Key developments on Aug. 31:
- Russia delivers nukes to Belarus, says Budanov
- Russia reportedly tortured 75 deported Ukrainian children
- Zelensky: Ukrainian-made weapon proves 700 kilometer range
- Media: Defense minister likely to be replaced
- Russian officials claim drones downed in Moscow Oblast, Bryansk
Russia recently delivered nuclear weapons to Belarus, Ukraine’s military intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov said in an interview with 1+1 channel, published on Aug. 31.
Budanov also said the Russian Defense Ministry’s 12th Main Directorate responsible for nuclear weapons acknowledged Belarus's “complete unpreparedness for the operating” of these nukes.
Russian dictator Vladimir Putin claimed in mid-June that the first tactical nuclear weapons had arrived in Belarus.
"The first warheads were delivered just a few days ago. Prior to that, extensive exercises were conducted with nuclear simulators. I read the original documents regarding the exercise results. Quite unfavorable documents for Belarus," Budanov said, referring to Russia’s report on the nuclear simulators for the Iskander missile system exercise.
Belarus “received few” Iskander missile systems, according to the military intelligence chief.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and his Belarusian counterpart Viktor Khrenin first signed an agreement on placing Russian non-strategic nuclear weapons on Belarusian territory on May 26.
The West has largely condemned the agreement for violating the International Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, as well as for escalating Russia's unprovoked war of aggression on Ukraine.
In response to increasing Western military support for Ukraine, Russian officials have issued both explicit or implied nuclear threats against Kyiv and its allies.
“Not only the West, but China and the rest of the world have said: don't go there,” Biden said in Helsinki, Finland, at a press conference that took place after the NATO summit in Vilnius.
Russian forces have reportedly tortured 75 Ukrainian children
Russian forces have tortured 75 Ukrainian children throughout the full-scale invasion in at least three regions, Prosecutor General's Office official Yuliia Usenko said in an interview with Interfax-Ukraine news agency, published on Aug. 31.
Most cases of torture were recorded in the village of Yahidne in northern Chernihiv Oblast, which Russian forces occupied for about a month during the initial phase of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine launched in late February last year.
During the occupation of Yahidne at the beginning of the all-out war, Russian troops kept 367 residents, including 50 kids, in a school's basement for 27 days. Eleven people died in the captivity, according to the President's Office.
"The conditions in which the children were (held) together with adults in the school's basement and their treatment equated to torture," Usenko said.
The torture and detention of children were also recorded in Kharkiv and Kherson oblasts.
She also reported that the Russian forces claimed that the children provided the Ukrainian military with information about the movement of Russian military hardware.
Ukrainian authorities have launched 3,200 investigations over Russia's alleged crimes against children, including 13 cases of sexual violence, said Usenko.
"These include murders, mutilations, child abduction, forced displacement, deportation, sexual violence against children, and attacks on institutions and facilities for children," Usenko said, adding that kidnapped children had often been tortured and illegally detained.
Ukrainian-made weapon proves 700 km range, says Zelensky
The Strategic Industries Ministry reported that Ukrainian-made long-range weapons successfully hit a target 700 kilometers (435 miles) away, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Aug. 31 after meeting top military and other officials.
Zelensky neither specified whether it was a test or combat use nor what kind of weapon was used.
Russia’s Pskov is located 700 kilometers from Ukraine's border.
Since the start of Russia's full-scale invasion, Russian airbases have suffered at least nine strikes, leading to damage or destruction of at least 24 military aircraft in Russia, Belarus, and occupied Crimea, the Russian independent news outlet Verstka reported on Aug. 30.
Military intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov said on Aug. 24 that Ukraine is also able to produce sea drones on a mass scale, without specifying the details.
"Mass production is underway,” and Ukraine is not making "one or two in garages," Budanov said.
The Security Service (SBU) said on Aug. 15 that it used the new experimental maritime drone, nicknamed "Sea Baby," for the July 17 attack on the bridge over the Kerch strait that connects occupied Crimea with mainland Russia.
"Sea surface drones are a unique invention of the Security Service of Ukraine," Vasyl Maliuk, SBUchief, told CNN. "No other private companies are involved."
Russia has been hit by 25 drone attacks this month alone, the U.K. Defense Ministry reported in its intelligence update on Aug. 31.
The fact that many drones have struck their targets means that Russian air defense "is having difficulty detecting and destroying them," leading Moscow to rethink how to deal with these attacks.
Defense Ministry reportedly to be replaced
Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov is likely to be replaced soon, Ukrainska Pravda reported on Aug. 31, citing government sources.
Reznikov's likely dismissal comes amidst a procurement scandal in the defense ministry. He could be potentially replaced with Rustem Umerov, the chairman of the State Property Fund, according to the report.
Earlier in August, an investigation by ZN.UA media outlet said that the ministry had contracted a Turkish company in September 2022 to purchase $33 million worth of "winter" military jackets, which appeared to be summer clothes.
ZN.UA also reported that shipment papers had been manipulated. The price of one jacket worth around $29 was in another document reportedly "amended" to $86.
The investigation added to the pressure against the defense ministry's leadership, already facing several corruption scandals, such as the procurement of food products for the military at inflated prices uncovered in January.
Reznikov said on Aug. 25 that he is ready to resign if the reports that the military procured uniforms for an inflated price are confirmed.
Reznikov was appointed Defense Minister in 2019, having previously held the position of Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories.
Drone attacks reported in Russia
Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin claimed on Aug. 31 that Russian air defenses had downed a loitering munition reaching Russia’s capital around 7:30 a.m. local time.
The drone claimed to be downed in the southeast of Moscow.
No casualties or damage were reported.
Claims of drones shot down in Moscow Oblast are becoming an increasingly frequent event.
Sobyanin claimed on Aug. 30 that Russian air defenses destroyed a drone bound for the city amid the biggest air attack on Russia since Feb. 24, 2022, targeting the western Pskov region.
Drones were also reported in Russia’s Bryansk region, which borders Ukraine's Sumy and Chernihiv oblasts.
Regional governor Aleksandr Bogomaz claimed on Aug. 31 that three drones had been shot down over the city of Bryansk.
The Institute for the Study of War said in its Aug. 30 report that Russian pro-war bloggers and propagandists repeatedly criticize Russian forces "for their inability to defend Russian territory and military facilities, while simultaneously criticizing recent Russian Defense Ministry censorship efforts."