Live Russian-Ukrainian war news: US denounces Putin's 'nonsense' about nuclear weapons; Zelenskiy reports heavy fighting at Bakhmut

The US responds to Vladimir Putin's musings on the risk of nuclear war; Ukraine's president says 'every meter counts' is defending the city in the Donetsk region

The US denounces 'loose talk' about nuclear weapons

The US has decried the "loose talk" of nuclear weapons after Russian President Vladimir Putin contemplated the growing risk of nuclear war but said Moscow would not strike first.

Putin hinted that "such threats are escalating" during a Kremlin meeting on Wednesday but assured that "Russia will not use them first".

US State Department spokesman Ned Price, asked about Putin's remarks, declined to answer directly but said:

We think free talk of nuclear weapons is completely irresponsible."

Price said that nuclear powers around the world since the Cold War, including China, India, the United States, and Russia itself, have made it clear that "a nuclear war is something that must not be fought and can never be won."

We think any other rhetoric – whether it's nuclear weapons or even raising the specter of the tactical use of nuclear weapons – is irresponsible,” Price said.

It is dangerous, and goes against the spirit of the statements that have been at the heart of nuclear non-proliferation regimes since the Cold War."

US officials have voiced fears that Russia could use nuclear weapons if it feels directed on the battlefield and could create fictional stories to justify its actions.

Russian troops take part in tactical exercises in Belarus

Russian troops are reportedly taking part in tactical exercises in Belarus, according to the Russian defense ministry.

Belarus says it will not enter the war in Ukraine, but President Alexander Lukashenko has in the past ordered troops to deploy alongside Russian troops near the Ukrainian border, citing threats from Kyiv and the west.

In a statement cited by Reuters, the Russian defense ministry said:

Soldiers of the Western Military District ... continue intensive combat training in the ranks of the armed forces of the Republic of Belarus ...

Combat training events are held during the day and night.

Soldiers fired from all types of small arms, as well as from mortars; they hone their skills in driving combat vehicles, pass psychological obstacle course courses, study tactical medicine, and other disciplines.”

Video clips posted by the ministry show Russian soldiers in snow gear training near tanks in the winter landscape, firing weapons including artillery.

Ukraine used domestically modified Soviet drones to attack Russian bases hundreds of miles from its border, according to a recent Politico report.

The drones reportedly attacked two military airbases in Russia killing three Russian soldiers and damaging two planes earlier this week.

The drone used in the attack, according to two people familiar with the operation who spoke to Politico on condition of anonymity, was a modified Tu-141 reconnaissance aircraft left over from the Soviet era.

“A key success factor is surprise. Russia did not expect this kind of thing,” said one of the individuals, who works with the Ukrainian government. "Now they will prepare."

Ukraine has for months asked its western allies for long-range missiles and drones, but has so far been refused.

Russia launched 1,000 attacks on Ukraine's power grid, Kyiv said

Russian troops have fired more than 1,000 rockets and missiles at Ukraine's power grid, which is still functioning despite major damage, Ukraine's Interfax news agency said, citing a senior official on Wednesday.

Volodymyr Kudrytsky, chief executive of network operator Ukrenergo, also told a meeting arranged by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) that its officials were scouring the world for complex equipment needed for repairs.

Eight recent waves of Russian airstrikes against critical infrastructure have seriously damaged power grids and caused planned and emergency blackouts across the country.

Interfax Ukraine quotes Kudrytsky as saying:

These attacks were the biggest blow to the power grid that humanity has ever seen. More than 1,000 shells and rockets were fired at the facilities and power lines, including the substation."

Ukraine is now experiencing a serious shortage of generating capacity, although consumption is down between 25% and 30% compared to the pre-war period.

The system is still running, integrated, not disconnected or broken," said Kudrytsky.

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