This article was last updated on April 16, 2022
Russian President Vladimir Putin put his country’s nuclear forces to their highest level alert Sunday, as Ukraine continued to mount a surprising fierce resistance to the four-day-old Russian invasion of this country.
Mr. Putin said the dramatic step was a response to widespread Western sanctions against Russia, which have included most of Europe denying its airspace to Russian carriers, as well as moves to cut Russia off from the SWIFT international banking system.
The 30-member North Atlantic Treaty military alliance has also deployed additional units to members states bordering Russia and Ukraine in response to the Kremlin’s aggression.
“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,” Mr. Putin said on state television.
“I therefore order the Ministry Defence and Chief of Staff to put the deterrence forces of the Russian Federation on special status.”
Hopes for a ceasefire rose amid the brinksmanship, as the office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced Sunday that Russian and Ukrainian officials had agreed to meet at the border between Belarus and Ukraine. It was not immediately clear when the talks would be held, or what level of officials would take part.
The battle for Kyiv continued to rage for a fourth day on Sunday, with the city’s mayor saying Ukrainian forces were still in control of this normally graceful city of three million people that Mr. Putin has turned into a war zone.
However Russian troops and armoured vehicles appeared to have pushed into at least parts of Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, in the east of the country. And there were growing fears that Belarus, which has already allowed Russia to use its soil to launch attacks on Kyiv, could soon formally join the war against Ukraine.
Kyiv Mayor Vitaly Klitschko said Sunday morning that at least 31 people, including nine children, had died since the assault on the capital began with airstrikes late Wednesday night. But the city’s defences were holding, he said. “Our military, law enforcement and territorial defence continue to detect and neutralize saboteurs,” the former world boxing champ wrote on his Telegram channel.
Mr. Klitschko said Kyiv residents should remain indoors until Monday, only leaving their homes to go into shelters when air raid sirens sounded.