Putin issues nuclear threat as West tightens Russia’s economic isolation | world news

Nations around the world tightened the economic noose around Russia on Sunday as punishment for its invasion of Ukraine, as increasingly isolated President Vladimir Putin responded to both a warning nuclear scare and by an offer of negotiations with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The European Union has said it will ban Russian planes from its airspace, while Japan has joined the United States and European countries in disconnecting crucial Russian banks from SWIFT, the international banking system.

“Our European skies are open skies,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said on Twitter. “They’re open to those who connect people, not those looking to brutally assault.”

The US Embassy in Moscow has advised Americans in Russia to leave “immediately”, due to the possibility of being stranded there as airlines cancel flights to and from Russia.

A senior Biden administration official said the White House is further tightening sanctions and will launch a multilateral transatlantic task force this week to “identify, track and freeze the assets of sanctioned Russian businesses and oligarchs – their yachts, their mansions and any ill-gotten gains we may find and freeze under the law.”

In a sign that the global business community is aligning itself against Russia, British oil company BP has said it will “let go” of its 20% stake in Russian oil giant Rosneft. Two BP representatives on Rosneft’s board are also resigning, the British company said in a statement. statement on Sunday.

Russia has continued to advance in Ukraine, albeit slowly. The Pentagon said on Sunday that two-thirds of the more than 150,000 troops Moscow had amassed on the Ukrainian border had entered the conflict, up from half a day earlier.

“We believe that their advance was slowed both by the resistance of the Ukrainians, who were creative enough to find ways to attack the columns, and, secondly, by the fuel shortages and sustainment problems that ‘they met,’ a senior US defense official said. an official said on Sunday.

Interfax quoted the Russian Defense Minister’s spokesman as acknowledging troop losses, although specific figures were not provided.

“Unfortunately, some of our comrades were killed or injured,” Igor Konashenkov told a press briefing.

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On Sunday, the capital of Kiev was still under Ukrainian control and Ukrainian troops scored a major victory by pushing back Russian forces from the country’s second largest city, Kharkiv. Faced with the slow progress of the assault and the economic reaction of the countries of the most powerful alliances in the world – NATO, the EU and the G7 – Putin reacted with seemingly contradictory approaches.

He ordered Russian nuclear forces to go on high alert on Sunday, saying it was in response to “aggressive statements” from NATO members. Whether Putin was seriously considering launching a devastating nuclear war was unclear, but the sheer threat raised fears that the conflict could take a civilization-shattering turn, either by design or by accident.

A senior Pentagon official told reporters the move was “unnecessary” and “escalating.”

At the same time, Putin proposed a meeting with Ukrainians near the border in Belarus, a Russian ally. Zelenskyy previously refused to meet in Belarus, given the country’s alliance with the Russian aggressor. But Zelenskyy said in a statement on Sunday that Ukraine would participate in the meeting “without preconditions”.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko “has taken responsibility for ensuring that all planes, helicopters and missiles stationed on Belarusian territory remain on the ground during the trip, the talks and the return of the Ukrainian delegation”, said the office of the Ukrainian president.

Condemnation of Russia and support for Ukraine came from all quarters. Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic are all refusing to face Russia in the World Cup. “Saturday Night Live” Saturday night kicked off not with its usual skit, but with a performance by a Ukrainian choir. In Germany, more than 100,000 people in Berlin mobilized to support Ukraine.

“I hope and believe that Putin may well finally recognize that he made a huge mistake, that he miscalculated how hard the Ukrainian people would fight and the nature of the world’s response,” the senator said. Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah. CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday morning show.

Romney has denounced as “almost traitors” those in his party who have praised Putin. Romney did not name former President Donald Trump, who called Putin “smart” and “genius” while blaming President Joe Biden for Russian aggression.

“How anyone, how anyone in this country, who loves freedom, can side with Vladimir Putin, who is an oppressor, a dictator,” Romney said. “He kills people. He imprisons his political opponents. He’s been an adversary of America every chance he’s had. That’s unthinkable to me. It’s almost a betrayal. And it makes me sick to see some of these people do that.”

The United Nations Security Council voted on Sunday afternoon to convene a rare emergency session on the Russian invasion of its eastern neighbor. Russia, a member of the Security Council, voted no, but the procedural vote could not be vetoed.

Putin “continues to escalate his war in a way that is completely unacceptable and we must continue to stem his actions in the strongest possible way,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US Ambassador to the United Nations, told AFP. CBS’ “Face the Nation” show. ” on Sunday.

“Putin has tried every way possible to really strike fear into the world in terms of his action, and that just means we need to step up our efforts here at the United Nations and elsewhere to hold him accountable,” she said. .

Meanwhile, in Russia, the Associated Press reported that nearly 1,500 people had been arrested in protests across the country, bringing the total to 5,000 since hostilities began.

Ukraine does not have the financial or military might of Russia, but Putin has faced near universal condemnation and backlash from the rest of the world. Economic sanctions have intensified in the week since Putin began his invasion, and a senior Biden administration official says they will make it harder for the Russian autocrat and his wealthy supporters to operate in Russia. .

Cutting Russian banks off from SWIFT – the acronym for the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications – makes it very difficult for Russia to transfer money. SWIFT is not a bank and does not provide financing, but it is a means of electronically verifying financial information to enable the transfer of funds. The move has been called the “nuclear option” of sanctions against Russia. The last time such threats were made against Russia – when it seized Crimea in 2014 – estimates indicated it could slash the country’s gross domestic product by 5%, and Moscow has said that this would amount to a “declaration of war”. But Western officials have largely spared Russia’s energy sector.

Plans to target Russia’s central bank, meanwhile, mean Russia won’t be able to bolster its currency to undermine sanctions.

“It will show that Russia’s supposed sanctions protection of its economy is a myth. Russia’s war chest of over $600 billion of foreign reserves is only powerful if Putin can use it and without to be able to buy the ruble from Western financial institutions,” the official told reporters in a phone call over the weekend.

Putin’s Central Bank “will lose the ability to offset the impact of our sanctions. The ruble will fall even more, inflation will skyrocket and the Central Bank will be left helpless,” the official said.

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