Kyiv (AFP): G7 ministers on Thursday discussed imposing fresh sanctions on Russia on the eve of the first anniversary of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, as the UN General Assembly prepared to vote on a motion calling for “lasting” peace.
The year-long conflict has devastated swathes of Ukraine, turned Russia into a pariah in the West and according to Western sources, has caused 150,000 casualties on each side.
The approach of the first anniversary of Russian troops storming across the border on February 24, 2022 has seen Western leaders step up their show of unity with Kyiv, with the Spanish prime minister on Thursday the latest leader to visit the capital.
“This has been the most difficult year of my life and that of all Ukrainians,” said Diana Chestakova, 23, who works for a publishing house and whose boyfriend has spent the last year away in the military.
“I am sure that we will be victorious, but we don’t know how long we will have to wait and how many victims there are still to come.”
In Moscow, President Vladimir Putin promised to boost arms production as Russia marked the annual “Defender of the Fatherland Day” holiday.
In India, group of Seven finance ministers met in the city of Bengaluru to discuss further sanctions and more financial help for Ukraine.
A senior US official has said that the United States and its G7 allies planned to unveil “a big new package of sanctions” around the anniversary, including measures to crack down on the evasion of existing sanctions.
US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told the G7 meeting that the unprecedented Western sanctions imposed on Moscow over the last 12 months were hurting Russia badly.
“Our sanctions have had a very significant negative effect on Russia so far… Russia is now running a significant budget deficit,” Yellen said.
“It is finding it extremely difficult… to obtain the material it needs to replenish its munitions and to, for example, repair 9,000 tanks that have been destroyed because of the war,” she added.
“We will stand with Ukraine and its people until peace returns to Europe,” tweeted Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez after arriving in Kyiv by train and before meeting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
In New York, the UN General Assembly was on Thursday to bring to a vote a motion backed by Kyiv and its allies calling for a “just and lasting peace”.
“Never in recent history has the line between good and evil been so clear. One country merely wants to live. The other wants to kill and destroy,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told the world body.
The Kremlin’s UN ambassador accused the West of being “ready to plunge the entire world into the abyss of war” to defeat Russia.
On Thursday, Putin laid flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow before meeting soldiers in Red Square under blue skies and brisk temperatures.
“We will pay priority attention to strengthening our defence capabilities,” he said in a video address.
Russia will equip troops with “new strike systems, reconnaissance and communication equipment, drones and artillery systems,” he added, hailing Russian soldiers, who he said were fighting “heroically” in Ukraine and defending “our historical lands”.
Russia’s “unbreakable unity is the key to our victory,” he said.
US President Joe Biden on Wednesday wrapped up a three-day visit to Europe to meet the leaders of NATO and east European countries.
Biden and European leaders in Warsaw vowed to “reinforce our deterrence and defence posture across the entire Eastern flank from the Baltic to the Black Sea.”
In Moscow, Russia strengthened ties with China as Putin met Beijing’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, after Washington and NATO voiced concern that China could be preparing to supply Russia with weapons.
Putin said cooperation between Russia and China was “very important to stabilise the international situation”.
A readout published by Chinese state news agency Xinhua after the meeting quoted Wang saying China was willing to “deepen political trust” and “strengthen strategic coordination” with Russia.
China would “uphold an objective and fair position and play a constructive role in solving the crisis through political means”, it said.
When the Kremlin launched its invasion of Ukraine, it was designed to be a rapid conquest leading to capitulation and the installation of a pro-Russian regime.
Since then, Russia has been forced to give up ground but has kept up a barrage of drone and missile attacks, while the military and civilian toll has spiralled.