Russia was scrambling Monday to deal with the financial and economic fallout from Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
“Powerful Western sanctions rocked Russia’s financial system and triggered a spiral in the ruble, drawing the central bank into an emergency doubling of interest rates,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “The Russian ruble fell as low as 111 to the U.S. dollar from 83 on Friday, a drop of more than 20% and, if sustained, the biggest single-day fall on record. But trading was spotty, with local onshore markets frozen by the central bank and markets outside Russia reluctant to trade the currency.”
“The Bank of Russia took a raft of measures early Monday to protect Russia’s banking system. It raised benchmark rates to 20% from 9.5% in an attempt to attract savings into banks, the largest of which were targeted by Western sanctions and will be all but cut off from international markets.”
New York Times: “The ruble cratered, the stock market froze and the public rushed to withdraw cash on Monday as Western sanctions kicked in and Russia awoke to uncertainty and fear over the rapidly spreading repercussions of President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.”
CNBC: “Russian ruble plunges nearly 30% against the dollar amid sanctions over Ukraine invasion”
“The U.S. Embassy in Moscow on Sunday advised Americans to leave Russia ‘immediately,’ citing the potential for U.S. citizens to be stuck there as more airlines cancel flights into and out of the country,” the Washington Post reports.
The United States has asked 12 Russian United Nations diplomats to leave the United States, accusing them of “espionage activities,” CNN reports.
Wall Street Journal: “Diplomatic ties between Russia and the U.S. have been deteriorating for months, and it wasn’t clear if the move or timing had a connection to the war in Ukraine.”
“The West is rolling out increasingly tough sanctions on Russia but it is going out of its way to preserve the country’s biggest source of revenue: energy exports,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
“By targeting Russia’s central bank with sanctions, experts said, American and European leaders have taken aim at what could be one of President Vladimir Putin’s greatest weaknesses: the country’s currency,” the New York Times reports.
“In Russian cities, anxious customers started lining up on Sunday in front of ATM’s, hoping to withdraw the money they had deposited in banks, fearful it would run out. The panic spread on Monday.”
“In Russia today, as the purchasing power of the ruble drops sharply, consumers who hold it are finding that they can buy less with their money. In real terms, they become poorer. Such economic instability could stoke popular unhappiness and even unrest.”
“The U.S. has taken its most aggressive step yet to cripple Russia’s economy and financial system, announcing a ban on transactions with Russia’s central bank and new sanctions on the Russian Direct Investment Fund and its chief executive Kirill Dmitriev,” the Financial Times reports.
“The move by the U.S. Treasury on Monday morning follows a joint pledge by western nations on Saturday to block Russia’s ability to access roughly $630bn in foreign reserves and impose huge costs on its economy in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine.”
CNBC: “The new measures will also target the National Wealth Fund of the Russian Federation and the Ministry of Finance of the Russian Federation.”
This is the atom bomb of economic sanctions.
“Outgunned but determined Ukrainian troops slowed Russia’s advance and held onto the capital and other key cities — at least for now,” the AP reports.
Washington Post: “Videos posted on social media show whole columns of tanks and armored vehicles have been wiped out. Others have been stopped in their tracks by ordinary Ukrainians standing on the street to block their advance.”
“Lightly armed units propelled deep into the country without support have been surrounded and their soldiers captured or killed. Warplanes have been shot out of the skies and helicopters have been downed.”
“Logistics supply chains have failed, leaving troops stranded on roadsides to be captured because their vehicles ran out of fuel.”
“President Emmanuel Macron of France reiterated calls on Monday for an immediate cease-fire in a phone conversation with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, and urged an end to all attacks on civilians and essential infrastructure,” the New York Times reports. Interestingly, the call lasted an hour and a half.
“The first talks between Russia and Ukraine over Moscow’s invasion ended with the two nations agreeing to continue discussions in coming days,” the Washington Post reports. “Talks went on for almost five hours in southern Belarus near the Ukraine border, said the head of the Russian delegation, Kremlin aide Vladimir Medinsky.”
