Russian President Vladimir Putin raised the specter of the use of nuclear weapons Sunday, putting the country's nuclear deterrence forces on high alert after the U.S. and its allies moved to impose stricter sanctions on the nation over its ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
Putin cited "aggressive statements" from the North Atlantic Trade Organization (NATO) after the group issued a letter condemning Russia's "full-scale" invasion of Ukraine. The United Nations has confirmed 64 deaths among the hundreds of civilian casualties, though the number may be "considerably higher," according to the Associated Press.
The Russian president also attributed economic sanctions for the significant upping of the stakes surrounding the conflict. On Saturday, leaders of the European Union agreed to block certain Russian banks from accessing the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), a messaging and settlement network that connects lenders around the world.
Maybe more importantly, at least the EU has vowed to paralyze Russia's central bank by blocking access to its foreign reserves. Russia currently has about $640 billion in reserves, with a sizable portion held in G7 banks.
A joint statement on the SWIFT decision, issued by the European Commission, U.S., U.K. and Canada, said the leaders of the western world "stand with the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people in their heroic efforts to resist Russia's invasion."
In addition to putting its nuclear arsenal on guard, Putin also threatened military action against neutral nations Sweden and Finland after they expressed a desire to join the 30-nation NATO over the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
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