Ukraine shoots down Russian neutrality idea as US steps up aid

Coinciding with Zelenskyy’s speech, a White House official said Biden would unveil another US$800 million of military aid, expected to include more anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles.

After a morale-boosting train journey to Kyiv by the leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia, International Committee of the Red Cross president Peter Maurer came for a five-day visit.

He noted the “enormous suffering by the civilian population” in Ukraine and stressed it was “utterly important” for the ICRC’s neutral humanitarian work to be recognised on the ground.

Punishing Western sanctions against President Vladimir Putin’s regime have also stepped up this week, pushing Russia to the brink of default on its foreign debts.

Moscow was due Wednesday to pay US$117 million on two dollar-denominated bonds – the first interest payment that has fallen due since it was largely shut out of the Western financial system.

The Kremlin has sought to shut down domestic opposition to the war, blocking access to at least 15 Russian and foreign-based media including the investigation website Bellingcat.

Isolated internationally, Putin has turned to Chechnya and Syria to replenish his invasion force – and to China for economic support.

“PLAN C” FOR RUSSIA?

But facing stern US threats against helping Russia to bypass the sanctions, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Beijing was acting “objectively and impartially”.

“We urge the US not to damage China’s legitimate rights and interests in any form. If the US continues down this path, China will certainly take strong counter-measures,” he added.

Western military experts believe Russia is increasingly turning to aerial bombardments after its ground invasion stalled – and as possible leverage in the negotiations with Kyiv.

“They have found that their ground operations are not succeeding very well and where they are making gains they are at massive costs that are not sustainable,” Mick Ryan, a retired Australian major general, told AFP.

“They have had to change to ‘Plan C’ – which is bombard cities and terrorise civilians in the hope that the Ukrainians will reach some kind of political accommodation,” he said.

“What the Russians are doing is using our own humanity against us and Zelensky’s humanity against him.”