MOSCOW (Dispatches) -- The Russian army has been given orders to broaden its offensive in Ukraine “from all directions” after Kiev refused to hold talks in Belarus, the defense ministry said Saturday.
Russian forces have made thrusts into the Ukrainian capital Kiev on day three of the “special operation” ordered by President Vladimir Putin.
“After the Ukrainian side rejected the negotiation process, today all units were given orders to develop the advance from all directions in accordance with the operation’s plans,” Russian army spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a statement.
The Kremlin said Friday that Putin was ready to send a delegation to Belarus for talks with Ukraine but Ukraine wanted talks in Warsaw instead.
Ukraine says it is being attacked from several sides, including from Belarus.
Ukraine said Saturday that at least 198 people -- including three children -- had been killed since Moscow launched the attack.
Moscow has said that its goal is to “de-Nazify” Ukraine.
The Kremlin on Saturday accused Ukraine of prolonging the military conflict by refusing to negotiate.
“In connection with the expected negotiations, the Russian president yesterday afternoon ordered the suspension of the advance of the main forces of the Russian Federation,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters during a conference call.
“Since the Ukrainian side refused to negotiate, the advance of the Russian forces resumed this afternoon.”
On Friday, as Moscow’s forces approached Kiev, the Kremlin said President Putin was ready to send a delegation for talks to Belarus.
As Russian troops closed in on Kiev on Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky issued a new statement urging talks.
On Saturday, Russian and Ukrainian forces were clashing in the Ukrainian capital, with a U.S. official confirming that Washington has offered to evacuate Zelensky from Kiev.
French President Emmanuel Macron warned on Saturday that the world must brace for a long war.
“This crisis will last, this war will last and all the crises that come with it will have lasting consequences,” Macron said at an agriculture fair in France. “We must be prepared”.
Zelensky said he had spoken by phone with Macron and that Western “partners” were sending weapons to fight Russian troops.
“Weapons and equipment from our partners are on the way to Ukraine. The anti-war coalition is working!” the comedian-turned-politician tweeted.
Zelensky was quoted as having told the U.S. government that he needed anti-tank ammunition, “not a ride”, after he was offered a safe evacuation from Kiev.
“We will not put down weapons,
we will defend our state,” he said, speaking in a video message from outside his Kiev office.
On Friday, Zelensky had lamented that he had been “left alone” by the West. “Who is ready to fight alongside us? I don’t see anyone. Who is ready to give Ukraine a guarantee of NATO membership? Everyone is afraid,” he said in a post-midnight video address.
With Zelensky remaining defiant, the Russian military continued its advance, laying claim to Melitopol, a city of about 150,000 people in southeast Ukraine.
Earlier, Ukrainian officials said Russian forces fired cruise missiles from the Black Sea at Mariupol as well as Sumy in the northeast and Poltava in the east.
Russia’s defense ministry said their forces used air- and ship-based cruise missiles to carry out overnight strikes on military targets in Ukraine. It said Russian troops had hit hundreds of military infrastructure targets and destroyed several aircraft and dozens of tanks and armored and artillery vehicles.
Western countries have announced a barrage of sanctions on Russia, including blacklisting its banks and banning technology exports. But they have stopped short of forcing it out of the SWIFT system for international bank payments, fearing it would harm their own economies.
The Kremlin said that Russia had “seriously prepared” for the international sanctions, which it said it had “predicted.”
“Measures are being taken immediately to minimize damage to all sectors of our economy,” Peskov said.
Former president and top security official Dmitry Medvedev said Russia doesn’t really need diplomatic ties with the West.
Medvedev, writing on social media Saturday, said it was time to “padlock the embassies”. He said Moscow would continue its operation in Ukraine until it achieved goals defined by Putin.
The military conflict is already leaving its impact on energy prices in Europe, raising concerns about gas supplies next winter.
Wholesale gas and power prices spiked this week after Germany stopped certification for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that was supposed to pump Russian has to Europe.
On Thursday, gas prices increased by 60 percent. Before that, gas and power prices already reached record highs this winter due to several issues including low gas inventories.
High power prices were a major factor behind soaring inflation in Europe. Now, things are expected to become more difficult in the months to come, especially next winter, in case Russian gas flows are interrupted. Currently, Russia supplies around 40 percent of Europe’s gas.
At the United Nations, Russia vetoed a draft Security Council resolution deploring its operation.
The White House asked Congress for $6.4 billion in security package, officials said, and Biden instructed the U.S. State Department to release $350 million in military aid.
U.S. President Joe Biden, in a statement on Friday, raised the ante in the showdown over Ukraine when he said NATO will maintain “its Open Door” to Finland and Sweden.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova warned Sweden and Finland of “military and political consequences” if either tried to join NATO.
On Friday, NATO triggered its rapid response force for the first time to “defend the eastern flank” of the alliance, as Russian forces pushed deeper into Ukraine.
Several NATO members have beefed up their presence in eastern Europe in recent days, with troops, fighter jets and warships on high alert across the region.
France on Friday announced plans for the deployment of 500 military personnel as part of NATO forces to Romania.
The senior French military official said France would also maintain a military presence in Estonia, which borders Russia, beyond March.