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

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Ukrainian soldiers carry babies helping a fleeing family to find a vehicle after crossing the Irpin river near Kyiv on Saturday. AP

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Western sanctions were akin to war on Saturday as his forces pressed on with their assault on Ukraine, where planned civilian evacuations from two besieged cities were called off.

Russia and Ukraine traded blame over the failure to provide safe passage to civilians fleeing the two bombarded cities, on the 10th day of a war that has fuelled Europe’s biggest humanitarian disaster in decades.

Russia’s invasion, which began on Feb.24, has sent nearly 1.5 million refugees fleeing westward into the European Union and provoked unprecedented international sanctions on Moscow.

Russia-ceasefire-Mariupol-main1-750 Fire is seen in Mariupol at a residential area after shelling amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Reuters

The Russian defence ministry said its units had opened humanitarian corridors near the cities of Mariupol and Volnovakha, which have been encircled by its troops. But in Mariupol, the city council said Russia was not observing the ceasefire and it asked residents to return to shelters and await further information on evacuation.

Russia’s defence ministry accused Ukrainian “nationalists” of preventing civilians from leaving, RIA news agency reported.


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The International Committee of the Red Cross later said it understood that civilian evacuations from Mariupol and Volnovakha would not now start on Saturday.

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.

“This night the shelling was harder and closer,” a staff member from Doctors without Borders/Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) said, according to the aid agency. There was still no power, water, heating or mobile phone links and food was scarce.

OFFENSIVE TO CONTINUE

The Russian defence ministry said a broad offensive would continue in Ukraine, where it denies attacking civilians or invading, calling its actions a “special military operation.”

Russian forces were carrying out strikes on military infrastructure and forces from separatist-held Donetsk were tightening the encirclement of Mariupol, Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.

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A woman reacts as paramedics perform CPR on a girl at city hospital of Mariupol, Ukraine. AP

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

Earlier, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused the West of “economic banditry” and threatened to retaliate, without giving details.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry accused Britain of “sanctions hysteria” and vowed tough but proportionate measures against British interests in Russia. Britain plans to tighten its laws to facilitate a crackdown on Russian oligarchs in London.
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Serhii, father of teenager Iliya, cries on his son’s lifeless body lying on a stretcher in Mariupol, Ukraine. AP

Italian police have seized villas and yachts worth at least $153 million from four high-profile Russians put on an EU sanctions list, sources said on Saturday.

The conflict has shaken international diplomacy over Iran’s nuclear programme, one of the few areas where Russia and the United States had been working together to curb what the West suspects is an Iranian plan to develop nuclear arms.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday the new Western sanctions imposed on his country had become a stumbling block for clinching a nuclear deal with Iran.
In further diplomatic fallout from the war, the premiers of non-Nato countries Finland and Sweden said on Saturday they would step up their security cooperation due to Russia’s actions, though they were non-committal about joining the Atlantic alliance.

Reuters

 

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