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US to take in 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, step up sanctions on Russia

In Europe to rally the NATO alliance, Joe Biden said the United States will welcome 100,000 Ukrainian refugees and provide $1 billion in humanitarian aid to help Europe provide shelter to millions of people fleeing the war.

(CN) — On a visit to Europe amid an escalating war in Ukraine, U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday rallied Western allies against Russia while announcing the United States will slap new sanctions on Moscow and take in 100,000 Ukrainian refugees.

Biden arrived in Europe on Wednesday for a two-day visit that saw him meeting with Western allies on Thursday in Brussels before he heads to Poland on Friday to hold talks with Polish President Andrzej Duda.    

Biden attended back-to-back meetings with NATO, the G-7 and the European Union on Thursday. The West announced a new round of sanctions on every member of Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, bank managers and defense companies.  

The American president also said the U.S. will take in 100,000 Ukrainian refugees in an effort to reunite families and provide Europe with $1 billion to help it deal with the millions of people fleeing the war in Ukraine.   

In a news conference following Thursday’s emergency NATO meeting, Biden said he was in Brussels to ensure the West’s sanctions on Russia doesn’t get diluted over time. He called it the “most significant sanctions regime ever.”  

“Look, if you’re Putin and you think that Europe is going to crack in a month or six weeks or two months – they can take anything for another month,” Biden said about Russia’s ability to withstand sanctions. “We have to stay fully, totally, thoroughly united.”   

He said sanctions were not going to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin from his invasion of Ukraine, but that they must be seen as “increasing the pain.”  

The war in Ukraine started a month ago when Putin ordered a full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, a decision that brought a major war back to Europe and fulfilled years of warnings about Putin’s nationalist dreams to reconstitute the old Russian empire and build a new Slavic superstate through violent means.  

The war continues to escalate as Russia’s advance slows due to stiff Ukrainian resistance. Both sides are suffering massive losses as they pound each other. Russia has large stockpiles of missiles and it has begun to use even more destructive bombs in recent days, including at least one hypersonic missile. The West, meanwhile, is shipping billions of dollars’ worth of weapons to Ukraine.    

On Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russia of using phosphorous bombs, which are banned if they produce an incendiary effect. The allegation had not been independently verified as of Thursday.  

The accusation over phosphorous bombs comes amid Western warnings that Russia may resort to the use of deadly chemical weapons.   

As he left for Europe, Biden said there was a “real threat” that Russia would use chemical weapons. At the news conference, Biden said the use of chemical weapons would force NATO to respond “in kind,” though he did not specify what that meant and he did not define it as a “red line” for the U.S.   

“We’d make that decision at that time,” he said about what NATO’s response would be. “The nature of our response would depend on the nature of the use.”   

In Ukraine, more intense fighting was taking place on Thursday with limited gains being made by either side. However, a large Russian landing ship was struck by Ukraine in the southern port of Berdyansk, delivering a further blow to Russia’s invasion.  

Faced with Ukraine’s stiff resistance, Russia has stepped up its bombing of cities and Ukrainian military sites. The increased reliance on artillery and aerial attacks is causing ever more civilian deaths.   

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Smoke rises after shelling near a seaport in Berdyansk, Ukraine, on Thursday, March 24, 2022. Ukraine's navy reported that it had sunk a Russian ship in the Sea of Asov. (AP Photo)

For now, the goal of the West is to continue funneling weapons to Ukraine in the hope that Russia will be defeated on the battlefield and forced to withdraw its troops. Alternatively, the West is hoping Ukrainian forces inflict so much damage to the Russian army that Putin loses control of the Kremlin and is removed from office, perhaps in a coup d’etat or some kind of popular uprising.   

Despite suffering major setbacks and casualties, Russia possesses a far superior army than Ukraine’s and Putin is enjoying a lot of public support for the war with polls indicating that more than 70% of Russians are backing him.  

