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Putin likens Western sanctions to war as Russian assault traps Ukrainian civilians

Reuters | As Russian President Vladimir Putin's soldiers continued their attack on Ukraine for the tenth day on Saturday, the International Monetary Fund warned that the conflict will have a "serious impact" on the global economy.

Moscow and Kyiv shared blame for a botched agreement for a limited ceasefire to allow residents to flee two Russian-held cities. As a result of Russia's invasion, almost 1.5 million people have fled to the European Union.

During a video chat with US senators on Saturday, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky made a "desperate plea" for eastern Europe to deliver Russian-built aircraft to his nation, according to Chuck Schumer, the chamber's majority leader.

NATO, which Ukraine wants to join, has rejected Zelenskiy's calls for a no-fly zone above his country, claiming that doing so will exacerbate the crisis outside of Ukraine. However, the provision of $10 billion in emergency military and humanitarian help to Ukraine has significant bipartisan backing in the United States Congress.

"These sanctions that are being applied are similar to a declaration of war, but thank God it has not come to that," Putin said, adding that he wanted a neutral Ukraine that had been "demilitarized" and "denazified."

Ukraine and Western countries have dismissed Putin's reasons as a spurious justification for invading, and have imposed harsh economic penalties on Russia's banks, billionaires, and others.

Ukraine's negotiators said a third round of ceasefire talks with Russia will take place on Monday, however, Moscow seemed less certain. After two previous rounds of negotiations failed, Zelenskiy stated that Russia must first stop bombing. find out more

"Together, we will reconstruct our state," Zelenskiy said in a televised speech to Ukrainians on Saturday evening. "The spirit of our resistance, our protest, strengthens my belief in this."

The International Committee of the Red Cross had previously stated that scheduled civilian evacuations from Mariupol and Volnovakha would not begin on Saturday. Mariupol's city council accused Russia of violating the ceasefire, while Moscow claimed that Ukrainian "nationalists" were stopping residents from fleeing.

The suggested ceasefire in Mariupol, which has been without power, water, or heat for days, is likely an effort by Russia to distract international censure while it reorganizes its forces, according to Britain.

Because of its strategic location between Russian-backed separatist-held eastern Ukraine and the Black Sea Crimean peninsula, which Moscow seized from Kyiv in 2014, the port of Mariupol has been heavily bombarded.

According to Interfax news agency, Russia's Defense Ministry stated its forces were conducting a wide-ranging attack in Ukraine and had taken many cities and villages.

It said four Ukrainian Su-27 fighter jets were shot down in aerial combat near Zhytomyr, around 100 kilometers (62 miles) west of Kyiv. The report could not be independently verified by Reuters.

Since the invasion began on February 24, at least 351 people have been confirmed killed and 707 injured in Ukraine, according to a UN monitoring team, with the real numbers likely to be "considerably higher."

According to the UN refugee agency's chief, the number of refugees could reach 1.5 million by Sunday night, up from 1.3 million presently.

Women and children, many of whom were exhausted, continued to flood into Poland and neighboring countries, as well as western Ukrainian cities like Lviv.

On a visit to Poland, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba at the border amid heavy security to discuss military deliveries and attempts to isolate and harm Russia's economy.

The battle, according to the International Monetary Fund, is driving up global oil and grain costs.

"The prolonged battle and associated sanctions will have a significant impact on the world economy," it warned, adding that Kyiv's request for $1.4 billion in emergency funding would be presented to its board for approval as soon as next week.

Britain has been accused of "sanctions hysteria" by Russia's Foreign Ministry, which has promised severe but proportionate measures against British interests in Russia. Britain intends to tighten its rules in order to make it easier to prosecute Russian oligarchs in the city.

According to sources, Italian police have seized houses and boats worth at least $153 million from four high-profile Russians who have been placed on an EU sanctions list. find out more

The confrontation has also shattered international diplomacy over Iran's nuclear program, one of the few areas where Russia and the US had been cooperating to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, as the West suspects.

On Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that Western sanctions on his country had become a stumbling barrier in reaching an agreement with Iran on nuclear issues. find out more

According to RIA, Russia also cautioned the EU and NATO to stop "feeding state-of-the-art weaponry systems" into Kyiv, citing the risk to aviation and other transportation communications.

Putin told his government two days to compile a list of states involved in "unfriendly conduct" against Russia, according to Russian news agencies, in one of several decrees signed on Saturday.

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