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Western leaders discuss tougher action against Russia

  • Adds details of Mariupol, summit
  • Western leaders meet to take more action against Russia
  • The war enters its second month
  • In besieged Mariupol, people bury their dead
  • Energy supplies complicate answers

BRUSSELS/LVIV/MARIUPOL, Ukraine, March 24 (Reuters) – Western leaders meeting in Brussels on Thursday will agree to bolster their forces in Eastern Europe and increase military aid to Ukraine as the Russian onslaught against its neighbor is entering its second month.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has urged people around the world to take to the streets in solidarity with his country, where thousands have been killed, millions have become refugees and cities have been pulverized since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion on February 24.

In Mariupol, the southern port city that has become a symbol of Ukraine’s fate, people were burying their dead and queuing for rations during the bombing breaks.

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A woman there, Viktoria, buried her 73-year-old stepfather, Leonid, who was killed when the car taking him to hospital exploded 12 days ago.

“This guy was sitting in my seat and then they all exploded in this car,” she told Reuters, pointing to the mangled remains of the vehicle.

“It could have been me,” she sobbed.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been hiding in basements in Mariupol without running water, food, medicine or electricity.

Reuters reached a part of the city captured by Russian forces. No independent reporter has reported on the besieged Ukrainian side of the city for more than a week.

Ukrainian officials say they repelled the invaders in other areas, notably around the capital Kyiv, thwarting Russian hopes of a quick victory.

RUINOUS

In Brussels, Western leaders will warn Putin that his country will pay a “ruinous” fee to invade Ukraine during a series of NATO, G7 and EU summits on Thursday and Friday. US President Joe Biden is among those present.

Alarmed by the prospect of an escalation of the war by Russia, NATO countries will agree to send equipment to kyiv to defend against biological, chemical and nuclear attacks. Read more

“We must ensure that the decision to invade an independent sovereign country is understood as a strategic failure with ruinous costs for Putin and Russia,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the European Parliament.

The United States planned to announce more sanctions against Russian politicians and oligarchs, the White House said.

The first US shipment of a new $800 million arms package for Ukraine will begin shipping around the next day, a US defense official said. Read more

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance would bolster its forces in Eastern Europe by deploying four new battlegroups to Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia.

Washington said Biden and his European counterparts would announce new sanctions against Russia and steps to strengthen existing sanctions. However, EU diplomats played down expectations of further major sanctions.

Zelenskiy, who will address NATO and EU summits via video conference, said he expected “serious action” from Western allies. He reiterated his call for a no-fly zone, although Western leaders dismissed this as a move that would drag them directly into war.

The Ukrainian leader, who has won admiration across the West for his leadership under fire, also called on people around the world to demand an end to the bloodshed.

“Come from your offices, your homes, your schools and universities, come in the name of peace, come with Ukrainian symbols to support Ukraine, to support freedom, to support life,” he said. said in a video address.

HUMANITARIAN CRISIS

After four weeks of conflict, Russia has failed to capture any major cities and, with its ground advances seemingly stalled, has engaged in aerial bombardment of cities, causing a humanitarian crisis. The Kremlin denies targeting civilians.

Although the Kremlin says its operation will be planned, Russian forces have suffered heavy casualties and are facing supply problems.

Moscow calls its actions a “special operation” which it says is not designed to occupy territory but to destroy the military capabilities of its southern neighbor and capture what it sees as dangerous nationalists.

The West says this is a baseless pretext for unprovoked war.

Mariupol was the hardest hit. Satellite photographs by the trading company Maxar showed the massive destruction of what was once a city of 400,000 people, with residential buildings in flames.

In a part of the city controlled by Russian forces, more than 100 people patiently lined up on Wednesday for boxes of food and humanitarian supplies to be distributed from a truck.

Angelina, a young mother of two, said she received bread, diapers and baby food.

“It’s hard to leave by bus now. We hope the number of people trying to get out will decrease and it will be easier for us to leave,” she said.

The Chief of Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said Thursday that Russia is still trying to resume offensive operations to capture the cities of kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv and Mariupol.

To counter the troop shortage, Moscow was moving new units near the Ukrainian border and calling in soldiers who had recently served in Syria, he said.

Zelenskiy repeated that he was ready to have a face-to-face meeting with Putin to end the war.

“We are ready to discuss ceasefire terms, peace terms, but we are not ready for ultimatums,” he said.

FREEZE

International sanctions have frozen Russia from world trade. But the biggest loophole is an exception for its energy exports. Some EU member states are resisting calls to ban Russian oil and gas because they rely heavily on it.

EU leaders are expected to agree at their summit to jointly buy gas as they seek to reduce this dependency. L3N2VQ3IG

Brussels is also aiming to strike a deal with Biden to secure additional supplies of US liquefied natural gas for the next two winters.

“The consequences of this war on Europe’s security architecture will be far-reaching,” EU chief executive Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday. “And I’m not just talking about security in military terms. But also energy security, and even food security are at stake.”

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Reporting by Reuters reporter in Mariupol, Natalia Zinets in Lviv, John Chalmers in Brussels and Reuters offices Writing by Angus MacSwan Editing by Peter Graff

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