President Vladimir Putin snuffed out any immediate hope of diplomacy to end the fighting in Ukraine and ordered Russia’s military advance to proceed, as Germany joined western nations in rushing aid to help the government in Kyiv defend itself.
In a sign of the growing tide of anger directed at the Kremlin, Berlin upended years of policy to allow weapons shipments to Ukraine, while Europe moved closer to excluding Moscow from the SWIFT financial messaging system, and China voiced its displeasure at the invasion.
The sense of outrage was compounded by Russia’s announcement that talks to defuse the conflict were a non-starter. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the two sides had failed to reach agreement on a format or a location for any talks, and “because the Ukrainian side in effect refused negotiations, the main Russian forces resumed their advance according to the plan of the operation.”
The statement, made in a conference call on Saturday, underscored Moscow’s international isolation as it pushed ahead with its offensive, prompting tens of thousands of people to flee.
China distanced itself from Russia, with Foreign Minister Wang Yi saying that the situation in Ukraine “is something China does not want to see,” adding that it was “absolutely imperative” for all sides to exercise restraint.
With the war in its third day and casualties mounting, a shocked world ratcheted up the costs for the Kremlin of its aggression.
Perhaps the most dramatic shift came in Berlin, where Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government announced that as well as allowing weapons for Ukraine it was throwing its weight behind European Union moves to exclude Russia from SWIFT.
That’s a change of heart on a drastic step that would threaten to inflict damage on the European economy and on that of Germany as well as on Moscow.
Such a step would represent a significant escalation of the sanctions the EU, the US, the UK and others have already imposed on Russia, including on Putin and members of his inner circle, sending Russian stocks and the ruble tumbling.
US President Joe Biden described the sanctions regime facing Russia as “the broadest in history.”
“Look, you have two options: Start a third World War, go to war with Russia physically,” Biden said in a podcast. “Or two, make sure that a country that acts so contrary to international law that ends up paying a price for having done it.”
Russia struck Ukrainian military infrastructure overnight with arms including cruise missiles and took control of the city of Melitopol, according to a Defense Ministry statement carried by the Interfax newswire. Ukraine claimed to have rebuffed Russian invaders intent on toppling the government in the capital.
A senior US defense official said that Russia had launched more than 250 missiles so far.
Negotiations toward a cease-fire were floated on Friday shortly after Chinese President Xi Jinping urged Putin in a call to enter talks with Ukraine. But success always seemed unlikely given Russia’s insistence on the surrender of Ukraine’s military and removal of the elected government, while conducting a full-scale invasion of its neighbor.
Neither was there any sign that the Russian offensive had ever halted, as Kremlin spokesman Peskov maintained.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak dismissed his comments as “tactics,” saying that Russia was trying to consign diplomacy “to a dead end even before talks begin,” according to Interfax. The president “categorically rules out any ultimatums and conditions,” it cited him as saying.
In a video apparently filmed on a street in Kyiv and posted on Twitter and Facebook, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said that a large amount of “fake information” was circulating on social networks alleging that he had called on Ukrainian troops to lay down their weapons and that evacuation was under way.
“We won’t give up any arms,” Zelenskiy said. “We will defend our country.”
Promises of aid poured in to help Ukraine do so. Biden authorized the State Department to provide $600 million in immediate aid to Ukraine, including $350 million in military funding.
The Netherlands will send 200 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles as soon as possible, in addition to other military aid approved earlier this month. The Czech Republic will send machine guns, sniper rifles, handguns and ammunition on top of 4,000 artillery shells already agreed.
Belgium is dispatching fuel and 2,000 small arms, while Slovakia — which shares a border with Ukraine — is sending shells and fuel. Germany said it would deploy troops to Slovakia to set up a Patriot anti-aircraft missile system on its territory.
Overturning a longstanding policy prohibiting sending weapons into conflict zones, Germany agreed to the supply of 400 German-made rocket propelled grenade launchers to Ukraine via the Netherlands, along with 14 armored personnel carriers.
It will also supply 10,000 tonnes of fuel via Poland. Further supplies to Ukraine are being considered, it said.
“After the shameless attack by Russia, Ukraine must be able to defend itself,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck said in an emailed statement. “It has an inalienable right to self-defense.”
The US cast doubt on the success of Moscow’s military operation to date, with a senior defense official saying that Russia had not made the progress it wanted in the past 24 hours, particularly in the north of Ukraine, and that their forces were being frustrated by very determined resistance that was slowing them down.
Russia’s media regulator meanwhile ordered ten mostly independent news outlets to remove reports of alleged civilian casualties and attacks on cities by Moscow’s forces, as the Kremlin seeks to control the narrative at home about its invasion.
More than 150,000 Ukrainian refugees have now crossed into neighbouring countries, half of them to Poland, and many to Hungary, Moldova, Romania and beyond.
Displacement in Ukraine is also growing but the military situation makes it difficult to estimate numbers and provide aid.
— Filippo Grandi (@FilippoGrandi) February 26, 2022