As Western countries lined up to send arms to Ukraine and impose suffocating sanctions, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Russia's nuclear "deterrence forces" onto high alert. Photograph:( Reuters )
He also accused Western countries of taking 'unfriendly' steps against his country after the US, European Union, and the United Kingdom agreed to block 'selected' Russian banks from the SWIFT global financial messaging system
President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian nuclear deterrent forces put on high alert Sunday amid tensions with the West over his invasion of Ukraine.
"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.
"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," he added.
In response, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, "We've seen him do this time and time again. At no point has Russia been under threat from NATO, has Russia been under threat from Ukraine."
"This is all a pattern from President Putin and we're going to stand up to it. We have the ability to defend ourselves, but we also need to call out what we're seeing here from President Putin," Psaki added.
It comes after President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko announced that the country will turn to Russia with a request to return nuclear weapons to it if the United States deploys them in Poland or Lithuania.
According to Lukashenko, he mentioned this possibility during the conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron. "If the United States, or France … transfer nuclear weapons to Poland, to Lithuania, to our borders, … I will appeal to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin to return the weapons that I once gave without any preconditions," Lukashenko said.
Ukrainian forces battled Russian troops pushing into the city of Kharkiv on Sunday on the fourth day of an invasion that has shaken Europe's long-standing security architecture and pushed Germany to spend more on defence.
The invasion of Ukraine from three sides ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin is the biggest assault on a European state since World War Two.
The attack, which Russia calls a special operation, has so far failed to topple the government in Kyiv or take major cities, but has driven hundreds of thousands of refugees, mainly women and children, into neighbouring countries.
“We are fighting, fighting for our country, fighting for our freedom because we have the right to do that,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said.
“The past night was tough, more shelling, more bombing of residential areas and civilian infrastructure. There is not a single facility in the country that the occupiers wouldn’t consider as admissible targets.”
Ukraine’s health minister reported Saturday that 198 people, including three children, had been killed and more than 1,000 others wounded.
The US, European Union, and the United Kingdom agreed to block “selected” Russian banks from the SWIFT global financial messaging system, which moves money around more than 11,000 banks and other financial institutions worldwide, part of a new round of sanctions aiming to impose a severe cost on Moscow for the invasion.
(With inputs from agencies)