Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered the country’s deterrent weapons to be put on special alert.
Putin gave the order on Sunday in a video distributed by the Kremlin in the face of a barrage of Western reprisals for his war on Ukraine, which said it had repelled Russian ground forces attacking its biggest cities.
He referred to “deterrent weapons,” but did not explicitly name nuclear weapons.
“The top leaders of the leading NATO countries are allowing aggressive statements against our country, so I order the defence minister and the chief of the general staff to put the forces of deterrence of the Russian army on a special regime of alert,” he said.
The US said Putin was escalating the war in a “totally unacceptable” way, amid signs that the biggest assault on a European state since World War II was not producing rapid battlefield victories, but instead generating a far-reaching and concerted Western response.
The Ukrainian president’s office said negotiations with Moscow without preconditions would be held at the Belarusian-Ukrainian border.
“I do not really believe in the outcome of this meeting, but let them try, so that later not a single citizen of Ukraine has any doubt that I, as president, tried to stop the war,” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said.
The Kremlin said talks had started. As missiles fell on Ukrainian cities, nearly 400,000 Ukrainian civilians, mainly women and children, have fled into neighbouring countries.
Hundreds were stranded in Kyiv on Sunday waiting for trains to take them west, away from the fighting.
The capital remained in Ukrainian government hands, with Zelenskiy rallying his people daily despite Russian shelling of civilian infrastructure.