Putin threatens lightning-fast strikes on anyone interfering in Ukraine
Warns of nuclear warfare in the third threat made by Russia this week: EU defies gas 'blackmail'
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In a direct threat to the West, Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged "lightning" fast strikes on any nation that "interferes" with Russia's war in Ukraine.
"If anyone ventures to intervene from the outside and [pose] unacceptable threats of a strategic nature to Russia, they should know that our counter-retaliatory strikes will take place with lightning speed," he said.
Russia once faced international ire this week after it suggested Western support of Kyiv during Russia’s more than 60-day invasion could lead to nuclear warfare. But despite calls from nations like the US and UK to stop the aggressive rhetoric, Putin escalated the tough talk Wednesday.
"We have all the tools to do this. The kind that no one else can boast of right now," he said alluding to Russia's deployment of a hypersonic missile last month. "And we will not boast; we will use them if necessary. I want everyone to know that," he continued. "All the decisions have been made in this regard."
NATO nations and other allies pledged to continue to support Ukraine as Russia ramps up its second offensive in eastern and southern Ukraine, in what defence officials have warned will be an even more brutal fight.
Moscow has repeatedly defended its "special military operation" in Ukraine as an attempt to "denazify" certain regions – a claim Ukraine and the West have said is patently incorrect.
Russian forces have yet to make any major military advancements and Western nations this week said they would like to not only see Russia fail in Ukraine, but be incapacitated to the extent that it is unable to launch a similar offensive again.
But Putin doubled down on his efforts and told Russian lawmakers, "I want to emphasize again that all the tasks of the special military operation we are conducting in the Donbas and Ukraine, launched on Feb. 24, will be unconditionally fulfilled."
Russia last extended its "special military operation" in Ukraine outside of the eastern Donbas and said it will seek "full control" over eastern Ukraine – giving it better leverage to next launch a campaign into neighbouring Moldova.
EU defies gas 'blackmail' as Russia pushes deeper into Ukraine
The European Union warned Russia on Wednesday it would not bend to "blackmail" over its support for Kyiv, after the Kremlin cut off gas supplies to Bulgaria and Poland.
The warning came as UN chief Antonio Guterres arrived in Kyiv to meet Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky following talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.
Putin issued his own warning on Wednesday, saying that if Western forces intervene in Ukraine, they will face a "lightning-fast" military response.
"We have all the tools for this, that no one else can boast of having," the Russian leader told lawmakers, implicitly referring to Moscow's ballistic missiles and nuclear arsenal.
"We won't boast about it: we'll use them, if needed. And I want everyone to know that," he said. "We have already taken all the decisions on this."
The dire threats came as Moscow claimed to have carried out a missile strike in southern Ukraine to destroy a "large batch" of Western-supplied weapons.
As the war, which has already claimed thousands of lives, entered its third month, Kyiv conceded that Russian forces had made gains in the east.
Russia's military offensive saw it capture a string of villages in the Donbas region, now the focus target of its invasion force.
And in its economic standoff with the West, Moscow cut off gas supplies to Bulgaria and Poland, two EU and NATO members backing Ukraine in the conflict.
However Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said Poland and Bulgaria are now receiving gas from their EU neighbours.
- 'Blackmail' -
She described the announcement by Russia's state energy giant Gazprom as "another provocation from the Kremlin".
"It comes as no surprise that the Kremlin uses fossil fuels to try to blackmail us... Our response will be immediate, united and coordinated.
"Both Poland and Bulgaria are now receiving gas from their EU neighbours," she said. "The era of Russian fossil fuels in Europe will come to an end."
EU officials said energy ministers from across the bloc will meet on Monday to discuss the situation.
European powers have imposed massive sanctions on Russia since Putin's decision to invade his neighbour, while shipping weapons to Ukraine's defenders.
But they have moved slowly on hitting Moscow's vast exports, with many EU members -- notably industrial giant Germany -- reliant on Russian energy to keep their lights on.
Putin has attempted to turn up the pressure by insisting that Russia will only accept payments for gas in rubles -- hoping to force his foes to prop up his currency.
Gazprom announced the halt of gas to both Poland and highly dependent Bulgaria, saying it had not received payment in rubles from the two EU members.
