By YURAS KARMANAU, JIM HEINTZ, VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV and DASHA LITVINOVA
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — 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 order means Putin desires Russia’s nuclear weapons ready for elevated readiness to launch and raises the menace that Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and the West’s response to it might boil over into nuclear warfare.
Amid the worrying growth, the workplace of Ukraine’s president mentioned a delegation would meet with Russian officers as Moscow’s troops drew nearer to Kyiv.
Putin, in giving the nuclear alert directive, cited not solely the alleged statements by NATO members however the hard-hitting monetary sanctions imposed by the West in opposition to Russia, together with the Russian chief himself.
Talking at a gathering together with his high officers, Putin advised his protection minister and the chief of the army’s Basic Employees to place the nuclear deterrent forces in a “particular regime of fight obligation.”
“Western international locations aren’t solely taking unfriendly actions in opposition to our nation within the financial sphere, however high officers from main NATO members made aggressive statements concerning our nation,” Putin mentioned in televised feedback.
White Home press secretary Jen Psaki mentioned Putin was resorting to a sample he used within the weeks earlier than launching the invasion of Ukraine, “which is to fabricate threats that don’t exist to be able to justify additional aggression. The worldwide group and American folks ought to take a look at it by means of that prism. We’ve seen him do that time and time once more.”
She advised ABC’s “This Week” that Russia has not been below menace from NATO or Ukraine.
“That is all a sample from President Putin and we’re going to face up … ,we have now the flexibility to defend ourselves however we additionally must name out what we’re seeing right here,” Psaki mentioned.
Putin threatened within the days earlier than Russia’s invasion to retaliate harshly in opposition to any nations that intervened straight within the battle in Ukraine, and he particularly raised the specter of his nation’s standing as a nuclear energy.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations responded to the information from Moscow whereas showing on a Sunday information program.
“President Putin is continuous to escalate this struggle in a way that’s completely unacceptable,” Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield mentioned. “And we have now to proceed to sentence his actions in probably the most sturdy, strongest attainable method.”
The sensible which means of Putin’s order was not instantly clear. Russia and the US usually have the land- and submarine-based segments of their strategic nuclear forces on alert and ready for fight always, however nuclear-capable bombers and different plane are usually 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 the US may really feel compelled to reply in form, in keeping with Hans Kristensen, a nuclear analyst on the Federation of American Scientists. That might mark a worrisome escalation and a possible disaster, he mentioned.
The alarming step got here as avenue combating broke out in Ukraine’s second-largest metropolis and Russian troops squeezed strategic ports within the nation’s south, advances that appeared to mark a brand new section of Russia’s invasion following a wave of assaults on airfields and gasoline amenities elsewhere within the nation.
Across the similar time as Putin’s nuclear transfer, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s workplace mentioned on the Telegram messaging app that the 2 sides would meet at an unspecified location on the Belarusian border. The message didn’t give a exact time for the assembly.
The announcement got here hours after Russia introduced that its delegation had flown to Belarus to await talks. Ukrainian officers initially rejected the transfer, saying any talks ought to happen elsewhere than Belarus, the place Russia positioned a big contingent of troops. Belarus was one of many locations from the place Russian troops entered Ukraine.
Earlier Sunday, the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, was eerily quiet after big explosions lit up the morning sky and authorities reported blasts at one of many airports. Solely an occasional automotive appeared on a abandoned fundamental boulevard as a strict 39-hour curfew saved folks off the streets. Terrified residents as an alternative hunkered down in properties, underground garages and subway stations in anticipation of a full-scale Russian assault.
“The previous night time was powerful – extra shelling, extra bombing of residential areas and civilian infrastructure,” Zelenskyy mentioned.
Till Sunday, Russia’s troops had remained on the outskirts of Kharkiv, a metropolis of 1.4 million about 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) south of the border with Russia, whereas different forces rolled previous to press the offensive deeper into Ukraine.
Movies posted on Ukrainian media and social networks confirmed Russian autos shifting throughout Kharkiv and Russian troops roaming the town in small teams. One confirmed Ukrainian troops firing on the Russians and broken Russian gentle utility autos deserted close by.
The photographs underscored the decided resistance Russian troops face whereas making an attempt to enter Ukraine’s greater cities. Ukrainians have volunteered en masse to assist defend the capital, Kyiv, and different cities, taking weapons distributed by authorities and making ready firebombs to combat Russian forces.
Ukraine’s authorities is also releasing prisoners with army expertise who need to combat for the nation, a prosecutor’s workplace official, Andriy Sinyuk, advised the Hromadske TV channel Sunday. He didn’t specify whether or not the transfer utilized to prisoners convicted of all ranges of crimes.
Putin hasn’t disclosed his final plans, however Western officers imagine he’s decided to overthrow Ukraine’s authorities and change it with a regime of his personal, redrawing the map of Europe and reviving Moscow’s Chilly Struggle-era affect.
