MOSCOW – Vladimir Putin has ordered his military to put Russia’s nuclear deterrence forces on high alert in response to “aggressive statements” by Nato countries.
The order came at a meeting between the president, the defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, and the chief of the general staff of the armed forces of Russia, Valery Gerasimov.
“As you can see, not only do Western countries take unfriendly measures against our country in the economic dimension – I mean the illegal sanctions that everyone knows about very well – but also the top officials of leading NATO countries allow themselves to make aggressive statements with regards to our country,” Putin said on state television.
It is not immediately clear what the “special mode of combat duty” entails. Putin has warned foreign countries not to interfere in his invasion of Ukraine, saying it could lead to “consequences they have never seen”. He has positioned anti-air missiles and other advanced missile systems in Belarus and deployed his fleet to the Black Sea in an effort to prevent a western intervention in Ukraine.
The US ambassador to the United Nations responded to the news from Moscow while appearing on CBS. “President Putin is continuing to escalate this war in a manner that is totally unacceptable,” Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said. “And we have to continue to condemn his actions in the most strong, strongest possible way.”
International tensions are already soaring over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and Putin’s order will cause further alarm.
Moscow has the world’s second-largest arsenal of nuclear weapons and a huge cache of ballistic missiles which form the backbone of the country’s deterrence forces.
“I order the defence minister and the chief of the general staff of the Russian armed forces to put the deterrence forces of the Russian army into a special mode of combat service,” Putin said in a televised address.
Defence Minister Shoigu replied: “Affirmative.”
The Russian president on Thursday ordered the invasion of Ukraine, sending shockwaves around the world.
Hundreds of people have been killed as a result of the Russian invasion. Russia has launched missile attacks on buildings in Kyiv, Kharkiv, and other major Ukrainian cities, threatening an all-out assault unprecedented since World War II.
Oleg Sinegubov, the governor of Kharkiv, urged residents to stay indoors, stating that “there has been a breakthrough in light equipment, including in the central part of the city.” According to reports, a nine-story building was hit, killing one woman.
According to the Ukrainian state service of special communications, Russian forces also blew up a gas pipeline in the city, prompting the government to warn of a potential “environmental catastrophe” and urge people to protect themselves from the smoke by covering their windows.
Air raid sirens sounded in Kyiv early on Sunday, hours after the US, Britain and European countries announced tougher sanctions targeting Russian banks, including barring some from the Swift international payments system.