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

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that any countries imposing a no-fly zone over Ukraine would become party to the conflict

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday warned the West of a wider war if a no-fly zone is set up, as his forces resumed an offensive against a key Ukrainian city where a planned evacuation of residents failed to take place over security fears.

With his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky criticising NATO for ruling out a no-fly zone for fear of sparking nuclear conflict, Putin spoke of “colossal and catastrophic consequences not only for Europe but also the whole world”, if such a zone was set up.

For Zelensky, on day 10 of the invasion, under an escalating bombardment that has flattened more and more infrastructure and sent nearly 1.4 million civilians fleeing for their lives, the Western military alliance’s “no” to a no-fly zone had essentially given “the green light for further bombing of Ukrainian cities and villages”.

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After Russia’s defence ministry declared the ceasefire — to open a humanitarian corridor out of the war’s fiercest battles — officials said the city’s 450,000-strong population could begin to leave by bus and private cars.

Russia later announced the assault was back on.

The siege came as more Russian forces inched closer to the capital.

Working class towns such as Bucha and Irpin are in the line of fire and air raids on Friday broke many people’s resolve to stay.

Dozens of civilians have been killed in assaults on the northern town Chernihiv. Those remaining live among the town’s ruins and in craters.

“There were corpses all over the ground,” Sergei told AFP, as air raid sirens wailed once more. “They were queueing here for the pharmacy that’s just there, and they’re all dead.”

Zelensky remains defiant, announcing Saturday that Ukrainian forces were counter-attacking around Kharkiv, the country’s second largest city, which has seen Russian incursions and fierce bombardments.

Since Putin’s army invaded on February 24, Russia has pummelled Ukrainian cities, with officials reporting hundreds of civilians killed. Europe’s largest atomic power plant has even come under attack sparking fears of a catastrophic nuclear accident.

Capturing Mariupol represents a bigger prize for Russian forces as it would deal a severe blow to Ukraine’s maritime access and connect with troops coming from annexed Crimea and the Donbas.

A third round of talks would take place on Monday, the Ukrainian side said on Saturday.

With fears growing of direct conflict between NATO and Russia — both nuclear armed — the US and Moscow have set up a new direct phone line to reduce the risks of “miscalculation”, the Pentagon said Friday.

“That is not something that NATO Secretary General (Jens) Stoltenberg or any member states senior political leadership has indicated that they want to do,” Milley told reporters in Riga.

Russian authorities have imposed a news blackout and multiple media outlets have halted operations. Twitter was restricted and Facebook blocked in Russia.

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

– Global hunger –

But that did not stop tens of thousands of people from taking to the streets of cities across Europe, from Berlin, to London, Geneva to Paris, Prague Madrid and Vilnius to protest against the invasion.

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

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