Moscow has publicly acknowledged that Russian troops have been killed in action in Ukraine, marking the first time the Kremlin has admitted to casualties among its army since President Vladimir Putin ordered an invasion of the neighboring country on Wednesday.
“Unfortunately, there are killed and injured among our comrades,” Igor Konashenkova, spokesperson for Russia’s defense ministry, announced in a Russian state television address on Sunday. The spokesperson did not offer any specific numbers on the dead or wounded, but claimed that Ukrainian forces have suffered “many” more casualties than the Russian side.
The Ukrainian government, meanwhile, has claimed that some 3,500 Russian soldiers have been killed since the start of the war.
Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs said in a Facebook update Sunday that 352 Ukrainian civilians, including 14 children, had been killed—and that 1684 people, including 116 children, had been injured.
As the body count rises in Ukraine after Russia’s unprovoked invasion, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office announced the two sides would meet somewhere on the Belarusian border. The meeting is set to take place Monday, and came after Zelensky said he would agree to talk but not in Belarus territory, which Russia has been using to launch attacks on his nation.
“We agreed that the Ukrainian delegation would meet with the Russian delegation without preconditions on the Ukrainian-Belarusian border, near the Pripyat River,” Zelensky said in a statement.
In a later video address, he said: “I do not really believe in the outcome of this meeting, but let them try. So that later not a single citizen of Ukraine has any doubt that I, as president, tried to stop the war, when there was even a small, but still a chance.”
Russia earlier said they had sent a negotiation team to Belarus to await Zelensky’s approval. Zelensky had also suggested Israel would be a neutral location for desperately-needed negotiations between the two nations.
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“The past night was tough—more shelling, more bombing of residential areas and civilian infrastructure,” Zelensky wrote on social media Sunday. The four-day old conflict has killed soldiers on both the Russian and Ukrainian sides as well as Ukraine civilians.
News of the talks came as it emerged that President Vladimir Putin put his nuclear deterrent forces on high alert, blaming NATO leaders’ “aggressive statements,” according to the Associated Press. The order paves the way for Putin to use nuclear weapons, which of course would lead to devastating consequences for all of Europe.
Putin gave the order on Sunday, asking his defense minister to put the nuclear deterrent forces in a “special regime of combat duty,” according to the A.P. “Western countries aren’t only taking unfriendly actions against our country in the economic sphere, but top officials from leading NATO members made aggressive statements regarding our country,” Putin said in televised remarks.
“Senior officials of the leading Nato countries also allow aggressive statements against our country, therefore I order the minister of Defense and the chief of the general staff [of the Russian armed forces] to transfer the deterrence forces of the Russian army to a special mode of combat duty,” Putin said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin learned of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plan to put his nuclear forces on high alert from Putin’s announcement, a senior U.S. defense official said on a call with reporters Sunday.
“President Putin is continuing to escalate this war in a manner that is totally unacceptable, and we have to continue to condemn his actions in the strongest possible way, U.N. ambassador Linda Thomas-Greeenfield told CBS’ Face the Nation. Our voices have been unified with the Europeans and with the world that he needs to cease his aggressive actions toward Ukraine. And we will continue here at the United Nations and around the world to use every possible lever we have at our disposal to expose his actions.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos: “I’m not surprised at this information because Putin has tried every means possible to actually put fear in the world in terms of his action, and it just means that we have to ramp up our efforts here at the United Nations and elsewhere to hold him accountable.”
“This is really a pattern that we’ve seen from President Putin through the course of this conflict, which is manufacturing threats that don't exist in order to justify further aggression—and the global community and the American people should look at it through that prism.
“This is all a pattern from President Putin and we’re going to stand up for it, we have the ability to defend ourselves, but we also need to call out what we’re seeing here from President Putin.”
A senior U.S. defense official told reporters in a briefing Sunday that Putin’s threats are very real and should be taken seriously—but it’s not necessarily clear what Putin’s next moves are, and officials are working to understand his next moves.
“We have no reason to doubt the validity of this order, but how it’s manifested itself I don’t think is completely clear yet,” the senior defense official said. The official added the United States is prepared to defend against any threats to the homeland.
“It is always a priority to be able to defend the homeland and to make sure our strategic deterrence is capable, viable and ready at all times,” the official said. The news comes as Russian forces continue their all-out assault in Ukraine and are using about two-thirds of their forces to date, the U.S. has assessed, according to the official.
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Russia has alarmingly begun to use “siege tactics” in Cherniv, putting civilians and civilian structures at risk, the official said. Some Russian forces or saboteurs appear to be wearing Ukrainian military uniforms in an attempt to deceive Ukrainians, but they’ve been identified by Ukrainian forces, the U.S. official said.
Some good news emerged Saturday: Some of Russia’s attempts to attack in Ukraine are faltering. While they’ve launched upwards of 320 missiles, some of them are experiencing failures, the official said.
Russian forces are still approximately 30 kilometers from Kyiv, and have been experiencing fuel and logistics shortages on the way, according to the official.
“They simply don’t have a lot of experience moving on another nation state at this level of complexity and size.” the official said.