The office of Ukraine’s president has confirmed that a delegation will meet with Russian officials as Moscow’s troops draw closer to Kyiv.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office said on the Telegram messaging app that the two sides would meet at an unspecified location on the Belarusian border and did not give a precise time for the meeting.
The announcement on Sunday came hours after Russia announced that its delegation had flown to Belarus to await talks. Ukrainian officials initially rejected the move, saying any talks should take place elsewhere than Belarus, where Russia placed a large contingent of troops before it invaded Ukraine on Thursday.
It also came shortly after President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian nuclear forces put on high alert in response to what he called “aggressive statements” by leading NATO powers.
Zelensky’s office said Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, a Putin ally, “has taken responsibility for ensuring that all planes, helicopters and missiles stationed on Belarusian territory remain on the ground during the Ukrainian delegation’s travel, talks and return.”
Putin put Russia’s nuclear forces on alert
Speaking at a meeting with his top officials on Sunday, Putin ordered the Russian defence minister and the chief of the military’s general staff to put the nuclear deterrent forces in a “special regime of combat duty,” a heightened level of readiness. Putin said NATO powers had made “aggressive statements” along with the West imposing hard-hitting financial sanctions against Russia, including the president himself.
Putin this week threatened to retaliate harshly against any nations that intervened directly in the conflict in Ukraine.
Economic sanctions for Russia, Putin
President Joe Biden has said the United States would not engage in war with Russia, but will meet its Article 5 commitments to defend partners in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Western nations have agreed to send aid and supplies and have imposed economic sanctions on Russia.
The United States and European nations agreed Saturday to impose the most potentially harsh financial penalties yet on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, going after the central bank reserves that underpin the Russian economy and severing some Russian banks from a vital global financial network.
“Putin embarked on a path aiming to destroy Ukraine, but what he is also doing, in fact, is destroying the future of his own country,” EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.
The European Union, United States, United Kingdom and other allies have steadily stepped up the intensity of their sanctions since Russia launched the invasion late last week.
While U.S. and European officials made clear they were still working out the mechanics of how to implement the latest measures, and intend to spare Russia’s oil and natural gas exports, the sanctions in total potentially could amount to some of the toughest levied on a nation in modern times. If fully carried out as planned, the measures would likely severely damage the Russian economy and constrain its ability to import and export goods.
The U.S. and European allies announced the moves in a joint statement as part of a new round of financial sanctions meant to “hold Russia to account and collectively ensure that this war is a strategic failure for Putin.”
The central bank restrictions target access to the more than $600 billion US in reserves that the Kremlin has at its disposal, and are meant to block Russia’s ability to support the ruble as it plunges in value amid tightening Western sanctions.