The strain on strategic ports within the south of Ukraine appeared aimed toward seizing management of the nation’s shoreline stretching from the border with Romania within the west to the border with Russia within the east. A Russian Protection Ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, mentioned Russian forces had blocked the cities of Kherson on the Black Sea and the port of Berdyansk on the Azov Sea.
He mentioned the Russian forces additionally took management of an airbase close to Kherson and the Azov Sea metropolis of Henichesk. Ukrainian authorities even have reported combating close to Odesa, Mykolaiv and different areas.
Slicing Ukraine’s entry to its sea ports would deal a significant blow to the nation’s economic system. It additionally might enable Moscow to construct a land hall to Crimea, which Moscow annexed in 2014 and till now was related to Russia by a 19-kilometer (12-mile) bridge, the longest bridge in Europe which opened in 2018.
Flames billowed from an oil depot close to an airbase in Vasylkiv, a metropolis 37 kilometers (23 miles) south of Kyiv the place there was intense combating, in keeping with the mayor. Russian forces blew up a gasoline pipeline in Kharkiv, prompting the federal government to warn folks to cowl their home windows with damp material or gauze as safety from smoke, the president’s workplace mentioned.
Ukrainian army deputy commander Lt.-Gen. Yevhen Moisiuk sounded a defiant word in a message aimed toward Russian troops.
“Unload your weapons, increase your arms in order that our servicemen and civilians can perceive that you’ve heard us. That is your ticket dwelling,” Moisiuk mentioned in a Fb video.
The variety of casualties so removed from Europe’s largest land battle since World Struggle II stays unclear amid the fog of fight.
Ukraine’s well being minister reported Saturday that 198 folks, 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 any casualty info.
Ukraine’s U.N. ambassador, Sergiy Kyslytsya, tweeted Saturday that Ukraine appealed to the Worldwide Committee of the Purple Cross “to facilitate repatriation of hundreds of our bodies of Russian troopers.” An accompanying chart claimed 3,500 Russian troops have been killed.
Laetitia Courtois, ICRC’s everlasting observer to the U.N., advised The Related Press that the state of affairs in Ukraine was “a limitation for our groups on the bottom” and “we subsequently can not verify numbers or different particulars.”
The United Nations’ refugee company mentioned Sunday that about 368,000 Ukrainians have arrived in neighboring international locations because the invasion began Thursday. The U.N. has estimated the battle might produce as many as 4 million refugees, relying how lengthy it continues.
Zelenskyy denounced Russia’s offensive as “state terrorism.” He mentioned the assaults on Ukrainian cities must be investigated by a world struggle crimes tribunal and value Russia its place as one of many 5 everlasting members of the United Nations Safety Council.
As Russia pushes forward with its offensive, the West is working to equip the outnumbered Ukrainian forces with weapons and ammunition whereas punishing Russia with far-reaching sanctions supposed to additional isolate Moscow.
The U.S. pledged a further $350 million in army help to Ukraine, together with anti-tank weapons, physique armor and small arms. Germany mentioned it might ship missiles and anti-tank weapons to the besieged nation and that it might shut its airspace to Russian planes.
The U.S., European Union and United Kingdom agreed to dam “chosen” Russian banks from the SWIFT international monetary messaging system, which strikes cash round greater than 11,000 banks and different monetary establishments worldwide, a part of a brand new spherical of sanctions aiming to impose a extreme price on Moscow for the invasion. In addition they agreed to impose ”restrictive measures” on Russia’s central financial institution.
Responding to a request from Ukraine’s minister of digital transformation, tech billionaire Elon Musk mentioned on Twitter that his satellite-based web system Starlink was now energetic in Ukraine and that there have been “extra terminals en route.”
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, in the meantime, mentioned Sunday that his nation was committing 100 billion euros ($112.7 billion) to a particular fund for its armed forces, elevating its protection spending above 2% of gross home product. Scholz advised a particular session of the Bundestag the funding was wanted “to guard our freedom and our democracy.”
Putin despatched troops into Ukraine after denying for weeks that he supposed to take action, all of the whereas increase a drive of just about 200,000 troops alongside the international locations’ borders. He claims the West has didn’t take critically 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 neighborhoods have been hit.
Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S., Oksana Markarova, mentioned Ukraine was gathering proof of shelling of residential areas, kindergartens and hospitals to undergo a world struggle crimes court docket in The Hague as attainable crimes in opposition to humanity. The Worldwide Felony Courtroom’s prosecutor has mentioned he’s monitoring the battle intently.
British Overseas Secretary Liz Truss warned Sunday that Putin might use “probably the most unsavory means,” together with banned chemical or organic weapons, to defeat Ukraine.
“I urge the Russians to not escalate this battle, however we do must be ready for Russia to hunt to make use of even worse weapons,” Truss advised Sky Information.
Isachenkov reported from Moscow, and Miller from Washington. Francesca Ebel, Josef Federman and Andrew Drake in Kyiv; Mstyslav Chernov and Nic Dumitrache in Mariupol, Ukraine; and different AP journalists from all over the world contributed to this report.
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