Putin Puts Nuclear Forces On High Alert; Ukraine Announces Talks With Russia

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KHARKIV, Ukraine – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday said that Ukraine and Russia would conduct the first diplomatic talks since the Kremlin-launched invasion, with delegations from both countries meeting at the Ukrainian border with Belarus. The two countries would meet near the Pripyat River “without preconditions,” Zelensky’s office said in a Telegram message.

The announcement, which came after Zelensky had rejected a Russian offer to hold talks in Belarus, did not specify when the meeting might occur. However, the Kremlin said the talks would take place in the Gomel region, in the south of Belarus; Ukraine previously called talks in a country supporting the invasion a non-starter.

But hostilities remained intense, with street fighting in Ukrainian cities and an announcement from Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday that he had put his nuclear deterrence forces into high alert, attributing the move to “aggressive statements” from the West against Russia.

Earlier Sunday, Russian forces pushed into Kharkiv, sparking a battle for control in Ukraine’s second-largest city. By afternoon local time, the city was quieter, with the sounds of bombardment fading from downtown and Kharkiv’s governor announcing the city remained under government control.

Over four days of fighting, the United Nations’ refugee agency said Sunday that 368,000 people have fled Ukraine. In a sign of how the war is quickly upending Europe’s status quo, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced a major boost in defense spending, saying it was time to “invest significantly more” in security and protecting democracy.

Putin’s announcement is a major escalation of tensions with NATO after Western nations announced plans to restrict the Russian central bank from its foreign currency reserves and cut off certain Russian banks from the SWIFT payment system.

“Top officials of the leading NATO countries also allow aggressive statements against our country,” Putin said at a Kremlin meeting Sunday, as he ordered Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov to put the nuclear deterrence forces into “special combat duty.”

The Biden administration and its European allies vowed Saturday night to block the Kremlin’s access to its sizable foreign currency reserves in the West and to cut off Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system, a network that connects banks around the world. The actions could send Russia’s financial market into free fall and cripple the Kremlin’s ability to pay for its new war, which has intensified in recent days.

Zelensky also called on Russia to lose its seat at the United Nations Security Council and said he had spoken with the U.N.’s secretary general, António Guterres, about the possibility.

Ukrainian and Russian forces battled Sunday morning for control of Kharkiv, with intense street fighting and back-and-forth rocket firing. The afternoon in Kharkiv was quieter, as the sounds of bombardment faded from downtown and Gov. Oleg Synyehubov announced that Ukraine’s second-largest city remained under government control.

Synyehubov claimed that groups of Russian troops had surrendered.

Police asked residents not to go outside and warned that they were searching for “saboteurs,” so they might open fire. Synyehubov said on his Telegram channel to “stay at home and hide during the complete destruction of the Russian enemy in the city.” That followed an earlier message from Synyehubov that Russian forces had blown up a gas pipeline in the area.

In an incursion that represented Russia’s most significant yet into any Ukrainian city, local social media accounts showed Russian troops and armored vehicles driving through the streets, within five miles of downtown. The British Ministry of Defense, which has been providing regular accounts of the war, said that the fighting was “heavy.”

Though much of the Russian onslaught has focused on Kyiv, the eastern city of Kharkiv – with 1.5 million residents – is also crucial. It is predominantly Russian-speaking, but there is little appetite for separatism, and the Kremlin’s sway with the public has been on the decline.

Telegram channels asked citizens to carefully take photos and videos of the Russian troops so that civilian defense forces know where they are.

Zelensky on Sunday accused Russia of attacking civilian targets and warned that Russian crimes in Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities, towns and villages was genocide that “would lead to an international tribunal” for the perpetrators.

Speaking early Sunday, looking tired and unshaven, he said “last night was brutal” in Ukraine: “Shelling again, bombing of residential areas, civilian infrastructure again.

“Russia’s criminal actions against Ukraine have the sign of genocide,” he said. “Russia is on the path of evil,” he said, calling for Russia to be stripped of its U.N. Security Council vote.

“There is not a single – not a single – object in the country today that the occupiers would not consider a permissible target,” he said referring to Russian forces, adding that Ukraine was collecting evidence to refer to an international tribunal.

“They are fighting against everybody, they are fighting against everything alive: against kindergartens, against residential houses and even against ambulances. They use rocket artillery, rockets against entire urban areas where there is no military infrastructure and never has been.”

Speaking with visible anger, he listed cities that came under indiscriminate attacks of a kind he said had not seen in Ukraine since World War II: Kyiv, Kharkiv, Vasylkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy.

