Reuters-By Maria Tsvetkova
Ukrainian servicemen take positions at the military airbase Vasylkiv in the Kyiv region, Ukraine February 27, 2022. REUTERS/Maksim Levin
KYIV/MOSCOW, Feb 27 (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin put Russia’s nuclear deterrent on high alert on Sunday in the face of a barrage of Western reprisals for his war on Ukraine, which said it had repelled Russian ground forces attacking its biggest cities.
‘NOT DETERRENCE BUT THREAT’
In the strongest economic sanctions yet, the United States and Europe said on Saturday they would banish big Russian banks from the main global payments system SWIFT and announced other measures to limit Moscow’s use of a $630 billion war chest.
Rolling protests have been held around the world against the invasion, including in Russia, which has clamped down hard, detaining an additional 2,000 protesters on Sunday in 48 cities, bringing total arrests there to more than 4,000.
Tens of thousands of people across Europe marched in protest against Russia’s invasion on Saturday, including more than 100,000 in Berlin.
BATTLE FOR KHARKIV
A Ukrainian state news agency said that, before daybreak, Russian troops blew up a natural gas pipeline in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, sending a burning cloud up into the darkness.
Soon after, Russian soldiers and armoured vehicles rolled into Kharkiv, in northwest Ukraine, and witnesses reported firing and explosions. But city authorities said the attack had been repelled.
“Control over Kharkiv is completely ours! The armed forces, the police, and the defence forces are working, and the city is being completely cleansed of the enemy,” regional governor Oleh Sinegubov said.
Reuters was unable to corroborate the information.
Ukrainian forces were also holding off Russian troops advancing on Kyiv.
“We have withstood and are successfully repelling enemy attacks. The fighting goes on,” Zelenskiy said in the latest of several video messages from the streets of Kyiv.
He has declined to leave the city and has been marshalling combatants and civilians, many of whom have sought shelter in underground railway stations.
A U.N relief agency said more than 368,000 refugees had crossed into neighbouring countries, clogging railways, roads and borders.
At least 198 Ukrainians, including three children, have been killed in the invasion, Ukraine’s Health Ministry said.
A United Nations agency reported 64 civilian deaths and a Ukrainian presidential adviser said 3,500 Russian soldiers had been killed or wounded. Reuters was not able to verify the numbers.
The Russian Defence Ministry acknowledged that Russian soldiers had been killed and wounded, but said its losses were far lower than those suffered by Ukraine, the Interfax news agency reported. It said Russian attacks had hit 1,067 Ukrainian military sites.
Western officials say intelligence shows Russia suffering higher casualties than expected, but Moscow has not released figures.
NO OTHER ANSWER
Ignoring weeks of frantic diplomacy and sanctions threats by Western nations, Putin has justified the invasion by saying “neo-Nazis” rule Ukraine and threaten Russia’s security – a charge Kyiv and Western governments say is baseless propaganda.
Putin has said he must eliminate what he calls a serious threat to his country from its smaller neighbour, accusing it of genocide against Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine – something Kyiv and its Western allies reject as a lie.
Ukraine, a democratic nation of 44 million people, won independence from Moscow in 1991 at the fall of the Soviet Union and has pushed to join the NATO Western military alliance and the EU, goals Russia vehemently opposes.
Germany, which is sending anti-tank weapons, surface-to-air missiles and ammunition to Ukraine, said on Sunday said it would boost defence spending to more than 2% of its economic output in response to the attack, ending its post-World War Two practice.
“There could be no other answer to Putin’s aggression,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz told lawmakers.
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 bureaux including Moscow; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel, Angus MacSwan and Kevin Liffey; Editing by David Clarke
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