Putin puts Russia's nuclear forces on high alert
MOSCOW (REUTERS, AFP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his military command to put Russia's deterrence forces - a reference to units which include nuclear arms - on high alert, citing aggressive statements by Nato leaders and economic sanctions against Moscow.
"As you can see, not only do Western countries take unfriendly measures against our country in the economic dimension - I mean the illegal sanctions that everyone knows about very well - but also the top officials of leading Nato countries allow themselves to make aggressive statements with regards to our country," Mr Putin said on state television.
Meanwhile, Ukraine said it was holding the line around its capital Kyiv but was fighting Russian "sabotage groups" that had infiltrated the city.
Mayor Vitaly Klitschko said 31 people had died in the capital since the attacks started, including nine civilians, while 106 people had been injured.
In the country's second-biggest city of Kharkiv in the northeast, the authorities claimed to have expelled Russian troops after Russian armoured vehicles got through its defences.
Moscow said its forces had "entirely" besieged the southern Ukrainian cities of Kherson and Berdyansk.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he was ready to meet Russia for "honest talks", but not in Belarus as Moscow demands because that country is being used as a launchpad for attacks on Ukraine.
Mr Zelensky said on Facebook that he had spoken by phone with Belarus leader and Kremlin ally Alexander Lukashenko, but gave no further details.
Germany said it was sending 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 "Stinger" surface-to-air missiles to help Ukraine, after the United States vowed US$350 million (S$474 million) in additional military funding.
France, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Portugal and Greece are also rushing military equipment, light weapons or fuel to Ukraine, while Italy has sent 110 million euros (S$168 million) in immediate aid.
Western nations, as well as Japan, have pledged to remove some Russian banks from the Swift interbank system, crippling part of its global trade.
Earlier in the day, tech billionaire Elon Musk ordered his SpaceX's Starlink satellite service to supply broadband to Ukraine after a government minister pleaded publicly for his help. Russia had earlier blocked Internet coverage in the country.
The United Nations refugee agency says at least 368,000 people are fleeing the fighting, with most crossing into Poland. Tens of thousands are also seeking shelter in Hungary, Romania and Moldova.
Germany's train operator Deutsche Bahn offered free rides to refugees travelling into the country from Poland.
Pope Francis has called for the "urgent" opening of humanitarian corridors for civilians to flee the fighting.