“Ukraine has vowed that it will not surrender to Russia, as talks are held between delegates from both countries following days of clashes across Ukraine,” CNBC reports. Said Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba: “Ukraine is ready to continue seeking a diplomatic solution, but Ukraine is not ready to surrender or capitulate.”
“A large convoy of Russian armed forces is moving closer to Kyiv,” the New York Times reports.
“The group of at least several hundred vehicles was initially detected in satellite imagery from Maxar Technologies on Sunday. On Monday, it was approximately 20 miles north of Antonov Airport on the outskirts of Kyiv, and 30 miles from the city limits. The convoy is stretched out over at least 17 miles, with some gaps in the column of vehicles. The line of vehicles is so extensive that it was not entirely captured in today’s satellite imagery. In some areas, the vehicles are two to three rows deep.”
“Belarus is preparing to send soldiers into Ukraine in support of the Russian invasion in a deployment that could begin as soon as Monday,” the Washington Post reports. Said a U.S. official: “It’s very clear Minsk is now an extension of the Kremlin.”
“Belarusians voting in today’s referendum are poised to abandon the country’s nonnuclear status, an outcome that could lead to Moscow deploying such weapons in Belarus just as Russian President Vladimir Putin raised the alert level for his country’s nuclear forces,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
Wall Street Journal: “Now evidence is mounting that even some allies may be moving away from him. Turkey is weighing a request from Ukraine to block Russian warships from entering the Black Sea through a strategic chokepoint. Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman and top aide to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, tweeted Sunday that his country would ‘continue our efforts to help the people of Ukraine and end bloodshed in this unjust and unlawful war.’”
“Azerbaijan, a former Soviet republic and ally of Russia, has sent humanitarian aid to Ukraine.”
“President Biden’s team has revised his first State of the Union address to emphasize Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine as a major crisis facing the West, shifting the tenor of a speech that his team had long hoped would launch a reset of his struggling administration,” the Washington Post reports.
“While not a wholesale rewrite of the address, which will be delivered at 9 p.m. Tuesday from the U.S. Capitol, the new version will reflect the way the crisis has added urgency to his longtime theme of defending democracies.”
Playbook: “Foreign policy crises have a way of reshuffling the priorities of a president.”
Jonathan Last: “Biden did not draw lines in the sand. He did not personalize the conflict. He did not turn himself into the star of the show. He did not allow anyone, anywhere, to believe that this was about America.”
“Since the invasion, Biden has been a full partner with our European allies. He has not pushed them into decisions. He recognized that having a united front was more important than any particular aspect of the response. And after only four days Europe came to the conclusion—on its own—that it would do everything the American foreign policy establishment had wanted. Biden understood that these countries needed to come to the decision to fight back on their own, and not be publicly cajoled into it.”
“Biden also understood that the EU and NATO are actually very powerful allies and that when they work in concert with the United States, we represent a significant geopolitical force.”
Playbook: “Biden is an Atlanticist who likes to brag about how he stayed in touch with European leaders while out of office from 2017 to 2021. He is a creature of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Munich Security Conference. He came up in politics immersed in the debates of the Cold War, which are now newly relevant. When he said recently that ‘the United States will defend every inch of NATO territory with the full force of American power,’ he could have been lifting the line from one of his 1988 presidential campaign speeches.”
“Biden, in this view, is uniquely suited for the new role that has been thrust upon him.”
“It was Biden and his team’s patience and close consultation with European allies that has led to the extraordinary unity now on display. Biden’s patience waiting to impose sanctions until after the invasion, even in the face of intense criticism, has been vindicated because Putin would have pointed to preemptive sanctions as a provocation and a reason to invade. Biden said that Germany would abandon the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline if Putin attacked and he was right, because he had been engaged in quiet diplomacy on the issue all along.”
“Britain will intensify a crackdown on what Prime Minister Boris Johnson called ‘dirty money’ by introducing the government’s Economic Crime Bill to parliament on Monday, a step brought forward in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” Reuters reports.