Russia has denied targeting civilian infrastructure in the course of its invasion. Russia’s Defense Ministry said Sunday it launched long range cruise missiles from ships and warplanes striking “military infrastructure.”

Soon after Zelensky’s speech, Putin issued a prerecorded message of his own on the occasion of Special Operations day and congratulated the nations’ special forces for “their impeccable service” with “special gratitude to those who these days are heroically fulfilling their military duty in the course of a special operation to provide assistance to the People’s republics of Donbass.”

Zelensky addressed the citizens of neighboring Belarus as well, saying the Belarusian leader enabled Russian attacks on Ukraine from Belarusian soil.

“From your territory, Russian Federation troops are launching missiles at Ukraine. From your territory they kill our children, destroy our homes, try to blow up everything that was built over decades. And, by the way, not only by us, but also by our fathers, our grandfathers.

“You decide who you are, you decide who you will be, how you will look your children in the eyes, how you will look each other, your neighbors. And we are your neighbors. We are your neighbors, we are Ukrainians,” Zelensky said. “Be Belarus, not Russia.”

Scholz on Sunday announced a major increase in Germany’s defense spending, potentially marking one of the most significant changes in decades to the country’s long-hesitant approach to international security.

Scholz said the German military would receive a one-off additional payment of over $110 billion this year – about twice the amount of Germany’s defense budget last year.

“Better and more modern equipment, more staff, that costs a lot of money,” Scholz told lawmakers in a special session of the Bundestag, the German parliament.

Scholz also committed to exceeding the NATO defense spending target of 2% of GDP “from now on, every year” – a target that Germany had long failed to meet.

“We are not only striving for this goal because we have promised our friends and allies that we will increase our defense spending to 2% of our economic output by 2024, but we do this for ourselves, too, for our own safety,” Scholz said.

The announcement upends decades of German hesitation to invest more in its military, with Scholz’s Social Democratic Party having been one of the core opponents of a major increase in spending. That stance had long frustrated its allies, including the United States and countries in Eastern Europe.

The sea change in Germany’s defense policy comes amid widespread shock over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The German army’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Alfons Mais, said last week that “the army that I am allowed to lead, is more or less powerless” against Russia amid the current crisis. Defense associations have warned the German military is underfunded and lacks crucial equipment.

Germany has banned Russian aircraft and flight operators from flying into and over its airspace starting at 3 p.m. local time Sunday, a government release said – adding to the list of countries to do so amid a coordinated European pushback against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Officials in Norway, France, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Belgium, Ireland and the Netherlands also indicated Sunday that they would move to close their airspace to Russian flights, joining nearly a dozen other nations who have already done so. European foreign ministers were set to meet at 6 p.m. Brussels time on Sunday to discuss further measures to support Ukraine and punish Moscow.

“Our European skies are open skies,” said Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo on Twitter. “They’re open for those who connect people, not for those who seek to brutally aggress.”

Russia has so far retaliated by banning flights from at least nine countries. In various statements, the country’s Federal Agency for Air Transport called the moves by countries such as the United Kingdom and Romania to ban Russian flights “unfriendly.”

From Sunday afternoon, under a notice issued by the German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure that is set to last at least three months, most Russian aircrafts and aircraft operators will be barred from German air space, with some exceptions, including flights carrying humanitarian aid.

On Sunday, Denmark’s Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said his country would push for a European Union-wide ban on Russian flights at the extraordinary meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers. Such a move would largely cut off Russia from the easiest air route west, while countermeasures imposed by Moscow could make it more difficult for European carriers to fly east, notably to Asia.

While many of Ukraine’s allies have moved to ban Russian flights from their own airspace, there appears to be little appetite for a no-fly zone over the country, a measure previously requested by Ukrainian officials. When asked about it at a news conference on Friday, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said enforcing a no-fly zone would mean putting British pilots in the line of fire and would be tantamount to a declaration of war.

“To do a no-fly zone I would have to put British fighter jets against Russian,” Wallace told the BBC. “NATO would have to effectively declare war on Russia.”

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Sunday that the conflict in Ukraine could last “a number of years” as Britain’s Defense Ministry issued an intelligence update warning that Russian forces were continuing to advance via “multiple” routes, but were still being met with “stiff resistance” from Ukrainians.

“This is not going to be, I fear, over quickly,” Truss said in an interview with Sky News. “We need to be prepared for a very long haul.”

Truss praised the bravery of Ukrainian civilians and armed forces, saying: “They’re determined to stand up for their sovereignty and territorial integrity, and they’re determined to fight.”

