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Russia’s envoy to US says working of embassy ‘blockaded’, staff threatened

Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov

The Russian ambassador to the United States says the work of the Russian embassy has been “blockaded,” as the mission’s bank accounts have been closed and the staff have been threatened.

“The embassy is in essence blockaded by US government entities. Accounts of our two consulates in Houston and New York have been closed by Bank of America,” said Ambassador Anatoly Antonov, as cited by Russia’s state-run RIA news agency, on Sunday.

“We receive threats both by phone and letters come... At some point even the exit from the embassy was blocked,” the Russian envoy added.

Moscow and Washington had been locked in a dispute over the size and functioning of their respective embassies long before Russian President Vladimir Putin commenced his “special military operation” in neighboring Ukraine on February 24.

Russia says since 2016, when US-Russia diplomatic relations suffered a downturn, more than 100 of its diplomats have been ordered by American officials to leave the US with their families.

Late last year, US President Joe Biden's administration said that the staff of the US mission in Russia had shrunk to 120 from 1,200 in early 2017 after a series of expulsions and restrictions, and it was difficult to continue with anything other than a caretaker presence at the embassy.

During the past two months, pressure on Russian embassies in Europe have come under an unprecedented pressure as more than 300 Russian staff have been expelled from European capitals, prompting Moscow to throw out foreign diplomats in retaliation.

In late February, the US also expelled 12 diplomats from Russia's New York-based mission to the UN, accusing the staff of engaging in espionage activities. Moscow condemned the move as hostile and a gross violation of the commitments by the US.

On March 24, Moscow announced it was expelling several American diplomats from the US Embassy in Moscow and declared them “persona non grata” in a tit-for-tat move.

The US, along with European allies, has imposed sweeping sanctions against Russian banks and a several officials in response to the country’s military campaign in Ukraine.

The post-operation expulsions of Russian diplomats were carried out mainly over the Moscow’s war in Ukraine. The Kremlin, however, accuses the US and its European allies of frenzied Russophobia.

Russia strikes arms depots in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region: Moscow

Separately on Sunday, Russia’s defense ministry said in a statement that its high-precision missiles had hit nine targets of Ukraine’s military overnight, including four weapons depots located in the Kharkiv region, where artillery weapons were allegedly stored.

It added that its missiles and artillery forces eliminated a further four such weapons depots in Kharkiv and further struck a facility in Dnipropetrovsk region that was producing explosives for the Ukrainian army.

UN urges ‘stop’ in fighting to allow Mariupol evacuation

The UN’s Ukraine crisis coordinator, Amin Awad, on Sunday called for an “immediate stop” to clashes in Mariupol in a bid to make possible the evacuation of trapped civilians in the battered city “today.”

“The lives of tens of thousands, including women, children and older people, are at stake in Mariupol. We need a pause in fighting right now to save lives,” Awad said in a statement, adding, “The longer we wait the more lives will be at risk. They must be allowed to safely evacuate now, today. Tomorrow could be too late.”

Since the onset of operation, more than five million people have fled Ukraine, and thousands have been killed. Furthermore, there are increasing concerns for around 100,000 civilians still living in the blockaded port city of Mariupol, located in southeastern Ukraine and on the north coast of the strategic Sea of Azov.

The ill-fated city has been the scene for some of the heaviest fighting between the two sides. On Thursday, Putin announced that the strategic city was “liberated.”

Awad’s call came just a day after an attempted evacuation from Mariupol by Ukraine had failed. Kiev alleged that it was “thwarted” by Russian forces.

He said Orthodox Easter, which is celebrated in both Russia and Ukraine, provided an opportunity to stop the fighting.

“At a time of a rare calendar alignment of the religious holidays of Orthodox Easter, Passover and Ramadan, it is the time to focus on our common humanity, setting divisions aside,” Awad added.

Kiev on Sunday said that Russian forces were “continuously attacking” the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol.

It is estimated by Moscow that some 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers and fighters are holed up inside the giant fortress-like Azovstal steelworks in the city.

Earlier, Putin ordered his forces not to attack the plant, but to keep it under tight siege instead.

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