Rusia y Ucrania negociarán pero Putin pone en alerta sus fuerzas nucleares /Putin puts nuclear forces on high alert, escalating tensions

KIEV/MOSCÚ.- La palabra negociación toma cuerpo en el cuarto día desde que comenzó la invasión rusa de Ucrania: mientras las delegaciones de Rusia y Ucrania anticiparon que se iba a negociar en la localidad de Gómel, en Bielorrusia, Ucrania ha informado que lo hará sin condiciones en la frontera ucranio-bielorrusa, junto al río Pripiat.

Pero por otro lado, el tono de Putin contra los países occidentales ha subido de volumen: ha decidido poner las fuerzas de disuasión rusas, sus fuerzas nucleares, en «régimen especial de servicio» tras lo que considera «declaraciones agresivas» de los principales países de la OTAN.

LA NEGOCIACIÓN

Respecto a la negociación, fuentes rusas y bielorrusas la dieron por hecho en Gómel, cercana a la frontera ucraniana. Por su parte, el presidente de Ucrania, Volodomir Zelenski, dijo en el canal oficial de Telegram: «Acordamos que la delegación ucraniana se reuniría con la rusa sin condiciones previas en la frontera entre Ucrania y Bielorrusia, cerca del río Pripiat».

En la misma comunicación, se subraya que el presidente bielorruso, Alexander Lukashenko «ha asumido la responsabilidad de garantizar que todos los aviones, helicópteros y misiles estacionados en territorio bielorruso permanezcan en tierra durante el viaje, las conversaciones y el regreso de la delegación ucraniana» a Kiev.

Antes el Gobierno ruso había anunciado este domingo el envío de negociadores a Bielorrusia para un diálogo con Ucrania, pero su presidente, Volodímir Zelenski, había rechazado la propuesta por considerar que el régimen de Minsk es cómplice de la agresión rusa que padece su país.

La hipótesis de esos contactos se manejaba el viernes ya y ambas partes acusaban a la otra de no querer negociar, cuando se desarrolla la cuarta jornada de combates desde que el presidente ruso, Vladímir Putin, ordenara en la madrugada del pasado jueves la operación militar contra Ucrania.

El portavoz del Kremlim, Dmitri Peskov, había asegurado que los presidentes de Bielorrusia y Ucrania, Alexánder Lukashenko y Volodímir Zelenski, hablaron por teléfono y que tras ello, Lukashenko pidió a su colega ruso, Vladímir Putin, que no retirase a la delegación rusa que esperaba en Minsk.

«Lukashenko llamó a Putin y le pidió que no retirase a la delegación rusa debido a que recibió señales de la parte ucraniana, que expresó su disposición de viajar a la región de Gómel para las conversaciones», dijo Peskov.

Zelenski había pedido que esas conversaciones fueran en «Varsovia, Budapest, Estambul, Baku… propusimos todo esto a la parte rusa, y de hecho nos vale cualquier otra ciudad de cualquier país desde donde no nos lancen misiles».

PUTIN ENDURECE EL TONO FRENTE A LA OTAN Y PONE SUS MISILES EN ALERTA

El presidente de Rusia, Vladímir Putin, ordenó este domingo poner las fuerzas de disuasión rusas en «régimen especial de servicio» tras «declaraciones agresivas» de los principales países de la OTAN.

«Los más altos cargos de los principales países de la OTAN se permiten declaraciones agresivas en contra de nuestro país, por eso ordeno al ministro de Defensa y al jefe del Estado mayor poner las fuerzas de contención del Ejército ruso en régimen especial de servicio», dijo.

El mandatario ruso dio estas instrucciones en una reunión con el ministro de Defensa ruso, Serguéi Shoigú, y el jefe del Estado mayor de las Fuerzas Armadas, Valeri Gerásimov.

Putin subrayó que Occidente da pasos inamistosos respecto a Rusia desde el punto de vista económico.

«Me refiero a las sanciones ilegítimas bien conocidas por todos», agregó, en referencia al vendaval de sanciones occidentales impuestas a Rusia tras su invasión a Ucrania, que el Kremlin denomina «operación militar especial» de «desmilitarización y desnazificación» del país vecino».

EFE

A women holds a child and a dog in a shelter inside a building in Mariupol, Ukraine, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022. Street fighting broke out in Ukraine's second-largest city and Russian troops squeezed strategic ports in the country's south as the prospect of peace talks remains uncertain. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
A women holds a child and a dog in a shelter inside a building in Mariupol, Ukraine, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022. Street fighting broke out in Ukraine’s second-largest city and Russian troops squeezed strategic ports in the country’s south as the prospect of peace talks remains uncertain. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

Putin puts nuclear forces on high alert, escalating tensions

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — In a dramatic escalation of East-West tensions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian nuclear forces put on high alert Sunday in response to what he called “aggressive statements” by leading NATO powers.

The order to put Russia’s nuclear weapons in an increased state of readiness for launch raised fears that the crisis could boil over into nuclear warfare, whether by design or miscalculation.

Amid the mounting tensions, Ukraine announced that a delegation would meet with Russian officials for talks. But the Kremlin’s ultimate intentions toward Ukraine — and what steps might be enough to satisfy Moscow — remained unclear.