But von der Leyen said that "about 97 percent" of all EU contracts explicitly stipulate payments in euros or dollars -- and warned importing firms off paying in rubles.
"This would be a breach of the sanctions," she told reporters.
The European Commission on Wednesday sought to lend Kyiv economic support by proposing a suspension of import duties on Ukrainian goods, but the idea still needs to be approved in a vote by the bloc's 27 members.
President Zelensky welcomed the plan, adding Russia was "trying to provoke a global price crisis" and stir "chaos" in the world's food market.
- 'Destruction and painful casualties' -
The first phase of Russia's invasion failed to reach Kyiv and to overthrow Zelensky's government after encountering stiff Ukrainian resistance reinforced with Western weapons.
The campaign has refocused on seizing the east and south of the country, while increased the use of long-range missile strikes against west and central Ukraine.
Ukraine's Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov predicted "extremely difficult weeks" for the country amid "destruction and painful casualties" during the offensive.
Russia's defence ministry said its forces had destroyed a "large batch" of weapons and ammunition supplied by the United States and European countries.
Russia hit hangars at an aluminium plant near the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia with "high-precision long-range sea-based Kalibr missiles", the ministry said.
Tensions are also rising in a breakaway region of Moldova bordering southwestern Ukraine.
In the region, Transnistria, pro-Russian separatists claimed shots were fired across the border towards a village housing a Russian arms depot, after drones flew over from Ukraine.
- Moldova tension -
The unrecognised region has reported a series of explosions in recent days that it called "terrorist attacks", leading Kyiv to accuse Moscow of seeking to expand the war further into Europe.
Moldova's Foreign Minister Nicu Popescu called the events a "dangerous deterioration of the situation".
Popescu said the Transnistrian authorities announced they would prevent men of fighting age from leaving the region.
Russia's targeting of Western-supplied arms came as the United States and Europe have started to heed Zelensky's call for heavier firepower.
Western allies remain wary of being drawn into war with Russia but have stepped up military support as Ukraine has maintained its fierce resistance.
The UN tourism body added to Russia's isolation on the international scene as most of its 159 members on Wednesday voted to suspend it from the agency.
Here are the latest developments in the war in Ukraine:
- 'Extremely difficult weeks' ahead -
Ukraine's Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov says the country has "extremely difficult weeks" ahead, warning of major "destruction" in a developing Russian offensive in the east of the country.
In a statement on Facebook he says "Russia has already gathered forces for a large-scale offensive in eastern Ukraine," and Moscow "will try to inflict as much pain as possible", warning of "destruction and painful casualties".
- Guterres arrives in Kyiv -
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announces his arrival in Kyiv following talks in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"We will continue our work to expand humanitarian support and secure the evacuation of civilians from conflict zones. The sooner this war ends, the better -- for the sake of Ukraine, Russia, and the world," he tweets, ahead of talks with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky.
- Russia, US prisoner swap -
Despite the tensions over Ukraine, Russia and the United States announce a prisoner swap, with Moscow handing over jailed ex-Marine Trevor Reed in exchange for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a pilot convicted of drug smuggling.
Reed's father tells CNN that the swap took place in Turkey.
- Western arms supplies hit -
Russia claims its missiles have taken out a "large batch" of Western-supplied weapons and ammunition being stored at an aluminium plant in the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia.
The US and Britain have been urging allies to send more heavy weapons to Ukraine to sway the conflict.
- Moldova unrest -
Pro-Russian separatists in Moldova claim shots were fired across the border from western Ukraine towards a village housing a Russian arms depot in the breakaway Transnistria region.
Transnistria's interior ministry also says drones overflew the village of Kolbasna, known as Cobasna in Romanian.
There are growing fears that Moscow-backed Transnistria could be drawn into the war in Ukraine.
Transnistria's leadership has accused Ukraine of a series of attacks on state infrastructure. Kyiv has accused Russia of staging the attacks.
- TotalEnergies takes writedown -
French energy firm TotalEnergies says it has taken a $4.1 billion charge against first-quarter earnings due to additional sanctions complicating development of its Arctic LNG 2 gas project under construction in northern Russia.
A spokesman says the writedown signals "the beginning of a retreat" from the project.