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Ukrainian forces kept hold of the capital city of Kyiv Saturday as a senior U.S. Defense official said there were signs the invading Russian forces were frustrated by fiercer-than-expected resistance.
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In a major shift, Germany announced it would join the list of countries sending military assistance to Ukraine — and said it was considering a "targeted" approach to disconnecting Russia from the SWIFT banking system.
The U.S. continues to see indications of viable Ukrainian resistance, a senior U.S. Defense Department official said Saturday. Moscow was particularly stymied by the fight Ukrainians have put up in the north around Kyiv and Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, the official said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has refused to leave the capital. Instead he has been posting videos from the streets, urging his people to join him in defiance.
One of Russia's closest allies denies request for troops
Kazakhstan, one of Russia's closest allies and a southern neighbor, is denying a request for its troops to join the offensive in Ukraine, officials said Friday.
Additionally, the former Soviet republic said it is not recognizing the Russia-created breakaway republics upheld by Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, as a pretext for its aggression in Ukraine.
Despite ceasefire accords covering the disputed land, Putin on Monday declared Russia's recognition of Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) and the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) as independent states.
The surprising development from a traditional ally of Russia has the support of the United States.
“We welcome Kazakhstan’s announcement that they will not recognize the LPR and DPR," the National Security Council said in a statement. "We also welcome Kazakhstan’s refusal to send its forces to join Putin’s war in Ukraine."
Russia vetoes U.N. Security Council condemnation of its offensive
Russia on Friday vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning its offensive in neighboring Ukraine.
The council voted 11-1, with three abstentions, to condemn the country's military aggression and call for it to cease, reverse and withdraw. China was among three abstentions despite its tacit support for Russia, including a refusal to back sanctions against the country.
India and United Arab Emirates also abstained. Russia's vote included "no" and its veto. Russia holds the presidency of the elite council for the month of February and presided over the vote.
The resolution cosponsored by the United States and Albania would have had the council condemning the offensive "in the strongest terms" and demanding that Russia "immediately cease its use of force against Ukraine."
Ukrainian ambassador to U.S. accuses Russia of war crimes
Russia has committed war crimes, taken civilians hostage and attacked an orphanage with 50 children inside, Oksana Markarova, the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States, said at a press conference Friday.
"The Russian propaganda machine says that civilians were not targeted. I want to tell you that is not true," she said, claiming that Russian rockets hit residential areas and ambulances, injured children and destroyed strategic gas pipelines.
She said that Ukrainian armed forces are keeping the situation under control, claiming that 2,800 Russians were dead in the conflict and that 80 Russian tanks, 10 planes and seven helicopters had been destroyed.
NBC News has not confirmed the numbers of any injuries or deaths on either side.
The ambassador also raised concerns about the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which remains irradiated and a key storage facility for atomic waste after the infamous 1986 meltdown. The Russians seized control and took 92 hostages, she said, forcing them to work in shifts that do not comply with international regulations.
"All responsibility now lies with the Russian army," she said regarding the continued maintenance of Chernobyl.
Markarova noted that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and President Joe Biden had another call Friday to discuss an anti-war coalition that included 73 countries, "working hand in hand," though she said those countries should also work to further defend Ukraine from Russian attacks.
While she applauded the sanctions the U.S. and other countries have announced on Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, she said the sanctions on Russia should go further to fully "exclude it" from the international financial system.
The press conference concluded with Markarova thanking Russians who had "protested against Putin's attack on Ukraine."
"We would like to say, we see you, and it gives us hope that there are forces in Russia that don’t support a brutal attack on this nation," she said.
Russian offensive unexpectedly slowed by stiff Ukrainian resistance
Two days in, the Russian offensive appeared to be stymied by stiffer-than-expected resistance from highly motivated Ukrainian armed forces.
Despite an overwhelming advantage in manpower and equipment, the Russian advance lost some of its momentum Friday and the quick victory Russian President Vladimir Putin was counting on is no longer assured, a senior United States defense official told NBC News.
"We do assess that there is greater resistance by the Ukrainians than the Russians expected," the official said. “They are fighting for their country.”
White House will directly sanction Putin
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration announced Friday it would join the European Union in directly sanctioning President Vladimir Putin, as Russian forces continued a brutal invasion of Ukraine, threatening to take over the capital city of Kyiv.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that following a conversation with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, the U.S. would join European allies in sanctioning Putin, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and other members of the Russian national security team.
The Biden administration has been ratcheting up sanctions against Moscow over the past few days, working in coordination with European allies to take unprecedented measures in hopes of deterring Putin from launching a wide-scale attack against Ukraine.
But those efforts appeared to have done little to keep Putin from pushing Russian forces further into Ukraine on Friday, as Kyiv was rocked by explosions and the sound of air raid sirens.