Putin warns to crush Ukraine as invasion halts, bans biting
Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened the existence of the Ukrainian state as his army’s invasion of his neighbor was met with stiff resistance on Sunday and its economy became increasingly suffocated by international sanctions .
In latest efforts to freeze Moscow from the global economy, US card payment giants Visa and Mastercard announced they would suspend operations in Russia, while world leaders pledged to act in the face of intensifying the assault.
“The current (Ukrainian) authorities must understand that if they continue to do what they are doing, they are calling into question the future of the Ukrainian state,” Putin said on Saturday.
“And if that happens, they will be fully responsible for it.”
Since the invasion of Russia 10 days ago, the economic and humanitarian toll of the war has increased, pushing more than a million people to flee Ukraine. Authorities reported hundreds of civilians killed.
In a Facebook post on Sunday, Ukraine’s military said it was engaged in “fierce battles” with Russian forces over border control in the southern city of Mykolaiv and northern Chernihiv.
“The main efforts are focused on defending the city of Mariupol,” he said, adding that an operation by Ukrainian forces was also underway in the eastern part of the Donetsk region.
Kiev has urged the West to step up military assistance to the beleaguered country, including warplanes, with President Volodymyr Zelensky pleading with Eastern European neighbors to provide Russian-made planes its citizens are being trained to drive.
Meanwhile Putin has intensified warnings against NATO threatening wider war if a no-fly zone is implemented, as his forces resumed their offensive against a key Ukrainian city where security fears blocked a planned evacuation.
While Zelensky criticized NATO for ruling out the no-fly zone, Putin spoke of “colossal and catastrophic consequences not only for Europe but also for the whole world” if such a step were taken.
“Any movement in this direction will be considered by us as participation in an armed conflict by this country,” Putin said.
Hitting the hardening of Western sanctions, the Russian leader said: “A lot of what we are up against right now is a way of waging war on Russia.
“Sanctions against Russia are akin to a declaration of war. But thank God we are not there yet.
Putin also dismissed rumors that the Kremlin planned to declare martial law in Russia.
Visa and Mastercard have both announced they will suspend operations in Russia, the latest major US companies to join Moscow’s business freeze.
Mastercard said it made the decision due to “the unprecedented nature of the current dispute and the uncertain economic environment.”
Meanwhile, Visa said it will “work with its customers and partners in Russia to end all Visa transactions over the next few days.”
Visa and Mastercard had previously announced that they were complying with US and international sanctions imposed on Russia following its attack.
But Russia’s big banks – including its biggest lender Sberbank and the Central Bank of Russia – have played down the effects the card suspensions would have on their customers.
The war has already had a serious impact on the global economy, with the IMF warning that its effects would be “all the more devastating” if the conflict escalates.
Russia’s business and other contacts with the West were regularly cut off. Moscow suspended all flights of flagship carrier Aeroflot, effective Tuesday.
As frantic diplomatic talks at the highest level continued, President Zelensky announced on Sunday that he had spoken by telephone with his American counterpart Joe Biden to discuss financial support and sanctions against Russia.
“The agenda included security issues, financial support for Ukraine and continued sanctions against Russia,” Zelensky tweeted.
Hours earlier, the Ukrainian leader had addressed US lawmakers via video call, pleading for additional funding and an embargo on Russian oil imports.
US lawmakers have promised an additional $10 billion aid package, but the White House has so far ruled out an oil ban, fearing it could drive up prices and hurt US consumers already stung by record inflation.
Arms, ammunition and funds poured into Ukraine from Western allies as they sought to bolster Kyiv against invasion from Moscow.
Last week, Washington authorized $350 million worth of military equipment – the largest such consignment in US history.
While visiting Ukrainian refugees on the Polish border this weekend, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington was seeking $2.75 billion for the unfolding humanitarian crisis as nearly 1.4 million civilians had fled.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett paid a surprise visit to the Kremlin on Saturday for three hours of talks – Putin’s first face-to-face meeting with a foreign leader since the invasion began.
The Israeli leader then spoke with Zelensky.
Kiev had asked Israel – which has strong relations with Russia and Ukraine – to start a dialogue with Moscow.
Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office has said it will launch an international “plan of action” to ensure the failure of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including a series of diplomatic meetings the next week.
