West Uses Oil As Latest Tool Against Russia As More Ukrainians Look To Flee Fighting

The United States has banned imports of Russian oil over Moscow's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine as thousands tried to flee cities around the country through humanitarian corridors with limited success as continued Russian shelling and artillery fire cut off some of the exit routes.

RFE/RL's Ukraine Live Briefing gives you all of the latest on Russia's unprovoked invasion of its neighbor, how Kyiv is fighting back, the plight of civilians, and Western reaction. The Live Briefing presents the latest developments and analysis, updated throughout the day.

With the 13th day of Russia's attack on its neighbor again darkened by reports of residential areas being targeted, U.S. President Joe Biden on March 8 announced a ban on oil and other energy imports from Russia, putting pressure on his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, who is being pushed further and further into isolation by crushing sanctions from countries around the globe.

In concert with Washington's move, Britain said it would also phase out Russian oil by the end of the year while the EU, which is heavily dependent on Russian energy supplies, planned to slash gas imports by two-thirds.

Oil and gas exports account for a significant portion of Russia's budget revenues and are a key source of foreign currency to defend the ruble.

The U.S. ban on Russian oil imports is adding to existing concerns about the legal and financial risks of buying and trading Russian energy, says Ben Cahill, an energy analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Russia could see its oil exports -- which stood at around 5 million barrels a day -- decline sharply, he said.

"This is part of a bigger challenge for Russia. Around the world -- whether it's in Europe, the United States, or even Asia -- a lot people just don't want to take Russian oil and [oil] products," even if it's a cheaper alternative, Cahill told RFE/RL.

Russia may be forced to cut back on oil production if it can't find buyers, he said. China "can't soak up" all of Russia's oil and gas that currently goes to the West and won't pay the same high prices Europeans historically have, Cahill said.

Meanwhile, Western companies continued their exodus from Russia, with oil giant Shell announcing its exit, while global fast-food icon McDonald's and coffeehouse Starbucks joined more than 200 other firms that have indefinitely suspended operations in Russia.

Biden said Russia's military may continue to "grind out its advance at a horrible price, but this much is already clear: Ukraine will never be a victory for Putin."

"Putin may be able to take a city, but he'll never be able to hold the country," he said.

Some buses in Sumy managed to transport hundreds of civilians out of the besieged Ukrainian city through a humanitarian corridor, but thousands in the southern city of Mariupol were still trapped when their route out of the city was blocked, with the government accusing Russia of shelling the area.

The evacuation came hours after Russian air strikes overnight on Sumy killed 21 people, including two children, according to the Ukrainian Prosecutor-General's Office. At least four Ukrainian soldiers were also killed, the military said.

Mariupol has been without water, heat, sanitary systems, or phones for several days, one of the most desperate scenes of the nearly two-week-old war. An estimated 200,000 people -- nearly half the population of 430,000 -- hope to flee the city.

"The enemy has launched an attack heading exactly at the humanitarian corridor," the ministry said on Facebook, adding that the Russian Army "did not let children, women, and elderly people leave the city."

UN officials reported on March 8 that 2 million people had fled Ukraine since the unprovoked Russian attack started on February 24, sparking Europe's worst refugee crisis since World War II.

Since the invasion began, more than 400 civilian deaths have been recorded by the UN human rights office, which said the true number is likely much higher as it continues to process the situation.

Elsewhere, efforts continued to evacuate the Kyiv suburb of Irpin, which, according to residents, came under some of the most intensive Russian shelling overnight.

About 3,000 people have been brought to safety from the embattled Ukrainian town of Irpin so far, according to the authorities.

With Russia's initial plan for a rapid strike to topple the government seemingly failing and signs of growing discontent in Russia over the war, senior U.S. intelligence officials warned Putin may dig his heels in even further and ratchet up his offensive in the country.

"Our analysts assess that Putin is unlikely to be deterred by such setbacks and instead may escalate," U.S. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told a hearing on global security threats at the U.S. House of Representatives.

Corridors to let civilians escape and allow aid reach besieged areas have been the main subject of talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations, but there has been little success in opening them.

Kyiv has branded the corridors a publicity stunt by Moscow as many of the routes lead into Russia or its ally, Belarus.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called for the expansion of humanitarian corridors, and more support from the Red Cross to help keep them open and to move people out of harm's way.

In a video address from an undisclosed location on March 8, he said a child died of dehydration in Mariupol, in a sign of how desperate the city’s population has become.

Historic scenes of the Ukrainian capital fortified with sandbags, anti-tank obstacles, and armed volunteers as a Russian advance appears to stall to the north of Kyiv.

Later on March 8, he released a selfie video of himself standing near the presidential offices in Kyiv, with piles of sandbags, a snow-dusted fir tree, and a few cars in the background. It was the second video in 24 hours showing him near the country's seat of power.

In a soft voice, he said: "Snow fell. It's that kind of springtime. You see, it's that kind of wartime, that kind of springtime. Harsh. But we will win."

Zelenskiy again pleaded for air support from Western countries, which NATO and its allies had previously ruled out fearing a major escalation in the conflict.

But in a potentially major policy shift, Poland said on March 8 that it was ready to hand over all its MiG-29 jets to a U.S. air base in Germany and urged other NATO members with the same type of Russian-made warplanes to do the same to allow the alliance to come together and make a decision on whether to send offensive weapons to Ukraine.

So far, many NATO countries, along with other Western allies, have supplied only defensive weaponry to Kyiv amid threats from Moscow that it would make the donors a direct party to the conflict and thus open to retaliation.

Ukraine's military, meanwhile, said on March 8 that it had managed to slow down the Russian attack, saying that although "the enemy is continuing an offensive operation, the pace of advance of its troops has slowed significantly."

The Ukrainian General Staff said early on March 8 that Ukrainian forces were still defending their positions in the southern, eastern, and northern sectors on the country and that Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv were still in Ukrainian hands.

The statements could not be independently verified.

The United Nations refugee chief said on March 8 the number of people fleeing Russia's advance into Ukraine had reached 2 million.

Filippo Grandi, the UN's high commissioner for refugees, made his remarks at a press conference in Oslo after visiting Moldova, Poland, and Romania, all of which have received refugees pouring across the border from Ukraine since Russia invaded the country on February 24.

Grandi said that, by comparison, the Balkan wars in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo saw "maybe 2 to 3 million people, but over a period of eight years."

While other parts of the "world have seen this," Grandi added, "in Europe it's the first time since the Second World War."

More than 1.2 million of those refugees have crossed into neighboring Poland, including 141,500 on March 7, the Polish border guard said on March 8.


Russia and Belarus should not be permitted to host, bid for or be awarded any international sporting events after the invasion of Ukraine, the United States and allies said in a statement released by the U.S. State Department on March 8.

The statement calls on international sporting federations to limit sponsorship opportunities for companies tied to Russian and Belarusian governments.

The statement was signed by officials from 37 countries including the United Kingdom, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Canada, Belgium, and the United States. China, India, and countries in Latin America and Africa were not listed as participating in the statement.

The statement urged the international sporting community to show "solidarity with the people of Ukraine."

Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has been widely condemned and left Russia largely internationally isolated. Belarus has been a key staging area for Russian forces.

Russia's central bank on March 8 announced that citizens with foreign-currency accounts would not be allowed to withdraw more than $10,000 until September 9 and said banks could not sell hard currency.

The bank, which earlier in the day announced a series of steps to help financial market players hit by foreign sanctions, said in a statement that regardless of what foreign currency clients held in their accounts, withdrawals would be paid in U.S. dollars.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, TASS, the BBC, and dpa