In a sign of de-escalation, Ukrainian officials said they will meet with their Russian counterparts near the Ukraine-Belarus border as Russian President Vladimir Putin said he’s putting his nuclear forces on high alert.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said that the Kyiv government agreed to talks with Moscow on the border. It’s not clear if Zelensky will attend the meeting.
“We have agreed that the Ukrainian delegation will meet with Russian without prior conditions on the Ukrainian-Belarusian border, in the area of the Pripyat River,” Zelensky said on social media Sunday.
Zelensky, who is said to still be in Ukraine, added that Belarusian President “Alexander Lukashenko took responsibility for the fact that at the time of the departure, negotiations, and return of the Ukrainian delegation, all planes, helicopters, and missiles placed on the Belarusian territory will remain on the ground.”
Fedir Venislavskyi, a member of Zelensky’s party, said in televised comments that a Ukrainian delegation has already left for Belarus.
Earlier Sunday, Putin said that he is placing his nuclear forces on high alert, saying the decision was made in response to harsh sanctions levied against him, Russian banks, and other Russian officials by Western governments in response to the invasion.
“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-backed Russian media.
Meanwhile, Belarus’ Lukashenko, a staunch Putin ally, told local media that a continuation of sanctions would lead to “world war three.”
In the past 24 hours or so, NATO and European Union member countries shut off their airspace to Russian passenger planes, excluded certain Russian banks from the SWIFT international banking information system, and they’ve announced they were sending weapons, ammunition, and fuel to Ukraine. The United States announced over the weekend that it would send over $350 million in aid as well as Javelin anti-tank weapons that have apparently been used to a great effect by Ukrainian defense forces.
Putin hasn’t revealed his ultimate plans in the operation, but Western officials have gone on the record and said they believe he wants to decapitate Ukraine’s pro-West government.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Sunday said Putin was resorting to tactics he used in the weeks before the invasion of Ukraine, “which is to manufacture threats that don’t exist in order to justify further aggression.”
“The global community and American people should look at it through that prism. We’ve seen him do this time and time again,” she said in televised remarks.