Putin Puts Nuke Forces on Higher Alert; Zelenskyy Agrees to Peace Talks
Ukrainian leader to meet Russian negotiators at Belarusan border as invasion enters 5th day.
Updated 10:42 a.m. to add comment from U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered his nuclear deterrent forces on high alert after NATO and EU nations move to speed lethal aid and isolate Russia’s economy in response to his invasion of Ukraine.
"Western countries are not only taking unfriendly actions against our country in the economic sphere, I mean those sanctions that everyone is well aware of, but the top officials of the leading NATO countries also make aggressive statements against our country,” Putin said Sunday at a Defense ministers meeting, according to Russian news agency RIA Novosti and the BBC.
In a translation of Putin’s remarks to his ministers, BBC reported that Putin then said “therefore I have ordered the defense minister and the head of the general staff to put deterrence forces on special alert.”
Soon afterward, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told the BBC World Service: “This demonstrates the seriousness of the situation...NATO doesn’t want war with Russia; it is a defensive alliance.”
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, called the alert a "totally unacceptable" escalation of Russians aggression against Ukraine. "We have to continue to condemn his actions in the strongest possible way," she said in an interview on CBS’ "Face the Nation" program.
Also breaking Sunday, Ukrainian president Volodymir Zelenskyy agreed to a meeting with Russian negotiators along the Belarusian border, according to Zelenskyy’s official government Facebook page.
“We have agreed that the Ukrainian delegation will meet with Russian without prior conditions on the Ukrainian-Belarusian border, in the area of the Pripyat river,” Zelenskyy wrote. Belarusian leader “Alexander Lukashenko took responsibility for the fact that at the time of the departure, negotiations and return of the Ukrainian delegation, all planes, helicopters and missiles placed on the Belarusian territory will remain on the ground.”
In the last 24 hours, NATO and EU member countries have closed off their airspace to Russian airlines; excluded certain Russian banks from the SWIFT international banking information system, and announced they were speeding lethal aid to Ukraine to help it fight back.
The U.S. announced it was sending $350 million in aid, including Javelin anti-tank weapons; Germany – which had previously been hesitant to provide arms – announced it was sending 500 Stinger surface-to-air missiles and 1,000 Javelins. Germany’s chancellor also announced Sunday the country would immediately begin to spend 2 percent of its GDP on national defense in reaction to the Russian attack on Ukraine.
Ben Watson contributed to this report.