A Ukrainian soldier inspects a damaged military vehicle after fighting in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022. The city authorities said that Ukrainian forces engaged in fighting with Russian troops that entered the country’s second-largest city on Sunday. (AP Photo/Marienko Andrew) THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Nations around the world tightened the economic noose around Russia on Sunday as punishment for its invasion of Ukraine, as an increasingly isolated President Vladimir Putin responded with both a frightening nuclear warning and the offer of negotiations with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
The European Union said it would ban Russian aircraft from its airspace, while Japan joined the United states and European nations in disconnecting crucial Russian banks from SWIFT, the international banking system.
“Our European skies are open skies,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said on Twitter. “They’re open for those who connect people, not for those who seek to brutally aggress.”
The U.S. embassy in Moscow advised Americans in Russia to leave “immediately,” because of the possibility they would be stuck there, with airlines canceling flights in and out of Russia.
A senior Biden administration official said the White House is further tightening sanctions and will this week launch a multilateral transatlantic task force to “identify, hunt down, and freeze the assets of sanctioned Russian companies and oligarchs — their yachts, their mansions and any ill-gotten gains that we can find and freeze under the law.”
In a sign of the global business community lining up against Russia, the British oil company BP said it will “exit” its 20 percent stake in Russian oil giant Rosneft. Two BP representatives on Rosneft’s board are also resigning, the British company said in a statement Sunday.
Russia continued to advance in Ukraine, albeit slowly. The Pentagon said Sunday that two-thirds of the more than 150,000 personnel Moscow had amassed at the Ukrainian border had entered the conflict, up from half a day earlier.
“We believe that their advance was slowed both by resistance from the Ukrainians, who have been quite creative in finding ways to attack columns, and, number two, by the fuel shortages and the sustainment issues that they have had,” a senior U.S. defense official said Sunday.
Interfax quoted Russia’s defense minister spokesman as acknowledging troop losses, though specific numbers were not provided.
“Unfortunately, some of our comrades have been killed or injured,” Igor Konashenkov said at a press briefing.
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As of Sunday, the capital of Kyiv was still under Ukrainian control and Ukrainian troops secured a major victory by repelling Russian forces from the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv. Facing the slow progress of the assault and the economic backlash from nations in the world’s most powerful alliances — NATO, the EU and the G7 — Putin reacted with seemingly contradictory approaches.
He ordered Russian nuclear forces to high alert Sunday, claiming it was in response to “aggressive statements” by NATO members. Whether Putin is genuinely considering launching a devastating nuclear war was unclear, but the mere threat raised worries that the conflict would take a civilization-shaking turn, either by design or by accident.
A senior Pentagon official told reporters the move was “unnecessary” and “escalatory.”
At the same time, Putin offered a meeting with Ukrainians near the border in Belarus, a Russian ally. Zelenskyy had earlier declined to meet in Belarus, given the country’s alliance with the aggressor Russia. But Zelenskyy said in a statement Sunday that Ukraine would participate in the meeting “without preconditions.”
Belarus’s president, Alexander Lukashenko, “has taken responsibility for ensuring that all planes, helicopters and missiles stationed on Belarusian territory will remain on the ground during the Ukrainian delegation’s travel, talks and return,” the Ukrainian president’s office said.
Condemnation of Russia and support for Ukraine came from all quarters. Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic are all refusing to play Russia in the World Cup. “Saturday Night Live” on Saturday night opened not with its usual satirical skit but a performance by a Ukrainian choral group. In Germany, more than 100,000 people in Berlin rallied to support Ukraine.
“I hope and I believe that Putin may well finally recognize that he made a huge error, that he has badly miscalculated how hard the people of Ukraine would fight and the nature of the world’s response, Sen. Mitt Romney, Utah Republican, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program Sunday morning.
Romney denounced as “almost treasonous” those in his party who have praised Putin. Romney did not mention by name former President Donald Trump, who called Putin “smart” and “genius” while blaming President Joe Biden for the Russian aggression.
“How anybody, how anybody in this country, which loves freedom, can side with Vladimir Putin, which is an oppressor, a dictator,” Romney said. “He kills people. He imprisons his political opponents. He’s been an adversary of America at every chance he’s had. It’s unthinkable to me. It’s almost treasonous. And it just makes me ill to see some of these people do that.”
The United Nations Security Council voted Sunday afternoon to convene a rare emergency session on Russia’s invasion of its eastern neighbor. Russia, a member of the Security Council, voted no, but the procedural vote could not be vetoed.
Putin is “continuing to escalate his war in a manner that is totally unacceptable and we have to continue to stem his actions in the strongest possible way,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday.
“Putin has tried every means possible to actually put fear in the world in terms of his action, and it just means that we have to ramp up our efforts here at the United Nations and elsewhere to hold him accountable,” she said.
Meanwhile in Russia, The Associated Press reported that nearly 1,500 people were arrested in protests across the country, bringing the total up to 5,000 since hostilities began.
Ukraine does not have Russia’s financial or military might, but Putin has faced a near-universal condemnation and backlash from the rest of the world. Economic sanctions have intensified in the week since Putin began his invasion, and a senior Biden administration official said they would make it harder for the Russian autocrat and his wealthy supporters in Russia to operate.
Cutting off Russian banks from SWIFT — the acronym for the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication — makes it very hard for Russia to move money. SWIFT isn’t a bank and does not provide financing, but it is a way to verify financial information electronically to allow the transfer of funds. The move has been called the “nuclear option” of sanctions against Russia. The last time such threats were made against Russia — when it seized Crimea in 2014 — estimates indicated it could shave 5% off the country’s gross domestic product, and Moscow said it would amount to a “declaration of war.” But Western officials largely spared Russia’s energy sector.
Plans to target Russia’s central bank, meanwhile, mean Russia won’t be able to shore up its currency to undermine the sanctions.
“This will show that Russia’s supposed sanctions-proofing of its economy is a myth. The 600-billion-plus war chest of Russia’s foreign reserves is only powerful if Putin can use it and without being able to buy the ruble from Western financial institutions,” the official told reporters in a background call this weekend.
Putin’s Central Bank will “lose the ability to offset the impact of our sanctions. The ruble will fall even further, inflation will spike, and the Central Bank will be left defenseless,” the official said.