Putin issues nuclear ‘high alert’ as Russian forces push towards Kyiv

By Melissa Coade

February 28, 2022

Scott Morrison
Scott Morrison vows to supply Ukraine with weapons. (AAP Image/Ethan James)

Scott Morrison has vowed to support Ukraine with a donation of weapons via NATO, boosting what was initially a non-lethal commitment from Australia to the democratic nation now under military attack by the order of Vladimir Putin. 

News of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s plans to put his country’s nuclear forces on ‘high alert’ has been met with condemnation from the international community on Monday. The White House labeled the move as another example of an paranoid aggressor’s use of an imagined threat to justify an escalating confrontation with the West.

The Russian military’s aggression in Ukraine over the weekend has now reached a full-scale invasion, with reports that military convoys have opened fire on civilian vehicles, airstrikes, shelling, and attacks by land and sea. Russian paratroopers have been dispatched to capture key Ukrainian military assets and gun battles are being held across the Ukrainian countryside.  

Satellite images from Maxar Technologies reveal a long line of hundreds of Russian convoys, including infantry and supply vehicles, encroaching the Ukrainian capital of Kyviv just over 60 kilometres northwest of the capital. 

The human cost of Putin’s attack on Ukraine is difficult to gauge at this stage by the UN estimates there have been 240 civilian casualties and 64 people killed – children are believed to be among the dead. The Washington Post reports hospitals are running low on supplies to treat the growing number of injured, mostly presenting with burns and fragment penetration wounds. 

Al Jazeera reports that official Ukrainian sources claim 3,500 Russian soldiers have been killed in the conflict so far. 

Ukraine’s citizens have defiance in the face of fear, with more than 350,000 refugees fleeing to escape to neighboring countries with children and a bundle of possessions. Others have stayed to fight Russian forces to the bitter end and the nation is under official martial law. Many civilians are taking cover in bomb shelters and underground bunkers.

French president Emanuel Macron has called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council, which will convene today to discuss the humanitarian situation in Ukraine.

In a recent development, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky posted to his official Telegram channel that advisers would be sent to the border near Belarus to negotiate with Russian representatives.

On Monday, Scott Morrison issued a statement outlining how Australia would hold Putin to account ‘for his egregious unjustified war against Ukraine’. This would be done in partnership with the US, the UK, Canada, NATO and the EU, he said.

“Australia will work with NATO and our other partners to provide lethal as well as non-lethal military equipment, medical supplies, and financial assistance to support the people of Ukraine,” the PM said. 

“As an immediate measure, Australia will contribute US$3 million to NATO’s Trust Fund for Ukraine to support non-lethal military equipment and medical supplies.”

Denmark has announced more than 2,700 anti-tank weapons will be donated to Ukraine, and Sweden has committed 5,000 of the same along with helmets, body shields and field weapons. 

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen has also confirmed the European Union will finance the purchase and delivery of weapons and other equipment to Ukraine.

Turkey has added its voice to those against Putin’s push into Ukraine, with officials signalling they will invoke a 1936 treaty to stop warships from passing through the straits connecting the Black Sea to the south.

US officials are still debating whether America will respond to Putin’s nuclear move by changing the status of its own nuclear forces but White House press secretary Jen Psaki has reiterated that Russia has at ‘no point’ been under threat from a NATO attack and that its allies were nevertheless able to defend themselves. 

Putin’s latest nuclear ploy was ‘totally unacceptable’, according to US ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who condemned the Russian president’s actions in the strongest terms. She added, however, that she was ‘not surprised’ the autocrat had taken this course of action given coordinated international measures to financially punish Russia for its unlawful incursion into Ukraine last week.

“Our voices have been unified with the Europeans and with the world that he needs to cease his aggressive actions toward Ukraine. And we will continue here at the United Nations and around the world to use every possible lever we have at our disposal to expose his actions,” Thomas-Greenfield told the ‘Face the nation’ television program at the weekend. 

Sanctions against Russia have included targeted measures against Putin and his foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, as well as more general actions — like banning Russian banks from using the international financial SWIFT system –  and restrictions on Russia’s general bank. 

Australia will also subject Russia’s defence minister Sergey Shoigu, prime minister Mikhail Mishustin, and internal affairs minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev with travel bans and sanctions relating to asset freezes. A total of 350 Russian individuals and 13 Belursian officials and entities that the Australian government has categorised as corrupt oligarchs, MPs, and military commanders ‘facilitating Putin’s illegal and violent ambitions’ have been included on Australia’s sanctions list.

“It is exceedingly rare to designate a head of state, and reflects the depth of our concerns,” Morrison said.

“President Putin joins a very small group that includes Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Muammar Gaddafi of Libya and Bashar al-Assad of Syria [who are subject to sanctions],” he added.

A trans-Atlantic task force has also been established to identify and freeze the assets of sanctioned Russian individuals and companies.

“Together, these measures will impose severe costs on the Russian economy by disconnecting its key banks from the international financial system and disrupting Russian trade and investment flows,” Morrison said.

“They will also paralyse Russia’s foreign reserves and prevent Russian officials and elites from accessing key financial systems.”

Observers note the impact of the targeted personal sanctions may be limited given how hidden the assets of these Russian political power brokers seem to be. 

Ordinary citizens, including Russian nationals, have also taken to protesting in the streets against Putin’s brutal attack on Ukraine. Russian authorities have arrested scores of local anti-war protestors as the violence in Ukraine, perpetrated by its own military forces, goes on.

“The Australian government reiterates our staunch support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and for the people of Ukraine,” Morrison said. 


READ MORE:

Political language used in Russia’s invasion worth noting

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