JURAS KARMANOV, JIM HEINZ, VLADIMIR ISACHANKOV and DASHA LITVINOVA
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) – President Vladimir Putin has sharply increased tensions between East and West by ordering Russian nuclear forces to be on high alert, while Ukraine’s struggling leader has agreed to talks with Moscow when Putin’s troops and tanks enter. deeper into the country, approaching it. the capital.
Citing NATO’s “aggressive statements” and harsh financial sanctions, Putin issued a directive to increase Russia’s nuclear weapons preparedness, raising fears that an invasion of Ukraine could lead to nuclear war by design or error.
The Russian leader “potentially involves forces in the game that, if miscalculated, could do much, much more dangerous,” a senior US defense official said on condition of anonymity to discuss the rapidly unfolding military operations.
Putin’s directive came at a time when Russian forces met with strong opposition from Ukraine’s defenders. Moscow has not yet managed to gain full control of Ukraine’s airspace, despite advances across the country. U.S. officials say they believe the invasion was more complex and slower than the Kremlin had suggested, though that could change as Moscow adapts.
Amid rising tensions, Western countries have said they will tighten sanctions and buy and supply weapons to Ukraine, including Stinger missiles to shoot down helicopters and other planes.
Meanwhile, the office of President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky has announced plans to meet with the Russian delegation at an unspecified location on the Belarusian border.
It was not immediately clear when the meeting would take place, nor what the Kremlin would ultimately seek, nor in these potential border talks, nor, more broadly, as a result of the war in Ukraine. Western officials believe Putin wants to overthrow the Ukrainian government and replace it with his own regime, reviving Moscow’s Cold War influence.
The rapid development of events took place after the scattered battles took place in Kiev. Fighting also began in Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, and strategic ports in the south were attacked by Russian troops.
By the end of Sunday, Russian troops had captured Berdyansk, a 100,000-strong Ukrainian city on the Sea of Azov, Zelensky’s adviser Alexei Orastovich said. Russian troops have also advanced towards Kherson, another city in southern Ukraine, while Mariupol, a port city in the Sea of Azov that is considered Russia’s main target, is “holding on,” Orastovich said.
As Russian troops approach Kiev, a city of nearly 3 million, the capital’s mayor has expressed doubts that civilians can be evacuated. Authorities are distributing weapons to anyone who wants to defend the city. Ukraine also releases prisoners of war with military experience who want to fight, and trains people to make bombs.
In Mariupol, where Ukrainians were trying to fend off an attack, a team of medics at a city hospital desperately tried to revive a 6-year-old girl in pajamas with a unicorn who was mortally wounded in Russian shelling.
While trying to save the doctor in blue medical scrubs, pumping the girl with oxygen, looked directly at the Associated Press video camera, which recorded the scene.
“Show it to Putin,” he said angrily. “The eyes of this child and the cries of the doctors.”
Their resuscitation efforts failed, and the girl lay dead on a wheelchair, her jacket splattered with blood.
Nearly 900 kilometers (560 miles) Faina Bystritskaya was threatened in Chernihiv.
“I wish I had never lived to see that,” said Bystritskaya, an 87-year-old Jew who survived World War II. She said that in the city, about 150 kilometers (90 miles) from Kiev, sirens sound almost constantly.
Chernihiv residents were ordered not to turn on the lights “so that we would not attract their attention,” said Bystritskaya, who lives in a corridor away from the windows to better protect herself.
“The window glass is shaking all the time, and there’s thunder all the time,” she said.
Meanwhile, a senior EU official outlined plans by a bloc of 27 countries to close airspace to Russian airlines and purchase weapons for Ukraine. The EU will also ban some pro-Kremlin media, said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
The United States has also stepped up arms flows to Ukraine, announcing it will send Stinger missiles as part of a package approved by the White House on Friday. Germany also plans to send 500 Stingers and other military supplies.
In addition, the 193-member UN General Assembly has scheduled an emergency session on Monday to mark Russia’s invasion.
In ordering a nuclear alert, Putin referred not only to statements by NATO members, but also to tough financial sanctions imposed by the West against Russia, including Putin himself.
“Western countries are not only taking unfriendly actions against our country in the economic sphere, but also high-ranking officials of leading NATO member states have made aggressive statements against our country,” Putin said in a televised commentary.
U.S. defense officials will not disclose their current level of nuclear readiness, except that the military is always ready to defend their homeland and allies.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told ABC that Putin was referring to a template he had used a few weeks before the invasion, “which is to create threats that do not exist to justify further aggression.”
The practical meaning of Putin’s order was not immediately clear. Russia and the United States usually have ground and submarine-based nuclear forces that are constantly on alert and ready for combat, but bombers and other nuclear-powered aircraft are not.
If Putin arms or otherwise increases the nuclear readiness of his bombers, or if he orders more submarines with ballistic missiles to go to sea, the United States may feel compelled to respond in the same way, says Hans Christensen, a nuclear analyst at the Federation of America. Scientists.
Earlier on Sunday in Kiev was terribly quiet after the morning sky was lit by explosions, and authorities reported explosions at one airport. The main boulevard was almost deserted, as a strict curfew prevented people from taking to the streets. Authorities have warned that anyone who leaves without a pass will be considered a Russian saboteur.
Frightened residents rushed to houses, underground garages and subway stations in anticipation of a full-scale Russian attack. Food and medicine are running out, said Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko.
“Now the most important issue is to protect our country,” Klitschko said.
In the center of Kharkiv, 86-year-old Alena Dudnik said that she and her husband were almost thrown out of bed by an explosion that took place nearby.
“We are suffering a lot,” she said over the phone. “We have little food in the pantry, and I’m worried there won’t be anything in the shops either if they reopen.” She added: “I just want the shooting to stop so that people stop killing.”
Russia’s inability to still gain full control of Ukraine’s airspace is a surprising mistake that has given Ukrainian forces, which have surpassed weapons, to slow the advance of Russian ground forces. Typically, gaining what the military calls air superiority is one of the first priorities for invading forces.
But even though Russian troops are slowing down due to Ukrainian resistance, fuel shortages and other logistical problems, a senior U.S. defense official said that is likely to change. “We are on the fourth day. The Russians will learn and adapt, ”the official said.
The death toll from Europe’s largest land conflict since World War II has remained unclear amid confusion.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine reported on Sunday that 352 civilians were killed, including 14 children. It is noted that another 1,684 people, including 116 children, were injured.
A spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, Major General Igor Kanashenko, did not give figures on the dead and wounded, but said that on Sunday the losses of his country were “many times” smaller than those of Ukraine.
About 368,000 Ukrainians have arrived in neighboring countries since the invasion on Thursday, according to the UN refugee agency.
Along with US military aid, the European Union and the UK have also agreed to block some Russian banks from the SWIFT system, which moves money to thousands of banks and other financial institutions around the world. They also moved on to imposing restrictions on Russia’s central bank.
Russia’s economy has been hit by an invasion: the ruble has fallen and the central bank has called for calm to avoid bank raids.
Russia, which has deployed nearly 200,000 troops along Ukraine’s borders, says its attack is aimed only at military facilities, but has also affected bridges, schools and neighborhoods.
Isachenko reported from Moscow. Ellen Nickmeyer, Eric Tucker, Robert Burns and Hope Ian in Washington; Francesca Ebel, Joseph Federman and Andrew Drake in Kiev; Mstislav Chernov and Nick Dumitrache in Mariupol, Ukraine; and other AP journalists from around the world contributed to this report.
Follow the coverage of the crisis in Ukraine in the AP at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine