Joe Biden says G7 nations will together deal “another crushing blow” to Russia as Moscow appeared to be making more excuses to escalate the war with claims of US chemical weapons activities in Ukraine.
The US President announced more economic sanctions as punishment for the invasion, including the G7 revoking Russia’s “most favoured nation” trade status.
In addition, the US would ban Russian seafood, alcohol and diamonds, target a new list of oligarchs and ban the export of luxury goods to Russia.
Stripping Russia of its favoured nation status would pave the way for the US and its allies imposing tariffs on a wide range of Russian goods, which would further ratchet up pressure on the economy.
In a separate statement, the White House said Mr Biden would ban US investment in Russia beyond the energy sector and that the G7 would move to block Russia from funds from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.
The latest move to cripple Russia financially comes as major cities in Ukraine’s western regions reported being targeted for the first time, with people there killed.
Ukrainians reported missiles striking the airport of Lutsk which is only 4km from the border with Poland.
Russia escalates threat of chemical, biowarfare
The US says Russia’s latest claims that it has uncovered biological weapons in Ukraine is “laughable” and just another excuse the Kremlin will use to deploy its own chemical or biological weapons.
Russia’s ambassador to the UN told a meeting of the UN Security Council its forces had found evidence of “at least 30” biological research labs co-ordinated by Ukraine and the US.
The US said Russia was waving another “false flag” to justify its invasion and escalate the war.
The UK called Moscow’s accusation a “grotesque lie” and said Russia was “sinking to new depths”.
US envoy to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said it was actually Russia that could use chemical or biological agents in Ukraine.
“Russia has a track record of falsely accusing other countries of the very violations that Russia itself is perpetrating,” she told a meeting of the 15-member council.
“We have serious concerns that Russia may be planning to use chemical or biological agents against the Ukrainian people,” she said.
“The intent behind these lies seems clear, and it is deeply troubling.”
She added: “We believe Russia could use chemical or biological agents for assassinations, as part of a staged or false flag incident, or to support tactical military operations.”
The United Nations on Friday said it was not aware of any biological weapons program in Ukraine.
Russia called the Security Council meeting to reassert its unsubstantiated accusation that Ukraine ran biological warfare laboratories with US support.
Meanwhile President Vladimir Putin said there have been positive developments in talks between the warring countries but he did not offer any details about what those developments were.
At a Kremlin meeting with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Mr Putin said foreign sanctions would not hinder Russian development and that Russia would end up stronger.
He then said Ukrainian negotiations were taking place practically every day.
“There are certain positive shifts, negotiators on our side tell me,” Putin said.
“I will talk about all of this later.”
In Russia, prosecutors asked a court to declare Meta Platforms an “extremist” organisation on Friday, after the owner of Facebook and Instagram allowed posts calling for the death of invading Russian troops.
US intelligence agents say Russia has been surprised by the strength of Ukrainian resistance and by the severity of the economic sanctions imposed by the US and its allies.
Russia has so far shown no sign that it is changing course.
Psychiatric hospital attack
Russian warplanes hit a psychiatric hospital in Ukraine’s eastern region of Kharkiv, the latest assault on civilian targets that days earlier saw a hospital shelled.
Ukraine’s State Emergencies Service says there were no casualties because 360 patients and staff were already in a basement shelter when explosions rocked the building.
“All 30 staff and 330 patients were in a bomb shelter at the time of the strike,” it said in a statement after Friday’s strike.
Ukraine accused Russian forces of hitting the hospital near the eastern Ukrainian town of Izyum in what the regional governor called “a brutal attack on civilians”.
Oleh Synegubov, governor of the Kharkiv region, said on Friday that 330 people had been at the hospital at the time, some of them confined to wheelchairs or unable to move, and that 73 had been evacuated.
Reuters was unable immediately to verify the report in an area that has reported heavy fighting since Russian forces invaded Ukraine on February 24.
Russia has denied targeting civilians in what it calls a “special operation” to disarm and “de-Nazify” Ukraine.
The reported attack followed the bombardment of a hospital in the southern city of Mariupol in which Ukrainian officials said three people were killed on Wednesday, including a child. Russia has said it will look into the incident but some officials dismissed reports of the attack as “fake news”.
Mr Synegubov said separately that Russian forces had shelled residential areas of Kharkiv, the main city in the region, 89 times in one day but that there was no danger to civilians after an institute containing a nuclear laboratory was hit.
Nuclear plant hit
An advisor to the Ukrainian Interior Ministry had said on Thursday that Russian planes bombed the institute in Kharkiv that is home to an experimental nuclear reactor.
“There are no threats to the civilian population yet,” Mr Synegubov said in a video address.
All Ukrainian nuclear power stations are operating stably but staff in the Zaporizhzhia plant are facing “psychological pressure” at work following its capture by Russian forces, the Ukrainian state nuclear company Energoatom said.
Radiation levels at all plants had not changed, it said.