President Vladimir Putin has ordered Russian nuclear forces to be placed on high alert Sunday in response to what he described as “aggressive statements” by leading NATO powers, according to the Associated Press. Russia’s nuclear weapons will now be prepared for increased readiness to launch, raising concerns the Ukraine invasion will become a broader conflict with NATO.
The Latest: “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,” Putin said during a televised meeting.
He also ordered his defense minister and the chief of the military’s General Staff to place the nuclear deterrent forces in a “special regime of combat duty.”
Meanwhile, two large explosions were reported south of the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv early Sunday morning, near Vasylkiv, the location of a large military airfield and multiple fuel tanks. The developments come amid a barrage of cruise and ballistic missile strikes on Kyiv, according to Ukrainian officials.
As Russian troops continue advancing on the capital city, a defiant Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told citizens to defend the country.
"Each Ukrainian should keep one thing in mind: if you can stop and destroy the occupiers -- do it," he said. "Everyone who can come back to Ukraine -- come back to defend Ukraine."
In a video message Saturday afternoon, Zelensky declared, "We have withstood and successfully repelled enemy attacks. Fighting continues in different cities and regions of our country."
Ukraine's prime minister announced the country was closing its borders with Russia and Belarus starting Monday, and only Ukrainian citizens would be able to cross into Ukraine from those two countries.
Russian Troops Advancing: Britain's Ministry of Defense said most of the Russian forces are only 18.6 miles from the center of Kyiv, warning that casualties are "likely to be heavy and greater than anticipated or acknowledged by the Kremlin."
A local journalist, reporting on the developments near Kyiv, tweeted that a push by Russian troops into the capital may come at a heavy cost.
There's lot of chatter and purported leaks on silovik telegram channels that the General Staff has instructed that Kyiv be taken by Monday, and has overridden the objection of the Airborne forces who think this can only be done at a huge cost of lives.— Christo Grozev (@christogrozev) February 27, 2022
An adviser to Ukraine’s president claimed that Russia’s assault on Kyiv is not advancing and that about 3,500 Russian soldiers have been killed or injured since the invasion began. “We are striking the enemy around Kyiv. The enemy is not moving for now,” Oleksiy Arestovych said.
There was no immediate response to the claim from the Kremlin.
At least 64 civilians have been killed and more than 160,000 are on the move as of Sunday, according to a United Nations relief agency. The U.N. added that the actual figures were likely to be "considerably higher".
Russian defense spending is roughly ten times that of Ukraine and has about 900,000 active personnel and 2 million in reserve, compared to Ukraine's 196,000 and 900,000 reservists.
International Community Reaction: The U.S., along with France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and Canada, announced Saturday evening that they would expel certain Russian banks from SWIFT, the high-security network that connects thousands of financial institutions around the world. The countries also pledged to "collectively ensure that this war is a strategic failure for [Vladimir] Putin."
Meanwhile, China has declined to criticize Russia's attack, and abstained on voting for a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Photo: Courtesy of Antonio Marín Segovia on Flickr
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