The office of Ukraine’s president has confirmed that a delegation will meet with Russian officials as Moscow’s troops draw closer to Kyiv, The Associated Press reported on Sunday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy 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 starting Thursday.
Zelenskyy’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 orders nuclear forces
The meeting news 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.
In a dramatic escalation of East-West tensions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Putin has ordered Russia’s nuclear weapons prepared for increased readiness to launch, raising the threat that the tensions could boil over into nuclear warfare.
In giving the directive, the Russian leader also cited hard-hitting financial sanctions imposed by the West against Russia, including Putin himself.
Speaking at a meeting with his top officials, Putin directed 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.”
“Western countries aren’t only taking unfriendly actions against our country in the economic sphere, but top officials from leading NATO members made aggressive statements regarding our country,” Putin said in televised comment.
US denies NATO aggression
“At no point has Russia been under threat from Nato” says White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, in response to President Putin putting Russia’s nuclear forces on “special alert”
Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba is quoted by BBC saying if Russia uses nuclear weapons against Ukraine it will be a “catastrophe for the world”
Last week, President Putin warned that “whoever tries to hinder” Russia would see consequences “you have never seen in your history”
Battle for Kiev
Huge explosions lit up the sky early Sunday near the capital, Kyiv, where terrified residents hunkered down in homes, underground garages and subway stations in anticipation of a full-scale Russian assault.
But Ukrainians also volunteered en masse to help defend Kyiv and other cities, taking guns distributed by authorities and preparing firebombs to fight Russian forces.
Zelenskyy denounced Russia’s offensive as “state terrorism.”
He said the attacks on Ukrainian cities should be investigated by an international war crimes tribunal and cost Russia its place as one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.