Putin likens sanctions to declaration of war, says Ukraine statehood at risk

The city of Mariupol says Russia is violating a ceasefire agreed on early Saturday.

Putin likens sanctions to declaration of war, says Ukraine statehood at risk

Updated at 7:50 p.m. Brussels time.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday said the sanctions imposed against Russia since its invasion of Ukraine are “akin to a declaration of war” and warned that Ukraine’s statehood is at stake.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, meanwhile, implored the U.S. to do more to force Putin to the negotiating table and end the invasion — including the establishment of a no-fly zone, additional direct aid and a ban on oil imports from Moscow.

Earlier Saturday, Ukraine and Russia announced that citizens in the besieged city of Mariupol would temporarily be allowed to evacuate through a humanitarian corridor, but reports soon emerged of Russia blocking the routes.

“The current leadership needs to understand that if they continue doing what they are doing, they risk the future of Ukrainian statehood,” Putin said in Moscow on Saturday, in his first extended remarks since the start of the war, according to the New York Times. “If that happens,” he said, “they will have to be blamed for that.”

Putin also threatened that any no-fly zone, such as Ukraine has called for, “would bring catastrophic” consequences. NATO has ruled out establishing a no-fly zone over Ukraine for fear that it could bring the military alliance into direct confrontation with Russia.

In a private Zoom call with lawmakers in the U.S. Senate and House, Zelenskyy expressed appreciation for the actions taken so far by the U.S. and NATO allies, including sanctions and weapons transfers, according to five people who participated in the call. But Zelenskyy made a direct appeal for more, those people said, including planes, drones and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles.

The Ukrainian leader also urged the U.S. to ban Russian oil imports and target its sanctions regime directly at ordinary Russians, the people said. He called on lawmakers to pressure eastern-flank NATO partners to approve the transfer of planes that Ukrainian pilots are already trained to fly.

The Mariupol City Council said early Saturday on its Telegram channel that Russian forces — which are over a week into an all-out assault on Ukraine — would reduce operations for five hours to allow civilians to flee. The Russian defense ministry also confirmed its plans in a separate statement.

A similar arrangement was established in the nearby town of Volnovakha, a senior Ukrainian official confirmed.

But within hours, the city of Mariupol said that Russian forces were continuing the shelling, and it told its residents to stay home.

“Unfortunately, when we were already ready, the regular army of the Russian Federation began shelling along the corridor,” the city said on social media. “This does not give us a sense of security … Negotiations are underway now. As soon as we … will receive a security guarantee, we will additionally announce this.”

Mariupol and Volnovakha have been two of the hardest-hit cities during Russia’s offensive, bearing the brunt of Moscow’s attempts to gain strategic sites in southeast Ukraine.

The development comes as Russian and Ukrainian delegations prepared to meet Saturday for a third round of talks amid the intensifying conflict, which has seen Russian forces bomb residential areas. Two prior rounds of talks failed to produce any substantial progress toward a ceasefire, and Putin has shown no sign of backing down.

In his remarks on Saturday, Putin said Russia did not plan to impose martial law unless there was aggression against Russian territory. And he vowed that conscription would not be an issue, according to the New York Times report.

“Only professional military servicemen take part in this operation, officers and contract soldiers,” Putin said at a meeting with female flight attendants from Russian airlines ahead of International Women’s Day on Tuesday. “Not a single conscript takes part in it, and we don’t plan to send them there.”

Andrew Desiderio contributed reporting. This story has been updated.