Russia’s Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu, says his country’s military operation in neighboring Ukraine aims to thwart the "military threat created by Western countries."
Addressing a televised press conference on Tuesday, Shoigu declared that the Russian armed forces will continue the special military operation until the “goals are achieved”.
Defending the military intervention that has whipped up a storm across the world, Shoigu said Moscow aims to "demilitarize and de-Nazify" Ukraine, and protect Russia from a "military threat created by Western countries."
His remarks came as Russia’s military campaign in the former Soviet republic entered its sixth day.
Satellite images released by the US space technology company Maxar purportedly showed a 64-kilometre-long convoy of armored vehicles, tanks, and other military equipment advancing toward Kiev.
‘Belarus has no plan to join Russia's military campaign’
On Tuesday, Belarusian state news agency Belta quoted the country’s President Alexander Lukashenko as saying that his country had no plans to take part in Russia’s military operation in Ukraine.
Lukashenko also denied claims made by Kiev that Russian troops were attacking Ukraine from Belarus' territory.
Russian President Vladimir Putin last Thursday announced a “special military operation” aimed at “demilitarization” of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions in eastern Ukraine.
The regions broke away from Ukraine in 2014 after refusing to recognize a Western-backed Ukrainian government that had overthrown a democratically-elected pro-Moscow administration.
More than 14,000 people have been killed in the restive regions due to protracted conflict between the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian separatists.
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.”
‘Over 70 Ukrainian servicemen killed in Okhtyrka’
Dmytro Zhyvytskyy, governor of Ukraine's northeastern Sumy region, said in a Facebook post that over 70 Ukrainian servicemen had been killed in shelling by Russian forces on a military base in the town of Okhtyrka on Monday.
He posted photographs on his Telegram of a four-story building charred by fire and rescuers searching rubble following Monday’s strike on Okhtyrka.
The Okhtyrka mayor, Pavlo Kuzmenko, also took to Facebook, saying: “Again, the enemy is waging a vile war. A fuel-air bomb was dropped on an oil depot, oil tanks were blown up.”
The UN's refugee agency said on Tuesday the simmering conflict in Ukraine has forced almost 660,000 people to flee the country in the last five days, adding that tens of thousands more were internally displaced.
The US, joined by its European allies, has imposed sweeping sanctions against Russian banks and several government officials in response to the country’s military campaign in Ukraine.
Washington also expelled 12 Russian diplomats at the United Nations over accusations of "espionage activities" harmful to US national security.
Russian ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, said the diplomats were instructed to leave the US by March 7, accusing Washington of taking "hostile" action against Russia.
Russia rejects US claims
Russia's ambassador in Washington repeated his remarks on Monday, saying Moscow "totally rejected" the US claims.
"This is a hostile move against our country," Anatoly Antonov said on Facebook, adding Washington had once again failed to "fulfill its obligations” to ensure normal conditions for the functioning of foreign missions to the UN.
"Washington's acts are neither aimed at calming the scene on the international front, nor maintaining bilateral relations between two great powers at a level necessary for peace and international security," he said.
YouTube blocks Russia’s RT, Sputnik in Europe
The American online video-sharing platform YouTube said on Tuesday that it has blocked Russian TV channels RT and Sputnik in Europe "taking into account the ongoing war in Ukraine".
"We are blocking the YouTube channels of RT and Sputnik in the whole of Europe with immediate effect. Our systems need a little time before being fully operational," YouTube told AFP via email.
Intl. Volleyball Federation strips Russia of hosting 2022 Championships
In another repercussion of its military operation in Ukraine, the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) on Tuesday stripped Russia of rights to host the Volleyball World Championships in August and September.
"The FIVB Board of Administration has come to the conclusion that it would be impossible to prepare and stage the World Championships in Russia due to the war in Ukraine," the FIVB said in a statement.
"It has accordingly decided to remove from Russia the organization of the FIVB Volleyball Men's World Championship scheduled to be held in August and September 2022," the statement added.
Also on Tuesday, the International Skating Union banned Russian and Belarus ice skaters from all international ice skating competitions “until further notice”.
On Monday, Russia was banned from the World Cup after the governing bodies of world and European football “decided together that all Russian teams, whether national representative teams or club teams, shall be suspended from participation in both FIFA and UEFA competitions until further notice".
The Russian Football Union decried the suspension, calling the move "discriminatory".
"It has an obvious discriminatory character and harms a huge number of athletes, coaches, employees of clubs and national teams, and most importantly, millions of Russian and foreign fans, whose interests international sports organizations must protect in the first place," it said in a statement.