The United States is providing Ukraine with $350 million in additional military assistance as fighting rages between Ukrainian forces and Russian troops.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Saturday that the State Department is releasing "lethal defensive assistance" from US stocks to Ukraine, saying the package is aimed at helping "Ukraine address the armored, airborne, and other threats it is now facing."
"It is another clear signal that the United States stands with the people of Ukraine as they defend their sovereign, courageous, and proud nation."
The United States and certain other Western states imposed sanctions against Russia after President Vladimir Putin ordered "a especial military operation" in Ukraine’s breakaway Donbass region on February 24.
The fighting has intensified over the weekend with the two sides now clashing on the streets in several Ukrainian cities, including the capital Kiev.
Zelensky claims his forces are in control of Kiev
Speaking in a new video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the country's army is in control of the capital and main surrounding cities.
"We've derailed their [Russian's] plan," he said, adding that Ukrainian forces had been fighting Russian troops in a number of cities including the southern city of Odessa, the northeastern city of Kharkiv and Kiev. He claimed Russia has deployed "missiles, fighters, drones, artillery, armored vehicles, saboteurs, and airborne forces" against Ukraine and have hit "residential areas."
Russia, however, said Ukrainian forces used multiple rocket launchers to shell residential blocks in the town of Starobelsk, north of Lugansk, on Saturday morning.
According to the Russian Defense Ministry, buildings were damaged in the area with reports of civilian casualties.
Ukraine prolonging conflict by refusing talks, Kremlin says
On Saturday, the Russian Defense Ministry said Moscow had to continue the operations after Kiev declined to engage in negotiations.
"In connection with the expected negotiations, the Russian president yesterday afternoon ordered the suspension of the advance of the main forces of the Russian Federation," Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said Saturday. "Since the Ukrainian side refused to negotiate, the advance of the Russian forces resumed this afternoon."
Russian army spokesman Igor Konashenkov also said, "After the Ukrainian side rejected the negotiation process, today all units were given orders to develop the advance from all directions in accordance with the operation's plans."
An adviser at Zelensky’s office, Alexey Arestovich, admitted that Kiev has rejected the talks with Russia, citing the “terms” put forward by the Kremlin. “It was an attempt to force us into capitulation,” he said.
EU leaders line up to ban Russia from SWIFT
On Saturday, Zelensky renewed his appeal for European states to exclude Russia from the global SWIFT banking system.
"There is already almost full support from the EU countries to disconnect Russia from SWIFT," he said, calling for Germany "to support this decision."
France, Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Hungary expressed support for the measure against Russia.
Germany also said it is working to exclude Russia from the SWIFT interbank system in a targeted and functional way to prevent any collateral damage.
A French presidential official, who was speaking on condition of anonymity, said the bloc's energy ministers will hold an extraordinary meeting in Brussels on Monday to discuss the SWIFT issue. France's ecological transition minister, Barbara Pompili, will chair the talks.
The EU has toughened its sanctions against Russia, but has not extended them to energy or excluded it from SWIFT.
SWIFT, the acronym for the Society of Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, is used by financial institutions in over 200 countries.
Western countries have so far stopped short of forcing Russia out of the SWIFT system for international bank payments, fearing it would harm their own economies.
Russia is ranked second by number of users of the platform, after the United States. Experts say Washington and Berlin would stand to lose the most if Russia were cut from SWIFT, because banks in the US and Germany most frequently use the banking system to communicate with Russian banks.
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