Putin compares sanctions to a 'declaration of war'

ODESSA, Ukraine — President Vladimir V. Putin warned on Saturday that crippling economic sanctions imposed by the West amounted to a “de...


ODESSA, Ukraine — President Vladimir V. Putin warned on Saturday that crippling economic sanctions imposed by the West amounted to a “declaration of war,” as the Russian military struck civilian targets and continued shelling near first protected routes meant to allow besieged Ukrainians to flee, apparently violating a ceasefire that had been agreed to hours earlier.

Russian attacks near ‘humanitarian corridors’, reported by Ukrainian officials, came hours after the two countries agreed to open safe routes for residents to flee Mariupol, a major port city on the Sea of ​​Azov where tens of thousands of people were left without heat, electricity or water for three days, and Volnovakha, another besieged town 40 miles to the north.

Ten days into the Russian invasion, the shelling around the corridors made it clear that Mr Putin had hatched a plan to pound civilian infrastructure and pulverize basic services and neighborhoods in a sustained assault that triggered what the United Nations calls the fastest action. the exodus of European refugees since the Second World War.

At a press conference in the capital, Kiev, Ukrainian authorities presented a dozen stone-faced Russian prisoners of war, who spoke of the chaotic firefights that led to their capture and condemned the Russian leadership.

It was impossible to know if the soldiers were speaking under duress. The Geneva Convention prohibits soldiers from parading prisoners.

Mr Putin, in his first extended remarks since the start of the war, threatened to entirely absorb Ukraine, the former Soviet republic of nearly 44 million people which declared independence from Moscow 30 years ago. years.

“Current leaders must understand that if they continue to do what they are doing, they are risking the future of the Ukrainian state,” he said.

In addition to his warning about sanctions, which are crushing the Russian economy, Mr Putin said that the imposition of a no-fly zone over Ukraine – which Ukrainian officials demanded, but NATO has so far rejected – ‘will be considered by us as participation in the armed conflict’ He blamed Ukraine for sabotaging humanitarian routes, saying its troops used civilians as ‘human shields’ .

Mr Putin’s threats came as residents of the first major city to fall to Russian troops, Kherson in southern Ukraine, took to the streets in protest, chanting and waving Ukrainian flags. The protests were the most visible example to date of resistance to the Russian occupation and a direct rebuke to Mr Putin’s claim that the Russian military has liberated Ukrainian towns.

Around 10 a.m., hundreds of people began to gather in Freedom Square in central Kherson, according to videos from the scene. In one video, a man stood atop a Russian armored personnel carrier, waving a Ukrainian flag as it rolled down the street, drawing cheers from onlookers.

The city’s mayor, Ihor Kolykhaev, said Russian forces fired into the air to disperse the crowd, although protesters initially remained in the area. No casualties were reported, he said, estimating the crowd size at around 2,000 people.

The protests highlighted the challenges facing the Russian military as they attempt to capture and hold Ukrainian territory. Mr Putin insists that Ukrainians and Russians are “one people” and has described resistance to Russia’s incursion as the product of brainwashing by nefarious Western operators and “neo- Nazis” of the Kiev government.

But Mr Kolykhaev said it was ridiculous for Russian forces to destroy city services and supply lines for medicine and other essentials and then portray themselves as “kind liberators”. Russian troops captured Kherson on Wednesday after a fierce battle that killed 300 people, including dozens of civilians, he said.

“First they create a critical situation,” Mr Kolykhaev said in a text message, “then they heroically save us.”

The Russian onslaught also deepened desperation in Mariupol, a large city of nearly half a million people in southern Ukraine where residents described children trapped in bomb shelters with no food, water or heat. It was largely impossible to bring medical supplies and other relief to the town, where the local government refused to surrender, despite daily shelling by Russian forces, which surrounded the town.

“The shelling is constant and random,” Mariupol resident Diana Berg said in an interview on Thursday. “Everything I ever thought was a nightmare is nothing compared to what I witness.”

Mariupol was cut off from telecommunications, she said, meaning there was no internet, cell phone service, electricity or hot water. Residents, she said, were making street fires to keep warm. “And when you’re on the street, at any time, a rocket can land next to you,” Ms Berg said.

