Russian forces seized two small cities in southeastern Ukraine and the area around a nuclear power plant, the Interfax news agency said on Monday, February 28, but ran into stiff resistance elsewhere as Moscow’s diplomatic
and economic isolation deepened.
After four days of fighting and a Russian advance that has gone more slowly than some expected, a Ukrainian delegation arrived at the border with Russian ally Belarus for ceasefire talks with Russian representatives, the Ukrainian presidency said. It was not clear whether any progress could be achieved.
President Vladimir Putin on Thursday launched the biggest assault on a European state since World War Two and put Russia’s nuclear deterrent on high alert on Sunday in the face of a barrage of Western-led reprisals.
Blasts were heard before dawn on Monday in the capital of Kyiv and in the major eastern city of Kharkiv, Ukrainian
authorities said. But Russian ground forces’ attempts to capture major urban centers had been repelled, they added.
Russia’s defense ministry, however, said its forces had taken over the towns of Berdyansk and Enerhodar in Ukraine’s southeastern Zaporizhzhya region as well as the area around the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, Interfax reported. The plant’s operations continued normally, it said.
Ukraine denied that the nuclear plant had fallen into Russian hands, according to the news agency.
There was fighting around the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol throughout the night, Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk regional administration, said on television on Monday. He did not say whether Russian forces had gained or lost any ground or provide any casualty figures.
At least 102 civilians in Ukraine have been killed since Thursday, with a further 304 wounded, but the real figure is feared to be “considerably higher”, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said on Monday.
A senior United States defense official said Russia had fired more than 350 missiles at Ukrainian targets since Thursday, some hitting civilian infrastructure.
“It appears that they are adopting a siege mentality, which any student of military tactics and strategy will tell you, when you adopt siege tactics, it increases the likelihood of collateral damage,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Russia’s rouble plummeted nearly 30% against the dollar on Monday, after Western nations on Saturday unveiled sweeping sanctions including blocking some Russian banks from the SWIFT international payments system.
Russia’s central bank scrambled to manage the broadening fallout of the sanctions, saying it would resume buying gold on the domestic market, launch a repurchase auction with no limits and ease restrictions on banks’ open foreign currency positions.
It also ordered brokers to block attempt by foreigners to sell Russian securities.
China reiterated its opposition to the sanctions. China has refused to condemn Russia’s attack on Ukraine or call it an invasion and has repeatedly called for negotiations.
Japan and South Korea said they would join in the action to block some banks from SWIFT. South Korea, a major exporter of semiconductors, said it would also ban exports of strategic items to Russia.
Several European subsidiaries of Sberbank Russia, majority owned by the Russian government, were failing or were likely to fail due to the reputational cost of the war in Ukraine, the European Central Bank said.
Britain said on Monday it was taking further measures against Russia in concert with the United States and European Union, effectively cutting off Moscow’s major financial institutions from Western markets.
Corporate giants also took action, with British oil major BP, the biggest foreign investor in Russia, saying it would abandon its stake in state oil company Rosneft at a cost of up to $25 billion.
Rolling protests have been held around the world against the invasion, including in Russia, where almost 6,000 people have been detained at anti-war protests since Thursday, the OVD-Info protest monitor said.
As Western governments mustered more support for sanctions against Moscow, diplomatic maneuvering continued with the Vatican joining efforts by offering to “facilitate dialogue” between Russia and Ukraine.
The UN Human Rights Council agreed on Monday to Ukraine’s request to hold an urgent debate this week on Russia’s invasion, minutes after Kyiv’s envoy told the Geneva forum that some of Moscow’s military actions “may amount to war crimes”.
The 47-member council adopted the proposal by a vote of 29 in favor, with five against, including Russia and China, and 13 abstentions after Russia’s ambassador Gennady Gatilov called for a rollcall vote.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Monday asked the European Union to allow Ukraine to gain membership immediately.
“Our goal is to be with all Europeans and, most importantly, to be equal. I’m sure that’s fair. I am sure we deserve it,” he said in a video speech shared on social media.
US President Joe Biden will host a call with allies and partners on Monday to coordinate a united response, the White House said.
The United States said Putin was escalating the war with “dangerous rhetoric” about Russia’s nuclear posture, amid signs Russian forces were preparing to besiege major cities in the democratic country of about 44 million people.
As missiles rained down, nearly 400,000 civilians, mainly women and children, have fled into neighboring countries, a UN relief agency said.
Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” that it says is not designed to occupy territory but to destroy its southern neighbor’s military capabilities and capture what it regards as dangerous nationalists.
NATO partners are providing Ukraine with air-defence missiles and anti-tank weapons, NATO Chief Jens Stoltenberg said in a tweet on Monday.
Germany, which had already frozen a planned undersea gas pipeline from Russia, said it would increase defense spending massively, casting off decades of reluctance to match its economic power with military clout.
The EU shut all Russian planes out of its airspace, as did Canada, forcing Russian airline Aeroflot to cancel all flights to European destinations until further notice.
The EU also banned the Russian media outlets RT and Sputnik. – Rappler.com