Biden visits Kyiv in Ukraine ahead of invasion anniversary
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Vladimir Putin has attempted to “blackmail” the West by upgrading Russia’s strategic nuclear forces to their “highest level of combat readiness”, Ukrainian intelligence has warned, as President Biden arrived in Kyiv to reaffirm support for the defending nation. In the hours leading up to Mr Biden’s European tour, Russia reportedly began “large-scale” nuclear exercises, including preparing “components of the strategic nuclear forces for the launch of sea and land-based ballistic missiles”, and the carrying out of a “a check of the centralised combat control system of the Russian Air Force ‘Monolith’”, according to the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine.
Russia allegedly carried out a handful of nuclear weapon readiness checks and mock combat orders ahead of the US President’s visit.
Included in the actions was a coherence check of Russia’s central command system, called “Monolith”, which incorporates the top war generals and the missile forces employed by the Air Force. “Monolith” was a code word used by the Soviet military to denote highest priority messages.
A nuclear missile submarine was also given a mock combat order to fire, while strategic bombers and top commanders were moved to Tambov air base, 300 miles northeast of Ukraine.
According to Ukrainian intelligence, the actions were an attempt to use “blunt nuclear blackmail”, as well as “to weaken international support for Ukraine”.
While the Kremlin has made myriad threats of nuclear escalation since its invasion of Ukraine on February 24 last year, all of which have proved empty, the latest round of actions is its most definitive warning.
A report from the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine on Telegram said: “Such actions of the military and political leadership of the Russian Federation, are aimed at, among other things, hindering Joe Biden’s visit to Europe, which is scheduled for 20-22 February, using blunt nuclear blackmail and to weaken international support for Ukraine.”
Last week, it was also reported that Putin sent nuclear-armed warships into the Arctic for the first time in 30 years.
Russia has one of the largest nuclear arsenals in the world with a stockpile of around 6,000 warheads, including 1,600 ready for action.
Towards the end of last year, Putin suggested that the US had set a “precedent” for the use of nuclear weapons in warfare, referring to the atom bombs used against the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during WW2.
Should he use nuclear weapons in Ukraine or further afield, it would be the first incident of its kind since the US strikes nearly 80 years ago.
It comes as US President Joe Biden pledged a further £415 million ($500 million) to Ukraine on Monday as he visited Kyiv to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The pair were pictured embracing in the Ukrainian capital just two months after Mr Zelensky visited Washington for his first trip outside of the war-torn country since the Russian invasion.
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The visit was of seismic symbolic significance; that Mr Biden embraced the danger of Russian missile strikes on the capital to meet with his Ukrainian counterpart evinced his nation’s unwavering support for the defending nation ahead of the anniversary of the war.
Ukrainian forces are currently dealing with what Western analysts regard as Russia’s rolling spring offensive, with tens of thousands of soldiers arriving to the frontlines to bolster the roughly 340,000 fatigued troops already on combat rotation.
The next few months of frontline fighting could prove pivotal to the conclusion of the war, with military analysts telling Express.co.uk that should Russia fail to make significant territorial gains, particularly in the eastern Donbas, Ukraine would then have an opportunity to stage forceful counter-offensives.
Western main battle tanks, in the form of German-made Leopard 2s and British Challenger 2s, as well as US-made Abrams M1s, will also start to arrive on the battlefield following the spring, empowering Ukrainian forces to push back Putin’s Armed Forces.
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