Putin puts nuclear deterrence on high alert; The West squeezes the Russian economy

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  • US says nuclear alert ‘completely unacceptable’
  • Putin blames NATO members for ‘aggressive’ statements
  • Russian-Ukrainian talks imminent on the Belarusian border
  • Over 360,000 refugees have fled Ukraine, UN says
  • BP renounces its stake in Rosneft and cancels 25 billion dollars

KYIV/MOSCOW, Feb 27 (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin put Russia’s nuclear deterrent on high alert on Sunday amid a barrage of Western retaliation for its war on Ukraine, which said it had pushed back Russian ground forces attacking its largest cities.

The US says Putin is escalating the war with ‘dangerous rhetoric’, amid signs that the biggest assault on a European state since World War II is not producing quick wins, but rather generating a Western response wide-ranging and concerted.

Less than four days after it began, the invasion triggered a Western political, strategic, economic, and trade response unprecedented in scale and coordination.

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“With this war on Ukraine, the world will never be the same again,” EU foreign policy chief Josef Borrell wrote in an opinion piece in The Guardian newspaper.

“Now is the time more than ever for societies and alliances to come together to build our future on trust, justice and freedom. Now is the time to stand up and speak out. right. Never. I will never do that,” he said.

The European Union of 27 decided on Sunday for the first time in its history to supply arms to a country at war. A source told Reuters it would send 450 million euros ($507 million) worth of weapons to Ukraine.

At a press conference on Sunday, Borrell said EU support would include supplying fighter jets to Ukraine.

The Russian ruble plunged nearly 20% to hit a new high against the dollar on Monday at the start of Asian trade after Western nations unveiled tough sanctions on Saturday, including blocking some banks from the international payment system SWIFT.

The Ukrainian president’s office said negotiations with Moscow without preconditions would be held on the Belarusian-Ukrainian border. Later Sunday, Russian news agency Tass quoted an unidentified source as saying the talks would begin Monday morning.

As the missiles fell on Ukrainian cities, nearly 400,000 civilians, mostly women and children, fled to neighboring countries. Hundreds of people were stranded in Kiev on Sunday waiting for trains to take them west away from the fighting.

The capital remained in Ukrainian government hands, with Zelenskiy rallying his people daily despite Russian bombardment of civilian infrastructure.

The EU has closed all Russian planes out of its airspace, as has Canada, forcing Russian airline Aeroflot to cancel all flights to European destinations until further notice. With flight options dwindling, the United States and France have urged their citizens to consider leaving Russia immediately. Read more

The EU has also banned Russian media RT and Sputnik.

Germany, which had already frozen an undersea gas pipeline project from Russia, said it would massively increase defense spending, ending decades of reluctance to match its economic might with its military clout. Read more

British oil giant BP BP, the biggest foreign investor in Russia, said it was dumping its stake in state oil company Rosneft (ROSN.MM) at a cost of up to $25 billion, halving its oil and gas reserves. Read more

“NO DETERRENCE BUT THREAT”

But Putin, who called the invasion a “special operation”, brought an alarming new element into play when he ordered Russian “deterrence forces” – which use nuclear weapons – to prepare for maximum alert.

He justified the invasion by saying that “neo-Nazis” rule Ukraine and threaten Russia’s security – a charge that Kiev and Western governments say is baseless propaganda.

On Sunday, he cited aggressive statements by NATO leaders and the series of economic sanctions imposed on Russia by the West.

“Not only are the Western countries taking hostile measures against our country in the economic dimension – I mean the illegal sanctions that everyone is very familiar with – but also the senior officials of the main NATO countries allow themselves to make statements aggressive towards our country,” he told state television.

Putin previously referenced his nuclear arsenal in a speech announcing the start of the invasion on Thursday, saying Russia’s response to any country that stands in its way would be immediate and bring “consequences you never have. encountered in your story”.

At a press conference in Brussels, Borrell said that Russia had clearly threatened a nuclear attack against countries supporting Ukraine after the invasion. “We are afraid that Russia will not stop in Ukraine,” he said.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the UN Security Council: “This is yet another escalation and an unnecessary step that threatens us all. We urge Russia to moderate this dangerous rhetoric about nuclear weapons.”

A US defense official said Washington was trying to assess what Putin’s announcement meant, but that increased the danger of miscalculation. Read more

As part of the toughest economic sanctions to date, the United States and Europe said on Saturday they would ban major Russian banks from the main global payment system SWIFT and announced other measures to limit the use by Moscow of a war chest of 630 billion dollars.

The president of neutral Switzerland said he expected his government to follow the EU on Monday in sanctioning Russia and freezing Russian assets. Read more

In New York, the UN Security Council called a rare emergency meeting of the UN General Assembly, or all 193 UN member states, for Monday.

Continued protests took place around the world against the invasion, including in Russia, which was severely suppressed. Nearly 6,000 people have been arrested in anti-war protests since Thursday, protest monitor OVD-Info said. Read more

Tens of thousands of people across Europe demonstrated in protest, including more than 100,000 in Berlin. Read more

BATTLE FOR KHARKIV

An official Ukrainian news agency said Russian troops blew up a gas pipeline in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, sending a burning cloud into the sky.

Shortly after, Russian armor entered Kharkiv in northwestern Ukraine, and witnesses reported gunfire and explosions. But city authorities said the attack had been repelled.

Reuters was unable to corroborate the information.

Ukrainian forces also appeared to be holding back Russian troops advancing on Kiev, but the Ukrainian Armed Forces described Sunday as “a difficult time” for the military, saying Russian troops “continue to shell from almost every direction”.

Satellite images released by the private Maxar Technologies taken on Sunday showed a 5 km (3.25 miles) convoy of Russian ground forces, including tanks, about 40 miles (64 km) towards Kiev. Reuters could not independently verify the images.

“We resisted and successfully repelled enemy attacks. The fighting continues,” Zelenskiy said in the latest of several video messages from the streets of Kiev. Read more

He refused to leave the city and rounded up fighters and civilians, many of whom sought refuge in underground train stations.

A United Nations relief agency said more than 368,000 refugees had crossed into neighboring countries, clogging railways, roads and borders.

At least 352 civilians, including 14 children, were killed and 1,684 people were injured, Ukraine’s health ministry said.

A United Nations agency reported 64 civilian deaths and a Ukrainian presidential adviser said 4,500 Russian soldiers had been killed. Reuters was unable to verify the figures.

“The Russian army does not threaten civilians in Ukraine. It does not bomb civilian infrastructure,” Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the UN Security Council.

Moscow acknowledged that Russian soldiers had been killed and wounded, but said its losses were much lower than those suffered by Ukraine, the Interfax news agency reported. He said Russian attacks hit 1,067 Ukrainian military sites. Moscow has not released casualty figures.

Ukraine, a democratic nation of 44 million people, gained independence from Moscow in 1991 upon the fall of the Soviet Union and pushed to join the Western military alliance of NATO and the EU, goals which Russia vehemently opposes.

Germany, which sends anti-tank weapons, surface-to-air missiles and ammunition to Ukraine, said on Sunday it would increase defense spending to more than 2% of its economic output in response to the attack, ending his post-World War II Practical World.

“There could be no other response to Putin’s aggression,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz told lawmakers.

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Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova, Aleksandar Vasovic in Kyiv; Natalia Zinets and Matthias Williams in Lviv; Alan Charlish in Medyka, Poland; Fedja Grulovic in Sighetu Marmatiei, Romania; and other Reuters offices, including Moscow; Written by Frank Jack Daniel, Angus MacSwan, Kevin Liffey and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by David Clarke and Grant McCool

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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