Warsaw / Sophia / Kiev – European leaders have accused Russia of “blackmailing” Russia into cutting off gas supplies, with Russian President Vladimir Putin warning of swift retaliation for intervening in Ukraine.
Russia has called on the United States to suspend arms shipments to Ukraine, saying “large arms supplies to the West are fueling the conflict.”
Addressing lawmakers in St. Petersburg on Wednesday, Mr Putin said the West wanted to tear Russia apart and accused Ukraine of pushing it into conflict with Russia. “If anyone wants to interfere in the ongoing events from outside and create a strategic threat to Russia that is unacceptable to us, they should know that our retaliatory strikes will be very quick,” Mr Putin said, according to his video address provided by Russian media.
“We have all the tools for that, something that no one can be proud of now. And we will not be proud, we will use them if necessary. And I want everyone to know. “
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began on February 24 and left cities and towns in ruins, forcing more than 5 million people to flee abroad. Western nations have responded with sanctions and weapons for a war in Ukraine that has raised fears of a greater conflict in the West, which has been unthinkable for decades.
Russia has called its intervention a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists. Ukraine and the West have said it is a false excuse for President Vladimir Putin’s unpopular aggression.
As Russia launches its military offensive in eastern and southern Ukraine, its economic war with the West threatens gas supplies to Europe and hurts the Russian economy as it struggles with its worst crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Ukraine has said it should stop relying on Russia for European trade after cutting off gas supplies to Bulgaria and Poland for not paying rubles.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said late Wednesday that “the sooner everyone in Europe acknowledges that they cannot rely on Russia for trade, the sooner it will be possible to guarantee stability in the European market.”
Germany, Russia’s biggest buyer of energy, hopes to cut off Russian oil imports in a few days, but warns that a Russian energy embargo could plunge Europe’s largest economy into recession.
Russia’s gas export monopoly Gazprom on Wednesday suspended gas supplies to Bulgaria and Poland for non-payment of rubles, as noted in a Putin decree aimed at softening the effects of the sanctions.
Although the European Commission president said Gazprom’s suspension was “another attempt by Russia to use gas as a tool of blackmail”, EU member ambassadors sought clear guidance on whether the euro had violated the embargo.
France will host a meeting of EU energy ministers on May 2.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia remained a reliable energy supplier and denied that it was involved in blackmail.
He declined to say how many countries had agreed to pay for gas in rubles, but other European consumers said gas supplies were flowing normally.
Sanctions are taking a heavy toll on Russia, with its economy ministry indicating in a document that the economy could shrink by 12.4% this year.
Canadian lawmakers voted unanimously on Wednesday to call Russia’s attack on Ukraine a “genocide,” with members of parliament saying there was “substantial evidence of systematic and widespread war crimes against humanity” committed by Russia.
The Canadian Parliament has stated in a resolution that Russia’s war crimes include widespread atrocities, intentional killing of civilians, desecration of corpses, forced transfer of children, torture, physical and mental harm and rape.
Russia denies targeting civilians
Since repelling Russian aggression on the outskirts of Kiev last month, Moscow has re-centered its operations in eastern Ukraine, launching a new offensive to completely occupy two provinces known as Donbass.
Ukraine says Russian forces used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse a pro-Ukrainian rally in Kherson, the first major city to be occupied. A series of powerful explosions caused by a rocket hit Kherson late Wednesday night, Rhea News Agency reported.
Earlier in the day, explosions were heard 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 payback. “Action is a cruel thing,” Mikhail Podoliak, a presidential adviser, wrote on social media.
An aide to the mayor of the devastated port city of Mariupol said Russian forces had resumed their offensive at the Azovstal steel plant, where fighters and some civilians were trapped.
Concerns have also been raised about the possibility of escalating conflict in neighboring Moldova, where pro-Russian separatists have blamed Ukraine for reported attacks in their territory this week, occupied by Russian troops since the 1990s. – Reuters