Ukraine slows Russian advance under shadow of nuclear threat

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Russia’s Central Bank scrambled to shore up the tanking ruble Monday
KYIV
Outgunned but determined Ukrainian troops slowed Russia’s advance and held onto the capital and other key cities — at least for now. In the face of stiff resistance and devastating sanctions, President Vladimir Putin ordered Russia’s nuclear forces put on high alert, threatening to elevate the war to a terrifying new level.
Explosions and gunfire that have disrupted life since the invasion began last week appeared to subside around Kyiv overnight, as Ukrainian and Russian delegations met Monday on Ukraine’s border with Belarus. It’s unclear what, if anything, those talks would yield.
Terrified Ukrainian families huddled in shelters, basements or corridors, waiting to find out. Exact death tolls are unclear, but the UN human rights chief said 102 civilians have been killed and hundreds wounded — warning that figure was likely a vast undercount — and Ukraine’s president said at least 16 children were among the dead. More than 500,000 people have fled the country since the invasion, another UN official said Monday — among the millions who have left their homes.
Russia’s Central Bank scrambled to shore up the tanking ruble Monday and the US and European countries upped weapons shipments to Ukraine. While they hope to curb Putin’s aggression after he unleashed Europe’s biggest conflict since World War II, the measures also risked pushing an increasingly cornered Putin closer to the edge.
“I sit and pray for these negotiations to end successfully, so that they reach an agreement to end the slaughter, and so there is no more war,” said Alexandra Mikhailova, weeping as she clutched her cat in a makeshift shelter in the strategic southeastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol. Around her, parents sought to console children and keep them warm.
In Kyiv, long lines formed outside supermarkets on Monday as residents were allowed out of bomb shelters and homes for the first time since a curfew imposed Saturday.
The relative lull in warfare Monday morning in Ukraine was unlikely to last.
Neighboring Belarus could send troops to help Russia as soon as Monday, according to a senior American intelligence official with direct knowledge of current US intelligence assessments. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
US officials say they believe the invasion has been more difficult, and slower, than the Kremlin envisioned, though that could change as Moscow adapts. The British Defense Ministry said Monday that the bulk of Putin’s forces are about 30 kilometers (20 miles) north of Kyiv, their advance having been slowed by Ukrainian forces.
Western nations ramped up the pressure with a freeze on Russia’s hard currency reserves, threatening to bring Russia’s economy to its knees. Russians withdrew savings and sought to shed rubles for dollars and euros, while Russian businesses scrambled to protect their finances.
In addition to sanctions, the US and Germany announced they will send Stinger missiles to Ukraine among other military supplies. The European Union — founded to ensure peace on the continent after World War II — is supplying lethal aid for the first time, including anti-tank weapons and ammunition. At least one Western country is studying a request from Ukraine to provide fighter jets, a European official said. She spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss information not yet public.
EU defense ministers were to meet Monday to discuss how to get the pledged weaponry into Ukraine. Germany’s defense minister said without elaborating that her country has “channels and possibilities” to do that, and a trainload of Czech equipment arrived Sunday. Blocking off those shipments will clearly be a key Russian priority.
It remains to be seen how much the weaponry will help Ukraine fend off Russia’s vastly greater arsenal.
The increasingly erratic Putin made a clear link between ever-tightening sanctions and his decision Sunday to raise Russia’s nuclear posture. He also pointed at “aggressive statements” by NATO as a reason for his move, a reference to his long-running stance that the US-led alliance is an existential threat to Russia.
US and British officials played down Putin’s nuclear threat, and its practical meaning was not immediately clear. Russia and the United States typically have land- and submarine-based nuclear forces that are prepared for combat at all times, but nuclear-capable bombers and other aircraft are not.
A tiny sliver of hope emerged as talks began between Ukrainian and Russian officials Monday. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office said it would demand an immediate cease-fire.