Clashes have escalated between Russian troops and Ukrainian forces over the control of the besieged port city of Mariupol as Russia’s military offensive in the former Soviet state nears its 50th day and amid Western promises to flood the war-battered country with military and financial aid.
Since the onset of the military campaign in Ukraine, Russia has been trying to connect the Crimean Peninsula with the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Lugansk in the Donbass, laying siege to the strategically-located city of Mariupol, once home to more than 400,000 people.
Russian media said on Tuesday that troops aimed to take control of Mariupol, located in southeastern Ukraine and on the north coast of the Sea of Azov, while Ukrainian forces tried to hold them back.
The Russian Defense Ministry said the army had thwarted an attempt by Ukrainian forces to break the siege with “airstrikes and artillery fire” at a factory in a northern district of the city.
The Ukrainian military insisted that “the defense of Mariupol continues,” with the Land Forces of Ukraine writing on Telegram, “The connection with the units of the defense forces that heroically hold the city is stable and maintained.”
In a post on Facebook, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said, “It is likely that in the future the enemy will try to take control of the city of Mariupol, capture Popasna and launch an offensive in the direction of Kurakhove in order to reach the administrative borders of Donetsk region.”
In his nightly address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made another plea to his allies for more weapons to boost the defense of Mariupol, saying, “We are not getting as much as we need to end this war sooner. To completely destroy the enemy on our land… in particular, to unblock Mariupol.”
Zelensky made a similar appeal for military assistance to South Korea’s National Assembly earlier in the day, claiming that Russia had “completely destroyed Mariupol and burned it to ashes” and killed “at least tens of thousands of people.”
During a surprise visit to Ukraine’s capital of Kiev on Saturday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised to provide the war-inflicted country with considerable volumes of military and financial aid, saying that the aid was meant “to support Ukraine in this crucial phase while Russia’s illegal assault continues.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the military offensive against Ukraine on February 24. The conflict has provoked a unanimous response from Western countries, which have imposed a long list of sanctions on Moscow.
Putin: West’s economic ‘blitzkrieg’ failed
Russia’s news agencies cited the Russian president as saying on Tuesday that his country’s financial system was operating well and the West’s economic “blitzkrieg” had failed.
The Russian leader, however, said the risk of harm from sanctions could rise in the medium- and longer-term, and that he hoped common sense would prevail in the West with regard to the anti-Moscow bans.
Putin also said that inflation and rising food and petrol prices in Western countries would start to put pressure on the politicians there.
Putin dismisses Bucha news as ‘fake’
In a news conference with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in the Russian Far East, Putin dismissed Western allegations of atrocities perpetrated by Russian forces in the Ukrainian town of Bucha as “fake.”
Lukashenko also claimed at the presser that the evidence of mass killings had been planted by British intelligence.
Putin said peace talks with Ukraine had reached a “dead end,” blaming Ukraine for shifting its position after the negotiations in the Turkish city of Istanbul last month.
The Russian president also stressed that “the military operation will continue” until there is an agreement.
The Russian Defense Ministry said on Monday that the United States and Britain were helping Ukraine prepare fake claims about rights violations against civilians in the former Soviet state as part of attempts to tarnish Russia’s image.
Ukrainian forces have over the past week been showing journalists corpses of what they claim to be civilians killed by Russian troops, as well as destroyed houses and burned-out cars.
The West says the dead civilians are evidence of war crimes, while Russia has on numerous occasions denied allegations of targeting civilians since the start of its military campaign in Ukraine.
Japan introduces sanctions on nearly 400 Russians
The Japanese government approved on Tuesday additional sanctions against Russia, freezing the assets of 398 Russian individuals, including Putin’s two daughters and the wife of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Tokyo would also freeze the assets of 28 more Russian organizations, such as those related to the military.
The Tokyo government also said it would prohibit Japanese individuals and companies from making any new investments in Russia over Moscow’s protracted offensive in Ukraine.
“To prevent a further escalation of the crisis, realize a cease-fire as soon as possible and stop the Russian invasion of Ukraine, our country must impose tough sanctions against Moscow while working with the international community,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno at a regular news conference.
Japan’s Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Koichi Hagiuda also announced at the news conference that the country would introduce import bans on Russian beverages, some lumber products, and machines from next Tuesday as part of additional sanctions against Moscow.