President Vladimir Putin has ordered Russia’s military to put the country’s nuclear deterrence forces on high alert amid the invasion of Ukraine.
The statement was made during his meeting with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov.
While ordering the alert, the head of the country cited harsh sanctions imposed by the West against Russia and statements by NATO members.
“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,” President Putin said.
“Therefore, I order the minister of defense and the chief of the general staff [of the Russian armed forces] to transfer the deterrence forces of the Russian army to a special mode of combat duty,” he added.
Russia owns the world’s largest nuclear weapons stockpile, with an estimated 6,257 total warheads. Moscow reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in two cases: in response to a nuclear attack or the use of weapons of mass destruction against Russia or its allies or if the existence of the Russian state is threatened.
Meanwhile, Putin’s order has upped fears of a potential nuclear war. The move prompted strong condemnation from the United States, the world’s second-largest nuclear power, where Putin’s order was described as “totally unacceptable.”
“This is really a pattern that we’ve seen from President Putin through the course of this conflict, which is manufacturing threats that don’t exist in order to justify further aggression,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told ABC.
Last Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized two separatist-controlled regions of Ukraine, the so-called Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, as independent entities. He signed friendship, cooperation, and mutual assistance agreements with the two separatist territories.
On February 24, Russia launched an all-out offensive in Ukraine, claiming that the assault was aimed to protect the people of the separatist-controlled regions allegedly being attacked by the Ukrainian military. The Kremlin explained that the decision was made after separatist leaders of the so-called republics had asked Moscow for military support against Kyiv. In his televised address, Putin told foreign countries not to interfere, saying it could lead to “consequences they have never seen.”
According to the reports, at least 352 Ukrainian civilians, including 14 children, were killed and 1,684 wounded in the ongoing hostilities. Ukrainian Defense Ministry said approximately 5,300 Russian troops had been killed so far. Kyiv does not regularly report how many Ukrainian soldiers died during the Russian invasion.
Western powers have already imposed severe sanctions on Moscow. EU countries shut their airspace to Russian airlines. They also agreed to exclude Russian banks, which fell under sanctions, from an international payment system used by thousands of financial institutions and known as SWIFT.
At the same time, some countries announced they would supply Ukraine with weapons and ammunition. The countries providing Kyiv with military aid include the US, the UK, Germany, France, Canada, Sweden, and others.
The US pledged $350 million of military aid, including Javelin anti-tank weapons, to help Ukrainian forces fight back the ongoing Russian invasion. The European Union announced its decision to provide some $560 million in arms and other aid to the Ukrainian military as it battles Russia’s invasion. Germany reversed its historical position of never sending weapons to conflict zones and promised to deliver 500 Stinger surface-to-air missiles and 1,000 Javelins to Ukraine’s armed forces.