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President Vladimir Putin has ordered Russian nuclear deterrent forces on alert amid tensions with the West over Ukraine.
The order was announced by the TASS news agency after a meeting between Putin, defence minister Sergei Shoigu and chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia Valery Gerasimov.
A statement quoted the Russian leader as saying: “Western countries aren't only taking unfriendly economic actions against our country, but leaders of major Nato countries are making aggressive statements about our country. So I order to move Russia's deterrence forces to a special mode of duty."
The statement did not clarify what the "special mode of combat duty" was.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield , US Ambassador to the UN, has described Putin’s order as an "unacceptable escalation" of the war in Ukraine
Putin has reportedly expressed his frustration at the slow progress of his attack on Ukraine, leading to concerns that the Russian leader would resort to increasingly dangerous tactics to bring the conflict to an end.
The news comes as Conservative MP Tory MP Tobias Ellwood, who chairs the UK's Defence Select Committee, has warned that Putin "could use nuclear weapons in Ukraine" in a bid to destroy the fierce resistance of the country.
Putin has already boasted of the "cutting-edge weapons" Russia has to hand in the conflict with Ukraine.
During a Kremlin speech earlier this week, the Russian president said there would be "consequences" like "never seen in history" to those who interfere with Russia's military incursion into Ukraine.
Stripper queues up for AK47 as Ukrainian civilians ready to resist Russian onslaught
Putin’s warning was interpreted around the world as a veiled threat of nuclear retaliation.
Ukraine's former defence minister, Andriy Zagorodnyuk, says he believes Belarus will also soon declare war on Ukraine.
"The Republic of Belarus is highly likely to join the Russian war against Ukraine, on the Russian side," he said. "There is information about airborne troopers from the Republic of Belarus loaded on planes about to enter Ukraine. This is a terrible development as it involves a country that was a great friend of Ukraine."
Unconfirmed reports say missiles have already been launched into Ukraine from Belarus.
Terrifying footage shows Russian gunships blitz airport as they swarm Ukrainian capital
Ukraine has filed a lawsuit against Russia at the UN International Court of Justice, the country's president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said.
He tweeted: "Russia must be held accountable for manipulating the notion of genocide to justify aggression.
"We request an urgent decision ordering Russia to cease military activity now and expect trials to start next week".
Tobias Ellwood has urged the UK Government to start rolling out sanctions "every day" to combat Russian aggression in the country.
Meanwhile, thousands of ordinary Ukrainians have taken up arms to defend their country, and Russian troops' morale is said to be flagging.
The Ukrainian Defence Ministry has claimed that around 4,300 Russian troops have been killed so far, with 706 Russian APCs, 146 tanks, 27 planes and 26 helicopters having been destroyed since the conflict started.
- Breaking News
- Russia Ukraine war
- Vladimir Putin
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