RUSSIA, UKRAINE, BELGIUM: In a dramatic escalation of East-West tensions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian nuclear forces put on high alert Sunday in response to what he called “aggressive statements” by leading NATO powers.
The order means Putin wants Russia’s nuclear weapons prepared for increased readiness to launch and raises the threat that Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and the West’s response to it could boil over into nuclear warfare.
Amid the worrying development, the office of Ukraine’s president said a delegation would meet with Russian officials as Moscow’s troops drew closer to Kyiv.
Putin, in giving the nuclear alert directive, cited not only the alleged statements by NATO members but the hard-hitting financial sanctions imposed by the West against Russia, including the Russian leader himself.
Speaking at a meeting with his top officials, Putin told his Defense Minister and the Chief of the military’s General Staff to put the nuclear deterrent forces in a “special regime of combat duty.”
“Western countries aren’t only taking unfriendly actions against our country in the economic sphere, but top officials from leading NATO members made aggressive statements regarding our country,” Putin said in televised comments.
Meanwhile, the US imposed sanctions Friday on Russian President Vladimir Putin, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other members of Russia’s Security Council.
The sanctions prohibit Putin and Lavrov from traveling to the U.S. and also target Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov
Meanwhile, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog says missiles have hit a radioactive waste disposal site in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, but there are no reports of damage to the buildings or indications of a release of radioactive material.
In a statement late Sunday, International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi says Ukrainian authorities informed his office about the overnight strike. He says his agency expects to soon receive the results of on-site radioactive monitoring. Meanwhile, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday urged foreigners to visit Ukrainian embassies in their respective countries and sign up for an “international brigade” of volunteers to join the ongoing fight against invasion by the Russian military.
The President said a “separate unit” is being formed with foreigners and it is called the International Brigade of the Territorial Defence of Ukraine. He said joining the unit will be a “key testimony” of one’s support for Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin temporarily lost his most senior official position in world sports on Sunday.
The International Judo Federation cited “the ongoing war conflict in Ukraine” for suspending Putin’s honorary president status. The Russian President is a keen judoka and attended the sport at the 2012 London Olympics.
– THE HINDU, THE HINDUSTAN TIMES, THE BANGKOK POST, THE NEW INDIAN EXPRESS