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War in Ukraine | The Russian “offensive” resumes, Blinken meets his Ukrainian counterpart

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(Kyiv) The Russian army attacked the strategic port of Mariupol again on Saturday and continued to advance elsewhere in Ukraine, with still fierce fighting around the capital Kyiv, while senior American officials paid visits to the borders of the ‘European Union.

“Due to the reluctance of the Ukrainian side to influence the nationalists or extend the ‘ceasefire’, offensive operations have resumed since 6 p.m. Moscow time,” or 10 a.m. (ET), said the Russian Defense Ministry.


PHOTO FROM TWITTER ACCOUNT @AYBURLACHENKO VIA REUTERS

A fire in a residential area was caused by Russian shelling on March 3 in Mariupol.

The Ukrainians had postponed the evacuation of civilians from Mariupol, on the Black Sea, and another besieged city a few hours earlier, citing ceasefire violations by Russian forces, which the latter denied.

As a result of the continued fighting in Ukraine, the humanitarian crisis was further worsening: 1.37 million people have already taken refuge abroad since the start of the invasion on February 24, according to the latest UN counts. .

American activism

This exodus sparked a strong mobilization, especially in neighboring states such as Poland, where US Secretary of State Antony Blinken went to the border with Ukraine on Saturday, meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kouleba.

The latter seized the opportunity to ask for planes and air defense systems and described NATO’s rejection of the establishment of a no-fly zone over his country as a “sign of weakness”. .

Having for his part made a trip to Latvia, a Baltic state bordering Russia, the American Chief of Staff, General Mark Milley, underlined that if such a zone were created, “we would then have to go and actively fight” the Russians, which the Atlantic Alliance does not want to do.

Russian President Vladimir Putin stressed on Saturday that Russia would consider co-belligerent any country attempting to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine.


PHOTO GENYA SAVILOV, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Ukrainians storm Kyiv train station in an attempt to leave the country.

Increasingly isolated on the international scene, the master of the Kremlin received the same day in Moscow the head of the Israeli government Naftali Bennett, the first foreign leader to have paid a visit to Russia linked to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Beginning a real mediation, Mr. Bennett then spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, before talks in Berlin with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

At the same time, in Washington, elected members of Congress promised to release $ 10 billion in aid for Ukraine during a virtual exchange with President Zelensky.

“We encourage direct negotiations between Russia and Ukraine,” said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in a telephone conversation with Antony Blinken.

The head of European diplomacy Josep Borrell has also pleaded in the Spanish press for China to play a mediating role in the context of a possible settlement of the conflict.

This war, as well as the sanctions imposed on Russia, “will also have a substantial impact on the world economy and financial markets, with collateral effects for other countries”, at the same time warned the International Monetary Fund, saying they fear “devastating” consequences.

Tough battle in Mariupol

In south-eastern Ukraine, the fall of Mariupol, a city of around 450,000 inhabitants bombarded for several days by the Russians and their allies from the two separatist territories of Donbass, would be an important turning point on the tenth day of the invasion.

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, and to these consolidated forces to go up towards the north.

The Russian army, which has made significant progress in Ukrainian territory in 10 days of fighting, could therefore increase military pressure on the center and the northern part, where the fighting is raging, particularly in Kyiv and Kharkiv.


KYIV POLICE PHOTO VIA REUTERS

An explosion following an airstrike tore a hole in a street in Bila Tserkva and damaged several buildings near Kyiv on March 5.

“Last night, the bombardments intensified and came closer,” told AFP a member of the NGO Médecins sans frontières (MSF) still on the spot, adding that the inhabitants lacked everything: water – to the point of duty collecting and melting snow for snow, electricity and food, many stores having been destroyed.

The toll of the conflict is impossible to verify independently. Kyiv reports at least 350 civilians and more than 9,000 Russian soldiers killed, without mentioning its military losses, and Moscow mentions 2,870 dead on the Ukrainian side and 498 in its ranks.

Shelling near Kyiv

The siege of Mariupol, which in 2014 withstood the onslaught of pro-Russian units, comes as Russian soldiers approach Kyiv, encountering tenacious resistance and sometimes bombarding apartment buildings, notably in Cherniguiv, 150 km to the north of the capital, where dozens of civilians have been killed in recent days.

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.

For his part, President Zelensky assured that the Ukrainian forces had launched a counter-attack around Kharkiv (north-east), the second largest city in the country, the scene of some of the most intense bombardments since the start of the invasion.


PHOTO UKRAINIAN PRESIDENCY VIA AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky

The Russian army was still shelling the surroundings of Kyiv, in the northwest and east in particular.

Where, the day before, a supermarket and a gas station stood at the great crossroads between the working-class towns of Bucha and Irpin, there remained only ruins and fleeing inhabitants on Saturday.

In a hospital in northern Kyiv, wounded Ukrainian soldiers told AFP 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”.

Third round of talks


SPUTNIK PHOTO, VIA REUTERS

Russian President Vladimir Putin

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, Vladimir Putin having warned that dialogue with Kyiv would only be possible if “all Russian demands” were accepted, in particular a “neutral and non-nuclear” status for Ukraine and its ” mandatory demilitarization”.

In Russia, the Kremlin has tightened its repression of all dissenting voices in the face of the conflict.

A law providing for up to 15 years in prison for anyone publishing “false information” was enacted on Friday.

As a result, many leading foreign media announced on Saturday the temporary cessation of their coverage from Moscow.

At the same time, demonstrations against the war multiplied in Europe: there were several tens of thousands on Saturday in Zurich, the most populous city in Switzerland, thousands in Paris and Rome, a few hundred in central London.

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