Putin puts nuclear forces on high alert | News, Sports, Jobs

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — President Vladimir Putin dramatically escalated East-West tensions when he ordered Russian nuclear forces to stand on high alert on Sunday, while the embattled Ukrainian leader agreed to talks with Moscow as Putin’s troops and tanks drove deeper into the country, approaching the capital.

Citing “aggressive statements” by NATO and severe financial sanctions, Putin issued a directive to increase Russia’s nuclear weapons readiness, raising fears that invading Ukraine could lead to nuclear war, whether by design or by mistake.

The Russian leader is “potentially bringing into play forces which, if miscalculated, could make things much, much more dangerous”, said a senior US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the rapidly unfolding military operations.

Putin’s directive came as Russian forces encountered heavy resistance from Ukrainian defenders. Despite Russian advances across the country, US officials say they believe the invasion was more difficult and slower than the Kremlin anticipated, although that may change as Moscow adapts.

Amid rising tensions, Western countries have said they will toughen sanctions and buy and deliver weapons to Ukraine, including Stinger missiles to shoot down helicopters and other planes.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office has announced plans to meet with a Russian delegation at an unspecified location on the Belarusian border.

It was not immediately clear when the meeting would take place, or what the Kremlin was ultimately looking for, whether in these potential border talks or, more broadly, in its war in Ukraine. Western officials believe Putin wants to overthrow the Ukrainian government and replace it with his own regime, reviving Moscow’s Cold War-era influence.

The rapid developments came as scattered fighting was reported in Kyiv. Battles also broke out in Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv, and strategic ports in the south of the country were attacked by Russian forces.

By Sunday evening, Russian forces had taken Berdyansk, a Ukrainian city of 100,000 people on the coast of the Sea of ​​Azov, according to Oleksiy Arestovich, an adviser in Zelenskyy’s office. Russian troops have also advanced towards Kherson, another city in southern Ukraine, while Mariupol, a port city on the Sea of ​​Azov seen as a prime Russian target, is “hang on”, Arestovitch said.

As Russian troops close in on Kiev, a city of nearly 3 million people, the capital’s mayor has expressed doubts about evacuating civilians. Authorities distributed weapons to anyone willing to defend the city. Ukraine also releases prisoners with military experience who want to fight and trains people to make firebombs.

In Mariupol, where the Ukrainians were trying to repel an attack, a medical team from a city hospital desperately tried to resuscitate a 6-year-old girl in unicorn pajamas who was fatally injured in a Russian bombardment.

During the rescue attempt, a doctor in a blue medical gown, pumping oxygen into the girl, looked directly at the Associated Press video camera capturing the scene.

“Show that to Putin”, he said angrily. “The eyes of this child and the doctors crying.”

Their resuscitation efforts failed and the girl lay dead on a stretcher, her jacket spattered with blood.

Nearly 900 kilometers (560 miles) away, Faina Bystritska was under threat in the town of Chernihiv.

“I wish I had never lived to see this” said Bystritska, an 87-year-old Jewish World War II survivor. She said sirens sounded almost constantly in the city, about 150 kilometers (90 miles) from Kiev.

Chernihiv residents ordered not to turn on any lights “so as not to attract their attention”, said Bystritska, who lived in a hallway away from any windows to better protect herself.

“The glass in the window is constantly shaking, and there’s this constant sound of thunder,” she says.

Meanwhile, the top European Union official outlined the 27-nation bloc’s plans to close its airspace to Russian airlines and buy arms for Ukraine. The EU will also ban some pro-Kremlin media, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said.

The United States also stepped up the flow of weapons to Ukraine, announcing it would send Stinger missiles as part of a package approved by the White House on Friday. Germany also plans to send 500 Stingers and other military supplies.

In addition, the 193-member UN General Assembly scheduled an emergency session on the Russian invasion on Monday.

Putin, in ordering the nuclear alert, cited not only the statements of NATO members, but also the harsh financial sanctions imposed by the West against Russia, including Putin himself.

“Western countries are not only taking hostile action against our country in the economic sphere, but senior officials of major NATO members have made aggressive statements against our country,” he said. he adds. Putin said in televised comments.

US defense officials would not disclose their current nuclear alert level except to say the military stands ready at a moment’s notice to defend its homeland and its allies.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told ABC that Putin was resorting to the scheme he used in the weeks leading up to the invasion, “which consists in fabricating threats that do not exist in order to justify new aggressions.”

The practical meaning of Putin’s order was not immediately clear. Russia and the United States generally have land-based and submarine nuclear forces that are on alert and combat-ready at all times, but bombers and other nuclear-capable aircraft are not.

If Putin arms or otherwise increases the nuclear combat readiness of his bombers, or if he orders more ballistic missile submarines at sea, then the United States may feel compelled to respond accordingly, said Hans Kristensen, nuclear analyst at the United States Federation. Scientists.

Earlier Sunday, Kiev was eerily calm after explosions lit up the morning sky and authorities reported explosions at an airport. A main boulevard was virtually deserted as a strict curfew kept people out on the streets. Authorities have warned that anyone venturing out without a pass will be considered a Russian saboteur.

Terrified residents hunkered down in homes, underground garages and subway stations in anticipation of a full-scale Russian assault. Food and medicine are dwindling, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said.

“Right now, the most important issue is to defend our country,” said Klitschko.

In downtown Kharkiv, Olena Dudnik, 86, said she and her husband were nearly thrown from their bed by the pressure blast from a nearby explosion.

“Every day there are street fights, even in the city center”, with Ukrainian fighters trying to stop Russian tanks, armored vehicles and missile launchers, Dudnik said by phone. She said queues at pharmacies lasted for hours.

“We are suffering a lot” she says. “We don’t have a lot of food in the pantry, and I’m afraid the stores won’t have anything either, if they reopen.” She added: “I just want the shooting to stop, people to stop being killed.”

Pentagon officials said Russian troops were being held back by Ukrainian resistance, fuel shortages and other logistical problems, and that Ukraine’s air defense systems, though weakened, were still functioning.

But a senior US defense official said that is likely to change: “We are on the fourth day. The Russians will learn and adapt.

The death toll in Europe’s biggest land conflict since World War II has remained unclear amid the confusion.

Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said on Sunday that 352 Ukrainian civilians had been killed, including 14 children. He said a further 1,684 people, including 116 children, were injured.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov gave no figures on Russia’s dead and wounded, but said on Sunday his country’s losses were “Many times” lower than that of Ukraine.

About 368,000 Ukrainians have arrived in neighboring countries since the invasion began on Thursday, according to the UN refugee agency.

Along with military assistance, the United States, European Union and Britain also agreed to block some Russian banks from the SWIFT system, which transfers money between thousands of banks and other financial institutions. in the world. They also decided to impose restrictions on the Russian central bank.

Russia’s economy has taken a hit since the invasion, with the ruble plunging and the central bank calling for calm to avoid bank runs.

Russia, which has massed nearly 200,000 troops along Ukraine’s borders, says its assault only targets military targets, but bridges, schools and residential neighborhoods have also been hit.

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Clifton L. Boyd