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US unveils fresh sanctions as Putin hails Russian ‘heroes’

The United States announced a fresh wave of sanctions against Russia on Friday a day before the second anniversary of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, as President Vladimir Putin hailed Russian “heroes” fighting there.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, meanwhile, renewed his appeal for swift delivery of air-defense systems and fighter jets, while European Union leaders pledged continued backing for Kyiv.

US President Joe Biden imposed sanctions on more than 500 targets to “ensure Putin pays an even steeper price for his aggression abroad and repression at home”.

And he again urged the US Congress to fund more military aid to Ukraine, saying: “We can’t walk away now.”

“History is watching,” he said. “The failure to support Ukraine at this critical moment will not be forgotten.”

Ukraine has been weakened by the blocking of US aid and worsening ammunition shortages.

Russia’s Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov slammed the new sanctions, telling state news agencies the measures are “yet another brazen and cynical attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of the Russian Federation.”

Putin’s message came on Russia’s “Defender of the Fatherland Day”, a holiday that is an occasion for military pomp and Kremlin-sponsored patriotism.

This year Putin was able to celebrate Russia’s capture of the Ukrainian city of Avdiivka last week and claim further advances along the frontline with Ukraine’s troops.

“You are our true national heroes,” Putin said in a video message addressed to troops and veterans.

– ‘Unblock the sky’ –

Zelensky made a fresh appeal on Friday for the weapons that western powers have already promised him.

“The most important thing is to unblock the sky,” he told reporters in the western city of Lviv. “Air defence and future jets will help it.”

For two years, Ukraine’s forces have been fighting a bigger and richer army and that has taken a heavy toll.

At the UN General Assembly, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba accused Russia of ignoring “the will of the global majority. It continues its aggression, and throws more and more men into the flames of war.”

In Brussels, the EU’s top three officials vowed to maintain the bloc’s “strong and unwavering” backing for Kyiv to end the war.

“More than ever, we remain united and true to our promise to support Ukraine for as long as it takes,” said the heads of the European Council, the European Commission and the European Parliament.

A new wave of EU sanctions, the 13th, targets 106 people and 88 entities, mainly in the military and defence sectors, including those involved in supplying arms to Russia.

Politicians and officials responsible for the “illegal deportation and military reeducation of Ukrainian children” are also targeted, said the European statement.

Dutch officials meanwhile said Friday that the Netherlands will seal a 10-year security deal with Ukraine, which has been anxious to shore up its security with bilateral agreements.

– Russia intensifies attacks –

In Moscow, Putin laid flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier outside the Kremlin walls.

His church ally Patriarch Kirill, a vehement supporter of the Ukraine offensive, once again sanctified it.

“We glorify today the feat of soldiers who are heroically fighting on the borders of Russia, defending its sovereignty and independence,” he said in a letter to Putin.  

In Ukraine, foreign dignitaries began to arrive to mark the anniversary of Moscow’s assault, which has killed thousands of civilians, on top of a huge number of military deaths.

Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen joined Zelensky in Lviv on Friday, as did US Senate leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat.

Despite recent setbacks, Zelensky has remained defiant.

Kyiv has taken confidence from continued successes on the Black Sea, where it says it has destroyed a third of Russia’s Black Sea fleet — 25 vessels.

But Moscow is seeking to press its advantage in the land campaign and drive further into Ukraine.

Kyiv warned Friday that Russia was intensifying attacks around the new “hot spot” of Maryinka, a town to the west of the Moscow-controlled stronghold of Donetsk city.

Ukrainian troops, however, remained determined.

“It’s extremely hard,” 32-year-old Ukrainian infantryman Oleksiy told AFP in eastern Ukraine, caked in mud after returning from the trenches.

“We don’t have weapons like they have. You know, they have factories for production, and us? We beg for weapons. That’s the way it is.” 

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Originally published as US unveils fresh sanctions as Putin hails Russian ‘heroes’

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