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WASHINGTON: President Vladimir Putin’s nuclear forces alert represents a “totally unacceptable” escalation of the invasion of Ukraine, the United States said Sunday as it accused the Russian leader of fabricating threats to justify “further aggression.”

“This is 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,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on ABC when asked about the announcement from Moscow.

At the Pentagon, a senior official called the move “escalatory” but would not say if US nuclear forces had changed their stance in response.

Speaking to journalists, the defense official said the US had no reason to doubt that Putin’s announcement was genuine, but had no information yet as to how it would be implemented.

“We believe that this is not only an unnecessary step for him to take, but an escalatory one,” the official said, on grounds of anonymity.

“Unnecessary because Russia has never been under threat by the West, by NATO and certainly wasn’t under any threat by Ukraine,” the official said.

Putin orders nuclear forces on high alert

“And escalatory because it is clearly potentially putting in play forces that, if there’s a miscalculation, could make things much, much more dangerous.”

The American ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said she condemned Putin’s step in the strongest terms.

“It means that President Putin is continuing to escalate this war in a manner that is totally unacceptable,” Thomas-Greenfield said in an interview on CBS.

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