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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Western allies move to further isolate Russia over atrocities

By Megan Specia, Cora Engelbrecht and Shashank Bengali

Western allies Thursday were hammering out new steps to further isolate Russia and bolster Ukraine’s military in anticipation of an intensified Russian onslaught in the east, where officials warned civilians that they faced their “last chance to leave” as Moscow amassed more troops along the border.

NATO foreign ministers were meeting in Brussels to discuss expanding military aid to Ukraine, and the European Union was expected to approve a ban on Russian coal, a significant step for a bloc that is heavily dependent on Russian fossil fuels.

Still, despite mounting evidence of atrocities in President Vladimir Putin’s six-week-old war, there were signs that further sanctions were testing Europe’s unity against Russia, as Germany and other countries pushed for a monthslong delay in enforcement of the coal ban, and Hungary broke ranks with the bloc by saying it was prepared to pay for Russian energy imports in rubles, as Putin has demanded.

The discovery of dozens of bodies in the northern town of Bucha after Russian forces retreated has spurred Western allies to provide more weapons to Ukraine and to increasingly isolate Russia, with several European nations expelling Russian diplomats this week. The Senate on Wednesday night voted to authorize President Joe Biden to use a lend-lease program, last used in World War II, to speed up the delivery of military equipment to Ukraine.

In other major developments:

— With thousands of people having fled eastern Ukraine in fear of Russia’s escalating its attacks, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned in an overnight address that Russian forces had begun to accumulate fighters “to realize their ill ambitions” in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, where analysts say Moscow has escalated its offensive but is making only slow progress. On Wednesday, at least two people were killed in a Russian attack on a humanitarian aid site in Donetsk, a local official said.

— More than 5,000 people have died in the southeastern city of Mariupol since the start of Russia’s invasion, according to the city’s mayor, Vadym Boichenko, who said Moscow’s forces have destroyed almost all the city’s infrastructure, including a children’s hospital where “almost 50 were burned alive.” The figures could not be independently confirmed.

— The United Nations is set to vote Thursday to suspend Russia from its Human Rights Council over accusations of “systemic violations and abuses of human rights” committed by its troops in Ukraine. The move was put forward by the United States after the killings in Bucha.

— The House voted overwhelmingly Wednesday night to call for an investigation of war crimes committed during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Six House Republicans voted against the measure.

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