US halts Russian oil, Moscow promises new Ukrainian corridors

KYIV: The United States has banned imports of Russian oil, firing one of its biggest economic weapons against Moscow over the war in Ukraine where new humanitarian corridors were due to open on Wednesday for civilians trying to flee the besieged cities.
Russia has said roads will open in five towns its forces are shelling, but Kiev has repeatedly warned that Moscow is not serious about allowing civilians to flee and on Tuesday accused Moscow of shelling a corridor.
“Such actions are nothing but genocide,” Ukraine’s Defense Ministry wrote on Facebook.
President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that the US oil embargo on Russia would cut off the “main artery” of Moscow’s economy, and vowed that Ukraine would “never be a victory” for the Russian leader Vladimir Poutine.
The invasion sparked the biggest war in Europe and the continent’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II, while the West responded with sanctions against Russia that spilled over into the global economy.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has complained he needs more air support to fight off Moscow’s offensive as invading forces maintain a devastating bombing campaign.
But Washington on Tuesday rejected an offer from NATO ally Poland to supply jets to Kiev via a US airbase over fears of a wider conflict with Russia.
The new humanitarian corridors were due to open in the capital Kyiv, the port city of Mariupol and Kharkiv, Sumy and Chernihiv at 07:00 GMT, a Russian Defense Ministry official said, according to state news agency TASS. . He did not say whether the corridors would lead to Russia or Belarus, a condition Kiev had rejected in previous evacuation plans.
The United Nations said more than two million civilians crossed Ukraine’s borders to escape Russian bombardment. Successful evacuations from some of the agreed humanitarian corridors have been reported.
At least 5,000 people have been released in the northern city of Sumy, Ukrainian officials said on Wednesday, after days of heavy fighting and an airstrike that killed 21 people.
Evacuations also took place outside the capital Kiev. But attempts to evacuate the port city of Mariupol have repeatedly failed, with Kiev saying Moscow refuses to let children, women or the elderly go.
“This situation is really apocalyptic for people, it is getting worse,” said Ewan Watson, spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
A six-year-old girl identified only as Tanya died of dehydration under the rubble of her destroyed home, authorities said in the south center, which has had no water, electricity or heating since Friday.
Russian troops are slowly encroaching on Kiev despite the intense efforts of outgunned Ukrainian forces, and are moving faster through the east and north of the country.
In the suburb of Irpin, considered a critical point for the advance on the capital, civilians fled in an icy wind and heavy snowfall, AFP journalists noted. People waited in a long line to cross the Irpin River on makeshift plank and mangled metal footbridges, after the Ukrainians blew up the bridge leading to the capital to impede any Russian advance.
“I didn’t want to leave, but there is no one left in the houses around us, no water, no gas and no electricity,” Larissa Prokopets, 43, told AFP.
In a defiant speech to British lawmakers, Zelensky invoked Winston Churchill’s resistance to Nazi Germany as he vowed to “fight to the end”. “We will fight in the forests, in the fields, on the shores, in the streets,” he declared to a packed house, which earned him a standing ovation.
Western governments balked at the idea of ​​a no-fly zone to defend Ukrainian skies despite its demands.
The Pentagon on Tuesday rejected a Polish plan to deliver Mig-29 fighter jets to a US air base in Germany, saying it was not “sustainable”.
“The prospect of fighter jets (…) leaving a US-NATO base in Germany to fly into disputed airspace with Russia over Ukraine raises serious concerns for the entire NATO alliance. NATO,” spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.
Britain said it would join the United States in phasing out Russian oil by the end of the year, while oil giants BP and Shell announced an immediate halt to oil purchases and of Russian gas.
The European Union has also said it will cut gas imports by two-thirds.
The United States has also declared that the Kremlin’s award-winning geopolitical energy project, the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, is now dead.
“It’s a piece of metal at the bottom of the sea, I don’t think it will ever be resurrected,” Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland told US lawmakers on Tuesday.
McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Starbucks have also suspended operations in Russia, joining the international chorus of outrage. As the growing number of Western sanctions begins to bite, ratings agency Fitch downgraded Russia deep into junk territory on Tuesday, predicting a sovereign default would be “imminent”.
Pressure has been growing daily on business and sport to sever ties with Moscow and the Premier League announced on Tuesday it would suspend its deal with its Russian broadcast partner.
Since invading Ukraine, Russia has taken control of the Chernobyl atomic power plant, captured Europe’s largest nuclear power plant and put its nuclear forces on high alert. The Chernobyl nuclear power plant is no longer transmitting data to the UN’s atomic watchdog, the agency said on Tuesday, amid concerns about personnel working under Russian guard at the Ukrainian facility for nearly two years. weeks.
Putin is using nuclear “blackmail” to prevent the international community from interfering in the conflict, the leader of the Nobel Prize-winning group ICAN told AFP on Tuesday.
“This is truly one of the scariest times when it comes to nuclear weapons,” said Beatrice Fihn, who heads the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
“It’s incredibly disturbing and overwhelming.”

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