Wednesday, 25 May, 2022
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West steps up pressure on Moscow

Seeks to cripple Russian banking sector, currency

West steps up pressure on Moscow

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The United States and Western allies sought to cripple Russia's banking sector and currency Saturday with an extraordinary set of sanctions punishing Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, report agencies. 

Taking measures unprecedented against a country of Russia's size and international stature, the allies cut selected banks from the SWIFT system, rendering them isolated from the rest of the world. They hobbled the Russian central bank's ability to use reserves to support the already sinking ruble, which a senior US official said will now "go into freefall."

And they warned that a task force will "hunt down" the "yachts, jets, fancy cars and luxury homes" owned around the world by oligarchs in President Vladimir Putin's ultra-wealthy inner circle, the US official said.

The measures were backed by the United States, Canada, the European Commission, Britain, France, Germany and Italy. In a symbolic gesture likely to resonate in Moscow, which has been counting on European divisions to dilute Western fury over its Ukraine invasion, the stunning news was first delivered from Europe.

France will send fuel and more military equipment to Ukraine to help fight off the Russian invasion and slap more economic sanctions on Moscow, the presidency said Saturday. 

Portugal is to send military equipment to Ukraine, the defence ministry said on Sunday, joining other Western nations in dispatching help to the eastern European country under Russian attack.  Lisbon is to dispatch "vests, helmets, night-vision goggles, grenades and ammunition of various calibres", the ministry said in a statement in the early hours on Twitter.   

Greece is to send Ukraine "defence equipment" and humanitarian aid, the prime minister's office said Sunday, after Athens accused Russia of killing 10 ethnic Greeks during its invasion of Ukraine, reports AFP. 

Meanwhile, Russian airlines face a near-total airspace blockade to the country's west after an EU official said most European countries are set to impose flight bans. A formal decision is expected on the measure later on Sunday.

Several countries had already acted, followed by Germany and Belgium, while other EU states are set to join them. With airspace curbs over Ukraine, Russian flights now have few route options for westbound journeys.

Departure boards at Moscow's Domodedovo and Sheremetyevo airports showed dozens of cancellations on Sunday, including flights to Paris, Vienna and Kaliningrad. Russia's S7 Airlines said on Facebook it would cancel flights to many of its European destinations until at least 13 March.

Aeroflot, Russia's biggest airline, said it would cancel its services to Latvia and Romania until at least 26 March, and its Prague and Warsaw routes until 28 March.

Meanwhile, Russia has responded with tit-for-tat restrictions on countries banning its flights.

Russian-owned planes, including private jets, can no longer enter the skies above the Baltic states, Poland, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Romania and Slovenia. Russian planes have also been banned from UK airspace.

Several more EU countries have now joined the action to close airspace to Russian flights.

Germany is imposing a three-month ban from 15:00 (14:00 GMT) on Sunday. Italy will close its airspace to Russian aircraft, the prime minister's office said.

Finland, which shares an 800 mile (1,300km) border with Russia, "is preparing to close its airspace to Russian air traffic," Transport Minister Timo Harakka wrote on Twitter.

Belgium's Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said European skies were "open for those who connect people, not for those who seek to brutally aggress", and the Netherlands will also close its airspace from Sunday evening.

 Denmark's foreign minister Jeppe Kofod said on Twitter that his country would close its airspace and push for an EU-wide ban.

Ireland and Austria have thrown their weight behind an EU-wide ban.

However, EU foreign ministers on Sunday were set to look at helping Ukraine against the Russian offensive by discussing the funding of "lethal material" and supplies such as fuel, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.

Moreover, President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday urged foreigners to head to Ukrainian embassies worldwide to sign up for an "international brigade" of volunteers to help fight invading Russian forces.