Russian President Vladimir Putin put Russia’s nuclear deterrent forces on high alert as Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukrainian delegates would meet Russian officials at the Belarusian border.
Image: SERGEI GUNEYEV/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)
Vladimir Putin has put his nuclear armed forces on high alert in a move that has sparked alarm and condemnation.
He ordered “deterrence” troops to stand by for what he called “unfriendly” economic sanctions against Russia and “aggressive” talk from Western powers.
Military strategists believe that after mistakenly expecting the Ukrainians to collapse, Putin may resort to stronger weapons.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Russia using tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield against Ukrainian forces would be an “extremely serious” escalation.
Russian state television showed President Putin ordering his defense minister and chief of the general staff to place their nuclear forces under a “special regime of combat duty”.
He said: “Western countries are not only taking hostile action against our country in the economic sphere, but senior officials of major NATO members have made aggressive statements.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said: “This is dangerous rhetoric. It’s… irresponsible.
“And when you combine that rhetoric with what they’re doing on the ground in Ukraine…it adds seriousness.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki accused Putin of resorting to the tactic he used in the build-up to the invasion, “which is to fabricate threats that don’t exist in order to to justify further aggression”.
Ms Truss said Putin could use “the most disreputable means” to secure victory in Ukraine.
The foreign minister added: “I fear that this conflict will be very, very bloody. I urge the Russians not to escalate this conflict, but we must be prepared for Russia to seek to use even worse weapons.
“I think it would be devastating. We must avoid this at all costs. »
Andy Stenning/Daily Mirror)
Western officials have previously raised the possibility of Russia using thermobaric “vacuum bombs” that suck in oxygen to create a gigantic high-temperature explosion.
Ms Truss said Russian officials could be tried for war crimes “if they enter that arena”.
She added that if Putin is serious about a diplomatic solution, he must withdraw his troops.
Ms Truss said: “They can’t negotiate with a gun to Ukraine’s head.” She admitted to the BBC that the British government had failed to act over the years to counter the Russian threat.
Asked if the UK would support Ukraine’s call for Russia to lose its seat on the UN Security Council, she said nothing was “out of place”.
Ms Truss also claimed Putin’s attack, which sparked mass protests in Russia, “may well be the beginning of the end” for him.
As discontent grows, there have also been long queues at ATMs as Western sanctions have raised fears of a run on banks.
Tobias Ellwood, the Tory MP who chairs the Commons Defense Committee, has warned that Putin could resort to “radical” military tactics.
He added: “We saw what he did in Syria… he can certainly use other weapons systems that have not been tested or that we are used to. Chemical weapons and the worst case scenario would be low yield nuclear weapons.
SERGEY BOBOK/AFP via Getty Images)
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MPs want the Russian ambassador expelled from the UK.
The EU has announced that for the first time ever, it will buy and deliver weapons to a nation under attack – a package for Ukraine worth around £500million.
There will be an additional £50 million in medical supplies. The EU will also ban Russian planes, including private jets owned by oligarchs, from flying over its airspace.
Kremlin-backed media, including Russia Today and Sputnik News, will be banned from the EU.
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said it would prevent them from “spreading their lies to justify Putin’s war”.
SERGEY BOBOK/AFP via Getty Images)
Evgen Kotenko / Avalon)
Brussels is also extending sanctions to Belarus, which it has called “another aggressor”. Germany has announced a major shift in its decades-old defense policy.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz has promised increased military spending and an £85billion overhaul of the armed forces.
He said: “It is clear that we must invest much more in the security of our country, to protect our freedom and our democracy.”
And in a historic break with Germany’s post-war pledge not to export arms to conflict zones, Mr Scholz also said he would send missiles to Ukraine.
The delivery includes 1,000 anti-tank weapons.
Even neutral Sweden will send military equipment to Ukraine.
It will be the first time that Sweden has sent weapons to a country in armed conflict since the Soviet invasion of Finland in 1939.