Ukraine conflict: Vladimir Putin puts nuclear deterrent on 'special alert'
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According to reports from Reuters, Putin has ordered his military command to put nuclear forces on a "special' state of alert.
Putin cited “aggressive statements” coming from Western powers and hard-hitting economic sanctions – which include the exclusion of Russian banks from the Swift global payments system – as reasons for the action.
“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,” he said.
Russian television footage showed Mr Putin meeting with his defence minister and the chief of the general staff, and instructing them to put the nuclear deterrent on a “special regime of combat duty”.
Such a move does not mean that weapons will be launched, but moving to alert status is likely to make it easier to launch weapons more quickly
The order, which was announced by the TASS news agency, came at a meeting between Putin, defence minister Sergei Shoigu and chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia Valery Gerasimov.
Russia's leader had already issued a coded warning that they would be willing to use nuclear weapons as he began his invasion of Ukraine with Russia having the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world.
The US has responded to President Putin's order putting Russia's nuclear forces on a "special" state of alert.
The US Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, called the move "unacceptable" in an interview with CBS News.
She said: "It means that President Putin is continuing to escalate this war in a manner that is totally unacceptable and we have to continue to stem his actions in the strongest possible way.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said any use of nuclear or chemical weapons would represent an “extremely serious escalation” of the conflict which could see Russian leaders brought before the International Criminal Court.
Her warning came after the Commons Defence Committee chairman Tobias Ellwood said that in the “worst-case scenario” Mr Putin could deploy low yield tactical nuclear weapons if his forces failed to make a breakthrough.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky released a statement followinga conversation with Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko.
It read: “We agreed that the Ukrainian delegation would meet with the Russian delegation without preconditions on the Ukrainian-Belarusian border, near the Pripyat River.
“Alexander Lukashenko has taken responsibility for ensuring that all planes, helicopters and missiles stationed on Belarusian territory remain on the ground during the Ukrainian delegation's travel, talks and return.”
A Ukrainian has said she was left “shaking” as she read Vladimir Putin’s statement that he has placed Russia’s nuclear deterrent on alert.
Anna Proskurnina is in the city of Kharkiv, 25 miles from the Russian border, where she said residents have been asked “not to go outside under any circumstances” amid heavy shelling over the weekend.
She said: “(It) sounds like the beginning of World War Three… my hands are shaking.”
The freelance artist said she and her family had wanted to flee Kharkiv on Thursday, but her father’s car broke down so they are now waiting for an opportunity to escape.