Satellite imagery taken on Monday showed Russian ground forces continued to move closer to Ukraine’s capital with a military convoy that stretched over 17 miles (27 km), a private U.S. company said. Maxar Technologies Inc said the convoy on the eastern edge of Antonov airport contained hundreds of armored vehicles, tanks, towed artillery and logistics support vehicles and continued to move south towards Kyiv.
The convey was situated northeast of the Ukrainian city of Ivankiv and contained fuel, logistics and armored vehicles including tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and self-propelled artillery, it said.
The satellite images also showed damage caused by recent airstrikes on the Antonov airport in Hostomel, and heavy fighting in and near the airport, Maxar reported.
Maxar has been tracking the buildup of Russian forces for weeks.
It comes as Vladimir Putin put Russia’s strategic nuclear weapons forces on high alert on Sunday, prompting fears over what could happen next in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
READ MORE: Furious Putin blasts commanders over army performance
The Russian president blamed “unfriendly actions in the economic sphere”, which is a reference to economic sanctions, and claimed leading Nato members had made “aggressive statements” towards the nation, prompting him to take the action.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday blamed the escalation on remarks given by Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, although it is not clear which remarks he was alluding to.
This claim was later hit back by an ally of Ms Truss, who stated that nothing the Foreign Secretary has said “warrants that sort of escalation”.
During a meeting on Sunday, Russian television footage showed Mr Putin meeting with his defence minister and the chief of the general staff, and instructing them to put the nuclear weapons on a “special regime of combat duty”.
Outlining what this means, Patricia Lewis, director of the international security programme at the thinktank Chatham House, told the PA news agency: “What we think has happened is that under peacetime, Russia has checks and balances in place so that they can’t launch nuclear weapons.
“So in order to be able to launch nuclear weapons, President Putin has to change the status from peacetime to combat, hence the phrase he’s ‘put his forces on special mode of combat duty’. I think we would probably call it combat readiness but it’s hard because of different languages and different meanings.”
“What he seems to have done is created the legal platform to be able to launch if he wishes,” she added.
Deputy director-general of RUSI (Royal United Services Institute), Professor Malcolm Chalmers, said that wording had not been used before, so it is not “entirely clear” what was meant.
Putin humiliated as Russian troops down weapons in collapse of morale [INSIGHT]
‘Clear war crime’: Andrew Neil fumes at Russian strike on Ukraine city [VIDEO]
Ukraine tipped as winning propaganda war: ‘Putin’s nightmare’ [ANALYSIS]
“I haven’t seen any reporting of changes in Russian nuclear forces postures,” he told PA. “Obviously I don’t have access to classified intelligence but I haven’t seen reports as such.
“So it’s not clear how that changes. It may be something to do with the particular authorisation mechanisms between the president and the nuclear forces or it may be nothing at all. What is clear is that this is designed to be something that we need to listen to. It’s designed to be a reminder that Russia is a nuclear weapons power.”
How likely is a nuclear attack?Defence Secretary Ben Wallace attempted to pour cold water on fears of a nuclear war, stating that while he understood the concerns, the phrasing is a “battle of rhetoric”.
During media interviews on Monday, he told Sky News he “was not going to speculate” on what Mr Putin might do in the future.