Ukraine and Russia agree to talks without preconditions

Ukraine and Russia agree to talks without preconditions


Published: 21:55 27 February 2022  

Ukraine and Russia agree to talks without preconditions

Ukraine and Russia agree to talks without preconditions

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his military command to put nuclear-armed forces on high alert on Sunday as Ukrainian fighters defending the city of Kharkiv said they had repelled an attack by invading Russian troops.

The United States responded by saying Putin was escalating the war in a "totally unacceptable" way.

On the fourth day of the biggest assault on a European state since World War Two, the Ukrainian president's office said negotiations between Kyiv and Moscow would be held at the Belarusian-Ukrainian border. They would meet without preconditions, it said.

As missiles rained down on Ukrainian cities, thousands of Ukrainian civilians, mainly women and children, were fleeing from the Russian assault into neighbouring countries.

The capital Kyiv was still in Ukrainian government hands, with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy rallying his people despite Russian shelling of civilian infrastructure.

But Putin, who has described the invasion as a "special military operation", thrust an alarming new element into play on Sunday when he ordered Russia's deterrence forces - a reference to units which include nuclear arms - onto high alert.

He cited aggressive statements by NATO leaders and economic sanctions imposed by the West against Moscow.

"As you can see, not only do Western countries take unfriendly measures against our country in the economic dimension - I mean the illegal sanctions that everyone knows about very well - but also the top officials of leading NATO countries allow themselves to make aggressive statements with regards to our country," Putin said on state television.

Putin previously referred to his nuclear arsenal in a speech prior to the start of the invasion on Thursday, saying Russia's response to any country that tried to hinder the operation would be immediate and carry "consequences that you have never encountered in your history."

France's Foreign Minister retorted the same day that when making such threats Putin should remember that NATO too was a nuclear alliance.

Ukraine's foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said Putin's deterrence order was an attempt to pressure Kyiv during talks but it would not be cowed. If Putin used nuclear weapons against Ukraine it would be a catastrophe for the world, he said.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield told CBS: "President Putin is continuing to escalate this war in a manner that is totally unacceptable and we have to continue to stem his actions in the strongest possible way".

In other developments, Russian troops blew up a natural gas pipeline in Kharkiv before daybreak, a Ukrainian state agency said, sending a burning cloud up into the darkness.

Both Ukraine's gas pipeline operator and Kremlin-controlled energy giant Gazprom said the transit of Russian gas via Ukraine, vital for Europe's energy needs, was unaffected.

Ukraine's Western allies ratcheted up their response to Russia's land, sea and air invasion with an almost blanket ban on Russian airlines using European airspace.

And in the strongest economic sanctions yet on Moscow, the United States and Europe said on Saturday they would banish big Russian banks from the main global payments system and announced other measures aimed at limiting Moscow's use of a $630 billion war chest of central bank reserves.