Russian forces enter Ukraine’s second city, gas pipelines exploded; Kyiv says will meet Moscow for talks, lodges complaint at ICJ
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his military command to put nuclear-armed forces on high alert on Sunday as Ukrainian fighters defending the city of Kharkiv said they had repelled an attack by invading Russian troops.
Putin ordered his defence chiefs to put the country’s nuclear “deterrence forces” on high alert and accused the West of taking “unfriendly” steps against his country.
International tensions are already soaring over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and Putin’s order will cause further alarm. Moscow has the world’s second-largest arsenal of nuclear weapons and a huge cache of ballistic missiles which form the backbone of the country’s deterrence forces.
“I order the defence minister and the chief of the general staff of the Russian armed forces to put the deterrence forces of the Russian army into a special mode of combat service,” Putin said.
“You see that Western countries are not only unfriendly to our country in the economic sphere — I mean illegitimate sanctions,” he added, in a televised address.
“Senior officials of leading NATO countries also allow aggressive statements against our country.” Defence Minister Shoigu replied: “Affirmative.”
US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said that “President Putin is continuing to escalate this war in a manner that is totally unacceptable and we have to continue to stem his actions in the strongest possible way”.
On the fourth day of the biggest assault on a European state since World War Two, the Ukrainian president’s office said negotiations between Kyiv and Moscow would be held at the Belarusian-Ukrainian border. They would meet without preconditions, it said.
Thousands of Ukrainian civilians, mainly women and children, were fleeing from the Russian assault into neighbouring countries. The capital Kyiv was still in Ukrainian government hands, with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy rallying his people despite Russian shelling of civilian infrastructure.
Meanwhile, Russian soldiers and armoured vehicles rolled into Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, and witnesses reported firing and explosions. But city authorities said Ukrainian fighters had repelled the attack.
“Control over Kharkiv is completely ours! The armed forces, the police, and the defence forces are working, and the city is being completely cleansed of the enemy,” regional Governor Oleh Sinegubov said. Ukrainian forces were also holding off Russian troops advancing on Kyiv.
“We have withstood and are successfully repelling enemy attacks. The fighting goes on,” Zelenskiy said in a video message from the streets of Kyiv.
In other developments, Russian troops blew up a natural gas pipeline in Kharkiv before daybreak, a Ukrainian state agency said, sending a burning cloud up into the darkness.
Ukraine also lodged a complaint against Russia at the International Court of Justice in The Hague to get it to halt its invasion. Russia must be held accountable for manipulating the notion of genocide to justify aggression,” Zelensky declared in a tweet.
“We request an urgent decision ordering Russia to cease military activity now and expect trials to start next week.”
A senior US defence official said more than half the Russian combat power that was massed along Ukraine’s borders had entered the country and Moscow has had to commit more fuel supply and other support units inside Ukraine than originally anticipated.
Fighting on the city’s outskirts suggested that small Russian units were trying to clear a path for the main forces. Small groups of Russian troops were reported inside Kyiv, but Britain and the US said the bulk of the forces were 30 kilometres from the city’s centre as of Saturday afternoon.