Some civilians flee Ukraine as Poland offers fighter jet contract

Tricky ceasefires were held for several hours along humanitarian aid and civilian evacuation corridors in parts of Ukraine on Tuesday, even as Russian forces pounded other negotiated evacuation routes and that local authorities were warning that the number of civilians killed by Russian missile strikes continued to rise.

At least 21 people, including two children, died in pre-dawn Russian strikes on the northeastern city of Sumy before an evacuation corridor was established. Another corridor briefly allowed medicine and food to flow to the southern city of Mariupol until Russian bombardment stopped it.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, channeling Winston Churchill, told a packed British House of Commons in a video address that his country would continue to resist Russian forces but needed far more help from the West to defend itself.

“We will fight to the bitter end at sea and in the air,” Mr Zelenskyy said at one point. “We will fight in the forests, in the fields, on the shores, in the streets. … We are the country that saves people despite having to fight one of the greatest armies in the world.

On Day 13 of the Russian invasion, the United States and NATO reported a dramatic increase in support for the Ukrainian military. Poland offered to transfer its MiG-29 fighter jets to the United States, which would donate them to Ukraine. Ukrainian pilots are trained to fly Soviet-era jet aircraft.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby poured cold water on the proposal. He said the sensitivities and complexities made the proposed exchange difficult to achieve.

In a separate move aimed at stepping up pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the invasion, President Biden announced a US ban on oil, natural gas and coal imports from Russia. The embargo will increase sanctions, but it is also likely to drive up gasoline prices in the United States. The British government announced a similar decision.

Fast-food giant McDonald’s joined the parade of Western service and manufacturing companies abandoning the Russian market in protest by announcing the temporary closure of more than 800 restaurants. The fast food chain was once a symbol of post-Cold War unity between the United States and Russia. The first McDonald’s restaurant in Moscow opened in 1990 in the last days of the Soviet Union.

Nexta TV, a Belarus-based broadcaster, posted photos online of Russians in queues stretching across the block outside a McDonald’s outlet before it closed. Coke, Pepsi and Starbucks also announced they were suspending sales in Russia. Russia was Pepsi’s second largest foreign market after Mexico.

Mr Zelenskyy hailed the US ban on Russian oil imports and thanked Mr Biden via Twitter for showing “personal leadership” and “striking at the heart of Putin’s war machine”.

In his address to British lawmakers, the Ukrainian president quoted Shakespeare. He said the question facing Ukraine amid the Russian invasion was “to be or not to be”. He added: “I can give you a definitive answer: it definitely is.”

Putin insists

Mr Putin showed no sign of backing down from the invasion despite an assessment by US intelligence that his military campaign was facing surprisingly vigorous Ukrainian resistance and Moscow was having problems providing logistical support to the 100,000 Russian soldiers in Ukraine.

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told a hearing of the House Standing Select Committee on Intelligence that the Russian president could be on the verge of escalating the war. “We believe Putin feels aggrieved that the West is not giving him proper deference and perceives this as a war he cannot afford to lose,” she said.

Ms Haines told lawmakers that Russia’s nuclear forces had not gone to an unusually high state of alert. Mr Putin announced on February 27 that the country’s massive nuclear arsenal was being placed in a state of “special combat readiness” as the United States and NATO rushed to support Kiev.

The prospect of a nuclear standoff with Mr Putin has heightened fears of the worst-case scenario of an escalation in fighting. International concerns are also skyrocketing over a growing sea of ​​refugees fleeing violence. Officials said 2 million people, half of them children, fled Ukraine to neighboring countries in the past two weeks.

The humanitarian situation in several besieged Ukrainian towns has worsened. The Associated Press reported that bodies lay uncollected on the streets of Mariupol. Civilians in the Black Sea port city have been anxiously waiting for them to be allowed to evacuate by road under a Ukrainian and Russian deal struck Monday in Belarus.

People managed to leave Sumy by bus through another humanitarian corridor. Ukrainian officials also said a safe corridor had been opened from the besieged town of Irpin, outside Kyiv, but it was unclear how long it remained open and how many people used it.

