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US, West's 'hegemonic policy', 'high-handedness' behind Ukraine crisis: North Korea

Ukrainian reserve forces take part in a military exercise near Kiev on December 25, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

North Korea has blamed the United States "hegemonic policy" and Western countries’ disregard for Russia’s legitimate security demands as the root causes of the Ukrainian crisis, following Moscow's large-scale military operation against its neighboring country.

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry made the remarks in its first official statement on Russia's offensive against Ukraine, saying the West is guilty of "abuse of power" as it defended Moscow.

"The root cause of the Ukraine crisis totally lies in the hegemonic policy of the US and the West, which indulge themselves in high-handedness and arbitrariness toward other countries," North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) quoted an unnamed ministry spokesperson as saying.

The spokesperson added that the US and the West have "systematically undermined the security environment of Europe by becoming more blatant in their attempts to deploy attack weapon systems while defiantly pursuing NATO's eastward expansion."

"The reality proves once again that as long as the US' unilateral and double-dealing policy that threatens a sovereign country's peace and safety exists, there will never be peace in the world," the diplomat added.

Pyongyang further said Russia’s demands for guaranteeing legally backed security assurance were "legitimate and reasonable" but, nonetheless, Washington and its allies ignored them.

The latest development comes as ceasefire talks between Ukrainian and Russian delegations are underway in Belarus.

In a televised speech early on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a "special military operation" aimed at “demilitarization” of the Donetsk and Lugansk Republics in eastern Ukraine, collectively known as Donbass.

The regions broke away from Ukraine in 2014 after refusing to recognize a Western-backed Ukrainian government that had overthrown a democratically-elected Russia-friendly administration.

Announcing the operation, Putin said the mission was aimed at “defending people who for eight years are suffering persecution and genocide by the Kiev regime.”

Russian forces have been advancing towards Kiev and seizing control of a number of towns and cities along the way. Authorities in Moscow have fiercely denied claims made by Ukrainian and Western officials of civilian areas being targeted by the Russian military.

Russian army says Ukraine civilians can 'freely' leave Kiev

Meanwhile, the Russian army has announced that Ukrainian civilians could "freely" leave the country's capital Kiev, as the offensive entered its fifth day on Monday.

"All civilians in the city can freely leave the Ukrainian capital along the Kyiv-Vasylkiv highway. This direction is open and safe," Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in televised remarks.

He accused Ukrainian troops of using civilians as human shields, saying Ukraine's advice to Kiev's citizens to stay at home and observe a nighttime curfew is a proof of his claim that civilians were being used to shield "nationalists, who have placed artillery detachments and military equipment in residential areas."

Konashenkov further claimed that Russia's air force has dominated Ukraine skies, adding that Russian troops have taken control of the port city of Berdyansk as well as Energodar, which has a large nuclear power plant, as he listed Moscow's military advances.

Russia being 'unplugged' from world economy: France

In a separate development on Monday, France said Russia is being "unplugged" from the world economy as sanctions over its attack on Ukraine start to bite.

"Russia is being progressively unplugged from the rest of the world, notably in economic terms, and that will have a very serious impact," France's minister for European affairs Clement Beaune  said.

He went on to say that sanctions are often described as ineffective but the ruble's freefall and the "panic-stricken intervention of the Russian central bank" suggested otherwise.

Western governments have prepared new sanctions against Moscow, including banishing key Russian banks from SWIFT, the high-security network that connects financial institutions around the world, to cripple the country’s economy, following its mission in Ukraine. An EU diplomat has said some 70% of the Russian banking market would be affected.

Russia's central bank raised its key interest rate to 20 percent on Monday from 9.5 percent after the ruble collapsed against the dollar and the euro on the Moscow Stock Exchange.

France further said it had sent 33 tonnes of humanitarian aid, including tents, medicine and food to Poland where tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees have arrived, adding that it would dispatch a further 30 tonnes to Moldova, another major destination for people fleeing the war.

Paris is to submit a resolution at the UN Security Council on Monday calling for "unhindered access" for humanitarian aid. European officials have warned that up to seven million people could be displaced depending on the duration of the war.

However on Monday, Russia said it is not considering recalling its ambassadors from European countries, as relations between Moscow and the West have reached a new low, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported, citing Deputy Foreign Minister Evgeny Ivanov.

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