Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened the existence of Ukrainian statehood as his army’s invasion of the neighbour faces stiff resistance Sunday and his economy is increasingly asphyxiated by sanctions.
In the latest efforts to freeze Moscow out of the world economy, US-based card payment giants Visa and Mastercard announced they will suspend operations in Russia, while world leaders vowed to act over the intensifying onslaught.
“And if this happens, they will be fully responsible.”
In a Facebook post on Sunday the Ukraine military said it was engaged in “fierce battles” with Russian forces for the control of borders at the southern city of Mykolaiv and the Chernihiv in the north.
Kyiv has urged the West to boost military assistance to the besieged country, including warplanes, with President Volodymyr Zelensky pleading for Eastern European neighbours to provide Russian-made planes that his citizens are trained to fly.
While Zelensky criticized NATO for ruling out the no-fly zone, Putin spoke of “colossal and catastrophic consequences not only for Europe but also the whole world” if such a step was taken.
Hitting out at stiffening Western sanctions, the Russian leader said: “A lot of what we’re coming up against right now is a way of waging war against Russia.
Putin also dismissed rumours that the Kremlin was planning to declare martial law in Russia.
Visa and Mastercard both announced they will suspend operations in Russia, the latest major American firms to join the business freeze-out of Moscow.
Visa meanwhile said that “effective immediately” it would “work with its clients and partners within Russia to cease all Visa transactions over the coming days”.
But Russia’s major banks — including its largest lender Sberbank and the Russia Central Bank — downplayed the effects that the cards’ suspensions would have on their clients.
Russia’s business and other contacts with the West have been steadily cut. Moscow has suspended all flights by flagship carrier Aeroflot, effective Tuesday.
As frantic, top-level diplomatic talks continued, President Zelensky announced on Sunday that he spoke by phone with his US counterpart Joe Biden to discuss financial support and sanctions against Russia.
Hours earlier, the Ukrainian leader had addressed US lawmakers by video call, pleading for further funding and an embargo on Russian oil imports.
Weapons, ammunition and funds have poured into Ukraine from Western allies as they seek to bolster Kyiv against Moscow’s invasion.
While visiting Ukrainian refugees on the Polish border over the weekend, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington was seeking $2.75 billion for the unfurling humanitarian crisis as nearly 1.4 million civilians have fled.
The Israeli leader later spoke with Zelensky.
Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office said he is to launch an international “plan of action” to ensure Russia’s invasion of Ukraine fails, including a flurry of diplomatic meetings next week.
The strategic city of Mariupol on the Azov Sea has for days been under siege and without electricity, food and water.
But the officials then delayed the evacuation, saying, “The Russian side does not adhere to the ceasefire and has continued shelling both Mariupol itself and its environs”.
Ukraine’s military said Sunday Russian forces around Mariupol were still bombarding its civilian infrastructure.
“The situation is very difficult,” he said. “I ask our American and European partners: help us, save Mariupol.”
The siege of the city came as Russian forces inched closer to the capital Kyiv in an assault that has become ever-more indiscriminate — and deadly.
“They are bombing residential areas — schools, churches, big buildings, everything,” said accountant Natalia Dydenko, glancing back at the destruction she was leaving behind.
“There were corpses all over the ground,” a man who gave his name only as Sergei told AFP, as air raid sirens wailed. “They were queueing here for the pharmacy that’s just there, and they’re all dead.”
A defiant Zelensky said Saturday that Ukrainian forces were counterattacking around Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, inflicting “such losses on the invaders that they have not seen even in their worst dream”.