The situation in Mariupol appeared increasingly tense. Officials said the town was isolated but Tuesday did not fall to the Russians. Taking Mariupol could allow Moscow to establish a land corridor to Crimea, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014. More broadly, the battle appeared to be part of a Kremlin campaign to cut off access from Ukraine to the sea, which would take a heavy toll. blow to its economy. Mariupol is on the Sea of ​​Azov, which opens into the Black Sea.

The city is now without water, heat, a working sewage system or telephone service. Authorities planned to start digging mass graves for all the dead.

The developments coincide with a growing international effort to bolster Ukraine’s defences. The New York Times reported on Monday that the United States and NATO had pushed more than 17,000 anti-tank weapons, including Javelin missiles, beyond the borders of Poland and Romania. The weapons were unloaded from giant military cargo planes so they could make the overland journey to Kiev and other major cities.

Offer from Poland

The Ukrainians also requested fighter jets, and it briefly appeared that a workaround was falling into place. Poland has announced that it is ready to hand over its entire fleet of MiG-29 fighters if the United States and other NATO nations provide Polish forces with comparable replacement fighter jets.

The offer, however, showed how tricky the situation is for the United States and NATO trying to help Kiev without incentivizing Mr Putin to expand the war beyond Ukraine.

According to Warsaw’s plan, the MiG-29s would be delivered to Ramstein Air Base in southwestern Germany and could then be transferred to Ukraine. Poland is believed to have more than two dozen fighter jets.

“At the same time, Poland requests the United States to provide us with second-hand aircraft with corresponding operational capabilities,” the Polish Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “Poland is ready to immediately establish the conditions for the purchase of the aircraft.”

The Soviet-era MiG-29, known to NATO nations as the Fulcrum, was designed in the mid-1970s to counter US jet aircraft such as the F-16 Fighting Falcon and F -15 Eagles. It is the main fighter used by the Ukrainian Air Force, and Ukrainian pilots are familiar with it.

The Pentagon’s statement later that day made it clear that the coordinated transfer was too tricky.

“The prospect of fighter jets ‘at the disposal of the United States government’ leaving a US/NATO base in Germany to fly into disputed airspace with Russia over Ukraine is sparking serious concerns for the entire NATO alliance,” he added. Reading of Mr. Kirby’s statement.

“It’s just not clear to us that there’s any substantial rationale for this,” Kirby said. “We will continue to consult with Poland and our other NATO allies on this issue and the difficult logistical challenges it presents, but we do not believe Poland’s proposal is tenable.”

Concerns about the prospect of a dramatic escalation in the war have grown since Mr Putin announced last week that he was putting Russian nuclear forces on high alert. The United States and NATO have repeatedly denied plans to establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine despite calls from Mr Zelenskyy, saying it would risk a direct clash between the Russian and NATO forces.

In his vague remarks last week, the Russian president did not use terms for an official nuclear alert, but it was the first time since the 1960s that Moscow had made a public statement about increasing its preparedness for nuclear war. Mr Putin issued the order with a warning to the United States and NATO countries not to get involved in the Ukrainian conflict.

CIA Director William Burns, who testified with Ms Haines and other intelligence officials before the House Intelligence Panel, said the sound of the Russian nuclear saber was of concern because of Moscow’s doctrine of ‘escalate to defuse’ during a regional conflict.

Russia will use “in extremis” tactical nuclear strikes if its forces fail to pacify Ukraine and if US and NATO forces join the war, Burns said.

Army Lt. Gen. D. Scott Berrier, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, also warned that the danger of nuclear escalation in Eastern Europe is real and that Mr. Putin has invested in developing new tactical nuclear weapons. “When he says something like that, we should listen to him very, very carefully and take his word for it,” General Berrier told lawmakers.

National Security Agency Director General Paul Nakasone said he fears Moscow could launch cyberattacks on Ukraine that could spread beyond the country. Russian cyberattacks could hit US allies and ultimately critical US infrastructure such as power grids, transportation and communications networks, Gen Nakasone said.

Mike Glenn contributed to this article, which is based in part on Telegraph Services reports.