LIVE: UN overwhelmingly votes to condemn Russian invasion of Ukraine, demands withdrawal
Thank you for joining Middle East Eye's live blog of the Ukraine invasion this past week.
We're wrapping up our live coverage for now but will continue to monitor the war on the website - particularly its impact on the Middle East.
The war in Ukraine enters its eighth day as Russia continues its invasion of the country. Here are the latest updates:
- More than a million Ukrainians have fled Ukraine into neighbouring countries a week after Russia began its invasion, according to the UN refugee agency.
- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters that Russia could not tolerate military threats from Ukraine, which he claimed was taking orders from Washington.
- Ukrainian officials confirm Russia captured the port city of Kherson. Home to 300,000 people, Kherson's fall makes it the first major city captured by the Russians.
- Overnight, the cities of Kyiv and Kharkiv continue to face intense bombardment from Russian forces.
- Last night, Syria voted with Russia to oppose a UN resolution condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Iran, Iraq and Sudan abstained from the vote. And the rest of the Middle East voted for the motion.
Yousef al-Otaiba, the Emirati ambassador to the US, said the United Arab Emirates and the United States are facing a "stress test" in their relationship.
"Our relationship with the US is like any relationship. It has strong days where the relationship is very healthy, and days where the relationship is under question," Otaiba told the International Defence Industry, Technology and Security Conference in Abu Dhabi.
"Today, we're going through a stress test, but I'm confident that we will get out of it and we will get to a better place."
Otaiba's comments come days after the UAE abstained on a UN Security Council vote demanding Russia withdraw from Ukraine.
A million people have fled Ukraine a week after Russia invaded the country, the head of the United Nations refugee agency said on Thursday.
Posting on Twitter, UNHCR head Filippo Grandi said: "In just seven days, we have witnessed the exodus of one million refugees from Ukraine to neighbouring countries.
"For many millions more, inside Ukraine, it's time for guns to fall silent, so that life-saving humanitarian assistance can be provided."
After a failed vote at the Security Council last week, the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday voted in favour of a resolution that condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine and further demanded Moscow's immediate withdrawal from the country.
Nevertheless, Russia continued its advance. The mayor of the Ukrainian city of Kherson said that Russian troops were in the streets and forced their way into the city council building. Russia said it captured the city, a claim that has been denied by Ukraine.
There have been conflicting reports of how many civilians have been killed so far as bombing intensified on Wednesday. The United Nations said that 227 civilians have been killed while underscoring that the actual death toll is likely higher. The Ukrainian government said that at least 2,000 civilians have been killed, but Ukraine's emergency services agency later called that figure "approximate" and said "there is no exact figure".
The US and its allies have continued to inflict economic measures on Russia, with the Biden administration announcing on Wednesday that it has ramped up restrictions on exporting certain technologies to Russia and Belarus, as well as taking action to stem the flow of important technologies to Russian oil refineries.
Oil prices have continued to jump this week, topping $115 a barrel on Wednesday. Opec+ concluded its meeting earlier on Wednesday, agreeing to stick to its original plan for output. The group of oil exporting countries said in a statement that the current price volatility is being driven by "geopolitical developments" and not the market.
White House Press Secretary told reporters that imposing sanctions on Russia's gas and oil flows was "very much on the table" but doing so now would only help Moscow by raising prices further.
More than three dozen members of the US House of Representatives are supporting a resolution calling on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to prosecute Russian President Vladimir Putin "should anything happen" to Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Congressman Michael Burgess said that he decided to spearhead the measure after seeing reports that a Chechen hit squad had entered Ukraine to target Zelenskyy.
"It is another way to tell [Putin]: We see you. We see what you’re doing. We know it’s wrong, we know it’s evil, you know it’s wrong, you know it’s evil, and if you do this we’re going to see that you’re punished," Burgess told Politico.
ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan on Monday said the court will open an investigation into possible war crimes in the country.
Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich has said he will sell Chelsea Football Club, amid calls for him to be hit by sanctions after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
"In the current situation, I have therefore taken the decision to sell the Club, as I believe this is in the best interest of the Club," he said in a statement on Wednesday.
The Russian metals magnate also said that the net proceeds from the sale will go to a charitable foundation set up to help those impacted by the Russian invasion.
"The foundation will be for the benefit of all victims of the war in Ukraine," Abramovich said.
In April 2021, Forbes said Chelsea was worth $3.2bn.
The United Nations voted overwhelmingly for a resolution condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine, calling for the immediate withdrawal of its forces.
In an emergency session of the UN's General Assembly, 141 of the 193 member states voted for the resolution, 35 abstained from voting, and five voted against.
The resolution says the UN "deplores in the strongest terms the aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine".
It demands that "the Russian Federation immediately cease its use of force against Ukraine" and "immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces".