The fast-moving developments came as Russian troops drew closer to Kyiv, a city of almost 3 million, street fighting broke out in Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, and strategic ports in the country’s south came under pressure from the invading forces. Ukrainian defenders put up stiff resistance that appeared to slow the invasion.

Putin, in giving the nuclear alert directive, cited not only statements by NATO members but the hard-hitting financial sanctions imposed by the West against Russia, including the Russian leader himself.

Speaking at a meeting with his top officials, Putin told his defense minister and the chief of the military’s General Staff to put nuclear forces in a “special regime of combat duty.”

“Western countries aren’t only taking unfriendly actions against our country in the economic sphere, but top officials from leading NATO members made aggressive statements regarding our country,” Putin said in televised comments.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Putin is resorting to a pattern he used in the weeks before launching the invasion, “which is to manufacture threats that don’t exist in order to justify further aggression.” She told ABC’s “This Week” that Russia has not been under threat from NATO or Ukraine.

“And we’re going to stand up,” Psaki said, adding: “We have the ability to defend ourselves, but we also need to call out what we’re seeing here.”

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told CNN, in reaction to Putin’s decision to put Russia’s nuclear forces on high alert: “This is dangerous rhetoric. This is a behavior which is irresponsible.”

The practical meaning of Putin’s order was not immediately clear. Russia and the United States typically have land- and submarine-based nuclear forces on alert and prepared for combat at all times, but nuclear-capable bombers and other aircraft are not.

If Putin is arming or otherwise raising the nuclear combat readiness of his bombers, or if he is ordering more ballistic missile submarines to sea, then the United States might feel compelled to respond in kind, said Hans Kristensen, a nuclear analyst at the Federation of American Scientists. That would mark a worrisome escalation, he said.

Max Bergmann, a former State Department official, called Putin’s talk predictable but dangerous saber rattling. “Things could spiral out of control,” said Bergmann, now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

Around the same time as Putin’s nuclear move, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office said on the Telegram messaging app that the two sides would meet at an unspecified location on the Belarusian border. The message did not give a precise time for the meeting.

The announcement came hours after Russia announced that its delegation had flown to Belarus to await talks. Ukrainian officials initially rejected the move, saying any talks should take place elsewhere than Belarus, since it has allowed its territory to be used by Russian troops as a staging ground for the invasion.

Earlier Sunday, the Ukrainian 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,” Zelenskyy said.

Until Sunday, Russia’s troops had remained on the outskirts of Kharkiv, a city of 1.4 million about 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) 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 images underscored the determined resistance from Ukrainian forces. Ukrainians have volunteered en masse to help defend their country, taking guns distributed by authorities and preparing firebombs to fight Russian forces.

Ukraine is also releasing prisoners with military experience who want to fight for the country, authorities said.

Putin hasn’t disclosed his ultimate plans, but Western officials believe he is determined to overthrow Ukraine’s government and replace it with a regime of his own, redrawing the map of Europe and reviving Moscow’s Cold War-era influence.

The pressure on strategic ports in the south of Ukraine appeared aimed at seizing control of the country’s coastline. A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, said Russian forces had blocked the cities of Kherson on the Black Sea and the port of Berdyansk on the Azov Sea.

He said the Russian forces also took control of an airbase near Kherson and the Azov Sea city of Henichesk. Ukrainian authorities also reported fighting near Odesa, Mykolaiv and other areas.

Cutting Ukraine’s access to its sea ports would deal a major blow to the country’s economy. It could also allow Moscow to build a land corridor to Crimea, which Moscow annexed in 2014 and until now was connected to Russia by a 19-kilometer (12-mile) bridge.

Ukrainian military deputy commander Lt.-Gen. Yevhen Moisiuk sounded a defiant note in a message aimed at Russian troops.

“Unload your weapons, raise your hands so that our servicemen and civilians can understand that you have heard us. This is your ticket home,” Moisiuk said in a Facebook video.

The number of casualties so far from Europe’s largest land conflict since World War II remained unclear amid the fog of combat.

Ukraine’s health minister reported Saturday that 198 people, including three children, had been killed and more than 1,000 others wounded. It was unclear whether those figures included both military and civilian casualties. Russia has not released any casualty information.

Ukraine’s U.N. ambassador, Sergiy Kyslytsya, tweeted Saturday that Ukraine appealed to the International Committee of the Red Cross “to facilitate repatriation of thousands of bodies of Russian soldiers.” An accompanying chart claimed 3,500 Russian troops have been killed.

Laetitia Courtois, the Red Cross’ permanent observer to the U.N., said the organization could not immediately confirm those numbers.

The U.N. refugee agency said Sunday that about 368,000 Ukrainians have arrived in neighboring countries since the invasion started Thursday. The U.N. has estimated the conflict could produce as many as 4 million refugees.

The West is working to equip the outnumbered Ukrainian forces with weapons and ammunition while punishing Russia with far-reaching sanctions intended to further isolate Moscow.

Over the weekend, the U.S. pledged an additional $350 million in military assistance to Ukraine, including anti-tank weapons, body armor and small arms. Germany said it would send missiles and anti-tank weapons.

By YURAS KARMANAU, JIM HEINTZ, VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV and DASHA LITVINOVA