Putin orders nukes on high alert forcing Ukraine to talks in Belarus

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Russia now has 50 per cent of its invasion force inside Ukraine, a US official said.

Ukraine has agreed to hold talks with Russia on the Belarus border, news agency AFP reported on Sunday, quoting the presidency, shortly after Vladimir Putin ordered his defence chiefs to put the country’s nuclear “deterrence forces” on high alert.

“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, accusing the West of taking “unfriendly” steps against his country.

Almost around the same time, Ukraine announced it was ready to talk at its border with Belarus, near the Chernobyl exclusion zone, after a phone call between President Volodymyr Zelensky and Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko.

Ukraine had earlier turned down Moscow’s offer of a meeting in Belarus, which has allowed Russian troops passage to attack Ukraine. Ukraine had proposed Warsaw, Bratislava, Budapest, Istanbul and Baku as possible alternative locations for any talks.

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Ukrainian forces had secured full control of its second city Kharkiv on Sunday following street fighting with Russian troops, the local governor said. “Kharkiv is fully under our control,” the head of the regional administration, Oleg Sinegubov, said on Telegram, adding that the army was expelling Russian forces during a “clean-up” operation.

Ukraine took Russia to the International Court of Justice in The Hague on Day 4 of the invasion, as Russian forces continued to hit Ukrainian cities with artillery and cruise missiles.

Reports citing an European Union official said Putin was “furious” and “fuming” that his military’s invasion of the smaller country hasn’t gone more smoothly. Russia’s invasion force is being slowed and frustrated by unexpectedly stiff resistance from Ukrainian troops, keeping them outside Kyiv, a senior US defence official has said.

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Germany and its Western allies have agreed to cut Russia out of the SWIFT global payment system, a spokesperson for the German government said, in a third sanctions package aimed at halting the invasion. In a dramatic policy reversal, Germany on Saturday also ramped up its backing for Ukraine’s battle against Russia, approving weapons deliveries for Kyiv.

Hours after Germany dramatically reversed its ban on lethal weapons exports to conflict-zone by announcing huge shipments to Ukraine, German chancellor Olaf Scholz said 100 billion euros will be earmarked for investments for the army in 2022 alone.

Europe’s biggest economy will also “from now on — year after year — invest more than two percent of gross domestic product in our defence,” said Scholz.