Zelensky agrees to talks Monday as Putin raises nuclear alert and West adds sanctions

51

Intl desk, Feb 28: Talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations will take place Monday on the Ukrainian-Belarusian border, President Zelensky’s office said as Russian President Putin ordered his country’s deterrence forces — including nuclear arms — be placed on high alert.

The US continues to see Russian forces face “stiff resistance” and their momentum slow in Ukraine’s northern part, while forces are having a “little bit more success” in the south, a US defense official says.

The White House and several EU nations announced the expulsion of certain Russian banks from the SWIFT banking system Saturday evening.

President Vladimir Putin put Russia’s nuclear deterrent on high alert on Sunday 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.

The United States said Putin was escalating the war with “dangerous rhetoric”, amid signs that the biggest assault on a European state since World War Two was not producing rapid victories, but instead generating a far-reaching and concerted Western response.

Less than four days after it started, the invasion has triggered a Western political, strategic, economic and corporate response unprecedented in its extent and coordination.

“With this war on Ukraine, the world will never be the same again,” EU’s foreign policy chief Josef Borrell wrote in an opinion piece in the Guardian newspaper.

“It is now, more than ever, the time for societies and alliances to come together to build our future on trust, justice and freedom. It is the moment to stand up and to speak out. Might does not make right. Never did. Never will,” he said.

The 27-nation European Union on Sunday decided for the first time in its history to supply weapons to a country at war. A source told Reuters it would send 450 million euros ($507 million) of weaponry to Ukraine. Borrell at a news conference said EU’s support would include providing fighter jets.

The European Union’s chief executive Ursula von der Leyen expressed support for Ukraine’s membership in an interview with Euronews, saying “they are one of us.” read more Ukraine, a democratic nation of 44 million people, won independence from Moscow in 1991 at the fall of the Soviet Union and has pushed to join the NATO Western military alliance and the EU, goals Russia vehemently opposes.

The rouble plunged nearly 30% to an all-time low versus the dollar early on Monday, after Western nations on Saturday unveiled harsh sanctions including blocking some banks from the SWIFT international payments system. On Sunday, the president of neutral Switzerland said he expected his government to follow the EU with Russia sanctions and freezing Russian assets.

NEGOTIATIONS

The Ukrainian president’s office said negotiations with Moscow without preconditions would be held at the Belarusian-Ukrainian border. Russian news agency Tass later on Sunday cited an unidentified source as saying the talks would start on Monday morning.

As missiles fell on Ukrainian cities, nearly 400,000 civilians, mainly women and children, have fled into neighbouring countries, a U.N. relief agency said. 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 President Volodymyr Zelenskiy rallying his people daily despite Russian shelling of civilian infrastructure.

The EU shut all Russian planes out of its airspace, as did Canada, forcing Russian airline Aeroflot to cancel all flights to European destinations until further notice. With flight options dwindling, the United States and France urged their citizens to consider leaving Russia immediately.

The EU also banned the Russian media outlets RT and Sputnik.

Germany, which had already frozen a planned undersea gas pipeline from Russia, said it would increase defence spending massively, casting off decades of reluctance to match its economic power with military clout.

British oil major BP BP, the biggest foreign investor in Russia, said it was abandoning its stake in state oil company Rosneft (ROSN.MM) at a cost of up to $25 billion, shrinking its oil and gas reserves in half.

Several European subsidiaries of Sberbank Russia, majority owned by the Russian government, were failing or were likely to fail due to reputational cost of the war in Ukraine, the European Central Bank, the lenders’ supervisor, said.

Source: News Agencies