Putin threatens Ukraine ‘statehood’ as Moscow sanctions tighten

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has threatened the existence of Ukrainian statehood as his army’s invasion of the neighbour faces stiff resistance and his economy is increasingly asphyxiated by sanctions.

In the latest efforts to freeze Moscow out of the world economy, US-based card payment giants Visa and Mastercard announced they will suspend operations in Russia, while world leaders vowed to act over the intensifying onslaught.

“The current (Ukrainian) authorities must understand that if they continue to do what they are doing, they are putting in question the future of Ukrainian statehood,” Putin said on Saturday. “And if this happens, they will be fully responsible.”

Since Russia’s invasion 10 days ago, the economic and humanitarian toll of the war has spiralled, sending more than one million people fleeing Ukraine. Officials have reported hundreds of civilians killed.

Kyiv has urged the West to boost military assistance to the besieged country, including warplanes, with President Volodymyr Zelensky pleading for Eastern European neighbours to provide Russian-made planes that his citizens are trained to fly.

Putin meanwhile escalated warnings against NATO, threatening a wider war if a no-fly zone is set up, as his forces resumed their offensive against a key Ukrainian city where security fears stalled a planned evacuation.

While Zelensky criticized NATO for ruling out the no-fly zone, Putin spoke of “colossal and catastrophic consequences not only for Europe but also the whole world” if such a step was taken.

“Any movement in this direction will be considered by us as participation in an armed conflict by that country,” Putin said.

He also dismissed rumours that the Kremlin was planning to declare martial law in Russia.