Still, if the Ukraine war carries on for months with high Russian casualties Putin’s hold on power could be at risk. Western experts talk about Russia getting bogged down in the kind of war the Red Army fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s, a defeat that played a role in the dissolution of the Soviet Union. 

“Many Russian tsars were killed,” said Andrei Kozyrev, a former Russian foreign minister under President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s, told the Times newspaper recently. “Many were dismissed one way or the other. Even in the Soviet Union, there were ways; Stalin was said to have been poisoned, Khrushchev was just escorted out of the Kremlin. With Putin, I very much expect there to be resistance growing and discontent growing that will be resolved one way or another. I don’t know which way but Russian history is full of unexpected outcomes.” 

Biden said the West will ensure the sanctions on Russia are enforced.  

It’s vital for the West to stay united and to keep the world focused on “what a brute this guy [Putin] is” and how so many “innocent people’s lives are being lost and ruined,” the president said.    

“Putin was banking on NATO being split,” Biden said. “NATO has never, never been more united than it is today.”  

In addition to the $1 billion for humanitarian relief, Biden said the U.S. will spend $320 million on “democratic resilience” in Ukraine and other countries in its neighborhood.  

More than 3.5 million Ukrainians, mostly women and children, have fled the fighting and many more millions may end up leaving Ukraine if the fighting continues. The prospects for the war ending soon are growing dimmer with neither side showing much willingness to make concessions or lay down arms.  

On Thursday, NATO said it will place 40,000 more troops in Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria, countries on the military alliance’s eastern flank. NATO said it will position more fighter jets, carrier strike groups, submarines and combat ships there on a permanent basis. The U.S. regularly has more than 60,000 troops stationed in Europe.   

A Ukrainian firefighter takes pictures outside a destroyed warehouse after a Russian bombardment on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, on Thursday, March 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

The expansion of NATO onto Russia’s borders and Ukraine’s push to join the alliance were part of the reason Putin ordered the invasion. It is possible Putin may seek to annex a large part of Ukraine and, if the Kremlin gets its way, the country could end up partitioned. Many ethnic Russians are in the eastern and southern parts of Ukraine and Russian nationalists have talked about making these areas a new Russian state called Novorossiya, the name given to this part of Ukraine under the Russian empire.    

NATO said it will provide Ukraine with more anti-tank rockets, air defense systems, drones, cyber security assistance and financial aid to fend off the Russian attack.   

In a speech to NATO, Zelenskyy called on the alliance to provide weapons “without restrictions” and to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine’s skies, a step NATO is unwilling to take because that would put it in direct conflict with Russia.  

“To save people and our cities, Ukraine needs military assistance without restrictions,” Zelenskyy said. “As Russia uses without restrictions its entire arsenal against us. Destroys all living things, any objects from houses to churches, from food warehouses to universities, from bridges to hospitals.”   

Zelenskyy complained that NATO has not provided any fighter jets, referring to a plan proposed by Poland to send its MiG fighter jets to Ukraine. But that plan was scuttled by the U.S. because it risked drawing NATO into the war.   

“You have thousands of fighter jets. But we haven’t been given any yet,” Zelenskyy said. 

“We asked for tanks so that we can unblock our cities that are now dying,” he said. “You have at least 20,000 tanks. Ukraine asked for a percent, 1 percent of all your tanks to be given or sold to us. But we do not have a clear answer yet. The worst thing during the war is not having clear answers to requests for help.”  

The rhetoric coming from Moscow has grown more bellicose in recent weeks with commentators on its main television channels calling for Russia to invade the Baltic states to open a corridor to Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave on the Baltic Sea surrounded by NATO nations, and talking up Russia’s ability to obliterate countries with its nuclear arsenal, the biggest in the world. 

On Thursday, RIA Novosti, the Russian state news agency, quoted Vladimir Medinsky, a Putin adviser, saying “Russia's very existence is at stake today” because the West is seeking to destabilize and break up Russia. His statement adds to threats from the Kremlin that Russia could use nuclear weapons if it faced an “existential threat.”     

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.  

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