KIEV/MOSCOW, Feb 28 (Reuters) – Russia’s political and economic isolation deepened on Monday as its forces met stiff resistance in Ukraine’s capital and other cities in the biggest assault on a state European since World War II.
President Vladimir Putin put Russia’s nuclear deterrent on high alert on Sunday amid a barrage of Western retaliation for its war on Ukraine, which said it had repelled attempts by Russian ground forces to capture centers urban.
Explosions were heard before dawn on Monday in the capital of Kyiv, shattering a few hours of calm, and in the major city of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s State Service for Special Communications and Information Protection said.
Ukraine said negotiations with Moscow without preconditions would be held on the Belarusian-Ukrainian border. Russian news agency Tass quoted an unidentified source as saying the talks would start on Monday morning.
US President Joe Biden will host a call with allies and partners on Monday to coordinate a united response, the White House announced.
The United States said Putin was stepping up the war with “dangerous rhetoric” about Russia’s nuclear stance, as Russian forces prepared to besiege major cities in the democratic country of about 44 million people.
As the missiles rained down, nearly 400,000 civilians, mostly women and children, fled to neighboring countries, a UN relief agency said.
A senior US defense official said Russia had fired more than 350 missiles at Ukrainian targets so far, some hitting civilian infrastructure.
“It seems 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 as covered with anonymity.
He cited the Russian offensive on the town of Chernihiv, north of Kiev, where Ukrainian authorities said a residential building was on fire after being hit by a missile on Monday morning.
Missiles also hit another northern town, Zhytomyr, the Ukrainian ground forces command said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told British Prime Minister Boris Johnson by phone on Sunday that the next 24 hours would be crucial for Ukraine, a Downing Street spokesman said.
So far, the Russian offensive cannot claim any major victory. Russia took no Ukrainian cities, did not control Ukrainian airspace and its troops remained about 30 km (19 miles) from downtown Kiev for a second day, the official said.
Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” which it says is not designed to occupy territory but to destroy the military capabilities of its southern neighbor and capture what it sees as dangerous nationalists.
The Western-led political, strategic, economic and trade sanctions were unprecedented in their scale and coordination, and there were new pledges of military support to the largely outgunned Ukrainian armed forces.
The ruble plunged nearly 30% to an all-time low against the dollar, after Western countries unveiled tough sanctions on Saturday, including blocking some banks from the international payment system SWIFT.
Several European subsidiaries of Sberbank Russia, majority-owned by the Russian government, were bankrupt or were likely to do so due to the reputational cost of the war in Ukraine, the European Central Bank said. Read the full story
Russia’s central bank rushed to manage the mounting fallout from the sanctions by saying it would resume buying gold domestically, launch a no-limit buyout auction and ease restrictions on open positions in bank currencies.
Japan said it had been asked to join measures blocking Russia from SWIFT, and was also considering imposing sanctions on some people in Belarus, a key staging area for the Russian invasion.
A referendum in Belarus on Sunday approved a new constitution dropping the country’s non-nuclear status.
The European Union decided on Sunday for the first time in its history to supply arms to a country at war, promising weapons including fighter jets to Ukraine.
Germany, which had already frozen an undersea gas pipeline project from Russia, said it would massively increase defense spending, ending decades of reluctance to match its economic might with its military clout. Read the full story
EU chief executive Ursula von der Leyen voiced support for Ukraine’s membership in an interview with Euronews, saying “they are one of us”. Read the full story
The EU has closed all Russian planes out of its airspace, as has Canada, forcing Russian airline Aeroflot to cancel all flights to European destinations until further notice. The United States and France have urged their citizens to consider leaving Russia immediately. Read the full storyRead the full story
The EU has also banned Russian media RT and Sputnik.
Corporate giants have also taken action, with British oil major BP BP.L BP, the biggest foreign investor in Russia, saying it would dump its stake in state oil company Rosneft ROSN.MM at a cost of up to reach $25 billion. Read the full story
In New York, the UN Security Council called a rare emergency meeting of the UN General Assembly, or all 193 UN member states, for Monday.
Continued protests have taken place around the world against the invasion, including in Russia, where nearly 6,000 people have been arrested in anti-war demonstrations since Thursday, protests monitor OVD-Info said. Read the full storyRead the full story
Tens of thousands of people across Europe marched in protest, including more than 100,000 in Berlin. Read the full story
(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova, Aleksandar Vasovic in Kyiv; Natalia Zinets and Matthias Williams in Lviv; Alan Charlish in Medyka, Poland; Fedja Grulovic in Sighetu Marmatiei, Romania; and other Reuters offices, including Moscow; Writing by Humeyra Pamuk and Stephen Coates; Editing by Lincoln Feast)