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US in ‘active discussions’ over Russian oil import ban as Moscow targets Ukraine urban centres


US secretary of state Antony Blinken said Washington was in “very active discussions” with its European partners about a ban on oil imports from Russia, as Ukraine braced for a widening offensive against its urban centres.

Restrictions on Russian oil would be a big step up in the west’s response to Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine with potentially serious ramifications for the global economy. It would also mark an about-turn by the White House, which had rejected bipartisan calls to ban Russian oil imports to the US, saying an embargo would limit global supply and raise prices for consumers.

Blinken told NBC on Sunday that he had spoken to US President Joe Biden and the cabinet about such a move.

“We are now in very active discussions with our European partners about banning the import of Russian oil to our countries, while of course at the same time maintaining a steady global supply of oil,” Blinken said.

The US wanted a co-ordinated response with its partners but Blinken added: “I’m not going to rule out taking action one way or another irrespective of what they do.”

A French official said on Sunday that western states were working on new sanctions.

Russian forces continued to attack populated areas and civilian infrastructure across Ukraine on Sunday, the 11th day of Vladimir Putin’s invasion. Attempts to evacuate 200,000 people from the besieged port city of Mariupol, where many have been living since last week in freezing cellars without basic services and under heavy Russian bombardment, failed for a second day running.

In Irpin, west of Kyiv, Russian forces reportedly fired on people fleeing the town, killing at least three.

After Russia fired cruise missiles deep into western Ukraine and hit the airport in Vinnyitsa, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky again pleaded with the international community to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine — an idea Nato has dismissed as a non-starter as it risked direct confrontation between the alliance and Russia.

If they failed to close Ukrainian skies to Russian jets, Zelensky said in a video briefing, there was only one conclusion: “You want us to be killed very slowly.”

In a two-hour telephone call with French President Emmanuel Macron, Russian President Putin denied that Russian forces had targeted civilians in their bombardments of Ukrainian cities, according to a French official.

Zelensky said that Russia planned to attack Ukraine’s third-largest city Odesa, a move defence officials have been expecting as Putin’s troops advance across the coast, threatening Ukraine’s access to the Black Sea and Sea of Azov.

As Russia sought to consolidate its grip on southern Ukraine, defence analysts said Russian troops were being confronted by unexpectedly stiff resistance from Ukraine’s military and angry local residents in the cities and towns they had seized.

In Kherson, the largest city to be occupied, videos posted online on Saturday showed residents gathering in large numbers and directly confronting Russian troops. Protests were also reported over the weekend in Melitopol, Berdyansk and other Russian-held cities.

“People are driving Russians away from our territory, blocking the roads for them,” Zelensky said. “Every metre of Ukrainian land that is won by protest and humiliation of the invaders is a step towards victory for our entire state.”

In Russia, antiwar protests took place on Sunday with 2,976 people detained across 49 Russian cities, according to independent monitor OVD Info, which also shared videos of aggressive arrest tactics by riot police armed with truncheons. The demonstrations included one that took place near the walls of the Kremlin in Moscow.

The UK Ministry of Defence said that Russia was targeting populated areas in multiple locations, including Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Mariupol. The assault was “an effort to break Ukrainian morale” similar to Moscow’s devastating bombing campaigns in Chechnya in 1999 and Syria in 2016, it said.

But the MoD added that Russia continued to be surprised by “the scale and strength of Ukrainian resistance” and the advance of ground forces was being slowed by Ukrainians targeting troops’ supply lines.

Russia has bombarded civilian targets, including residential buildings, schools and healthcare facilities.

The World Health Organization said it had verified six cases of Russian attacks on healthcare facilities that caused “multiple deaths and injuries” and was investigating more reports.

Filippo Grandi, the head of the UN’s refugee agency, said the conflict had led more than 1.5mn people to cross into neighbouring countries in 10 days, making it the “fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II”.

Ukraine has repeatedly called for the creation of a no-fly zone over its territory to block Russian jets, a proposition Nato formally rejected on Friday.

Putin said any such action “will be considered by us as participation in armed conflict”.

Additional reporting by Sarah White in Paris





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