Conflicts & War

Putin hints at nuclear action, Russian forces repelled from Kharkiv

(Update 2: Adds info on Putin nuclear declaration, negotiations, Kharkiv battle)

Kyiv/Moscow, Feb 27 (EFE).- Russian president Vladimir Putin on Sunday placed his country’s nuclear forces on special alert in response to Western countries’ increasingly tough economic sanctions on Moscow that have followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Top officials in Nato’s leading countries have been making aggressive statements against our country. For this reason, I give orders to the defense minister and chief of the General Staff to introduce a special combat service regime in the Russian army’s deference forces,” Putin said at a meeting with the Russian defense minister and the chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces.

Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said that Putin’s latest declaration, which Nato described as “dangerous” and “irresponsible”, was designed to pressure Kyiv into surrendering.

“We will not surrender, we will not capitulate, we will not give up a single inch of our territory,” Kuleba told a press conference.

“We are determined to fight back fiercely as long as it is needed to defend our land and our people,” he said.

Putin’s escalation came as Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he would meet officials from Moscow to negotiate a ceasefire on the border with Belarus following a discussion with Belarussian president Aleksandr Lukashenko earlier on Sunday.

“We agreed that the Ukrainian delegation would meet with the Russian delegation without preconditions on the Ukrainian-Belarusian border, near the Pripyat River,” a statement by the Ukrainian presidency read.

Zelenskyy had previously said he would not travel to Belarus for any talks as part of Russia’s invading forces were launched from there.

Local officials in Kharkiv said that Russian troops who had entered the country’s second city had been pushed back, while the Ukrainian army said it had also stopped Moscow’s forces from marching into the capital, Kyiv.

Videos shared on social media early on Sunday showed fierce street battles raging in Kharkiv after Russian armored vehicles had entered the city, triggering calls from local authorities for civilians to stay indoors.

Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Sunday that as many as 4,300 Russian troops had been killed since the invasion began on Thursday.

The international community, meanwhile, continues to provide military aid to the embattled country, while also tightening economic sanctions on Russia.

In a joint statement, the European Union, United Kingdom, Canada, and United States pledged to remove certain Russian banks from Swift, an international financial transaction system that underpins global banking.

“This will ensure that these banks are disconnected from the international financial system and harm their ability to operate globally,” the statement said.

Zelenskyy welcomed the move, which he called “a tangible price for this vile invasion of our country” said would cause Russia to suffer losses in the “billions and billions.”

“It seems that Ukraine has gained the sincerity and attention of the whole normal, civilized world. And the practical result – here it is, SWIFT (…) Disconnecting from global financial civilization,” he said.

Zelenskyy’s adviser Mikhail Podoliak said Ukrainian forces were fiercely resisting Russian troops attempting to enter the capital city, as fighting continued on the same fronts on the outskirts of Kyiv as at the outset of the invasion.

“Ukraine resists (…) they believed that they could take over Ukraine in four, twelve, sixteen hours at the most, they were convinced. But the reality is different. The positional battles are being fought in the same places as three days ago,” Podoliak added.

Meanwhile, EU foreign ministers were set to meet Sunday to discuss an aid package to the Ukrainian armed forces, said Josep Borrell, the bloc’s foreign policy and security chief.

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