KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — 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 troops and tanks drove deeper into the nation, closing in across the capital.
Citing “aggressive statements” by NATO and difficult monetary sanctions, Putin issued a directive to extend the readiness of Russia’s nuclear weapons, elevating fears that the invasion of Ukraine might result in nuclear warfare, whether or not by design or mistake.
The Russian chief is “doubtlessly placing in play forces that, if there’s a miscalculation, might make issues a lot, rather more harmful,” mentioned a senior U.S. protection official, talking on situation of anonymity to debate quickly unfolding army operations.
Putin’s directive got here as Russian forces encountered robust resistance from Ukraine defenders. Moscow has to this point did not win full management of Ukraine’s airspace, regardless of advances throughout the nation. U.S. officers say they consider the invasion has been harder, and slower, than the Kremlin envisioned, although that would change as Moscow adapts.
Amid the mounting tensions, Western nations mentioned they’d tighten sanctions and purchase and ship weapons for Ukraine, together with Stinger missiles for capturing down helicopters and different plane.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s workplace, in the meantime, introduced plans for a gathering with a Russian delegation at an unspecified location on the Belarusian border.
It wasn’t instantly clear when the assembly would happen, nor what the Kremlin was finally looking for, both in these potential talks on the border or, extra broadly, from its warfare in Ukraine. Western officers consider Putin desires to overthrow Ukraine’s authorities and exchange it with a regime of his personal, reviving Moscow’s Chilly Battle-era affect.
The fast-moving developments got here as scattered preventing was reported in Kyiv. Battles additionally broke out in Ukraine’s second-largest metropolis, Kharkiv, and strategic ports within the nation’s south got here below assault from Russian forces.
By late Sunday, Russian forces had taken Berdyansk, a Ukrainian metropolis of 100,000 on the Azov Coastline, in response to Oleksiy Arestovich, an adviser to Zelenskyy’s workplace. Russian troops additionally made advances towards Kherson, one other metropolis within the south of Ukraine, whereas Mariupol, a port metropolis on the Sea of Azov that’s thought of a primary Russian goal, is “hanging on,” Arestovich mentioned.
With Russian troops closing in round Kyiv, a metropolis of just about 3 million, the mayor of the capital expressed doubt that civilians could possibly be evacuated. Authorities have been handing out weapons to anybody keen to defend the town. Ukraine can be releasing prisoners with army expertise who wish to combat, and coaching individuals to make firebombs.
In Mariupol, the place Ukrainians had been attempting to fend off assault, a medical staff at a metropolis hospital desperately tried to revive a 6-year-old woman in unicorn pajamas who was mortally wounded in Russian shelling.
Through the rescue try, a health care provider in blue medical scrubs, pumping oxygen into the woman, regarded straight into the Related Press video digicam capturing the scene.
“Present this to Putin,” he mentioned angrily. “The eyes of this youngster, and crying medical doctors.”
Their resuscitation efforts failed, and the woman lay lifeless on a gurney, her jacket spattered with blood.
Practically 900 kilometers (560 miles) away, Faina Bystritska was below menace within the metropolis of Chernihiv.
“I want I had by no means lived to see this,” mentioned Bystritska, an 87-year-old Jewish survivor of World Battle II. She mentioned sirens blare virtually consistently within the metropolis, about 150 kilometers (90 miles) from Kyiv.
Chernihiv residents have been advised to not change on any lights “so we don’t draw their consideration,” mentioned Bystritska, who has been residing in a hallway, away from any home windows, so she might higher defend herself.
“The window glass consistently shakes, and there may be this fixed thundering noise,” she mentioned.
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 purchase weapons for Ukraine. The EU may also ban some pro-Kremlin media retailers, mentioned European Fee President Ursula von der Leyen.
The U.S. additionally stepped up the movement of weapons to Ukraine, saying it should ship Stinger missiles as a part of a bundle authorised by the White Home on Friday. Germany likewise plans to ship 500 Stingers and different army provides.
Additionally, the 193-member U.N. Common Meeting scheduled an emergency session Monday on Russia’s invasion.
Putin, in ordering the nuclear alert, cited not solely statements by NATO members however the hard-hitting monetary sanctions imposed by the West in opposition to Russia, together with Putin himself.
“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.
U.S. protection 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 advised ABC that Putin is resorting to the sample he used within the weeks earlier than the invasion, “which is to fabricate threats that don’t exist so as to justify additional aggression.”
The sensible which means of Putin’s order was not instantly clear. Russia and the USA usually have land- and submarine-based nuclear forces which are 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 the U.S. may really feel compelled to reply in form, mentioned Hans Kristensen, a nuclear analyst on the Federation of American Scientists.
Earlier Sunday, Kyiv was eerily quiet after explosions lit up the morning sky and authorities reported blasts at one airport. A essential boulevard was virtually abandoned as a strict curfew stored individuals off the streets. Authorities warned that anybody venturing out with out a cross could be thought of a Russian saboteur.
Terrified residents hunkered down in houses, underground garages and subway stations in anticipation of a full-scale Russian assault. Meals and drugs had been working low, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko mentioned.
“Proper now, a very powerful query is to defend our nation,” Klitschko mentioned.
In downtown Kharkiv, 86-year-old Olena Dudnik mentioned she and her husband had been almost thrown from their mattress by the strain blast of a close-by explosion.
“We’re struggling immensely,” she mentioned by telephone. “We don’t 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.”
Russia’s failure up to now to win full management of Ukraine’s airspace is a stunning lapse that has given outgunned Ukrainian forces an opportunity to sluggish the advance of Russian floor forces. Usually, gaining what the army calls air superiority is likely one of the first priorities for an invading power.
However although Russian troops are being slowed by Ukrainian resistance, gasoline shortages and different logistical issues, a senior U.S. protection official mentioned that may in all probability change. “We’re in day 4. The Russians will study and adapt,” the official mentioned.
The variety of casualties from Europe’s largest land battle since World Battle II remained unclear amid the confusion.
Ukraine’s Inside Ministry mentioned Sunday that 352 Ukrainian civilians have been killed, together with 14 kids. It mentioned a further 1,684 individuals, together with 116 kids, have been wounded.
Russian Protection Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov gave no figures on Russia’s lifeless and wounded however mentioned Sunday his nation’s losses had been “many instances” decrease than Ukraine’s.
About 368,000 Ukrainians have arrived in neighboring international locations for the reason that invasion began Thursday, in response to the U.N. refugee company.
Together with army help, the U.S., European Union and Britain additionally agreed to damfrom 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.
Russia’s economic system has taken a pounding for the reason that invasion, with the ruble plunging and the central financial institution calling for calm to keep away from financial institution runs.
Russia, which massed virtually 200,000 troops alongside Ukraine’s borders, claimsis aimed solely at army targets, however bridges, faculties and residential neighborhoods have additionally been hit.
Isachenkov reported from Moscow. Ellen Knickmeyer, Eric Tucker, Robert Burns and Hope Yen in Washington; Francesca Ebel, Josef Federman and Andrew Drake in Kyiv; Mstyslav Chernov and Nic Dumitrache in Mariupol, Ukraine; and different AP journalists from world wide contributed to this report.
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