SAWT BEIRUT INTERNATIONAL

| 22 February 2024, Thursday |

Ukrainian refugees near 1.5 million as Russian assault enters 11th day

On Sunday, the number of Ukrainian refugees was anticipated to surpass 1.5 million, as Russia intensified its offensive 11 days after entering Ukraine, and Kyiv pressed for stronger Western intervention, including sanctions and arms.

A failed ceasefire agreement that would have allowed residents to evacuate Mariupol and Volnovakha, two southern cities besieged by Russian forces, was blamed by both Moscow and Kyiv. Another round of discussions was tentatively scheduled for Monday as Ukrainians who were able to flee fled to Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and other countries.

Ukraine’s President Volodomyr Zelenskyy urged for citizens in areas captured by Russian troops to go on the offensive and fight in a televised address on Saturday night.

He promised to rebuild his country by saying, “We must go outdoors and push this evil out of our towns.” “The spirit of our resistance, our protest, strengthens my belief in this.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin had previously stated his desire for a neutral Ukraine that has been “demilitarized” and “denazified,” and compared Western sanctions to “a declaration of war,” adding, “Thank God it has not come to that.”

Ukraine and Western countries have slammed Putin’s justifications as a flimsy pretext for the invasion he began on February 24, and have slapped sweeping sanctions aimed at isolating and damaging Moscow’s economy.

After meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the Ukraine-Poland border, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba indicated he expects further sanctions and weapons for Ukraine.

The US has stated that it will provide more weapons to Ukraine and has repeatedly warned that sanctions will be increased, with President Joe Biden requesting $10 billion in emergency assistance to address the problem.

A White House official said late Saturday that the US is working with Poland as it examines whether to deploy fighter jets to Ukraine, and that if they did, the US would be able to replace Poland’s supply of jets, despite the problems posed by the contested airspace.

In a video conference with US senators earlier on Saturday, Zelenskyy requested assistance in getting aircraft from European allies. He also asked for additional deadly aid, a boycott on Russian oil, a no-fly zone, and the abolition of Visa and MasterCard privileges in Russia, US media reported.

According to the White House, Biden spoke with Zelenskyy for roughly 30 minutes in Washington on Saturday evening as Sunday dawned in Ukraine. According to Zelenskyy, they discussed security, financial support for Ukraine, and the continuance of sanctions against Russia.

NATO, which Ukraine wants to join, has rejected Zelenskyy’s calls for a no-fly zone above his country, claiming that doing so will exacerbate the crisis outside of Ukraine.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin on Saturday and later spoke with Zelenskyy, according to Bennett’s spokesperson.

After the call, Zelenskyy wrote, “We continue dialogue.”

Before meeting with leaders from Canada, the Netherlands, and Central Europe in London next week, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson presented a six-point plan to respond to Russia’s incursion.

On Sunday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is expected to meet with Putin. Turkey, a NATO member, shares a Black Sea maritime border with Ukraine and Russia.

Ukraine’s negotiators said a third round of ceasefire talks with Russia will take place on Monday, however Moscow seemed less certain.

Fierce Fighting

According to Russian news agency Interfax, Russia’s Defense Ministry stated its soldiers were conducting a wide-ranging attack in Ukraine and had taken many cities and villages.

Armed forces are “fighting courageously to liberate Ukrainian cities from Russian occupation,” according to Ukraine’s military, which is counter-attacking in some regions and cutting communications.

On Saturday, Ukraine’s armed forces shot down two Russian planes and five helicopters, as well as carrying out air strikes against 15 motorized units, according to the general staff of the country’s armed forces. Reuters was unable to verify the claim.

Thousands of people demonstrated on Saturday in Kherson, southern Ukraine, the only regional capital to change hands since the invasion, screaming “Kherson is Ukraine” and demanding Russian forces quit.

Russian troops fired automatic rifles into the air in a failed attempt to disperse the throng, according to eyewitnesses cited by Interfax.

Concerns about nuclear threats lingered after Russia took Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station, with a top US official stating on Friday that Russian soldiers were 20 miles (32 kilometers) away from Ukraine’s second largest nuclear plant.

According to RIA, Russia’s foreign ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova warned the EU and NATO to stop “feeding state-of-the-art weapons equipment” into Kyiv.

In one of numerous decrees issued on Saturday, Putin also authorized his government two days to compile a list of countries engaging in “unfriendly conduct” against Russia, according to Russian news agencies.

VISA, MASTERCARD EXIT

The IMF warned that the battle will have a “serious impact” on the global economy, driving up energy and grain prices. It stated that it would consider Kyiv’s request for $1.4 billion in emergency funds as soon as next week.

Many Russians have expressed concern about their economic future, following a 30% drop in the rouble’s value, money transfer restrictions, and the exodus of an increasing number of Western corporations.

Visa and Mastercard announced on Saturday that their credit card operations in Russia would be halted.

Elon Musk pledged to send more Starlink satellite internet terminals to Ukraine next week, according to Zelenskyy, who added that he had spoken with the SpaceX CEO. This could help Ukraine’s internet access, but it could also poses potential security risks, experts say.

As residents of Volnovakha attempted to leave the battle, heavy shelling could be heard in the background.

“Help us if you can, we all want to survive,” one local, Larisa, said. “We have kids, husbands, we are moms and fathers, we are also people.” “Can you tell me where I should go?” All I have is what’s on my person and a bag of belongings. That’s all I’ve got.”

Following a meeting of NATO, G7, and European Union peers in Brussels, Blinken spoke with refugees staying at a decommissioned shopping mall in Poland, which has taken in the vast bulk of the Ukrainians compelled to abandon their country.

Ksenia Tymofeeva, 41, worked in a bank in Kyiv until she fled two days ago, leaving her husband, who was also a bank employee, behind to resist the Russian invaders.

“He doesn’t have any military expertise, but this is our nation,” she stated at the border crossing between Poland and Ukraine.

More refugees entered Moldova, Blinken’s next destination.

As of March 3, the World Health Organization reported 249 civilians killed and 553 injured. It estimated the number of refugees at 1.2 million, with a further 160,000 individuals internally displaced.

“The human cost is likely far higher,” it stated in a statement, “since access and security problems make it difficult to verify the real number of deaths and injuries.”

 

    Source:
  • Reuters