In order to alleviate the suffering, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Saturday that it had agreed to a ceasefire and safe routes for residents of Mariupol and Volnovakha, a neighboring city in an equally difficult situation, starting at 10 a.m. Moscow time.

But Ukrainian officials said Russian troops quickly breached the agreement, and they warned residents planning to leave the towns to turn back and take cover. “The Russian side does not respect the ceasefire and continues to shell Mariupol and surrounding areas,” the Mariupol administration said on Saturday afternoon.

Since the start of the war, at least 1.2 million people in Ukraine have fled to neighboring countries, the head of the UN refugee agency said on Saturday. The movement, mostly of women and children, is coming at a faster pace than during the height of the Balkan Wars in the 1990s and much faster than during the Hungarian refugee crisis of 1956, when Soviet troops crushed an uprising in that country,” said Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

“This is the fastest growing refugee crisis – let’s call it a refugee crisis, please, it’s a refugee crisis – since World War II,” Grandi said. in an interview after returning from a visit to the Ukraine-Moldova border.

He said he was particularly struck by the shocking suddenness with which refugees crossing there had been torn from comfortable lives in what until recently were quiet, functional towns.

“It’s an avalanche of people with cars, with pets,” Grandi said. “It’s whole towns that are being emptied and crossing the border.”

Poland has taken in the largest number of Ukrainians, but Grandi was particularly concerned about Moldova, which has taken in more refugees per capita than any of Ukraine’s other neighbours. Since February 24, more than 200,000 people from Ukraine have entered Moldova, which is home to 2.6 million people and is one of the poorest countries in Europe.

Unlike its western neighbours, Moldova is not a member of the European Union and therefore lacks significant institutional support from the bloc.

As the United States and its NATO allies moved to resupply the underarmed and undermanned Ukrainian military with Javelin and Stinger missiles and other weapons, Western officials said the Russian offensive met with stubborn resistance.

Outside Kiev, there were fierce attacks and counterattacks as Ukrainian forces fought to prevent the Russians from encircling the city. Western analysts say a 40-mile-long convoy of military vehicles approaching Kiev from the north appears largely blocked, and the Ukrainian military said its forces attacked it where they could.

The press conference with Russian prisoners of war on Saturday was hastily organized by Ukrainian authorities to bolster their claim that the Ukrainian military is successfully defending itself against Russian forces struggling with logistical problems and low morale.

Russian soldiers, reading prepared statements and answering questions in front of masked and heavily armed security officials, described being captured after their armored columns were ambushed.

“The whole column burned down,” said one soldier, who identified himself as Lieutenant Dmitry Kovalensky. He said his tank unit was attacked by what he believed to be a mixture of projectiles from an armed drone and shoulder-fired anti-tank missiles near Sumy in northeastern Ukraine. He said he ran into a forest and later surrendered.

There was a hint that the captives were worried about their appearance at the press conference. “Now, after this press conference, I fear not only for myself but also for my family” back in Russia, Sgt. said Mikhail Kulikov.

In his last evaluation of the Russian assault, the British Ministry of Defense said Ukraine continued to hold three key cities – Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Mariupol – as well as Sumy, although it was “very likely” that Russian forces had surrounded the fourth.

Western analysts said Russia appeared to be advancing towards the southern port city of Mykolaiv, where residents and the military braced for an imminent attack. But those troops could bypass the city to hasten their advance on Odessa, a major Black Sea port and the headquarters of Ukraine’s navy.

Ukraine’s defense minister said on Saturday that his country’s forces and cities were the most vulnerable to air attacks. “Aircraft of all kinds are bombing towns, villages and civilian infrastructure, including critical and dangerous nuclear and hydropower plants,” Minister Oleksii Reznikov said in a statement.

He said Russian forces struck residential neighborhoods, schools, hospitals and churches, and shelled transportation hubs as people tried to flee.

The main goal of Russian forces is to surround Kiev, Reznikov said, and weaken resistance in towns that Russian troops have surrounded or are trying to capture.

Michael Schwirtz reported from Odessa, Ukraine; Andrew E. Kramer from Kyiv, Ukraine; and Michael Levenson from New York. The report was provided by Marc Santora in Lviv, Ukraine; Patrick Kingley in Chisinau, Moldova; and Masha Froliak in Kyiv.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Putin compares sanctions to a 'declaration of war'
Putin compares sanctions to a 'declaration of war'
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