Firefighters conduct work while smoke rises from a building after it was attacked by Russian drones in Kyiv, Ukraine, on October 17, 2022. Photo by Vladyslav Musiienko/UPI | License Photo
Oct. 23 (UPI) -- The United States and several of its democratic allies urged Russia against escalating the war in Ukraine on false pretenses after Moscow's ministry of defense informed them that Kyiv was preparing to use a so-called dirty bomb within its borders.
Ukraine's foreign affairs minister went a step further, calling the United Nations atomic agency to the country to examine sites where Russia is claiming a dirty bomb is being developed by Kyiv.
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Monday he immediately placed a call to Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
"I officially invited IAEA to urgently send experts to peaceful facilities in Ukraine which Russia deceitfully claims to be developing a dirty bomb," Kuleba said on Twitter. "He agreed. Unlike Russia, Ukraine has always been and remains transparent. We have nothing to hide.
"We agreed to work actively together in the coming hours and days to deliver facts and counter another Russian lie about Ukraine in the Global South, including Latin America, Africa and Asia," he said.
The United States, Britain and France said in a joint statement that their defense ministers each spoke with their Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, on Sunday at his request and rejected his "transparently false" allegations that Ukraine was preparing to use a dirty bomb.
The allies warned "[t]he world would see through any attempt to use this allegation as a pretext for escalation."
"We further reject any pretext for escalation by Russia," they said.
The statement was issued after Shoigu said he had spoken with his U.S., British, French and Turkish counterparts to convey "possible Ukrainian provocations with the use of a 'dirty bomb,'" Moscow's foreign ministry said.
A dirty bomb is a mixture of conventional explosives with radioactive powder or pellets, which when detonated scatters radioactive material throughout the surrounding area, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The series of phone calls was made as the war in Ukraine reaches new heights of uncertainty and concern as Russia has been bombarding civilian centers, such as Kyiv, for the past two weeks after suffering a slew of humiliating military losses amid its attempt to annex four Ukrainian regions.
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday said Russia had "specific information" about Ukraine's plans to use a dirty bomb and will bring up the issue with the United Nations. He called the reaction by United States and Western authorities as "Russophobia."
"We have also taken the necessary steps to raise this issue in international structures, first of all in the U.N. in New York, and today our representatives will do this hoping for an informed and professional discussion of the problems that we will touch upon," Lavrov said, according to the Russian state-run news agency TASS.
He said Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu has concurred on the information in their possession.
"We have double-checked through the appropriate channels, that this is not a groundless suspicion, that there are serious reasons to believe that such things could be planned," Lavrov said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in his nightly address Sunday said Russia's "phone carousel" was part of its plan to conduct a false-flag operation.
"If Russia calls and says that Ukraine is allegedly preparing something, it means one thing: Russia has already prepared all this," he said.
Zelensky has previously accused Russia of nuclear blackmail over using its Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant as a base for troops, and he has recently begun to warn that it plans to target a dam in southern Ukraine to flood Kherson where Moscow-installed officials a week ago called for the evacuation of civilians.
Kherson is one of four regions that Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed he has annexed.
Zelensky said now is the time for the world to react "in the toughest possible way" before Russia can conduct any attacks "that the world will not swallow."
According to separate readouts of their conversations, Shoigu told Britain's Minister of Defense Ben Wallace that Ukraine was planning provocative actions "facilitated by Western countries," with France's Ministry of Defense stating Russia's military head feared Ukraine was to use a dirty bomb and "hold Russia responsible for it."
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday spoke with Kuleba to assure him that the United States rejects Shoigu's allegations and that "the world would see through any attempt by Russia to use this allegation as a pretext for escalation," according to a readout of the call.
Wallace and France's Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu similarly rejected Shoigu's claims.
"The defense secretary refuted these claims and cautioned that such allegations should not be used as a pretext for greater escalation," the Britain's ministry said in a statement.