Russia summons US ambassador, warns ties on verge of collapse
Russia’s Foreign Ministry has summoned US Ambassador John Sullivan, warning that Moscow-Washington relations are on the verge of collapse as the Russian military operation in Ukraine enters its 26th day.
Tensions between the United States and Russia escalated after US President Joe Biden recently labeled President Vladimir Putin of Russia a “war criminal,” marking the first time a US official used the term to characterize Putin since February 24.
“Such statements from the American president, unworthy of a statesman of such high rank, put Russian-American relations on the verge of rupture,” the ministry said in a Monday statement. It also told the American envoy that hostile actions against Russia would meet with a “decisive and firm response.”
On March 16, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denounced Biden’s comment as “unacceptable and unforgivable.”
The United States and its allies have been piling sanctions on Russia since that February day, when Putin announced a “special military operation” aimed at “demilitarization” of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions in eastern Ukraine. He said the mission was aimed at “defending people who for eight years are suffering persecution and genocide by the Kiev regime.”
In 2014, the two regions declared themselves new republics, collectively known as Donbass, refusing to recognize Ukraine’s Western-backed government.
Russia says it will halt the operation instantly if Kiev meets Moscow’s list of demands. Moscow has specified some of them as protection of its interests and nationals in Ukraine and prevention of the country’s joining NATO.
Russian court labels Meta ‘extremist organization’, allows WhatsApp to stay
Meanwhile on Monday, a Russian court declared Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, an “extremist organization” and made its operations in the country illegal. The court, however, said the decision would not apply to its WhatsApp messenger service. “The decision does not apply to the activities of Meta's messenger WhatsApp, due to its lack of functionality for the public dissemination of information.”
Meta did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Earlier, Meta’s lawyer Victoria Shagina rejected claims of “extremist” activities, the Interfax news agency reported.
Russia banned Meta for restricting access to Russian media. Instagram was also blocked after Meta said it would allow social media users in Ukraine to post messages urging violence against President Putin and Russian troops in Ukraine.
Nearly 3.5 million refugees flee Ukraine: UN
The United Nations said on Monday that nearly 3.5 million Ukrainians have now fled the country since the beginning of the Russian operation, hailing neighboring countries for showing overwhelming compassion towards their “extreme plight.”
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), well over 3,480,000 Ukrainians had fled the country since February 24.