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Russia steps up Ukraine offensive as Biden increases economic pressure on Putin


Ukraine’s state emergency service said there were at least three airstrikes in the Novokodatskyi district of Dnipro early Friday morning, hitting near a kindergarten school, an apartment building and a two-story shoe factory. At least one person was killed, it said.

Russian strikes also targeted airports in Ivano-Frankiivsk and Lutsk, marking a further expansion of the conflict to the west. Local officials said four people were killed after strikes hit a military airfield in Lutsk.

NBC News has not verified the number of people killed, and Russia has consistently denied targeting civilians.

As Russia makes limited progress and takes on growing losses, the Kremlin moved to bolster its forces. Russian President Vladimir Putin greenlit a plan to bring thousands of fighters from the Middle East to join Russian troops.

Speaking at a security council meeting, Putin said he believed those who want to fight alongside Russian forces should be allowed to, Reuters reported. His defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, said there were as many as 16,000 “volunteers” ready to join the fight.

Humanitarian crisis grows

Russia appeared to be intensifying its attacks on major cities in Ukraine even as it faced growing global condemnation and fueled a growing humanitarian crisis.

Ukraine continued its efforts to evacuate residents from hard-hit areas, with Zelenskyy saying as many as 100,000 civilians had been brought to safety over the past two days.

Moscow was accused of war crimes in the wake of the deadly airstrike on a hospital in Mariupol, where officials warned a “humanitarian catastrophe” was unfolding amid failed attempts to get residents out and aid into the southern port city.

The city of around 400,000 people has been cut off from access to heat, electricity and water for at least a week during freezing temperatures. It has held out even as fears grow for the fate of its residents.

Moscow said Friday that Russian-backed separatists had captured nearby Volnovakha, a small city in the Donetsk region that has also been encircled and bombarded. NBC News has not confirmed this development and Ukrainian officials have not commented.

After talks in Turkey between the two countries’ top diplomats appeared to make little progress, there was little hope for a swift end to the conflict or the worsening humanitarian situation.

The number of refugees who have fled Ukraine reached 2.5 million Friday, according to the United Nations refugee agency. Nearly 2 million more have been displaced within Ukraine, leaving their homes and often their families behind to escape the fighting.

The U.N. human rights office said it had documented 549 civilian deaths and 957 injuries from the war, adding that the toll and “general human suffering” were rising. The tally, which ran through midnight Wednesday, was likely a severe undercount.

In recent days the West has voiced growing alarm that civilians could face the prospect of a chemical or biological attack from Russia.

Zelenskyy dismissed Moscow’s efforts to accuse Ukraine of planning a false-flag attack, which the U.S. and its allies have called out in recent days as a potential cover for Russia’s own plans to do so.

In a video address, the Ukrainian leader said Russia’s claims were concerning. He warned Moscow that “if you do something of the sort against us,” it should expect to face a swift response from the international community.

The U.N. Security Council was set to meet Friday morning at Russia’s request to discuss the issue.

U.S. ramps up pressure

With Russia showing no signs of stepping back from its military offensive, Washington and Europe sought to deliver a fresh financial blow to Moscow.

Biden announced Friday that the U.S. and its allies from the G7 will take steps to deny the “most favored nation” status designation to Russia, putting an end to normal trade relations and paving the way for higher tariffs. The European Union said it planned to do the same.

Biden said the U.S. will also ban imports of additional Russian goods including seafood, vodka and diamonds and will join its allies in cutting off Moscow’s ability to seek financing from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

“Putin’s war in Ukraine will never be a victory,” Biden said. “We will not let autocrats and would-be emperors dictate the direction of the world.”

The move would come just days after the U.S. banned imports of Russian oil and gas and as the West adds to an ever-growing list of sanctions targeting Russia’s most powerful and wealthy.

The U.S. also warned Russia against seizing the assets of any companies that have joined the exodus of international business from the country.

Vice President Kamala Harris, meanwhile, arrived in Romania’s capital for the next leg of a trip to reassure European allies after completing a visit to Poland.

Speaking ahead of talks in Moscow with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, a close ally, Putin remained defiant.

The Russian leader said he was convinced his country would “overcome these difficulties.”

“Of course, there are problems connected to recent events,” he said in televised remarks. “There have always been attempts to curtail our development and they are happening now, obviously on a larger scale.”

However, he also suggested that there had been “some positive shifts” in talks with Ukraine, saying he would share more details with his Belarusian counterpart.

His comments came as Russia restricted access to Instagram, launched a criminal case against its parent company, Meta Platforms, and moved to designate it an “extremist organization.”

The move came after a policy change allowing users to call for violence against Russian soldiers within the context of the war.

Meta did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

It was the latest crackdown on free speech in the country since Putin launched his invasion, leaving Russia isolated both economically and culturally.

Kristen Welker, Kayla Tausche, CNBC, Rachel Elbaum , Anastasiia Parafeniuk, Reuters and Daniel Arkin contributed.



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