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Putin places nuclear forces on excessive alert, escalating tensions

KYIV—In a dramatic escalation of East-West tensions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian nuclear forces placed on excessive alert Sunday in response to what he referred to as “aggressive statements” by main NATO powers.

The directive to place Russia’s nuclear weapons in an elevated state of readiness for launch raised fears that the disaster may boil over into nuclear warfare, whether or not by design or mistake.

Putin’s step is “probably placing in play forces that, if there’s a miscalculation, may make issues a lot, rather more harmful,” stated a senior U.S. defence official, talking on situation of anonymity.

Amid the mounting tensions, Ukraine introduced {that a} delegation would meet with Russian officers for talks. However the Kremlin’s final goals in Ukraine — and what steps may be sufficient to fulfill Moscow — remained unclear.

The fast-moving developments got here as Russian troops drew nearer to Kyiv, a metropolis of just about 3 million, avenue preventing broke out in Ukraine’s second-largest metropolis, Kharkiv, and strategic ports within the nation’s south got here underneath stress from attackers. Ukrainian defenders put up stiff resistance that appeared to sluggish the invasion.

“I want I had by no means lived to see this,” stated Faina Bystritska, 87, a Jewish survivor of World Struggle II. She stated sirens blare virtually continuously in her hometown, Chernihiv, which is about 150 kilometres (90 miles) from Kyiv and underneath assault. Residents have been informed to not swap on any lights “so we don’t draw their consideration.” She has been dwelling in a hallway, away from home windows, the higher to guard herself.

“The window glass continuously shakes, and there’s this fixed thundering noise,” she stated.

In the meantime, the highest official within the European Union outlined plans by the 27-nation bloc to shut its airspace to Russian airways and fund the acquisition of weapons for Ukraine.

“For the primary time ever, the European Union will finance the acquisition and supply of weapons and different gear to a rustic that’s underneath assault,” stated European Fee President Ursula von der Leyen. The EU will even ban some pro-Kremlin media retailers, she stated.

Putin, in giving the nuclear alert directive, cited not solely statements by NATO members — who’ve rushed to bolster the army alliance’s members in Jap Europe — however the hard-hitting monetary sanctions imposed by the West in opposition to Russia, together with Putin himself.

Talking at a gathering together with his prime officers, Putin informed his defence minister and the chief of the army’s Normal Workers to place nuclear forces in a “particular regime of fight obligation.”

“Western nations aren’t solely taking unfriendly actions in opposition to our nation within the financial sphere, however prime officers from main NATO members made aggressive statements relating to our nation,” Putin stated in televised feedback.

U.S. defence officers wouldn’t disclose their present nuclear alert degree besides to say that the army is ready all instances to defend its homeland and allies.

White Home press secretary Jen Psaki informed ABC that Putin is resorting to a sample he used within the weeks earlier than the invasion, “which is to fabricate threats that don’t exist as a way to justify additional aggression.”

NATO Secretary-Normal Jens Stoltenberg informed CNN, in response to Russia’s nuclear alert: “That is harmful rhetoric. This can be a behaviour which is irresponsible.”

The sensible which means of Putin’s order was not instantly clear. Russia and america usually have land- and submarine-based nuclear forces on alert and ready for fight always, however nuclear-capable bombers and different plane should not.

If Putin is arming or in any other case elevating the nuclear fight readiness of his bombers, or if he’s ordering extra ballistic missile submarines to sea, then america may really feel compelled to reply in type, stated Hans Kristensen, a nuclear analyst on the Federation of American Scientists. That will mark a worrisome escalation, he stated.

Across the similar time as Putin’s nuclear transfer, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s workplace introduced that the 2 sides would meet at an unspecified location on the Belarusian border. The assertion didn’t give a exact time for the assembly.

Earlier Sunday, the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, was eerily quiet after large explosions lit up the morning sky and authorities reported blasts at one of many airports. Solely an occasional automobile appeared on a abandoned principal boulevard as a strict 39-hour curfew stored individuals off the streets. Authorities warned that anybody venturing out with no cross could be thought-about a Russian saboteur.

Terrified residents as an alternative hunkered down in houses, underground garages and subway stations in anticipation of a full-scale Russian assault.

“The previous evening was powerful – extra shelling, extra bombing of residential areas and civilian infrastructure,” Zelenskyy stated.

Movies posted on Ukrainian media and social networks confirmed Russian autos transferring throughout Kharkiv and Russian troops roaming the town in small teams. One confirmed Ukrainian troops firing on the Russians and broken Russian autos deserted close by.

The pictures underscored the decided resistance from Ukrainian forces. Ukrainians have volunteered en masse to defend their nation, taking weapons distributed by authorities and making ready firebombs.

Ukraine can also be releasing prisoners with army expertise who need to combat for the nation, authorities stated.

Pentagon officers stated that Russian troops are being slowed by Ukrainian resistance, gas shortages and different logistical issues, and that Ukraine’s air defence techniques, whereas weakened, are nonetheless working.

However a senior U.S. defence official stated that may in all probability change: “We’re in day 4. The Russians will be taught and adapt.”

Putin hasn’t disclosed his final plans, however Western officers consider he’s decided to overthrow Ukraine’s authorities and exchange it with a regime of his personal, reviving Moscow’s Chilly Struggle-era affect.

The preventing in southern Ukraine appeared aimed toward seizing management of the nation’s shoreline. Slicing Ukraine’s entry to its sea ports would deal a serious blow to the nation’s financial system.

Ukrainian army deputy commander Lt. Gen. Yevhen Moisiuk sounded a defiant word in a message aimed toward Russian troops.

“Unload your weapons, elevate your arms in order that our servicemen and civilians can perceive that you’ve heard us. That is your ticket residence,” Moisiuk stated in a Fb video.

The variety of casualties from Europe’s largest land battle since World Struggle II remained unclear amid the fog of struggle.

Ukraine’s well being minister reported Saturday that 198 individuals, together with three youngsters, had been killed and greater than 1,000 others wounded. It was unclear whether or not these figures included each army and civilian casualties. Russia has not launched casualty figures.

Ukraine’s U.N. ambassador, Sergiy Kyslytsya, tweeted Saturday that Ukraine appealed to the Worldwide Committee of the Crimson Cross “to facilitate repatriation of hundreds of our bodies of Russian troopers.” An accompanying chart claimed 3,500 Russian troops have been killed.

The U.N. refugee company stated Sunday that about 368,000 Ukrainians have arrived in neighbouring nations because the invasion began Thursday.

Over the weekend, the U.S. pledged a further $350 million in army help to Ukraine, together with anti-tank weapons, physique armour and small arms. Germany stated it will ship missiles and anti-tank weapons.

The U.S., European Union and Britain additionally agreed to dam chosen Russian banks from the SWIFT system, which strikes cash round hundreds of banks and different monetary establishments worldwide. Additionally they moved to slap restrictions on Russia’s central financial institution.

Putin despatched troops into Ukraine after increase a pressure of just about 200,000 troops alongside the nation’s borders. He claims the West has did not take significantly Russia’s safety issues about NATO, the Western army alliance that Ukraine aspires to affix. However he has additionally expressed scorn about Ukraine’s proper to exist as an impartial state.

Russia claims its assault on Ukraine is aimed solely at army targets, however bridges, colleges and residential neighbourhoods have been hit.

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