The strategic city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov has been under siege for days and without electricity, food and water.
After Russia declared a ceasefire to open a humanitarian corridor, city officials said the population of 450,000 could start leaving by bus and private car.
But the officials then delayed the evacuation, saying that “the Russian side does not respect the ceasefire and continues to bombard both Mariupol and its surroundings.
A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman later announced that the assault had returned, citing “the reluctance of the Ukrainian side to…extend the ceasefire.”
Ukraine’s military said on Sunday that Russian forces around Mariupol were still shelling its civilian infrastructure.
The city’s mayor, Vadim Boitchenko, said in an interview posted on YouTube that “Mariupol no longer exists” and that thousands of people have been injured.
“The situation is very difficult,” he said. “I ask our American and European partners: help us, save Mariupol.”
Closer to Kyiv
The siege of the city came as Russian forces closed in on the capital Kiev in an assault that grew increasingly indiscriminate – and deadly.
Working-class towns such as Bucha and Irpin are in the firing line, and Friday’s airstrikes shattered many people’s resolve to stay.
“They’re bombing residential areas – schools, churches, big buildings, everything,” accountant Natalia Dydenko said, glancing at the destruction she left behind.
Dozens of civilians were killed in Chernihiv. Those that remain live in craters or among ruins.
“There were corpses all over the ground,” a man who only gave his name to Sergei told AFP as the air raid sirens sounded. “They were queuing here for the pharmacy which is right there, and they all died.”
AFP reporters saw scenes of devastation – despite Moscow’s insistence it is not targeting civilian areas.
A defiant Zelensky said on Saturday that Ukrainian forces were counterattacking around Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, inflicting “such casualties on the invaders that they did not see even in their worst dream”.
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba was equally provocative, declaring: “Ukraine is bleeding, but Ukraine has not fallen and stands with both feet on the ground… The myth of the unbeatable and all-powerful Russian military is already ruined.
US media reported that Washington was working on a deal with Poland to supply Ukraine with Soviet-era fighter jets to bolster Kiev’s defenses against Russian invasion.
Several news outlets reported on Saturday that U.S. officials had told them about a possible deal, in which Poland would send Soviet-era jets to Ukraine in exchange for U.S. F-16 fighter jets.
Since the invasion of Russia 10 days ago, the economic and humanitarian toll of the war has increased and authorities have reported hundreds of civilians killed.
Arms, ammunition and funds have flowed into Ukraine from Western allies.
“We are working with the Poles on this issue and consulting with the rest of our NATO allies,” a White House official quoted in reports from The Wall Street Journal and NBC said.
Kiev has urged the West to boost military assistance to the beleaguered country, including warplanes, with President Volodymyr Zelensky pleading with Eastern European neighbors to provide Russian-made planes that its pilots are trained to fly. drive.
The Ukrainian leader had addressed U.S. lawmakers via video call on Saturday, pleading for additional funding and an embargo on Russian oil imports.
The Wall Street Journal report quoted two people on the call as saying Zelensky had asked for fighter jets after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell asked the Ukrainian president what he was up to. Not needed anymore.
“The urgency for the United States and its allies to support the freedom of the Ukrainian people has never been greater,” Sen. Rob Portman said after he and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin spoke with Zelensky.
“We must remove all obstacles to providing all support measures to Ukraine, including finding a way for the United States to compensate our Eastern European partners who wish to donate their planes. Soviet style to Ukraine.
There is no time to waste,” Portman said in a statement. US lawmakers have promised an additional $10 billion aid package, but the White House has so far ruled out an oil ban, fearing it could drive up prices and hurt US consumers already stung by record highs. of inflation.
The Journal said US officials had mentioned a number of difficult practical issues, including getting the planes to Ukraine, and that the deal would require White House approval and congressional action.
Last week, Washington authorized $350 million worth of military equipment for Kiev, the largest such package in US history.
Meanwhile, the number of people fleeing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has topped 1.5 million, making it Europe’s “fastest growing refugee crisis” since World War II, according to officials. United Nations.
“More than 1.5 million Ukrainian refugees crossed into neighboring countries in 10 days – the fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II,” he said in a statement on Twitter. .
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