Her comments came after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Saturday that countries around the world would continue “working together to ensure Putin pays the price for his aggression,” by implementing sweeping sanctions and removing some Russian banks from the SWIFT international money transfer system.

Japan will join Western allies in imposing stricter sanctions on Russian financial institutions, including the removal of certain Russian banks’ access to SWIFT, in a dramatic ramp-up of Japanese sanctions in response to Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Sunday evening announced a fresh round of harsher sanctions on Russia, including freezing the assets of Russian government officials, including Putin. Kishida also announced Japan will provide $100 million in humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Japan has already pledged another $100 million in emergency loans in support.

In recent days, Japan has taken a sharp turn in rhetoric and economic measures in response to Moscow’s actions. Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi labeled Russia’s actions as “aggression,” the strongest descriptor yet by Japanese officials. Japan had also announced earlier rounds of softer sanctions, in line with Western allies.

Kishida said Japan will join the United States and European countries in isolating Russia from the international financial system and the global economy. Removing Russian institutions from SWIFT could hobble the country’s ability to do business outside of its own borders.

“We will show that there is a high price to pay for violence,” Kishida said in a statement Sunday evening. “Following Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, it is no longer possible to continue relations with Russia as it has been. Japan along with G-7 countries and the international community will take stricter sanctions.”

After years of trying to avoid antagonizing Moscow, Japan has been cautiously stepping up its response alongside other G-7 countries – out of concerns over China. Leaders of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have called on stronger measures by Japan, to show that Japan will not stand for regional actors using force to change the territorial status quo.

Hayashi and Kishida have repeatedly said that Moscow’s actions will have consequences beyond Europe and could affect the Indo-Pacific region, especially in the face of an increasingly aggressive China.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Sunday that his country will work with the United States and NATO partners in Europe to help fund the supply of lethal weapons to Kyiv.

Speaking to reporters after a vigil at a Ukrainian church in Sydney, Morrison also vowed to step up humanitarian support for Ukrainians fleeing the conflict, including by speeding up the processing of Ukrainian visas to Australia.

Thousands of Ukrainians are scrambling to flee as Russian attacks on the country continue. More than 150,000 Ukrainian refugees have crossed into neighboring countries, the United Nations’ high commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, said Saturday.

After two years of pandemic border closures that made it hard even for citizens to return from abroad and slowed immigration to a trickle, the prime minister said “there is quite a lot of room within those programs to take in more places, and Ukrainians will have a priority in terms of processing for those visas.”

He declined to put a number on how many refugees Australia would accept, noting that some may choose to relocate only temporarily to escape the conflict, rather than settle permanently.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry blamed the United States and defended Russia in its first statement since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, faulting the United States for its “disregard” of Russian security and interfering in other countries’ affairs.

The statement released Saturday evening was written by researcher Ri Ji Song and published on the external-facing site of the Foreign Ministry, which is used to comment on geopolitical activities.

The statement did not directly name the Russian invasion of Ukraine but referred to the issue more generally.

“The root cause of the Ukrainian crisis also lies in the high-handedness and arbitrariness of the U.S. which has held on solely to the unilateral sanction and pressure while pursuing only global hegemony and military supremacy in disregard of the legitimate demand of Russia for its security,” the statement read.

The statement referred to commentary by international media and experts “that the contributing factor to the Ukrainian crisis is the imbalance of power in Europe due to the unilateral expansion of NATO and its threat as well as the grave threat to the national security of Russia.”

The statement also echoed frustrations North Korean officials had previously expressed about the United States imposing a “double standard,” responding harshly to North Korea’s weapons tests but not other countries’.

“The U.S. embellishes its own interference in internal affairs of others as ‘righteous’ for peace and stability of the world, but it denounces for no good reason self-defensive measures taken by other countries to ensure their own national security as ‘injustice’ and ‘provocation’ – this is just the arrogance of the U.S. style and its double standard,” it read.

On Sunday, North Korea fired a suspected ballistic missile off its east coast, the militaries of South Korea and Japan said, its first since a spate of launches in January and its eighth test of the year.

Pope Francis, leader of 1.3 billion Catholics, on Sunday denounced the logic behind the conflict in Ukraine as “diabolical.” Speaking to pilgrims at St. Peter’s Square, some of them holding Ukrainian flags, he said that “those who make war forget humanity.”

At nearly the same time, Russian Orthodox Church leader Russian Patriarch Kirill cited Putin’s view of a Russian world with “one people” in his sermon at Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral, echoing the president’s conviction that Ukraine belongs to a conservative, Orthodox, Russian-led Slavic brotherhood.

