Zelensky urges Ukrainians to “go on the offensive”

“Go on the offensive!” President Volodymyr Zelensky implored Ukrainian citizens in his latest video, released Saturday evening local time.

Why it matters: Zelensky’s message arrived towards the end of another day of heavy fighting and fleeing, interspersed with diplomatic engagement and back-and-forth warnings (from Russian President Vladimir Putin) and pleas (to US lawmakers) about a no-fly zone.

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  • “Ukrainians! In all of our cities, where the enemy invaded, go on the offensive. Go out on the streets. We need to fight every time we have an opportunity,” Zelensky said in the video posted to his Telegram account late on Saturday in Ukraine.

  • Earlier in the day, the Russian military announced observance of a ceasefire in Mariupol, a strategic port in the southeast, and the eastern city of Volnovakha, but shelling by Russian forces halted the civilian evacuations, according to Zelensky’s office.

Oil embargo on the agenda: The Ukrainian president spent an hour over Zoom with around 300 bipartisan members of Congress on Saturday, reiterating his call for an oil embargo on Russia and pushing lawmakers to encourage Eastern European countries to provide Russian-made plans to his country, multiple sources on the call told Axios.

  • The White House has so far opposed a ban on Russian oil because it would cause disruptions to global energy markets, exacerbating inflation. But pressure is growing in Congress – from both Democrats and Republicans – for the US to take this step.

No-fly tug of war: Putin on Saturday said that Moscow will consider any declaration of Ukraine as a no-fly zone to be “participation in the armed conflict.”

  • “That very second, we will view them as participants in the military conflict, and it would not matter what members they are,” Putin said.

  • Alliance leaders have thus far ruled out declaring a no-fly zone, as it could trigger a widespread conventional war between a non-NATO member state, NATO nations, and a nuclear-powered Russia.

  • Zelensky has lambasted the US and NATO for opting against the declaration.

  • Axios has an explainer on “Why Ukraine wants a no-fly zone – but is unlikely to get one

Diplomatic engagement: Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Saturday secretly traveled to Moscow to discuss a possible ceasefire with Putin, an Israel official confirmed to Axios’ Barak Ravid.

The third round of negotiations between Russia and Ukraine will be held on Monday, Ukraine’s chief negotiator posted on Facebook Saturday.

  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken, meanwhile, spent part of Saturday meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart on the Polish border. The chief diplomat also met with Poland’s prime minister and foreign minister, and he visited a center hosting Ukrainians who have crossed the border.

  • Blinken also held a town hall with staff members of the US Embassy in Kyiv, in Rzeszów, Poland.

Blinken speaks during a town hall meeting with staff members of the US Embassy in Kyiv, in Rzeszów, Poland, on March 5. Photo: Oliver Douliery / Pool / AFP via Getty Images

  • House Foreign Affairs Chair Gregory Meeks (DN.Y.), who is leading a bipartisan delegation to the Polish-Ukrainian border, also met with Blinken on Saturday.

Back in Washington, US officials on Saturday approved a flight chartered by the Russian government to fly out Russian diplomats who had been expelled for abusing “their privileges of residency in the US”

  • “This special exception was done in accordance with federal regulations to ensure Russian mission personnel and their families departed by the date we had instructed,” a State Department spokesman said Saturday.

  • Meanwhile, Russia’s flagship airline, Aeroflot, said Saturday that it will halt all international flights except to Belarus beginning Tuesday.

Zoom out: The International Monetary Fund warned on Saturday that Russia’s continued invasion of Ukraine and the related economic sanctions will have a “severe impact on the global economy.”

  • “While the situation remains highly fluid and the outlook is subject to extraordinary uncertainty, the economic consequences are already very serious,” the IMF said in a statement.

Turkey and the United States plan to continue “close coordination” on the response to the ongoing invasion, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said following talks on Saturday between Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Önal and Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman in Ankara.

  • “Sherman thanked Turkey for its strong and vocal support in defense of Ukraine and expressed appreciation for the solidarity among partners and NATO allies in confronting this crisis,” according to a readout of the meeting from State Department spokesperson Ned Price.

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