WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden called Vladimir Putin a “dictator” on Tuesday and warned Russian billionaires he would come after their yachts and private jets, as Russian airstrikes hammered Ukraine in an attempt to crush Russian resistance. ally of the United States.
Despite sanctions and warnings of a humanitarian crisis, Moscow has launched a fresh assault on a residential bloc in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, as the US leader seeks to strengthen the American public’s resolve for the turmoil to come.
“A Russian dictator, invading a foreign country, has costs around the world,” Biden told lawmakers in his annual State of the Union address, promising “strong action to ensure the pain of our sanctions is directed at the economy of Russia.
Biden had planned to tout his political successes during his speech, discuss how the United States had turned the pandemic around and outline what he wanted to accomplish in the coming months.
But much of that was upended by one of the biggest geopolitical crises since the end of the Cold War, when Putin’s nuclear saber rattling shocked the international community.
In an emotional start to Biden’s speech, lawmakers gathered in the US Congress gave a standing ovation to the Ukrainian people as the president expressed his solidarity with the former Soviet country.
Speaking on the sixth day of Russia’s invasion, Biden said Putin’s aggression was “premeditated and totally unprovoked” but praised the Western alliance’s determination to respond with brutal sanctions.
“(Putin) thought he could divide us here at home,” Biden said. “But Putin was wrong. We are ready.”
Biden said he had tasked the Justice Department with putting together a task force to pursue “crimes” by Russian oligarchs “to find and seize their yachts, their luxury apartments and their private planes.”
“We’re here for your ill-gotten gains,” he promised.
“And tonight I am announcing that we will join our allies in closing US airspace to all Russian flights, further isolating Russia and adding additional pressure to its economy.”
Earlier, Biden had spoken by phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who accused Moscow of “state terrorism” over the bombing of Kharkiv.
Although Russia has denied targeting civilian infrastructure, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the assault “absolutely disgusting” and reminiscent of the massacres of civilians in Sarajevo in the 1990s.
Eight people were reported killed in a residential building in the city and authorities said 10 had been killed by Russian shelling of a local government compound.
An attack on the main television tower in Kiev also killed five people and knocked out some state broadcasts, Ukrainian officials said, but left the structure intact.
New explosions were heard Tuesday night in Kyiv and Bila Tserkva, 80 kilometers (50 miles) to the south, according to local media.
Media outlets also reported that Russian missiles damaged residential buildings and a hospital in Zhytomyr, citing the mayor of the main transportation hub, Sergei Sukhomline.
The International Criminal Court has opened a war crimes investigation against Russia. Ukraine says more than 350 civilians, including 14 children, have been killed in the conflict.
In southern Ukraine, the city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov lost power after the shelling, while Kherson on the Black Sea reported Russian checkpoints surrounding the city.
In a key victory for Moscow, Russia’s Defense Ministry said its troops had joined pro-Moscow rebel forces in eastern Ukraine along the Azov Sea coast.
But Ukrainian forces say that despite incursions by “sabotage groups”, Russian forces have yet to capture a major city.
During a visit to an airbase in Poland, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Putin had “shattered the peace in Europe”.
Zelensky, for his part, reiterated an urgent appeal for his country to be admitted to the European Union.
More than 660,000 people have fled abroad, the UN refugee agency said, estimating that one million people are displaced within former Soviet Union Ukraine, which has a population of 44 million.
Russia has defied international bans, boycotts and sanctions to press ahead with an offensive it says is aimed at defending Ukraine’s Russian-speakers and toppling the leadership.
Germany has already promised weapons to Ukraine, while the EU has said, for the first time, that it will buy and supply arms to the country.
But fears are growing of an all-out assault to capture Kiev, a city of 2.8 million.
Satellite images provided by the US firm Mazar showed a 40-mile buildup of Russian armored vehicles and artillery north of the capital.
Inside Kiev, makeshift barricades dotted the streets and residents lined up outside the few open stores to buy essential items.
Russia’s invasion has triggered a widening international sports ban and Western nations have moved to further isolate Russia, responding with an ever-increasing diplomatic, economic and cultural backlash.
Apple on Tuesday stopped all sales in Russia. And the European Union banned Russian state media outlets RT and Sputnik from broadcasting in the bloc and also banned some Russian banks from the SWIFT banking system.