Biden: Putin ‘Will Never Gain the Hearts and Souls of the Ukrainian People’

U.S. President Joe Biden said late Tuesday Russian leader Vladimir Putin “badly miscalculated” in his invasion of neighboring Ukraine and the thought that he could make the free world “bend to his menacing ways.”

Biden used the beginning of his State of the Union address to the nation to express support for Ukraine and outline the widespread, unified response from Ukrainian allies that has included sending weapons and aid to Ukraine and imposing strong economic sanctions against Russia.

“Putin may circle Kyiv with tanks, but he will never gain the hearts and souls of the Ukrainian people,” Biden said. “He will never extinguish their love of freedom. He will never, never weaken the resolve of the free world.”

Biden announced the closing of U.S. air space to all Russian flights and said the U.S. Justice Department is forming a special task force “to go after the crimes of Russian oligarchs.”

He reiterated that the United States will not be sending troops to fight in Ukraine, while stating that NATO allies would “defend every inch” of territory in member states.

“The Ukrainians are fighting back with pure courage, but the next few days, weeks and months will be hard on them,” Biden said. “Putin has unleashed violence and chaos, but while he may make gains on the battlefield, he will pay a continuing high price over the long run.”

Among the audience in the U.S. Capitol was Ukraine Ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova. Many of the lawmakers in attendance wore forms of yellow and blue, the colors of the Ukrainian flag, to show their support.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke with Biden by phone Tuesday about sanctions against Russia and defense aid for Ukraine.

“We must stop the aggressor as soon as possible,” Zelenskyy tweeted.

Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, faced increased Russian shelling Tuesday, including a strike at the Kharkiv Regional State Administration building in the center of the city that Zelenskyy called “undisguised terror” and a war crime.

A day after hours of talks with Russian officials yielded no resolution on Ukraine’s demands for a cease-fire and a withdrawal of Russian forces, Zelenskyy again called for a halt in fighting to give negotiations a chance.

“It’s necessary to at least stop bombing people, just stop the bombing and then sit down at the negotiating table,” Zelenskyy told Reuters and CNN in a joint interview in a heavily guarded government compound in Kyiv.

A U.S. defense official told reporters that despite instances of Russian forces in some areas being slowed by logistical problems, the Russian military still has significant combat resources that have not yet been utilized in Ukraine.

One closely watched situation is the approach of a kilometers-long Russian column that has been making its way toward Kyiv.

The official said the U.S. assesses that since the invasion began last Thursday, Russia has launched more than 400 missiles, and that Ukraine’s air and missile defense systems remain viable.

International pressure on Russia continues, with Canada announcing Tuesday it will refer the situation in Ukraine to the International Criminal Court for a probe of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Ukraine.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Tuesday that Russian shelling of civilian infrastructure that took place Monday in Kharkiv “violates the laws of war.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed allegations of war crimes and told reporters that “Russian troops don’t conduct any strikes against civilian infrastructure and residential areas,” despite extensive, mounting evidence of Kremlin attacks on homes, schools and hospitals documented by reporters.

The United Nations General Assembly is also expected to vote Wednesday on a resolution calling for Russia to immediately withdraw its military forces from Ukraine and condemning Putin’s move earlier this week to “increase the readiness” of Russia’s nuclear forces.

The resolution, which is non-binding but does signal international opinion, follows a failed effort at the U.N. Security Council where Russia used its veto power to block a similar resolution.

In addition to sanctions that have directly targeted Russia’s banking system and figures close to Putin, many companies have halted their Russian operations in response to the invasion.

Exxon Mobil said it would exit Russia, joining other oil companies such as Shell and BP. Apple stopped selling iPhones and other products in Russia, while car maker Ford and airplane manufacturer Boeing announced they are suspending Russian operations.

Reuters reported late Tuesday that Russian President Putin issued a decree banning cash exports of foreign currency from the country exceeding $10,000 in value with effect from March 2, according to a Kremlin statement.

Also on Tuesday, Echo Moskvy, one of Russia’s oldest radio stations that is critical of the authorities, was taken off the airwaves. The Associated Press confirmed that the blockage, along with threats to shutter the renowned station permanently, is a result of its coverage of the invasion.

Ukraine’s parliament said a Russian missile hit the television tower in Kyiv. Local media reported the attack caused several explosions and Ukrainian channels stopped broadcasting shortly thereafter.

Ukrainian officials said five people were killed in the attack. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted that it rekindles memories of the mass killing of Jews by Nazi SS troops and local collaborators during World War II.

“Kyiv TV tower, which has just been hit by a Russian missile, is situated on the territory of Babyn Yar. On September 29-30, 1941, Nazis killed over 33 thousand Jews here. 80 years later, Russian Nazis strike this same land to exterminate Ukrainians. Evil and barbaric.”

The U.N. refugee agency said Tuesday that more than 677,000 people, most of them women and children, had fled Ukraine to neighboring countries since Thursday. It said it expects 4 million people could eventually flee Ukraine.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, and Reuters.

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