West unites to back Ukraine and seek ‘ruinous cost’ for Putin

At an unprecedented triple summit, transatlantic alliance NATO, G7 rich nations and European leaders addressed the continent’s biggest conflict since the 1990s Balkans wars.

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BRUSSELS/LVIV/MARIUPOL: Western leaders agreed on Wednesday to strengthen their forces on Europe’s eastern flank, increase military aid to Ukraine and tighten sanctions on Russia whose invasion and bombardment of its neighbor entered a second month.

At an unprecedented triple summit, transatlantic alliance NATO, G7 rich nations and European leaders addressed the continent’s biggest conflict since the 1990s Balkans wars.

NATO announced new battle groups for four Eastern European nations, while the United States and Britain expanded sanctions to new targets, including a woman London said was the stepdaughter of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

“We must ensure that the decision to invade a sovereign independent country is understood to be a strategic failure that carries with it ruinous costs for Putin and Russia,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the EU parliament.

Various nations announced new military and humanitarian aid including promises to take in refugees. And the EU was set to unveil steps to wean itself off Russian energy.

Still, the pledges stopped short of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s calls for a full boycott of Russian energy and a no-fly zone over Ukraine where Moscow’s bombs are wreaking havoc.

The invasion unleashed on Feb. 24. by Russian leader Vladimir Putin has killed thousands of people, sent 3.6 million people fleeing Ukraine, and pulverised cities.

More than half of Ukraine’s children have been driven from their homes, the United Nations said.

“We ask for protection from (Russia) bombing us from the sky,” said refugee Svetlana, 55, on her way to rejoin family in Ukraine after seeking refuge in Poland. “And help us not only with equipment but with peace forces and professional soldiers.”

Moscow responded to Thursday’s show of unity in Brussels by saying the West had itself to blame for the war by arming the “Kyiv regime.”

In the besieged southern port of Mariupol, which lies between Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern regions held by Russian-backed separatists, tens of thousands are in basements with scant water, food, medicine or power.

In one part captured by Russian troops, a patch of grass between blasted buildings has become a makeshift graveyard. Freshly-dug mounds are marked with plastic flowers and crosses made from broken window frames.

Explosions sound in the background.

“It could have been me,” sobbed Viktoria as she buried her 73-year-old stepfather Leonid, killed when the car ferrying him to hospital was blown up.

In a month of fighting, Ukraine has fended off what many analysts had anticipated would be a quick Russian victory.

So far, Moscow has failed to capture any major city. Its armored columns have barely moved in weeks, stalled at the gates of the capital Kyiv and besieging cities in the east.

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