Western sanctions against Russia are 'declaration of war' - Putin

Israel could join limited sanctions against Russian oligarchs • More companies announce ending of operations on Russian soil

 Russia's President Vladimir Putin speaks to the media following a meeting with Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, February 22, 2022. (photo credit: SPUTNIK/MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/KREMLIN VIA REUTERS)
Russia's President Vladimir Putin speaks to the media following a meeting with Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, February 22, 2022.

President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday that Western sanctions on Russia were akin to a declaration of war and defended Russia's invasion of Ukraine, saying Moscow needed to defend Russian speakers in Ukraine's east as well as its own interests.

The Milan-based luxury group Prada has suspended its retail operations in Russia, it said in a statement on Saturday, following a slew of other leading brands who have already announced similar moves.

"Our primary concern is for all colleagues and their families affected by the tragedy in Ukraine, and we will continue to support them," Prada said.

Similarly, German sportswear maker Puma has decided to suspend operations at all its stores in Russia, it said on Saturday.

Puma, which has 100 stores in Russia, had already stopped deliveries to Russia following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

Putin reiterated that his aims in Ukraine are to defend Russian-speaking communities through the "demilitarization and de-Nazification" of the country so that it became neutral.

"These sanctions that are being imposed are akin to a declaration of war but thank God it has not come to that," Putin said, speaking to a group of women flight attendants at an Aeroflot training center near Moscow.

He said any attempt by another power to impose a no-fly zone in Ukraine would be considered by Russia to be a step into the military conflict. NATO has rejected Kyiv's request for a no-fly zone, on the grounds it would escalate the war beyond Ukraine.

Several Russian oligarchs have already been sanctioned by the US, UK and EU. They will be cut off from the US financial system, with their assets frozen and property blocked off.

Read more on the Ukraine-Russia war

Israel could deny Russian oligarchs from storing aircrafts on Israeli soil for more than 48 hours, Ynet reported on Saturday citing a top Israeli official.

Israel also reportedly plans to not allow Russian yachts to lay anchor in its ports for more than 48 hours.

"We will not give oligarchs on the sanctions list store their yachts and airplanes in Israel. We must not be seen as a country used to evade sanctions," the official told Ynet.


Payments company PayPal Holdings Inc PYPL.O shut down its services early on Saturday in Russia, citing "the current circumstances," joining many financial and tech companies in suspending operations there after the invasion of Ukraine.

"Under the current circumstances, we are suspending PayPal services in Russia," President and Chief Executive Dan Schulman said in a statement. He added that the company "stands with the international community in condemning Russia's violent military aggression in Ukraine."

A company spokesperson said PayPal will support withdrawals "for a period of time, ensuring that account balances are dispersed in line with applicable laws and regulations.”

PayPal, which had only allowed cross-border transactions by users in Russia, stopped accepting new users in the country on Wednesday. Ukrainian government officials had been calling on PayPal to quit Russia and help them with fundraising.

PayPal said on Friday that "since the beginning of the invasion, it has helped raise over $150 million for charities supporting response efforts in Ukraine, one of the largest efforts we've seen in such a short period of time.” PayPal's suspension in Russia also applies to its money transfer tool Xoom. Rivals Wise and Remitly earlier suspended some services in Russia.


Spanish fashion retailer Inditex ITX.MC has halted trading in Russia, closing its 502 shops and stopping online sales, the company said in a statement on Saturday.

The Zara owner is following some of the biggest western brands which have suspended operations in Russia, including its main rival H&M HMb.ST, following the invasion of Ukraine and the imposition of economic sanctions.

"In the current circumstances Inditex cannot guarantee the continuity of the operations and commercial conditions in the Russian Federation and temporarily suspends its activity," the world's biggest fashion company said.

Russia accounts for around 8.5% of the group's global EBIT (earnings before interest and tax) and all the Inditex stores operate on a rental basis, Inditex said. "The investment is not relevant from a financial point of view."

Inditex said it would give its workforce of more than 9,000 people a special support plan, without giving any details. The group had said its 79 stores in Ukraine have already been temporarily closed.

Spain's second-largest fashion retailer Mango said on Thursday it was temporarily closing its 120 Russian shops, and Tendam, the third-largest clothing group, said it had taken a similar decision on Saturday.

"The combination of the weakness in the rouble resulting in large price increases for the Russian consumer and increased logistical difficulties will make operations difficult for all retailers importing into Russia, even if there are no direct sanctions on their product categories," Adam Cochrane, an analyst at Deutsche Bank Research, said.

"Russia was an important element of the sales growth in 2021 for Inditex," Cochrane added.

More sanctions

The European Union said it had joined members of the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS) in suspending Russia and Belarus from the Council's activities.

"This decision is a part of the European Union’s and like-minded partners response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the involvement of Belarus in this unprovoked and unjustified aggression," it said on Saturday.

"The EU agrees with the other members of the CBSS (Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland and Sweden) that the suspension of Russia and Belarus will remain in force until it is possible to resume cooperation based on respect for fundamental principles of international law," it added.

Other companies diverging from Russian include Intel, IKEA, luxury brands Hermes and Swarovski, Google and Grammarly.

The New Development Bank (NDB) established by the BRICS group of emerging nations - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, said on Friday it had put new transactions in Russia on hold.

Russia's communications watchdog on Friday restricted access to several foreign news organizations' websites including the BBC and Deutsche Welle, after Russian news agencies such as Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik were blocked or are in the process of being blocked throughout many parts of the world.

In addition, leading news agencies including the BBC and CNN said on Friday night that they were halting their operations in Russia out of fear of harm to journalists after the Russian parliament approved harsh measures on journalists who disseminate "fake news." 

Russia's flagship carrier Aeroflot AFLT.MM will stop all flights abroad with the exception of those to Belarus from March 8, the TASS news agency quoted the company as saying on Saturday.

Russia's state aviation authority on Saturday recommended that Russian airlines with foreign-leased aicraft to suspend flights of passengers and cargo abroad from Russia from March 6 and from foreign countries to Russia starting on March 8.