Putin puts nuclear forces on high alert, escalating tensions

A civil protection man stands guard at a checkpoint in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday. Russian troops stormed towards Ukraine’s capital Saturday, and avenue preventing broke out as metropolis officers urged residents to take shelter. (Emilio Morenatti, Related Press)

Estimated learn time: 6-7 minutes

KYIV, Ukraine — President Vladimir Putin dramatically escalated East-West tensions by ordering Russian nuclear forces placed on excessive alert Sunday, whereas Ukraine’s embattled chief agreed to talks with Moscow as Putin’s forces drove deeper into the nation.

Putin cited “aggressive statements” by NATO in issuing a directive to extend the readiness of his nation’s nuclear weapons — a step that raised fears that the invasion of Ukraine may boil over into nuclear conflict, whether or not by design or mistake.

The Russian chief is “doubtlessly placing in play forces that, if there is a miscalculation, may make issues a lot, way more harmful,” stated a senior U.S. protection official, talking on situation of anonymity.

Amid the mounting tensions, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s workplace introduced that the 2 sides would meet at an unspecified location on the Belarusian border, the place a Russian delegation was ready Sunday.

However the Kremlin’s final goals in Ukraine — and what steps is perhaps sufficient to fulfill Moscow — remained unclear.

The fast-moving developments got here as scattered preventing was reported in Kyiv, battles broke out in Ukraine’s second-largest metropolis, Kharkiv, and strategic ports within the nation’s south got here below assault from Russian forces.

With Russian troops closing in round Kyiv, a metropolis of virtually 3 million, the mayor of the capital expressed doubt civilians could possibly be evacuated.

Throughout the nation, Ukrainian defenders have been placing up stiff resistance that appeared to gradual Russia’s advance.

Within the southern port metropolis of Mariupol, the place Ukrainians tried to fend off a Russian advance, a medical workforce at a metropolis hospital desperately tried to revive a 6-year-old woman in unicorn pajamas who was mortally wounded in Russian shelling. The hassle failed, and he or she lay useless on a gurney, her jacket spattered with blood.

Through the video-recorded rescue try, a physician in blue medical scrubs, pumping oxygen into the woman, regarded into the digicam.

“Present this to Putin,” he stated angrily. “The eyes of this baby, and crying medical doctors.”

Members of civil defense prepare Molotov cocktails in a yard in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday. A Ukrainian official says street fighting has broken out in Ukraine's second-largest city of Kharkiv.
Members of civil protection put together Molotov cocktails in a yard in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday. A Ukrainian official says avenue preventing has damaged out in Ukraine’s second-largest metropolis of Kharkiv. (Picture: Efrem Lukatsky, Related Press)

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 below assault,” stated European Fee President Ursula von der Leyen. The EU will even ban some pro-Kremlin media retailers, she stated.

Additionally, the 193-member U.N. Common Meeting scheduled an emergency session Monday on Russia’s invasion.

Putin, in giving the nuclear alert directive, cited not solely statements by NATO members — who’ve rushed to strengthen the army alliance’s members in Jap Europe — however the hard-hitting monetary sanctions imposed by the West towards Russia, together with Putin himself. He informed his army chiefs to place nuclear forces in a “particular regime of fight responsibility.”

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

U.S. protection officers wouldn’t disclose their present nuclear alert stage besides to say that the army is ready always to defend its homeland and allies.

White Home press secretary Jen Psaki informed ABC that Putin is resorting to the sample he used within the weeks earlier than the invasion, “which is to fabricate threats that do not exist with a view to justify additional aggression.”

The sensible which means of Putin’s order was not instantly clear. Russia and america sometimes have land- and submarine-based 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 america would possibly 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.

Earlier Sunday, Kyiv was eerily quiet after large explosions lit up the morning sky and authorities reported blasts at one of many airports. A foremost boulevard was virtually abandoned as a strict 39-hour curfew stored individuals off the streets. Authorities warned that anybody venturing out and not using a cross could be thought-about a Russian saboteur.

Terrified residents hunkered down in properties, underground garages and subway stations in anticipation of a full-scale Russian assault. Provides of meals and medication have been operating low, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko stated.

Authorities have been handing out weapons to anybody prepared to defend town. Ukraine can be releasing prisoners with army expertise who need to struggle, and coaching individuals to make firebombs.

“Proper now, crucial query is to defend our nation,” Klitschko stated.

In downtown Kharkiv, 86-year-old Olena Dudnik stated she and her husband have been almost thrown from their mattress by the strain blast of a close-by explosion.

“Daily there are avenue fights, even downtown,” with Ukrainian fighters attempting to cease Russian tanks, armored automobiles and missile launchers, Dudnik stated by cellphone. She stated the traces at drugstores have been hours lengthy.

“We’re struggling immensely,” she stated. “We do not have a lot meals within the pantry, and I fear the shops aren’t going to have something both, in the event that they reopen.” She added: “I simply need the capturing to cease, individuals to cease being killed.”

Passengers wait for a train to Poland, inside Lviv railway station, Sunday, in Lviv, west Ukraine. The U.N. has estimated the conflict could produce as many as 4 million refugees.
Passengers await a practice to Poland, inside Lviv railway station, Sunday, in Lviv, west Ukraine. The U.N. has estimated the battle may produce as many as 4 million refugees. (Picture: Bernat Armangue, Related Press)

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

However a senior U.S. protection 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 imagine he’s decided to overthrow Ukraine’s authorities and substitute it with a regime of his personal, reviving Moscow’s Chilly Struggle-era affect.

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

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

Russian Protection Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov gave no figures on Russia’s useless and wounded Sunday however stated his nation’s losses have been “many occasions” decrease than Ukraine’s.

The U.N. refugee company stated Sunday that about 368,000 Ukrainians have arrived in neighboring international locations for the reason that invasion began Thursday.

Over the weekend, the U.S. pledged an extra $350 million in army help to Ukraine, together with anti-tank weapons and physique armor. Germany stated it might 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 1000’s of banks and different monetary establishments worldwide. In addition they moved to slap restrictions on Russia’s central financial institution.

Russia’s financial system has taken a pounding for the reason that invasion, with the ruble plunging, the central financial institution calling for calm to keep away from financial institution runs, and lengthy traces forming at ATMs.

Putin despatched forces into Ukraine after massing nearly 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, faculties and residential neighborhoods have been hit.

Contributing: Ellen Knickmeyer, Robert Burns, Hope Yen, Francesca Ebel, Josef Federman, Andrew Drake, Mstyslav Chernov, Nic Dumitrache

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