(NewsNationNow) — President Vladimir Putin dramatically escalated East-West tensions by ordering Russian nuclear forces put on high alert Sunday, while Ukraine’s embattled leader agreed to talks with Moscow as Putin’s troops and tanks drove deeper into the country, closing in around the capital.
“It’s significant for a couple of reasons,” retired Lt. Gen. Richard Newton said Sunday on “NewsNation Prime. ”Number one, he (Putin) is off his timeline in terms of the invasion itself. Point two, he saw that Germany today announced that they are going to increase their defense spending … above 2 percent” of that nation’s economy.
The Russian leader is “potentially putting in play forces that, if there’s a miscalculation, could make things much, much more dangerous,” said a senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss rapidly unfolding military operations.
“That is historically high levels for Germany’s contribution to the NATO allies, and raising their defense sepdning is key, at this point, in terms of showing NATO unity.”
Citing “aggressive statements” by NATO and tough financial sanctions, Putin issued a directive to increase the readiness of Russia’s nuclear weapons, raising fears that the invasion of Ukraine could lead to nuclear war, whether by design or mistake.
According to The Hill, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that Putin “seems erratic,” adding he has an “ever-deepening, delusional rendering of history.”
Rice said on “Fox News Sunday” that she’s met with Putin many times, noting that he was always a “KGB man” and “calculating and cold.”
Today, however, he is very different, she said.
“He seems erratic,” Rice said. “There is an ever-deepening, delusional rendering of history, it was always a kind of victimology of what had happened to them, but now it goes back to blaming Lenin for the foundation of Kyiv in Ukraine. So he’s descending into something that I personally haven’t seen before.”
Putin’s directive came as Russian forces encountered strong resistance from Ukraine’s defenders. Despite Russian advances across the country, U.S. officials say they believe the invasion has been more difficult, and slower, than the Kremlin envisioned, though that could change as Moscow adapts.
Amid the mounting tensions, Western nations said they would tighten sanctions and buy and deliver weapons for Ukraine, including Stinger missiles for shooting down helicopters and other aircraft.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office, meanwhile, announced plans for a meeting with a Russian delegation at an unspecified location on the Belarusian border.
It wasn’t immediately clear when the meeting would take place, nor what the Kremlin was ultimately seeking, either in those potential talks on the border or, more broadly, from its war in Ukraine. Western officials believe Putin wants to overthrow Ukraine’s government and replace it with a regime of his own, reviving Moscow’s Cold War-era influence.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the Ukraine crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine