, I don’t think everything is rushing to it [toward a nuclear war],” Putin said in comments translated by Google.

Putin said Russia could resort to using nuclear weapons if the state was in danger, noting that “Weapons exist in order to be used. We have our own principles. What they say: that we are ready to use weapons, including any weapons, including the one you mentioned, if we are talking about the existence of Russian state, damaging our sovereignty and independence.”

He said Russia would be ready to conduct nuclear tests if the U.S. did so, stating, “If they conduct such tests … I don’t exclude that we can do the same.”

The interview with Putin comes days before the March 15-17 presidential election in Russia that Putin is widely expected to win, given the lack of non-systemic opposition figures in Russia.

— Holly Ellyatt

Danish Defence Minister Troels Lund Poulsen speaks during a joint press conference with the Ukrainian defence minister in Odessa, Ukraine April 11, 2023, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

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Denmark on Tuesday announced a new aid package for Ukraine which covers ammunition and other military support and is worth around 2.3 billion Danish krone ($336.6 million).

“Artillery and mortar systems are in great demand by Ukraine. With this donation package, we are delivering a substantial contribution to the Ukrainian freedom struggle in the form of both additional CAESAR artillery systems and accompanying ammunition,” Danish Defence Minister Troels Lund Poulsen said in a statement, according to a Google Translation.

The aid package will be financed in collaboration with allies, the statement said.

— Sophie Kiderlin

A view shows the damaged Belgorod city hall hit by a drone attack in Belgorod on March 12, 2024. 

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A Ukrainian drone has reportedly crashed into a city hall building in the Russian city of Belgorod. Two people were injured in the incident, Belgorod’s Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov wrote on Telegram Tuesday.

“In Belgorod, an enemy UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] crashed into the city administration building. There are two casualties: one woman received shrapnel wounds, the second received a concussion,” he said.

“As a result of the explosion, windows in the building were shattered and [the] facade damaged. All emergency services are on site,” he said, according to a NBC translation of his comments. CNBC was unable to immediately verify the information.

A view shows the damaged Belgorod city hall hit by a drone attack in Belgorod on March 12, 2024.

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Russia said earlier Tuesday that Ukraine had launched drones and missiles against seven Russian regions, including the border region Belgorod, with energy infrastructure among the main targets. It said its air defenses had shot down 25 drones. Ukraine has not commented on the attacks.

— Holly Ellyatt

Ukraine pounded targets in Russia on Tuesday with dozens of drones and rockets in an attack that inflicted serious damage on a major oil refinery and sought to pierce the land borders of the world’s biggest nuclear power with armed proxies.

Russia and Ukraine have both used drones to strike critical infrastructure, military installations and troop concentrations in their more than two-year war, with Kyiv hitting Russian refineries and energy facilities in recent months.

Russia said Ukrainian proxies had sought to cross the Russian border in at least seven attacks that Russian forces had repelled. The Russian-speaking Ukrainian proxies said they had breached the border, a claim denied by Russia.

A red dawn illuminates cracking towers at the Lukoil-Nizhegorodnefteorgsintez (NORSI) oil refinery, operated by OAO Lukoil, in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia.

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In one of the biggest Ukrainian drone attacks on Russia to date, Moscow said it downed 25 Ukrainian drones over regions including Moscow, Leningrad, Belgorod, Kursk, Bryansk, Tula and Oryol. Waves of drone attacks continued through the day, the defence ministry said.

Russian officials reported attacks on energy facilities, including a fire at Lukoil’s NORSI refinery and a drone destroyed on the outskirts of the town of Kirishi, home to Russia’s second largest oil refinery.

Gleb Nikitin, governor of the Nizhny Novgorod region, posted a picture of a fire truck beside the NORSI refinery and said emergency services were working to put out a blaze there.

Striking Russian oil facilities is a problem for President Vladimir Putin as he faces off against the West over Ukraine, with domestic gasoline prices sensitive ahead of a March 15-17 presidential election.

— Reuters

Russian armed forces claim to have taken control of the village of Nevelske in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk.

Russia’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement that its troops now occupied “more advantageous lines and positions” in the area following the village’s capture, the latest in a series of military gains following the capture of industrial city Avdiivka last month.

The ministry said Russian armed forces had defeated Ukrainian formations in the areas of Novomykhailivka in Donetsk and Bilohorivka in Luhansk. It claimed Ukraine had lost up to 350 soldiers, two tanks, four cars and a Gvozdika self-propelled artillery unit in one day of combat.

Ukraine has not commented on, or confirmed, Russia’s claim.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russia’s Defense Ministry said its armed forces and border units have thwarted an attempted incursion by Ukrainian forces — as well as “Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance groups” — into the border regions of Kursk and Belgorod on Tuesday.

“This morning, units of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, together with units of the border service of the FSB of Russia, thwarted an attempt by the Kiev regime to infiltrate the border territory of the Russian Federation in the Belgorod and Kursk regions,” the ministry said in a statement, according to an NBC News translation.

Members of Russian Volunteer Corps,” a paramilitary group made up of Russian citizens based in Ukraine, are seen near the Russian border in northern Ukraine on May 24, 2023. 

Muhammed Enes Yildirim | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

“Around 3 a.m. Moscow time, after intense shelling of civilian targets, Ukrainian terrorist formations, supported by tanks and armored combat vehicles, attempted to simultaneously invade the territory of the Russian Federation in three directions in the areas of the settlements of Odnorobovka, Nekhoteevka and Spodaryushino, Belgorod region,” the statement said.

It said all the attacks, which it said were carried out by the Ukrainian armed forces, “were repelled by the selfless actions of Russian military personnel. The enemy was struck by aviation, missile forces and artillery,” the ministry said.

It claimed Ukraine had suffered “significant” losses in the attack and had been driven back and that the border was secure.

“In the border area on the Ukrainian side, up to 60 Ukrainian terrorists were killed in the Odnorobovka area, three tanks and an armored personnel carrier were destroyed in the Nekhoteevka area, and two tanks were destroyed in the Spodaryushino area,” it said.

The statement comes after three anti-Kremlin armed groups said they had launched an incursion across Russia’s western border, without providing further detail.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said Tuesday that, in addition, “four attacks by Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance groups that tried to cross over into the border territory near the village of Tyotkino, Kursk region, were repelled.”

“Having suffered significant losses, the enemy was driven back,” the ministry claimed.

— Holly Ellyatt

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