President Vladimir Putin put his country’s nuclear deterrence forces on high alert on Sunday, announcing the move in a televised meeting with top ministers, coming as Russian troops and tanks continue to wage a conflict in Ukraine.
“Western countries are not only taking unfriendly actions against our country in the economic area. I’m speaking about the illegitimate sanctions that everyone is well aware of. However, the top officials of the leading NATO countries also make aggressive statements against our country as well,” Putin said on Sunday, according to state-run media.
As a result, Putin said that he has ordered “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,” according to televised comments he made. The deterrence forces include command of Russia’s vast arsenal of nuclear weapons.
It is not immediately clear what the “special mode of combat duty” means. Previously, when Putin announced the Russian invasion earlier this week, he warned that if other countries get involved, they will face “consequences they have never seen.”
Later on Sunday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said via social media that he will send a delegation to the Ukraine-Belarus border to hold talks with Russian officials “without preconditions” about the ongoing conflict. Zelensky said he spoke with Belarus’s leadership and said they would allow the negotiations.
But Putin’s order means Russia’s nuclear weapons prepared for increased readiness to launch, raising the threat that the tensions between Moscow and NATO could boil over into nuclear strikes.