“The much-delayed legislation comes as many opposition lawmakers and those in the governing Conservative party have called on Johnson’s government to do more to stop the flow of Russian cash into London, dubbed by some as ‘Londongrad.’”
“Switzerland, a favorite destination for Russian oligarchs and their money, announced on Monday that it would freeze Russian financial assets in the country, setting aside a deeply rooted tradition of neutrality to join the European Union and a growing number of nations seeking to penalize Russia for the invasion of Ukraine,” the New York Times reports.
“Switzerland said it was departing from its usual policy of neutrality because of ‘the unprecedented military attack by Russia on a sovereign European state,’ but expressed a willingness to help mediate in the conflict. It also joined European neighbors in closing its airspace to Russian aircraft, except for humanitarian or diplomatic purposes.”
“Germany has banned Russian aircrafts and flight operators from flying into and over its airspace starting at 3 p.m. local time Sunday, a government release said — adding to the list of countries to do so amid a coordinated European pushback against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” the Washington Post reports. “Officials in France, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Belgium, Ireland and the Netherlands also indicated Sunday that they would move to close their airspace to Russian flights, joining nearly a dozen other nations who have already done so.”
Ukraine has asked to join the European Union under a special procedure, according to a video message posted by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the Washington Post reports.
Media outlets later shared photographs they said showed Zelensky signing an application for membership.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky is urging President Biden and NATO to impose a “no-fly zone” over “significant parts” of the country, telling Axios that Ukraine “can beat the aggressor” if the Western allies “do their part.” NATO has rejected that request, for obvious reasons. You can’t just declare a No Fly Zone, you have to enforce, which would require NATO aircraft, or US aircraft, constantly patroling Ukrainian airspace, and then shooting down any violating, or Russian aircraft. And then we have World War III.
“If he wants to kill himself he doesn’t need to use a nuclear arsenal. He has to do what the guy in the bunker did in Berlin in May 1945.” — Ukraine’s Ambassador to the U.N. Sergiy Kyslytsya, speaking about Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“I personally think he’s unhinged. I worry about his acuity and balance.” — Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, quoted by the New York Times, on Vladimir Putin.
Wall Street Journal: “What Europe’s populists saw in Mr. Putin was a kindred spirit, a leader willing to disregard the rules of international cooperation that emerged in the wake of World War II, underpinned by the military might of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. They admired Mr. Putin’s unapologetic nationalism and his deep-seated distrust of the U.S.”
“That admiration is now running up against the reality of Mr. Putin’s forces pouring into Ukraine. Some populists are rushing to distance themselves, branding Mr. Putin’s aggression a setback of historic proportions.”
David Remnick: “Like many aging autocrats, Putin has, over time, remained himself, only more so: more resentful, more isolated, more repressive, more ruthless. He operates in an airless political environment, free of contrary counsel. His stagecraft — seating foreign visitors at the opposite end of a twenty-foot-long table, humiliating security chiefs in front of television cameras — is a blend of ‘Triumph of the Will’ and ‘The Great Dictator.’”
“But there is nothing comic in the performance of his office. As Putin spills blood across Ukraine and threatens to destabilize Europe, Russians themselves stand to lose immeasurably. The ruble and the Russian stock market have cratered. But Putin does not care. His eyes are fixed on matters far grander than the well-being of his people. He is in full command of the largest army in Europe, and, as he has reminded the world, of an immense arsenal of nuclear weapons. In his mind, this is his moment, his triumphal historical drama, and damn the cost.”
The Ukrainian border guards who refused to surrender to a Russian warship telling them to “Go fuck yourself” are still alive and in Russian captivity, the Jerusalem Post reports.
“It was initially reported that 13 Ukrainian soldiers, stationed in the small Black Sea island, were killed by Russian forces after keeping two Russian military ships out of the island for several hours.”