Syria, a close ally of Moscow, was the only country in the Middle East to vote against the resolution, with Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Mali and Sudan abstaining and Morocco having "no position". Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and Israel all voted in favour of the resolution.
The vote follows last Friday's vote at the Security Council, which was vetoed by Russia. China abstained on both the Security Council and General Assembly votes.
It is the first time in 40 years the Security Council has referred a crisis to the assembly and only the 11th time an emergency session of the UN General Assembly has been called since 1950.
A recent report by the Valdai discussion club, a Moscow-based think tank close to the Kremlin, offers a rare insight into what Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, might be thinking.
As the West began to consider Russia the main problem facing European security, Russia looked to its borders, specifically Moldova, Belarus, the Donbas and Crimea.
By the end of 2020, it became commonplace that Russia would enact military provocations on its borders.
The Russian response was always complex, methodical, and "appealed to the common sense of the leading elites in the West".
But when Russia realised that the initiatives it wanted from the West - compromise and diplomacy - were not forthcoming, it looked to adopt western logic in dealing with problems of European security.
That meant the "military activism" of the US and Nato.
The conflict, the group finds, will end in the creation of another world that would result in not only Russia moving its security frontier away from its borders and deeper towards the West.
But in a world where Ukraine is demilitarised and is given a new government, it will most likely become a third member of the union between Russia and Belarus.
However, if the American threat materialises, Russia will have in mind "a symmetrical response: heavy pressure on the countries of Eastern Europe".
In the end, it finds that "Russia’s goal remains unchanged - to create a fairer security system in Europe that better takes into account Russian interests".
Israel has historically sought an opportunity in every crisis to offer itself as a safe haven for the world’s Jews.
Weeks before the Ukrainian invasion, Israeli officials approached their counterparts in countries bordering Ukraine to secure a land route for Israelis and Jews to leave when the time comes.
Not many chose this option while the time was still right; even fewer raised the possibility of relocating to Israel.
Behind the scenes, Israel is preparing for a big wave of immigration from Ukraine, much larger than the 3,000 who arrived last year.
If it materialises it will be handled using a “refugee” category, a status that allows special conditions.
A senior Israeli source told MEE that the state would offer single Ukrainian Jews escaping the war 6,000 shekels ($1,850), 11,000 per couple ($3,400) and 15,000 per family ($4,600) - sums unseen for aliyah outside of wartime.
Read more on Lily Galili’s report on Israel readying itself for an influx of Ukrainian Jews.
As Israel continues its strategic alliance with Russia while maintaining its relationship with the United States, it finds itself stuck between a rock and a hardpoint.
With growing conflicts of interest and changing attitudes towards Russia since its invasion of Ukraine, Israel has tried to depict itself as an honest broker between Moscow and Kyiv, claiming that it has special interests and unique needs.
Over the weekend, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky and Putin.
But it was a charade, and Bennett knew very well that there was no need for him to be the go-between since Putin is not interested in any compromise solution to end the war.
More from Middle East Eye’s Yossi Melman analysis on the relationship between Russia and Israel here: Russia-Ukraine war: Israel’s ties with the West strained by its fear of Putin in Syria
The number of refugees fleeing the conflict in Ukraine has surged to nearly 875,000, UN figures showed on Wednesday, as fighting intensified on day seven of Russia's invasion.
In all, 874,026 people have fled across the country's borders, according to the website of UNHCR, the UN refugee agency.
That marks a huge jump of around 200,000 from the 677,000 announced almost 24 hours earlier by UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi.
Poland has welcomed around half of all those who have fled, according to combined tallies up to Tuesday.
UNHCR figures show that 454,000 had fled to Poland; 116,000 to Hungary; 79,000 to Moldova; 67,000 to Slovakia; 45,000 to Romania, 43,000 to Russia, and 350 to Belarus.
Meanwhile, 70,000 have gone to other European countries.
As the conflict continues for a seventh day and Russia ramps up attacks, Ukrainians take shelter in metro stations and leave the country for safety.
British MPs stood to applaud Vadym Prystaiko, the Ukrainian ambassador to the UK, who was sitting in the gallery in the House of Commons as the weekly prime minister's question time began.
The United Arab Emirates has suspended its visa-free scheme that allowed Ukrainian citizens to stay in the country for up to 30 days without a visa.
Announced on the Ukrainian Embassy Facebook page, a post said: "Starting March 1, 2022, the United Arab Emirates will temporarily suspend the action of the Memorandum of mutual understanding between the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine and the Government of the United Arab Emirates on mutual cancellation of visa requirements.
“From today, citizens of Ukraine - passport holders of Ukrainian citizen for going abroad should receive a suitable visa for visiting the UAE,” it said.
CNBC reported that the embassy later confirmed the news, which shocked Ukrainians, with many expressing anger and bewilderment.
According to the Ukrainian government, around 15,000 Ukrainians work and live in the UAE, and nearly 250,000 a year visit as tourists.