Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian forces on alert, raising the threat that tensions with the West could lead to the use of nuclear weapons, while a senior American defense official said Ukrainian resistance to invading forces is stiffer than invaders expected, and the U.S. and NATO continue to supply security assistance to Ukraine.
Moscow has the world’s second-largest arsenal of nuclear weapons and a huge cache of ballistic missiles, which like those of the number-one ranked United States, form the backbone of the country’s deterrent to an attack.
Putin’s order raises the threat that conflict could lead to the use of nuclear weapons.
This is the second time Putin has alluded to Russia’s nuclear arsenal while effectively warning the West to back off.
Putin, in giving the nuclear alert directive, cited not only the alleged statements by NATO members but the hard-hitting financial sanctions imposed by the West against Russia, including the Russian leader himself.
Speaking at a meeting with his top officials, Putin told his defense minister and the chief of the military’s General Staff to put the nuclear deterrent forces in a “special regime of combat duty.”
“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,” said Putin, in reaction to the hard-hitting financial sanctions against Russian businesses and oligarchs, including the Russian President himself.
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu and the chief of the military’s general staff have been ordered to put the nuclear deterrent forces in a “special regime of combat duty.”
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, said that “President Putin is continuing to escalate this war in a manner that is totally unacceptable.”
“This is a pattern that we’ve seen from President Putin through the course of this conflict, which is manufacturing threats that don’t exist in order to justify further aggression,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki when asked about the announcement.
U.S. and Ukrainian officials say Russia’s invasion is not going to plan due to stronger-than-expected resistance.
“We continue to believe, based on what we’ve observed, that this resistance is greater than what the Russians expected. And we have indications that the Russians are increasingly frustrated by their lack of momentum over the last 24 hours, particularly in the north parts of Ukraine,” the senior American defense official said.
Ukrainian air defenses, including aircraft, continue to be operable and continue to engage and deny access to Russian aircraft in places over the country, the US official said.
“As of this morning, we have no indication that the Russian military has taken control over any cities, and we still believe that Russia has yet to achieve air superiority,” the official said.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine over the last 24 hours has been observed to occur over three main axes: from the south — including an amphibious assault from the Sea of Azov; from the north central; and from the northeast, a senior defense official said.
Over the last 24 hours or so, the U.S. has continued to observe more than 250 Russian missile launches, mostly short-range ballistic missiles, the official said.
“We continue to see civilian infrastructure and residential areas impacted and damaged by these missile strikes,” the official said, adding that it’s not clear if those strikes were intentional.
Altogether, Russia has more than 150,000 troops arrayed against Ukraine, with more than 50% inside the country — up from one-third over the last 24 hours — and the rest are still along the border, the official said. There are also some Russian reconnaissance forces inside Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital city.
Also, there are an increasing number of Ukrainians leaving the country, the official said. “The lines are stacking up on the Ukrainian side of the of the border with Poland.”
Yesterday, President Joe Biden authorized an additional $350 million of military assistance from Defense Department inventories — including anti-armor, small arms, various munitions, body armor and related equipment — to support Ukraine’s frontline defenders, who are facing down Russia’s unprovoked attack, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said Saturday.
That brings the total U.S. security assistance approved for Ukraine to $1 billion over the past year. It’s the third time Biden has expedited emergency security assistance for Ukraine’s defense in recent months using his presidential authority, Kirby said.
“We, along with our allies and partners, are standing together to continue to expedite security assistance to Ukraine and are employing all available security cooperation tools in support of the Ukrainian people as they defend themselves against this aggression,” Kirby said.
“Our commitment and deliveries continue as a sign of our unwavering support for Ukraine sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the American added.
A defeat in Ukraine could spell trouble for Putin but extricating himself from the situation without triggering world destruction might prove impossible.
Having already threatened publications with censorship, the government is preparing to crack down harder on its citizens as large protests in Moscow and St. Petersburg, despite the threat of arrests, indicate that many Russians aren’t buying assertions that no “war” or “invasion” is taking place.
The Kremlin and state media continue to tell Russians that there’s a limited defensive operation taking place in eastern Ukraine and independent publications are not allowed to report on Russian casualties or refer to military action as aggression.
The Kremlin announced that “the provision of any assistance to a foreign state” during the “military operation” would be considered treason, punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Despite those threats, thousands of Russians have vocally protested the invasion.
Also, a delicate balancing act is needed to isolate Russia because anything that causes Putin to lash out may trigger a global thermonuclear exchange.
A Russia-bound cargo ship was seized in the English Channel by French naval forces after the European Union announced sanctions as Putin’s troops continue their offensive against Ukraine. The 416-ft commercial boat named the ‘Baltic Leader’ is believed to belong to a company that was sanctioned by the EU.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg recently announced the activation of the alliance’s defense plans, which means they may be called upon to provide military support from the United States and 29 other nations.
While President Joe Biden has said U.S. troops will not enter Ukraine to participate directly in the fight against Russia, American forces may eventually be called upon to participate as part of the response team to bolster NATO partner nations if they ask for assistance.
“We’re going to do everything that we need to do to defend our country, and as the President has said, we’re going to do what we need to do to defend every inch of NATO territory — and we take those obligations seriously,” said Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby.
NATO is a transatlantic alliance of 30 North American and European countries that was founded in 1949 in the aftermath of World War II, with the purpose of containing communist aggression.