Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday activated Russia’s special deterrence forces, which includes nuclear weapons.
“Top officials in NATO’s leading countries have been making aggressive statements against our country. For this reason, I give orders to the defense minister and chief of the General Staff to introduce a special combat service regime in the Russian army’s deference forces,” Putin said during a televised meeting with his top military aides on Sunday, as reported by Russia’s state-run TASS.
The move puts Russia’s nuclear weapons network on heightened alert, moving it into a ready state that is one step away from a launch.
Russian analyst Pavel Podvig told The Wall Street Journal that Putin’s move “is not necessarily preparation for a strike” but “prepares it to act quickly if needed.”
Putin insisted that his decision was in reaction to harsh actions against Russia, including “illegitimate sanctions” that the U.S. and NATO nations enacted in recent days.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki confirmed to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “This Week” that Putin’s decision was part of a pattern of “manufacturing threats that don’t exist in order to justify further aggression.”
A senior administration official told CNN that Putin’s activation was “another escalatory and totally unnecessary step.” The official also characterized Putin as manufacturing a nonexistent threat.
“The only reason his forces face a threat today is because they invaded a sovereign country, and one without nuclear weapons. This is yet another escalatory and totally unnecessary step,” the official added.
Reacting to Putin’s nuclear alert decision, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told CNN, “This is dangerous rhetoric. This is a behavior which is irresponsible.”
On Saturday, the U.S. Department of Defense said in the previous 24 hours, it had observed “more than 250 Russian missile launches, mostly short-range ballistic missiles.” Additionally, it said more than half of Russia’s 150,000 troops amassed around Ukraine had been mobilized inside Ukraine, with the rest still waiting along its borders.
On Friday, President Joe Biden authorized $350 million worth of U.S. weaponry to Ukraine, including anti-armor, small arms, various munitions, body armor and similar equipment. With the latest installment, the U.S. has now provided Ukraine with $1 billion in security assistance over the past year alone.
Germany also provided anti-tank grenade launchers and stinger missiles to Ukraine over the weekend.
Ukraine claimed on Sunday that in the first three days of battle, it killed 4,300 Russian forces, destroyed 27 airplanes, 26 helicopters, 146 tanks, 706 armored vehicles, and more.