Putin says Western sanctions on Russia amount to war as thousands flee

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Updated at 9:45 p.m.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says Western sanctions amount to war as his forces continue their assault on Ukraine Saturday for a 10th day and the IMF warned that the conflict would have a “serious impact” on the world economy.

Moscow and Kiev have traded blame over failed plans for a brief ceasefire to allow civilians to evacuate two towns besieged by Russian forces. The Russian invasion has already driven almost 1.5 million refugees west into the European Union.

UkraineRussian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Saturday made a “desperate plea” for Eastern Europe to supply Russian-made jets to his country during a video call with US senators.

NATO, which Ukraine wants to join, resisted Zelenskiy’s calls to impose a no-fly zone on his country, saying it would escalate the conflict abroad Ukraine. But there is strong bipartisan support for the US Congress to provide $10 billion in emergency military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

Putin said he wanted a neutral Ukraine which had been “demilitarized” and “denazified”, adding: “These sanctions that are imposed are akin to a declaration of war, but thank God it has not come to that”.

Meanwhile, Ukraine and Western countries dismissed Putin’s arguments as a baseless pretext to invade and sought to squeeze Russia hard with swift and severe economic sanctions against its banks, oligarchs and others.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met Putin in the Kremlin on Saturday to discuss the crisis before meeting with Zelenskiy, Bennett’s spokesman said. Israel has offered to mediate in the conflict, though officials have played down expectations of a breakthrough.

Ukrainian negotiators said a third round of talks with Russia on a ceasefire would continue on Monday, though Moscow was less definitive. Two previous rounds have failed and Zelenskiy said Russia must first sHigh bombing raid.

“Together we will all rebuild our state,” Zelenskiy told Ukrainians in a televised address on Saturday night.. “My confidence in this is reinforced by the energy of our resistance, our protest.”

No evacuations

Earlier, the International Committee of the Red Cross said planned civilian evacuations from Mariupol and Volnovakha were unlikely to begin on Saturday. The Mariupol city council had accused Russia of not observing a ceasefire, while Moscow said Ukrainian “nationalists” were preventing civilians from leaving.

Britain said the proposed ceasefire in Mariupol – which was without power, water and heat for days – was likely an attempt by Russia to deflect international condemnation while she resets her forces.

The port of Mariupol has come under heavy shelling, a sign of its strategic value to Moscow due to its position between the east held by Russian-backed separatists Ukraine and the Black Sea Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow seized from Kiev in 2014.

The number of refugees could rise to 1.5 million by Sunday evening from the current 1.3 million, the head of the UN refugee agency said, © AP/Press Association Images

The Russian Defense Ministry said its forces were carrying out a large-scale offensive in Ukraine and had taken several towns and villages, the Interfax news agency reported.

In an air battle near Zhytomyr, about 100 km west of Kiev, he added, four Ukrainian Su-27 fighter jets were shot down. Reuters could not independently confirm the report.

A United Nations monitoring mission said at least 351 civilians had been killed and 707 injured in Ukraine since the start of the invasion on February 24, adding that the actual numbers were likely to be “significantly higher”.

The number of refugees could rise to 1.5 million by Sunday evening, from the current 1.3 million, the head of the UN refugee agency said.

Women and children, often numb from exhaustion, continued to stream into Poland and other neighboring countries as well as western Ukrainian cities like Lviv.

“I barely slept for 10 days,” said Anna Filatova, who arrived in Lviv with her two daughters from heavily bombed Kharkiv, Ukrainethe second largest city near its eastern border with Russia.

“The Russians want to flatten Kharkiv… We hate Putin.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, visiting Poland, met with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba at the border amid heightened security to discuss arms supply and efforts to isolate Russia and cripple its economy.

Blinken also met refugees staying at a disused shopping center in Poland, which hosted the vast majority of Ukrainians forced to flee their country.

‘My heart is breaking’

Russians, reeling from a 30% drop in the value of the ruble in the past 10 days, money transfer restrictions and the exit of Western companies from IKEA to Microsoft, expressed fear for their economic future.

“My heart is breaking,” said a customer, Viktoriya Voloshina, in the city of Rostov on Saturday.

Another woman, Lidia, said: “Today my family and I are leaving Russia.”

The International Monetary Fund said in a statement that the conflict was driving up global energy and grain prices.

“The ongoing war and associated sanctions will also have a severe impact on the global economy,” he said, adding that he would submit Kyiv’s request for $1.4 billion in emergency funding. dollars to its board of directors for approval next week.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has accused Britain of “sanctions hysteria” and promised tough but proportionate action against British interests in Russia. Britain plans to strengthen its laws to make it easier to crack down on Russian oligarchs in London.

Italian police have seized villas and yachts worth at least $153 million belonging to four Russian figures on an EU sanctions list, sources said on Saturday.

The conflict has also rattled international diplomacy over Iran’s nuclear program, one of the few areas where Russia and the United States have worked together to curb what the West suspects is an Iranian weapons development plan. nuclear.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday that Western sanctions imposed on his country had become a stumbling block to reaching a nuclear deal with Iran.

Russia has also warned the EU and NATO again to sHigh the “pumping of state-of-the-art weapons systems” into Kyiv, citing the risk to aviation and other transport communications, ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, according to RIA.

Putin, in one of several decrees signed on Saturday, gave his government two days to draw up a list of nations engaged in “hostile acts” against Russia, his news agencies reported.

“Fight Hard”

UkraineDefense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said 66,224 Ukrainian men had returned from abroad to join the fight against the Russian invasion.

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UkraineThe military said the armed forces are “fighting hard to liberate Ukrainian cities from Russian occupiers”, counterattacking in some areas and disrupting communications.

In Kherson, to the south UkraineThe only regional capital to have changed hands during the invasion so far, several thousand people demonstrated in its main square on Saturday.

“Kherson is Ukraine“, they chanted, demanding the withdrawal of Russian forces.

Eyewitnesses quoted by Interfax said Russian troops fired automatic rifles into the air in an unsuccessful attempt to disperse the crowd. The soldiers then left the city center, eyewitnesses said. -Reuter

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