GENEVA: The flow of "bloody money" to Russia must stop, Kyiv's mayor said on Tuesday (Apr 5) as the West prepared new sanctions on Moscow after dead civilians were found lining the streets of a Ukrainian town seized from Russian invaders.
Since Russian forces withdrew from northern Ukraine, turning their assault on the south and east, grim images from the town of Bucha near Kyiv, including a mass grave and bound bodies of people shot at close range, have prompted international outrage.
Russia denies targeting civilians and said the deaths had been staged by the West to discredit it.
Sanctions already imposed have isolated Russia's economy but its gas is still flowing to Europe and a number of international companies continue to do business there, leading Ukraine to say more is needed to starve Moscow's war effort.
"Every euro, every cent that you receive from Russia or that you send to Russia has blood, it is bloody money and the blood of this money is Ukrainian blood, the blood of Ukrainian people," Mayor of Kyiv Vitali Klitschko, dressed in military clothes, told a mayors' conference in Geneva via video link.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Tuesday that while what happened in Bucha was unforgivable, Ukraine had no choice but to negotiate with Russia to end the war, now in its sixth week.
"All of us, including myself, will perceive even the possibility of negotiations as a challenge," Zelenskiy said in an interview broadcast on national television. He said it was not clear whether he and Russian President Vladimir Putin would speak directly.
Russian news agency Interfax cited a deputy Russian foreign minister as saying talks, which last convened on Friday, were continuing via video link. There was no update from the Ukrainian side.
Zelenskiy said earlier that at least 300 civilians had been killed in Bucha and that many more dead were likely to be found in other areas. He said he would address the United Nations Security Council later in the day as he builds support for an investigation into the killings.
Russia denied that its forces had carried out any atrocities and said it would present "empirical evidence" to the UN Security Council meeting proving its forces were not involved. But satellite images of Bucha taken weeks ago showed bodies of civilians on a street, a private US company said, undercutting Russian claims that the scene was staged.
Maxar Technologies provided nine images taken of Bucha on Mar 18, 19 and 31 to Reuters. At least four of the images appear to show bodies on Yablonska Street in the town, which was occupied by Russian forces until about Mar 30.
US President Joe Biden called for a war crimes trial against Putin and Washington will ask the UN General Assembly to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council.
At the weekend, Reuters reporters in Bucha saw several bodies apparently shot at close range, along with makeshift burials and a mass grave, but could not independently verify the number of dead or who was responsible.
Ukraine's foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said he spoke with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres about Bucha and stressed that "Ukraine will use all available UN mechanisms to collect evidence and hold Russian war criminals to account."
Kuleba spoke to his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on Monday, with Beijing again calling for talks to end the conflict.
'FEEL THE CONSEQUENCES'
Russia launched what it calls a "special military operation" in Ukraine on Feb 24, saying it aimed to demilitarise and "denazify" its neighbour. Ukraine and the West say the invasion was illegal and unjustified.
Germany and the Biden administration said new sanctions against Moscow would be announced in coming days, while several European countries, including Germany, France and Italy, announced expulsions of Russian diplomats and Moscow said it would respond in kind.
The US State Department said it was supporting an international team of prosecutors and experts in their work collecting and analysing evidence of atrocities.
German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht said the European Union must discuss banning Russian gas, though other officials urged caution around measures that could touch off a European energy crisis.
Russia supplies about a third of Europe's gas, and Putin has tried to use energy as a lever to fight back against Western sanctions. So far, however, Moscow has kept gas flowing to Europe, despite uncertainty over Putin's demands for payments in roubles.
In the latest effort to pile pressure on Moscow, the United States stopped the Russian government from paying holders of its sovereign debt more than US$600 million from reserves held at US banks.
BATTLES IN THE EAST
Ukraine said it was bracing for about 60,000 Russian reservists to be called in to reinforce Moscow's offensive in the east, where Russia's main targets have included the port of Mariupol and Kharkiv, the country's second-largest city.
Ukraine's general staff said Russian forces aimed to fully take over the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces claimed by Russian-backed separatists and encircle a group of Ukrainian forces.
"Russian troops have attacked Mykolayiv with cluster munitions banned by the Geneva Convention. Whole blocks of civilian buildings have come under fire, in particular, a children's hospital. There are dead and wounded, including children," the general staff said in a daily update on Tuesday.
Reuters could not independently verify the claims.
In Mariupol, a southeastern town on the Azov Sea that has been under siege for weeks, Reuters images showed three bodies in civilian clothes lying in the street, one against a wall sprayed with blood.
West of Mariupol, in the town of Mykolaiv, shelling on Monday killed 10 people, including a child, and injured 46 others, regional administration head Oleksandr Senkevich said. Reuters was not immediately able to verify the report.