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US unveils fresh sanctions as Putin hails Russian ‘heroes’

Putin accepts invite to visit Vietnam: Hanoi
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The United States announced a fresh wave of sanctions against Russia on Friday a day ahead of the second anniversary of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, as President Vladimir Putin hailed Russian “heroes” fighting there.

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

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

And he renewed his appeal to the US Congress to fund more military aid to Ukraine.

“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.

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 he 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.

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.

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 the military and defence sectors, including those involved in supplying arms to Russia.

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

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.

Russia has banned all criticism of its campaign, punishing thousands for denouncing the offensive, with repression comparable to late Soviet levels.

On the streets of Moscow, AFP found both supporters and opponents of the offensive.

“I feel pride for our men,” said 27-year-old Nadezhda as she strolled near the Kremlin. “In the last two years that became even stronger.”

But Konstantin, who had once served in the army but was now working as a waiter, said he opposed any armed conflict.

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 Senator 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.

The Russian army said this week it had also captured the eastern village of Pobeda and that its troops were “moving westwards” after capturing Avdiivka.

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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Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.

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