| 5 March 2024, Tuesday |

Putin likens Western sanctions to war as Russian assault traps Ukrainian civilians

Russian President Vladimir Putin compared Western sanctions to war as his forces continued their attack on Ukraine for the tenth day on Saturday, while the IMF warned the conflict would have a “serious impact” on the global economy.

Moscow and Kyiv blamed one other for the failure of arrangements for a limited truce to let people to flee two cities encircled by Russian military. Russia’s invasion has already resulted in roughly 1.5 million people fleeing westward into the European Union.

During a video chat with U.S. senators on Saturday, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy made a “desperate request” for Eastern Europe to give his nation with Russian-built aircraft, according to the chamber’s majority leader, Chuck Schumer.

NATO, which Ukraine wants to join, has resisted Zelenskiy’s appeals to impose a no-fly zone over his country, saying this would escalate the conflict outside Ukraine. But there is strong bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress for providing $10 billion in emergency military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

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

Ukraine and Western countries have rejected Putin’s arguments as a baseless pretext for invading and have sought to squeeze Russia hard with swift and severe economic sanctions on its banks, oligarchs and others.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with Putin at the Kremlin on Saturday to discuss the crisis before then speaking to Zelenskiy, Bennett’s spokesperson said. Israel has offered to mediate in the conflict, though officials have downplayed expectations for a breakthrough.

Ukrainian negotiators said a third round of talks with Russia on a ceasefire would go ahead on Monday, although Moscow was less definitive. Two previous rounds were unsuccessful and Zelenskiy has said Russia must first stop bombing.

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


Earlier, the International Committee of the Red Cross had said planned civilian evacuations from Mariupol and Volnovakha were unlikely to start on Saturday. The city council in Mariupol 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 has been without power, water and heating for days – was likely an attempt by Russia to deflect international condemnation while it resets its forces.

The port of Mariupol has endured heavy bombardment, a sign of its strategic value to Moscow due to its position between Russian-backed separatist-held eastern Ukraine and the Black Sea Crimean peninsula, which Moscow seized from Kyiv in 2014.

Russia’s Defence Ministry said its forces were carrying out a wide-ranging offensive in Ukraine and had taken several towns and villages, Interfax news agency reported.

In aerial combat near Zhytomyr, about 100 km (62 miles) west of Kyiv, it said, four Ukrainian Su-27 fighter jets had been shot down. Reuters could not independently confirm the report.

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

The number of refugees could rise to 1.5 million by Sunday night from 1.3 million now, the U.N. refugee agency chief said.

Women and children, often numb with exhaustion, continued to pour into Poland and other neighboring countries as well as into western Ukrainian cities such as Lviv.

“I’ve barely slept for 10 days,” said Anna Filatova, arriving in Lviv with her two daughters from heavily bombed Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city near its eastern border with Russia.

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

  • Reuters