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Claim Putin ‘survived assassination attempt’; veteran Russian diplomat quits over ‘intolerable’ Ukraine war


Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in Sochi, Russia. Picture: Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in Sochi, Russia. Picture: Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in Sochi, Russia. Picture: Reuters

Russian president Vladimir Putin apparently survived an assassination attempt at the start of his invasion of Ukraine, the head of Kyiv’s military intelligence service has claimed.

There was an attempt to assassinate Putin… He was even attacked, it is said, by representatives of the Caucasus, not so long ago. This is non-public information. [It was an] Absolutely unsuccessful attempt, but it really happened… It was about 2 months ago,” Kyrylo Budanov claimed in an interview with Ukrainska Pravda.

Meanwhile, in an address to world leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky warned that Russia’s ongoing invasion will determine whether “brute force will rule the world”, as he pleaded for further economic support in the war.

“This is the moment when it is decided whether brute force will rule the world,” Mr Zelensky said before calling on nations to enforce further and stronger sanctions on Russia including an embargo on Russian oil, no trade with the Kremlin and a banning of Moscow’s banks from global systems.

Zelensky also said that Vladimir Putin is the only Russian official he is willing to meet with to discuss how to end the war.

Addressing the World Economic Forum in Davos, the Ukrainian president said that arranging any talks with Russia was becoming more difficult in light of what he said was evidence of Russian actions against civilians under occupation.

“The president of the Russian Federation decides it all,” Mr Zelensky said through an interpreter. “If we are talking about ending this war without him personally, that decision cannot be taken.

Zelenskiy said the discovery of mass killings in areas occupied by Russian troops earlier in the war, particularly outside Kyiv, made it more difficult to arrange talks and that he would rule out any discussions with other officials.

“I cannot accept any kind of meeting with anyone coming from the Russian Federation but the president,” he said. “And only in the case when there is one issue on the [table]: stopping the war. There are no other grounds for any other kind of meeting.”

Meanwhile, the European Union will likely agree an embargo on Russian oil imports “within days”, German economy minister Robert Habeck has suggested.

But Mr Habeck warned that an embargo would not automatically weaken the Kremlin as rising prices were enabling it to rake in more income while selling lower volumes of oil.

Therefore, one consideration was to no longer pay “any price” for oil, but to agree on upper limits, he told broadcaster ZDF. For that to work, however, many countries would have to get on board.

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Efforts to coordinate an EU-wide embargo have been stalled, as Hungary demands financial assistance before agreeing to such a move, with prime minister Viktor Orban warning Budapest would be severely impacted economically by an embargo.

United Nations staff on the ground in Ukraine remain concerned about the impact on civilians by fierce fighting in the regions of Luhansk, Donetsk and Kharkiv, a spokesperson has said.

People are being killed and wounded, while homes and civilian infrastructure have been destroyed, Stephane Dujarric said.

In the government-controlled part of Luhansk, local authorities informed the UN that a bridge leading to the administrative centre of the region, Sievierodonetsk, was destroyed on 21 May. He said that left the partially encircled city reachable by only one road.

While some people managed to leave Sievierodonetsk over the weekend, Mr Dujarric said local authorities estimate that thousands of civilians remain in the war-affected city and require urgent support.

UN humanitarian staff also said that shelling and airstrikes were reported in northern, central and southern parts of Ukraine, claiming civilian lives and damaging infrastructure.

Starbucks has become the latest western business to pull out of Russia over its war in Ukraine.

The American company announced on Monday that it was permanently shutting all of its 130 stores and ending its brand presence in the country, more than two months after it first suspended its business activities there.

Also today, it emerged that a veteran Kremlin diplomat has resigned and sent a letter to foreign colleagues condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine, as heavy fighting raged in the Donbas region, where Moscow's forces have stepped up their bombardment.

In a rare public expression of opposition to the war from the ranks of the Russian elite, Boris Bondarev said of the invasion: "Never have I been so ashamed of my country as on February 24."

Mr Bondarev, a veteran diplomat at the UN office at Geneva, quit and sent a letter denouncing the "aggressive war unleashed" by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

He told the Associated Press: "It is intolerable what my government is doing now."

Mr Bondarev said those who conceived the war "want only one thing - to remain in power forever, live in pompous tasteless palaces, sail on yachts comparable in tonnage and cost to the entire Russian navy, enjoying unlimited power and complete impunity".

He also said Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs is all about "warmongering, lies and hatred".

On the battlefield, Russian forces increased their bombardment of the Donbas, the eastern industrial heartland of coal mines and factories that the Kremlin is bent on capturing.

Cities not under Russian control were constantly shelled, and one Ukrainian official said Moscow's forces were targeting civilians trying to flee.

Donetsk's regional governor, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said three civilians died in Russian attacks there on Monday and heavy fighting continued near the Luhansk region.

He said the Russians were devastating cities in their attempt to take over. Only about 320,000 people out of the region's pre-war population of 1.6 million remain, and Russian forces are targeting evacuation efforts, he added.

"They are killing us. They are killing the locals during evacuation," Mr Kyrylenko said.

In the Luhansk region, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said local authorities reported that a bridge leading to the administrative centre of Sievierodonetsk had been destroyed, leaving the partially encircled city reachable by just one road.

Some who fled the Donetsk region shared their suffering.

"We haven't been able to see the sun for three months. We are almost blind because we were in darkness for three months," said Rayisa Rybalko, who hid with her family first in their basement and then in a bomb shelter at a school before fleeing their village of Novomykhailivka.

"The world should have seen that."

Her son-in-law Dmytro Khaliapin said heavy artillery pounded the village. "Houses are being ruined," he said. "It's a horror."

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