Putin warns West against lightning strikes; Sanctions hit the Russian economy
WARSAW/SOFIA/Kyiv – Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned of lightning-fast retaliation if countries interfere in Ukraine, with European leaders accusing Russia of “blackmail” over its gas supply cuts.
Russia has told the United States to stop sending arms to Ukraine, saying large Western arms shipments are fueling the conflict.
Addressing lawmakers in St Petersburg on Wednesday, Putin said the West wanted to cut Russia into different pieces and accused him of pushing Ukraine into conflict with Russia.
“If anyone intends to intervene from the outside in current events and create strategic threats to Russia that are unacceptable to us, he should know that our retaliatory strikes will be lightning fast. “, Putin said, according to the video of his speech provided. by the Russian media.
“We have all the tools for that, things no one else can brag about having now. And we won’t brag about them, we’ll use them when necessary. And I want everyone to know that.”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began on February 24 and reduced cities to rubble and forced more than 5 million people to flee abroad. Western countries have responded with sanctions and weapons to Ukraine for waging a war that has raised fears of a wider conflict in the West that has been unthinkable for decades.
Russia describes its intervention as a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists. Ukraine and the West say this is a false pretext for an unprovoked war of aggression by President Vladimir Putin.
As Russia continues its military assault on eastern and southern Ukraine, its economic battle with the West threatens Europe’s gas supplies and hits the Russian economy as it battles the worst crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Ukraine has said Europe should stop depending on Russia for trade after cutting off gas supplies to Bulgaria and Poland for not paying in roubles.
“The sooner everyone in Europe recognizes that they cannot depend on Russia for trade, the sooner it will be possible to guarantee the stability of European markets,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Wednesday.
Germany, the biggest buyer of Russian energy, hopes to stop importing Russian oil within days, but has warned that a Russian embargo or blockade on energy would tip the biggest economy of Europe in recession.
Gazprom, Russia’s gas export monopoly, suspended gas supplies to Bulgaria and Poland on Wednesday for not paying in rubles, as stipulated in a decree by Putin aimed at easing the impact of the sanctions.
While the President of the European Commission said that the suspension of Gazprom was “another attempt by Russia to use gas as an instrument of blackmail”, the ambassadors of EU member states asked for clearer indications on whether sending euros violated the sanctions.
France will host a meeting of European energy ministers on May 2.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia remained a reliable energy supplier and denied it was blackmailing.
He declined to say how many countries had agreed to pay for gas in roubles, but other European customers said gas supplies were proceeding normally.
Sanctions are weighing heavily on Russia, with its economy ministry saying in a document that the economy could shrink by up to 12.4% this year.
Canadian lawmakers voted unanimously on Wednesday to label Russian attacks in Ukraine as ‘genocide’, with MPs saying there was ‘ample evidence of systemic and massive war crimes against humanity’ committed by Russia .
The Canadian Parliament declared in a motion that war crimes committed by Russia included mass atrocities, willful killing of civilians, desecration of corpses, forcible transfer of children, torture, physical and mental harm and rapes.
Russia denies targeting civilians.
Since the Russian invasion force was pushed back to the outskirts of Kyiv last month, Moscow has refocused its operations on eastern Ukraine, launching a new offensive to fully capture two provinces known as Donbass.
Ukraine said Russian forces used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse a pro-Ukrainian rally in Kherson, the first major city it seized. A series of powerful explosions caused by rockets hit Kherson late Wednesday, Ria News reported.
Explosions were heard earlier in three Russian provinces bordering Ukraine, authorities said, and an ammunition depot in Belgorod province caught fire.
Kyiv did not confirm responsibility for these and other incidents, but described them as revenge. “Karma is a cruel thing,” presidential adviser Mikhaylo Podolyak wrote on social media.
An aide to the mayor of the ruined port city of Mariupol said Russian forces have renewed their attacks on the Azovstal steel plant, where fighters and civilians remain locked up.
Concern has also grown over the prospect of the conflict spreading to neighboring Moldova, where pro-Russian separatists have accused Ukraine of reporting attacks this week in their region, which has been occupied for years. 1990 by Russian troops.
(Additional reporting by Reuters reporters; Writing by Michael Perry; Editing by Robert Birsel)