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US President Joe Biden announced a ban on Russian oil and other energy imports, a significant move in piling pressure on President Vladimir Putin to halt his devastating assault on Ukraine. Ukraine’s government accused Russian forces of shelling a humanitarian corridor that Moscow had promised to open to let residents flee the besieged port of Mariupol. A deputy prime minister said the humanitarian situation there was catastrophic.

The civilian death toll in the conflict mounted. And with the war in its 13th day, the number of refugees who have fled Ukraine to neighbouring countries surged past 2 million.

People cook outdoors for the Ukrainian servicemen and civil defense members serving in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, March 7, 2022. (AP)

“Russia may continue to grind out its advance at a horrible price, but this much is already clear: Ukraine will never be a victory for Putin,” Biden told reporters at the White House. “Putin may be able to take a city, but he’ll never be able to hold the country,” he said.

Addressing Britain’s parliament via videolink, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged the world to increase the sanctions. He said his people would fight to the end against the Russian invaders but it needed help, including no-fly zones. “The question for us now is to be or not to be,” said Zelenskiy, quoting Shakespeare. “I can give you a definitive answer: it’s definitely to be.”

Lawmakers gave him a standing ovation, although at least one said later that a no-fly zone was out of the question as it could lead to a wider European war. Western sanctions imposed over the invasion have already cut Russia off from global trade and financial markets. But Russia is the world’s biggest exporter of oil and natural gas and till now these exports had been exempted from international sanctions.

Announcing the US ban, Biden said: “That means Russian oil will no longer be acceptable in US ports and the American people will deal another powerful blow to Putin’s war machine.” The United States is not a leading buyer of Russian oil but Biden has worked with allies in Europe, who are far more reliant on it, to isolate Russia’s energy-heavy economy.

Vyacheslav Volodin, chairman of Russia’s State Duma lower house of parliament, said the measures would hurt Europe while helping the United States. “By promoting sanctions against Russian energy resources, Washington is seeking to occupy the European market,” he said in an online post. Britain announced it would also phase out the import of Russian oil and oil products by the end of 2022.

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