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War in Ukraine | Sanctions akin to ‘declaration of war’, Putin says

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(Kyiv) The Russian military was keeping pressure on southern Ukraine and Kyiv on Sunday on the 11th day of the invasion, with President Vladimir Putin threatening to strip the country of its ‘statehood’ and comparing sanctions international strikes against Russia with a “declaration of war”.

According to a report by the Ukrainian General Staff published on Facebook on Sunday, the Russian army was continuing its offensive, “focusing its main efforts on the vicinity of the cities of Kyiv, Kharkiv (east) and Mykolaiv (south)”.

The situation is “very difficult” in Mariupol, subject to “a humanitarian blockade” and intense bombing, said the mayor of this strategic port in the south-east of the country besieged by Russian forces.

“We have been living without electricity for five days, we have no heating or mobile network,” said the mayor, Vadim Boïtchenko, in an interview broadcast Saturday evening on YouTube.

According to him, the bombardments of the last few days have caused “thousands of wounded” and the Russian forces are preventing the arrival of food and medicine.

“The city of Mariupol no longer exists,” he said. “I ask our American and European partners: help us, save Mariupol! »

The fall of Mariupol, a city of about 450,000 inhabitants, would be a turning point. It would allow the junction between the troops coming from annexed Crimea, which have already taken the other key ports of Berdiansk and Kherson, and those of Donbass, then to these consolidated forces to go up towards the center and the north of Ukraine .

Russian soldiers are also closing in on Kyiv, encountering stubborn resistance. Dozens of civilians have been killed in recent days in Cherniguiv, 150 km north of the capital.

An AFP team that visited the scene on Saturday saw scenes of devastation in this city of 300,000 people which was being emptied of its population, raising fears of a similar fate for Kyiv once the missile batteries and the Russian artillery at the gates of the capital.

“There were bodies all over the floor. They were queuing for the pharmacy there, here, and they all died,” testified Sergei, a survivor.

In a hospital in northern Kyiv, wounded Ukrainian soldiers told of their unequal struggle under a deluge of fire. “We were on reconnaissance” and “we came across an enemy column”, explained Motyka, a 29-year-old soldier hit by shrapnel on the right flank, who had to retreat with his comrades: “We fought them and we killed their soldiers on foot, but they showered us with mortar fire”.

Crush at stations

The crush has taken over train stations in cities across Ukraine threatened by advancing Russian forces, women and children seeking safety after heartbreaking goodbyes with their husbands and fathers left behind to fight.

According to the UN, 1.37 million people have already taken refuge abroad since the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, and there are more than a million internally displaced people.

This exodus is arousing strong mobilization, especially in neighboring states such as Moldova, where US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived on Saturday evening. Earlier, he had traveled to the Polish-Ukrainian border for talks with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kouleba.

“The message of the heroic Ukrainian people is simple: Russians, go home […] Putin, leave Ukraine alone. You will not win the war”, launched Mr. Kouleba.

Vladimir Putin has warned that Ukraine could lose its “statehood” if it continues to refuse to give in to Russian demands.

Moscow is calling in particular for a “neutral and non-nuclear” status for Ukraine and its demilitarization, which Kyiv, which is seeking to join the European Union and NATO, considers unacceptable.

The Ukrainian authorities “must understand that if they continue to do what they are doing, they are putting in question the future of Ukrainian statehood. And if that happens, they will be entirely responsible,” Putin said during a meeting Saturday with Russian airline workers on the occasion of the upcoming Women’s Day, one of the most celebrated holidays. in the country.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced on Twitter on Sunday that he had once again spoken on the phone with his American counterpart Joe Biden to discuss “security issues”, “financial support for Ukraine” and “the continuation of sanctions”. against Russia.

During the half-hour interview, Mr. Biden emphasized the sanctions taken by Washington and its allies “to make Russia bear the cost of its aggression against Ukraine”, according to the House. -White.

The US president also congratulated the growing number of companies that have decided to stop working in Russia.

Latest in dates: the American bank card giants Visa and Mastercard, which announced on Saturday the suspension of their operations in Russia. Visa and Mastercard cards issued by Russian banks will no longer work abroad, and foreign cards will no longer be valid in Russia.

” Declaration of war ”

Aeroflot, for its part, announced the suspension of its international flights from March 8. The Russian aviation regulator, Rossaviatsia, has recommended that all companies in the country stop flights abroad in order to avoid the seizure of their aircraft, many of which belong to Western leasing companies.

“These sanctions that are put in place are akin to a declaration of war,” said Vladimir Putin. “But thank God we haven’t come to that yet,” he added.

The master of the Kremlin, however, warned the West against the temptation to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, a measure which Kyiv insistently demands but which NATO refuses in order not to find themselves drawn into a direct confrontation with Russia.

The establishment of an exclusion zone would be considered by Moscow “as a participation in the armed conflict of any country” whose territory would be used to “create a threat to our soldiers”, warned Mr. Putin.

The Russian president received for around three hours on Saturday in Moscow Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who offered to mediate by highlighting the strong ties that unite his country to Russia and Ukraine. Mr. Bennett then spoke on the telephone with President Zelensky, before traveling to Berlin to meet German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Few details have leaked out on the content of the discussions.

According to the Ukrainian authorities, a third round of negotiations with the Russians will take place on Monday, but the chances of achieving progress seem slim.

At the same time, demonstrations against the war multiplied in Europe: there were more than 40,000 people on Saturday in Zurich, the most populous city in Switzerland, more than 40,000 in France, including 16,000 in Paris, and thousands as well. in Rome.

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