Ukraine-Russia: Vladimir Putin puts Russia's nuclear deterrent forces on high alert as Ukraine agree to talks
It came as the EU blocked the state-owned Russia Today and Sputnik from operating within it, as well as banning all Russian planes from its airspace. It also announced it would fund the purchase and delivery of weapons to the Ukraine for the first time.
Speaking on state television on Sunday, Putin said: "As you can see, not only do Western countries take unfriendly measures against our country in the economic dimension - illegitimate sanctions that everyone knows about.
"But also the highest-ranking officials of leading NATO countries are allowing themselves to make aggressive statements in relation to our country.
"For this reason I order the minister of defence and the chief of general staff to put deterrent forces on special combat duty."
US ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said: “President Putin is continuing to escalate this war in a manner that is totally unacceptable.”
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss had earlier warned any use by Russia of its tactical battlefield nuclear weapons against Ukrainian forces would represent an “extremely serious escalation”.
The Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called the decision "dangerous" and "irresponsible".
He added: "Of course when you combine this rhetoric with what they are doing on the ground in Ukraine - waging war against an independent, sovereign nation, conducting full-fledged invasion of Ukraine - this adds to the seriousness of the situation.”
The moves came as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced he had agreed to talks with a Russian delegation on the Ukraine-Belarus border.
President Zelensky said: “We agreed that the Ukrainian delegation would meet with the Russian delegation without preconditions on the Ukrainian-Belarusian border, near the Pripyat River”.
Mr Zelensky had initially rejected the move as “propaganda”, as Belarus had allowed Russia to stage an invasion from its land.
Just hours after the announcement, Iskander missiles were launched from Belarus into Ukraine according to Ukraine's interior minister.
Sunday also saw Ursula von der Leyen announce the EU will close its airspace to Russian airlines, fund arms supplies to Ukraine and ban pro-Kremlin media.
Announcing the significant move, she said: “We are shutting down the EU airspace for Russian-owned, Russian registered or Russian-controlled aircraft.
“They won’t be able to land in, take off or overfly the territory of the EU.
"Second, we will ban the Kremlin’s media machine in the EU.
“The state-owned Russia Today and Sputnik, and their subsidiaries,will no longer be able to spread their lies to justify Putin’s war.
“Third, we will target the other aggressor in this war, Lukashenko’s regime, with a new package of sanctions, hitting their most important sectors.”
In a round of Sunday morning broadcast interviews, the Foreign Secretary had claimed Mr Putin may be prepared to resort to “the most unsavoury means” to suppress Ukraine.
With the Russian advance on the capital, Kyiv, apparently bogged down in the face of fierce Ukrainian resistance, Ms Truss said the survival of Mr Putin’s regime could now be at stake if his invasion plan failed.
She said: “This could well be the beginning of the end for Putin. I fear that he is prepared to use the most unsavoury means in this war.
Asked about Russia’s arsenal of chemical and tactical nuclear weapons, she said: “I fear this conflict could be very, very bloody.
Ms Truss acknowledged there would be an “economic cost” to pay but said it was essential that President Putin was stopped to avert future wars in Europe.
She said: “If we don’t stop Putin in Ukraine we are going to see others under threat – the Baltics, Poland, Moldova, and it could end up in a conflict with Nato.
“Yes, there will be an economic cost here in Britain, there will be a cost in terms of access to oil and gas markets. I firmly believe that the British public understand the price we will pay if we don’t stand up to Putin now.”
Her warning came after the Commons Defence Committee chairman Tobias Ellwood said that in the “worst-case scenario” Mr Putin could deploy low yield tactical nuclear weapons if his forces failed to make a breakthrough.
Mr Ellwood said Western allies needed to think now what their response would be if Mr Putin were to use unconventional forces.
“He could certainly use other weapons systems which haven’t been really tested or that we aren’t really used to,” he said.
“Chemical weapons, the worst case scenario would be low yield tactical nuclear weapons as well. We need to ask those questions as to what we would do.”
The Scottish Government are now calling for "maximum pressure" on Putin to foce him to withdraw troops from Ukraine.
Scotland’s External Affairs Secretary Angus Robertson also insisted Westminster needs to “change its policy and allow refugees from Ukraine into the UK” in the same way that other European nations have done.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has already demanded the Home Office lift visa requirements on those arriving from Ukraine, as she pledged that the Scottish Government “stands ready to help and play our full part in resettlement effort”.
Campaigners supporting Ukraine made their voices heard in Edinburgh as thousands marched through the capital’s streets to condemn Russia’s ongoing military invasion of Ukraine.
Sounds of beating drums and bells rang out through the city as demonstrators headed from the Russian consulate to the Scottish Parliament building chanting “Putin murderer” and “hands off Ukraine” on Sunday.
Main roads, including Princes Street, were blocked as campaigners carrying placards with messages such as Free Ukraine and No War encouraged people watching from the sidelines to join them in their clear opposition to the invasion.
Since Russian troops descended on Ukraine early on Thursday, Scotland has seen a number of protests against the military action of President Vladimir Putin’s Russian regime.
The day also saw Ukrainian forces say they have repelled an attack on the country's second city Kharkiv after fierce clashes with Russian forces.
Regional governor Oleh Synehubov claimed the city was now rid of Russian troops after fighting that also saw the invaders blow up a natural gas pipeline.
Thousands more Ukrainians travelled towards neighbouring countries to escape the war, with the UN estimating refugee numbers have now reached 368,000.
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