Ukraine Claims to Rebuff Russian Forces as Nations Condemn Putin

by BLOOMBERG

UKRAINE claimed to rebuff Russian invaders intent on toppling the government in Kyiv, with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy vowing to stay in the capital as global condemnation of Vladimir Putin mounted.

“We won’t give up any arms. We will defend our country,” Zelenskiy said in a video apparently filmed on a street in the capital and posted on both Twitter and Facebook. “Now very much fake information is appearing on social networks that I urged our troops to give up arms and evacuation is ongoing. To make it clear: I’m here.”

On Friday, the U.S., U.K. and European Union sanctioned the Russian leader and aides, while China signaled disapproval of the attack. Western nations have sought to keep ratcheting up pressure on Putin, though there was little expectation the penalties would stop Russian forces.

Russia struck Ukrainian military infrastructure overnight with arms including cruise missiles, and has taken control of the city of Melitopol, according to a Defense Ministry statement carried by the Interfax newswire. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said in a video address Russian forces are in areas of the capital, though the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said its forces are still in control of the city.

“Ukraine’s troops are repelling air strikes, they destroyed military transport aircraft carrying Russia’s paratroopers, continue to carry out systematic fighting,” the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said on Facebook.

Zelenskiy refused American help to evacuate, saying: “The fight is here,” the Associated Press reported, citing a senior American intelligence official with direct knowledge of the conversation.

Directly Responsible

“President Putin and Minister Lavrov are directly responsible for Russia’s unprovoked and unlawful further invasion of Ukraine,” the Treasury Department said in a statement, referring to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. “President Putin joins a very small group that includes despots such as Kim Jong Un, Alexander Lukashenko, and Bashar al-Assad,” the Treasury added, referring to the leaders of North Korea, Belarus and Syria.

Ukraine’s government said it was discussing with Russia the timing and location of potential peace talks. Putin aide Dmitry Peskov conveyed the offer for a gathering in Belarus — one of several staging points for Russian troops — and was turned down.

The Russian president said earlier he’s ready to authorize negotiations with Ukraine about the country adopting a “neutral” status. It also remains to be seen what the premise of the discussions would be and how each side would define what neutrality means.

Politically Meaningful

While the sanctioning of Putin is largely symbolic because, on paper at least, he doesn’t have much to target, it’s politically meaningful given that the U.S. tends to only sanction leaders of countries with whom it’s severed diplomatic relations or considers pariahs. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. may sanction more Russian officials.

“The U.S. Treasury has already designated eleven members of the Russian Security Council, and we will look to designate more in the future if Russia does not stop its unprovoked campaign against Ukraine,” Blinken said in an emailed statement.

Putin said he invaded Ukraine to stop it from getting closer to NATO, the Western military alliance, and to force it to “demilitarize.”

At the United Nations in New York, Russia deployed its veto to block a resolution calling on Moscow to withdraw from Ukraine. China, its closest ally on the Security Council, abstained, as did India and the United Arab Emirates. But ambassadors from dozens of nations showed up at the debate to show their support for Ukraine.

The latest penalties came after the U.S. and European Union increased pressure on the Kremlin with a coordinated set of sanctions the previous day intended to inflict a heavy toll on the Russian economy. The goal, said French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, is “to financially isolate Russia.” Zelenskiy said he and President Joe Biden discussed strengthening sanctions and “concrete defense assistance” in a call on Friday.

Market Turmoil

The ruble sank to a record low Thursday and Russia’s dollar bonds lost 45% this week, according to data compiled from a Bloomberg index. Standard & Poor’s cut Russia’s credit rating to junk and Moody’s Investors Service put the debt on review for downgrade from one notch above junk.

Russian market turmoil eased after Biden and EU leaders shied away from the most drastic action, stopping short of barring Russia from the SWIFT international banking network and allowing exemptions for energy exports. They were further buoyed by the suggestion of negotiations, even though it’s unclear whether any talks would materialize.

Chinese President Xi Jinping told Putin in a call earlier on Friday that he supported negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, according to China Central Television.

Despite talk of negotiation, Putin still appears to be seeking a replacement of Ukraine’s leadership, which he and top aides have called a “junta.” On Friday, the Russian president asked Ukrainian troops to help him overthrow the government.

“Take power into your own hands,” he said, addressing Ukraine’s military in a video statement before a meeting of his security council in Moscow.

Talk About Talks

Lavrov said that Moscow would only talk if Ukraine’s army surrenders. “We’re ready for negotiations at any time, as soon as the Ukrainian armed forces respond to our president’s call, stop resistance and lay down their weapons,” he said.

In Kyiv, the Defense Ministry said 18,000 rifles were handed out on Thursday and that “thousands” of volunteers were signing up to fight the invasion.

Zelenskiy said that his intelligence services had identified him as Russia’s top target, but that he is staying in Kyiv and his family will remain in the country. “They want to destroy Ukraine politically by destroying the head of state,” he said.

In a later address, he said that Ukraine was not afraid “to talk about neutral status,” but went on to demand security guarantees and say that the country’s fate depended on its army.