Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday ordered Russia’s nuclear forces to be put on “special” alert in response to Western sanctions and what he said were “aggressive statements” made by NATO countries.
“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, according to Russia’s Tass news agency.
According to RT, Putin activated a “deterrent force,” which includes both nuclear and conventional strategic weapons that can be used offensively or defensively. The Russian military says the force is designed “to deter aggression against Russia and its allies, as well as to defeat the aggressor, including in a war with the use of nuclear weapons.”
Putin’s move comes after the US and its European allies announced that they are expelling some Russian banks from the SWIFT international financial system. The US and its allies have imposed a series of harsh sanctions on Russia since its assault on Ukraine began.
The Western powers are also taking steps to send more weapons to Ukraine to help them fight Russia. On Saturday, the US announced an additional $350 million in military aid for Ukraine. “This package will include further lethal defensive assistance to help Ukraine address the armored, airborne, and other threats it is now facing,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement on the new aid.
On Friday, the White House asked Congress for $6.4 billion for military and humanitarian aid to give to Ukraine and other countries in the region. At this point, it’s not clear how the US will deliver the aid since Ukraine’s airspace is not safe. Ukraine’s defense minister has suggested shipping the arms to Poland from where they can be taken across the border.
Putin has said that if Ukraine declares neutrality from NATO and agrees to demilitarize that the assault will stop. Ukraine and Russia have reportedly agreed to hold ceasefire talks, although there have been conflicting statements from each side as to where they will be held.