He said he wanted peace in the “Russian land” – meaning Russia, Ukraine and Belarus – adding “may the Lord protect the peoples that are part of the single space of the Russian Orthodox Church,” warning of “dark and hostile external forces” seeking to divide “our common historical fatherland.”

The two religious leaders’ conflicting approaches show the early, spiritual dimension to a conflict that is sharping lines between the East and West.

Francis had made it a point to draw more closely with the Russian Orthodox church, and in 2016 he became the first pope to meet with a patriarch. In December Francis said another meeting with Patriarch Kirill was “not far on the horizon.”

Since Russia began its invasion, Francis has so far abstained from directly criticizing the Kremlin or discussing the Russian church. But he has made it clear where he stands in the conflict, calling for Catholics to pray for Ukraine, making an unannounced trip to Russia’s embassy to the Holy See, and holding a telephone call with Zelensky to express his “sorrow.”

From Nigeria to Ghana and Lebanon to Iraq, tens of thousands of students who left their home countries to study in Ukraine are desperately calling for support from their governments as Russia’s invasion enters a fourth day.

Some students say they have been abandoned by their native countries and that they have not been offered help.

An estimated 10,000 students from across the Arab world are enrolled at Ukrainian universities, the AFP reported, and African students reportedly make up 20 percent of international students. Many are attracted to Ukraine for its affordable education, while others choose Europe as a haven away from violence and troubles playing out at home.

“We left Iraq to escape war … but it’s the same thing in Ukraine” now, Ali Mohammed, an Iraqi student told Agence France-Presse in a telephone interview.

“We are demanding to go home. We are waiting to be rescued,” he said, adding that he had been unable to reach the Iraq Embassy in Kyiv.

“We are citizens of Nigeria, and we need help,” 23-year-old Nigerian student Sarah Ajifa Idachaba told Germany’s DW news outlet. “Please don’t neglect us, don’t leave us alone,” she said.

Temi Rosabel Tseye-Okotie, a Nigerian studying medicine in Ukraine, told the outlet she was scared and that little guidance had been provided. “The information we are getting from Nigeria is basically that we are on our own,” she said.

Ghanaian engineering student Percy Ohene-Yeboah told Reuters in an interview Thursday that it was probably “a bit too late for evacuation” and that he would remain hunkered down in an underground bunker.

“In a situation like this, you’re on your own. You’ve got to find the best way to find refuge for yourself,” he said.

The International Judo Federation said in a statement Sunday that it was suspending Putin as its honorary president and ambassador, citing the “ongoing war conflict in Ukraine.”

The announcement came just days after the organization canceled its May Grand Slam event in Kazan, Russia, with IJF President Marius Vizer saying he was “saddened by the current international situation,” although the earlier statement did not directly reference Russia or Ukraine.

Putin, 69, is a keen judoka and holds a black belt. He has also co-written a book titled “Judo: History, Theory, Practice.”

In 2019, Putin was videoed sparring with Olympic athletes at a judo training session in Sochi, with Euro News reporting at the time that the president was shown on Russian television toppling several opponents before being taken down by a female judoka.

(c) 2022, The Washington Post · Isabelle Khurshudyan, Chico Harlan, Rachel Pannett, Robyn Dixon, Annabelle Timsit, Jennifer Hassan 



  1. Zelensky is severely angered as he claims that the Russian forces are heavily shelling and bombing residential areas and civilian infrastructure, and that they thus, quote: “kill our children, destroy our homes, try to blow up everything that was built over decades. And, by the way, not only by us, but also by our fathers, our grandfathers.”

    Now, as reported here, the Russians strongly deny these accusations, stating that they are shooting ONLY at military targets.

    Whatever the actual facts are, we certainly must sharply retort to Zelensky: “What about the ALMOST EIGHT YEARS of your government’s forces heavily shelling and bombing the residential areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces and killing their children and destroying their homes and blowing up what they and their fathers and their grandfathers had built up over decades???????” That was all OK???????

    Your forces relentless attacks on those areas was clearly one of the big reasons that prompted the Russians to make this invasion.

  2. To: ah BITTER BITTER gelechter:

    Putin is a Thug, Killer & Murderer; without a conscience. He is a former KGB operative.
    G-D forbid, should he or another madman, like Kim Jong-un, activate & use nuclear weapons, we definitely will need “Rachmei Shomayim”.
    For WWIII, if it ever comes about, will be fought “with bows & arrows”!


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