Putin warns of wider war from no-fly zone as siege of key port resumes


Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday warned the West of a wider war if a no-fly zone is put in place, as his forces resumed an offensive against a key Ukrainian town where a planned evacuation of residents won’t take place. did not take place for fear of security.

With his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskiy criticizing NATO for ruling out a no-fly zone for fear of triggering a nuclear conflict, Putin spoke of “colossal and catastrophic consequences not only for Europe but also for the whole world”, if such a zone were created.

“Any movement in this direction will be considered by us as participation in an armed conflict by this country,” Putin said.

For Zelenskiy, on day 10 of the invasion, under an increasing bombardment which razed more and more infrastructure and caused nearly 1.4 million civilians to flee for their lives, the “no” of the military alliance to a no-fly zone had essentially given “the green light for continued bombing of Ukrainian towns and villages.”

The strategic city of Mariupol proudly resisted Moscow-backed rebels during a conflict in 2014, but the port of Azov was without electricity, food and water for days in the dead of winter and people began to assemble for the evacuation.

After Russia’s Defense Ministry declared a ceasefire – to open a humanitarian corridor out of the war’s fiercest battles – officials said the city’s 450,000 residents could start leaving by bus and in private cars.

However, city officials then called for a postponement of the evacuation, stating: “The Russian side does not respect the ceasefire and has continued to shell Mariupol itself and its surroundings, and for reasons of security, the evacuation of the civilian population has been postponed. “

Russia later announced that the assault had returned.

“Due to the Ukrainian side’s reluctance to influence the nationalists or extend the ceasefire, offensive actions have resumed,” a spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry said at 1500 GMT.

The siege came as more Russian forces closed in on the capital.

The western edge of Kiev bears witness to a human tragedy that grows in scale as Russia’s assault becomes more determined and indiscriminate.

Working-class towns such as Bucha and Irpin are in the firing line and Friday’s airstrikes shattered many people’s resolve to stay.

“Warplanes. They bomb residential areas – schools, churches, big buildings, everything,” accountant Natalia Dydenko said after a quick look at the destruction she left behind.

Dozens of civilians were killed in attacks on the northern city of Chernihiv. Those who remain live among the ruins of the city and in craters.

Scenes of devastation

“There were corpses all over the ground,” Sergei told AFP, as the air raid sirens sounded again. “They were queuing here for the pharmacy which is right there, and they all died.”

AFP reporters saw scenes of devastation — despite Moscow’s insistence it is not targeting civilian areas.

Zelenskiy remains defiant, announcing on Saturday that Ukrainian forces were counterattacking around Kharkiv, the country’s second city, which has seen Russian incursions and fierce shelling.

“We are inflicting such losses on the invaders that they have not even seen in their worst dream,” he said.

Since Putin’s army invaded on February 24, Russia has descended on Ukrainian cities, with officials reporting hundreds of civilians killed. Europe’s largest nuclear power plant was even attacked, raising fears of a catastrophic nuclear accident.

But Moscow has so far only seized two key cities in its 10-day invasion – Berdyansk and Kherson on Ukraine’s southern Black Sea coast.

Capturing Mariupol represents a greater price for Russian forces as it would deal a severe blow to Ukraine’s sea access and connect with troops coming from annexed Crimea and Donbass.

The Kremlin said it was waiting for the third round of talks with Ukraine in Belarus, and one of Kiev’s negotiators said he hoped to hold them this weekend.

The third round of talks will take place on Monday, the Ukrainian side announced on Saturday.

Zelenskiy was expected to appeal to Washington for more help on Saturday with an address to the US Senate after some lawmakers urged President Joe Biden to take tougher action, including banning oil imports from Russia.

With growing fears of a direct conflict between NATO and Russia, both of which have nuclear weapons, the United States and Moscow have set up a new hotline to reduce the risk of “miscalculation “, the Pentagon said on Friday.

US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Willey has become the latest Western figure to rule out a no-fly zone, saying it would mean confronting Russian air forces.

“It’s not something NATO Secretary General (Jens) Stoltenberg or senior member state politicians have indicated they want to do,” Milley told reporters in Riga.

media exodus

The Russian authorities have imposed an information blackout and several media have suspended their activities. Twitter was restricted and Facebook was blocked in Russia.

A host of media outlets, including the BBC and Bloomberg, said they were suspending work in Russia after lawmakers in Moscow passed a law imposing fines and prison terms of up to 15 years for publishing stories. “fake news” about the army.

CNN said it would stop broadcasting in Russia, while independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta said it would remove Ukrainian content.

The Kremlin on Saturday defended the new law, saying it was “necessary because the country was facing ‘unprecedented information warfare.’

World hunger

Putin remained insensitive to Russia’s isolation in the economic, sporting and cultural fields.

But that hasn’t stopped tens of thousands of people from taking to the streets in cities across Europe, from Berlin to London, Geneva to Paris, Prague to Madrid and Vilnius to protest the invasion.

And the list of major companies suspending operations in Russia has grown even longer with the shutdown of Spanish clothing giant and owner of fast fashion chain Zara Inditex.

Flagship airline Aeroflot said it was suspending all international flights from March 8, citing “circumstances that impede the operation of flights”.


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