Photo Credit: Flash 90
Portrait of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his nation’s nuclear arsenal to be placed on “a special regime of combat duty” on Sunday in the latest escalation by Moscow against Ukraine, the European Union, NATO and the United States.

The Russian president issued the order during a meeting with his chief of general staff, the defense minister and other top Russian brass.

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Putin explained in a televised statement that his decision came in direct response to “top officials from leading NATO members” who made “aggressive statements regarding our country.”

European Union Council President Charles Michel announced Saturday that it would facilitate the delivery of military aid to Ukraine.

On Sunday, European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced that, “For the first time ever, the European Union will finance the purchase and delivery of weapons and other equipment to a country that is under attack.” Von der Leyen made the announcement ahead of a meeting EU foreign ministers intended to hash out details of a raft of new sanctions and other measures aimed at Russia.

Australia also announced that it will provide “lethal aid” to Ukraine through the United States and United Kingdom, both of whom are NATO partners. “We’ll be working through those channels because that’s the most effective way to do it,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, according to Australian national broadcaster ABC. According to the report, the assistance is likely to include financial contributions to weapons supplies, rather than direct shipments of arms. Prior assistance came in the form of medical and other non-lethal aid.

EU to Ban Russia from SWIFT, US Sanctions Putin, Ukraine to Get More Military Aid

In addition to increasing sanctions imposed Sunday on Russia by the European Union, Putin himself, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other top elites were directly sanctioned on Friday by the United States and its European allies, including the UK.

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced Saturday night that his nation also plans to freeze assets held by Russian President Vladimir Putin and other officials.

Ukraine has announced that it has filed charges against Russia with the International \Court of Justice.

Ukraine Says Threats Won’t Deter Self-Defense
US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield responded to Putin’s claim of “aggression” promptly, saying that “President Putin is continuing to escalate this war in a manner that is totally unacceptable. We have to continue to condemn his actions in the strongest possible way.”

Ukraine likewise responded, saying the move would not deter its people from defending their country from Moscow’s invasion.

“As you notice, this order by President Putin came shortly after the announcement was made about the two delegations ready to meet,” said Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. “We see this announcement – this order – as an attempt to raise the stakes and to put additional pressure on the Ukrainian delegation” to talks scheduled between the two countries slated to be held Monday at the Belarus border.

“But we will not give in to this pressure,” Kuleba added. “We will approach [these] talks with a very simple approach.”

Russian Forces Blow Up Natural Gas Pipeline
During a fierce battle this weekend for the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, Russian military forces blew up a key gas pipeline, igniting an explosion that formed a mushroom cloud over the city, according to The Kyiv Independent.

At least 64 Ukrainian civilians have died and hundreds more have been wounded in the fighting, according to data confirmed by the United Nations. It is believed the figures are “considerably higher,” however, since many reports have yet to be confirmed.

Russian forces have not succeeded in taking the city despite hours of heavy fighting.

Ukraine’s State Service of Special Communication and Information Protection warned residents to cover their windows with damp cloth or gauze, and to drink plenty of fluids to mitigate any harm to humans resulting from chemicals released into the air.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.