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Putin Puts Nuclear Forces on High Alert, Escalating Tensions

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office, meanwhile, announced plans for a meeting with a Russian delegation at an unspecified location on the Belarusian border.
An armored vehicle rolls outside Mykolaivka, Donetsk region, the territory controlled by pro-Russian militants, in eastern Ukraine, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022. Fighting also raged in two eastern territories controlled by pro-Russia separatists. (AP Photo)
An armored vehicle rolls outside Mykolaivka, Donetsk region, the territory controlled by pro-Russian militants, in eastern Ukraine, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022. Fighting also raged in two eastern territories controlled by pro-Russia separatists. (AP Photo)

President Vladimir Putin dramatically escalated East-West tensions by ordering Russian nuclear forces put on high alert Sunday, while Ukraine’s embattled leader agreed to talks with Moscow as Putin’s troops and tanks drove deeper into the country, closing in around the capital.

Citing “aggressive statements” by NATO and tough financial sanctions, Putin issued a directive to increase the readiness of Russia’s nuclear weapons, raising fears that the invasion of Ukraine could lead to nuclear war, whether by design or mistake.

The Russian leader is “potentially putting in play forces that, if there’s a miscalculation, could make things much, much more dangerous,” said a senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss rapidly unfolding military operations.

Putin’s directive came as Russian forces encountered strong resistance from Ukraine defenders. Moscow has so far failed to win full control of Ukraine’s airspace, despite advances across the country. U.S. officials say they believe the invasion has been more difficult, and slower, than the Kremlin envisioned, though that could change as Moscow adapts.

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