A view of a residential building damaged by recent shelling in Kharkiv. AFP
Gulf Today Report
President Vladimir Putin has ordered Russian nuclear deterrent forces put on high alert amid tensions with the West over his invasion of Ukraine.
Speaking at a meeting with his top officials, Putin asserted on Sunday that leading Nato powers had made "aggressive statements” along with the West imposing hard-hitting financial sanctions against Russia, including the president himself.
Putin ordered the Russian defense minister and the chief of the military’s General Staff to put the nuclear deterrent forces in a "special regime of combat duty.”
A destroyed Russian military vehicle is seen on the roadside on the outskirts of Kharkiv on Saturday. AFP
His order raised the threat that the tensions with the West over the invasion in Ukraine could lead to the use of nuclear weapons.
The Russian leader this week threatened to retaliate harshly against any nations that intervened directly in the conflict in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Street fighting broke out in Ukraine’s second-largest city and Russian troops squeezed strategic ports in the country's south Sunday, advances that appeared to mark a new phase of Russia's invasion following a wave of attacks on airfields and fuel facilities elsewhere in the country.
The capital, Kyiv, was eerily quiet after huge explosions lit up the morning sky and authorities reported blasts at one of the airports.
Only an occasional car appeared on a deserted main boulevard as a strict 39-hour curfew kept people off the streets.
Terrified residents instead hunkered down in homes, underground garages and subway stations in anticipation of a full-scale Russian assault.
"The past night was tough - more shelling, more bombing of residential areas and civilian infrastructure," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.
"There is not a single facility in the country that the occupiers wouldn’t consider as admissible targets.”
Following its gains to the east in the city of Kharkiv and multiple ports, Russia sent a delegation to Belarus for peace talks with Ukraine, according to the Kremlin. Zelenskyy suggested other locations, saying his country was unwilling to meet in Belarus because it served as a staging ground for the invasion.
Until Sunday, Russia's troops had remained on the outskirts of Kharkiv, a city of 1.4 million about 20 kilometres south of the border with Russia, while other forces rolled past to press the offensive deeper into Ukraine.
Videos posted on Ukrainian media and social networks showed Russian vehicles moving across Kharkiv and Russian troops roaming the city in small groups.
One showed Ukrainian troops firing at the Russians and damaged Russian light utility vehicles abandoned nearby.
The capital Kyiv otherwise appeared relatively calm, and remains under the control of Ukrainian forces, said deputy mayor Mykola Povoroznyk.
As the Kremlin claimed Russian delegates had arrived in Belarus for peace talks with Ukrainian officials, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky said he was ready for discussions, but rejected the offer to hold them in Belarus, calling it an invasion staging ground, according to the Independent.
Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky attends a meeting. File
Ukrainians have volunteered en masse to help defend the capital, Kyiv, and other cities, taking guns distributed by authorities and preparing firebombs to fight Russian forces.
Ukraine's government also is releasing prisoners with military experience who want to fight for the country, a prosecutor's office official, Andriy Sinyuk, told the Hromadske TV channel Sunday. He did not specify whether the move applied to prisoners convicted of all levels of crimes.
Meanwhile in another economic blow to Russia, the Swift international payments system said it was preparing to implement western nations’ new measures targeting Russian banks in coming days.
Earlier, Ukraine’s president says his country is ready for peace talks with Russia but not in Belarus, which was a staging ground for Moscow’s 3-day-old invasion.
Speaking in a video message Sunday, President Zelenskyy named Warsaw, Bratislava, Istanbul, Budapest or Baku as alternative venues. He said other locations are also possible but made clear that Ukraine doesn’t accept Russia’s selection of Belarus.
The Kremlin said Sunday that a Russian delegation had arrived in the Belarusian city of Homel for talks with Ukrainian officials. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the delegation includes military officials and diplomats.
"The Russian delegation is ready for talks, and we are now waiting for the Ukrainians,” Peskov said.Russia invaded Ukraine on Thursday, with troops moving from Moscow’s ally Belarus in the north, and also from the east and south.
News of the drawdown came just after Ukrainian special forces published images on social media showing camouflage-clad officers with automatic weapons "in Kupiansk", a town of about 27,000 people.
Satellite images showed a long build-up of armoured vehicles and artillery starting 29 kilometres (18 miles) north of the city, as Moscow defied mounting global pressure and a wave of international sanctions that have smashed Russia's economy.
Unverified imagery showed a section of road on the bridge had split and listing to one side with metal barriers buckled. Dash cam footage showed drivers braking sharply shortly after the incident. Traffic was halted.
The project aims to enhance the effectiveness of the creek’s retaining walls by upgrading the dock, reconstructing sections that have been damaged and dilapidated over the past 50 years and preventing potential flooding during harsh weather conditions.
“We are ensuring all possible assistance to the injured Pakistanis. The Welfare Wing of Pakistan’s Consulate General, Dubai visited the hospitals immediately after the unfortunate occurrence and is constantly in touch with the relevant authorities,” said Hussain Muhammad, the Consul General in Dubai.
During the visit, Sheikh Khaled was accompanied by His Excellency Dr. Mugheer Khamis Al Khaili, Chairman of the Department of Community Development; and His Excellency Saif Saeed Ghobash, Secretary General of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council.
"We will continue to raise the cost of Russia's war, degrade Russia's sources of revenue and impede its efforts to build its war machine," said the group, which includes the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Canada.