Zelensky Announces Talks with Russia as Putin Ups Nuclear Saber-Rattling

Zelensky Announces Talks with Russia as Putin Ups Nuclear Saber-Rattling

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky examines weapons as he attends tactical military exercises at a training ground in the Rivne Region, Ukraine, February 16, 2022. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via Reuters)

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said Sunday that a Ukrainian delegation would participate in talks with a Russian delegation on the Ukrainian-Belarusian border “without preconditions.”

Zelensky announced the talks on his official Telegram channel following a phone call with President Aleksandr Lukashenko of Belarus on Sunday, according to several news outlets.

Lukashenko has “taken responsibility for ensuring that all planes, helicopters and missile stationed on Belarusian territory remain on the ground during the Ukrainian delegation’s travel, talks and return,” the Ukrainian president said.

Zelensky had previously declined an earlier request for talks in Belarus, saying it was not neutral territory.

News of the talks came as Russian President Vladimir Putin said Sunday that he had placed Russia’s nuclear deterrent forces on high alert in response to recent sanctions and “aggressive statements” from NATO countries.

Putin said in a televised statement that he had ordered the nuclear deterrent forces in a “special regime of combat duty.”

The move comes on the fourth day of fighting since Russia invaded Ukraine. Russian forces entered Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, before dawn on Sunday, engaging in urban combat and blowing up a gas pipeline in the city.

Elsewhere, Russian forces attacked airfields and fuel facilities while Ukrainian forces held on to the capital, Kyiv.

A pair of explosions were heard just before 1 a.m. local time — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said one blast happened near the Zhuliany airport while the mayor of Vaslykiv said the second happened at an oil depot 25 miles south of the capital, according to the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian authorities ordered residents in the country’s capital to remain indoors until Monday morning as officials search for Russian infiltrators who clashed with Ukrainian troops and civilian volunteers in shootouts overnight. Residents spent another night in bomb shelters and basements as explosions hit the city.

The Ukrainian military said it had intercepted a ballistic missile fired at Kyiv from Belarus, according to the Wall Street Journal. 

One of Russia’s airstrikes hit Okhmatdyt, a children’s hospital in central Kyiv, leaving one child dead and others injured.

The United Nations said there have been at least 240 civilian casualties, including at least 64 deaths, as a result of the invasion that began Thursday, the AP reported. However, the UN warned the toll could be “considerably higher.”

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