Tom Nichols: “For now, the sensible, and confident, American answer should be to do nothing. This might seem counterintuitive: The Russians have gone to higher alert, and it would seem only prudent to answer this with a reciprocal raising of U.S. alert status.”
“But that Cold War reaction would, I suspect, exactly what Putin wants. He’s in a jam and he’s trying to look strong, and part of the way he can do that is to turn his hare-brained scheme in Ukraine into a gigantic Russian-American confrontation. Putin would like nothing better than to take everyone’s mind off Ukraine and focus us all on a game of nuclear chicken.”
Associated Press: “For years, some U.S. officials have worried that Putin, if faced with the prospect of losing a war in Europe, might resort to the use of nonstrategic nuclear weapons, thinking it would quickly bring the conflict to an end on his terms.”
“President Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, Ketanji Brown Jackson, will hold her first meetings with senators on Wednesday, including the Republican minority leader and the two top senators on the Judiciary Committee,” Politico reports.
“The Senate Judiciary Committee is aiming to begin Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings March 21,” Politico reports.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) tore into his fellow Republicans who have spoken positively about Vladimir Putin. Said Romney: “How anybody in this country which loves freedom can side with Vladimir Putin — who is an oppressor, a dictator, he kills people, he imprisons his political opponents. He’s been an adversary of America at every chance he’s had.”
“It’s unthinkable to me. It’s almost treasonous, and it just makes me ill to see some of these people do that. But of course, they do it ’cause it’s shock value and it will get them more eyeballs and make a little more money for them and their network. It’s disgusting.”
Romney also referred to Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Paul Gosar (R-AZ) as “morons” during a CNN interview after the two lawmakers attended a white nationalist conference this weekend. Said Romney: “I don’t know them, but I’m reminded of that old line from the ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ movie, where one character says: ‘Morons. I have got morons on my team.’”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is condemning fellow Republicans who engage with white nationalist groups, just days after Reps. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) spoke at the extremist-backed America First Political Action Conference, Politico reports.
Said McConnell: “There’s no place in the Republican Party for white supremacists or anti-Semitism.”
Formula One announced that it was canceling this season’s Russian Grand Prix in light of the country’s invasion of Ukraine, Insider reports.
“World soccer’s global governing body suspended Russia and its teams from all competitions on Monday, ejecting the country from qualifying for the 2022 World Cup only weeks before it was to play for one of Europe’s final places in this year’s tournament in Qatar,” the New York Times reports.
“Facebook and Twitter removed two anti-Ukrainian ‘covert influence operations’ over the weekend, one tied to Russia and another with connections to Belarus,” NBC News reports.
“Russian Foreign Minster Sergei Lavrov has cancelled a trip to Geneva for disarmament talks because his plane would not be able to pass through airspace that the European Union has closed to Russian aviation as part of sanctions against Moscow,” Reuters reports.
Sweden announced it will break its doctrine of not sending arms to countries in active conflict and send military equipment, including anti-tank launchers, to Ukraine, AFP reports.
The new IPCC report out this morning sounds the alarm on how humans are lagging behind rapidly accelerating climate change, and the fact that the damage caused by climate change is on the edge of becoming irreversible.
“In the hotter and more hellish world humans are creating, parts of the planet could become unbearable in the not-so-distant future, a panel of the world’s foremost scientists warned Monday in an exhaustive report on the escalating toll of climate change,” the Washington Post reports.
“Unchecked greenhouse gas emissions will raise sea levels several feet, swallowing small island nations and overwhelming even the world’s wealthiest coastal regions. Drought, heat, hunger and disaster may force millions of people from their homes. Coral reefs could vanish, along with a growing number of animal species. Disease-carrying insects would proliferate. Deaths — from malnutrition, extreme heat, pollution — will surge.”
“The White House is relaxing its mask mandate in time for President Biden’s State of the Union address on Tuesday,” the New York Times reports.
“The policy for unvaccinated people visiting the White House is not changing… They will still be required to be tested, wear masks and maintain social distance. Nearly the entire White House staff is vaccinated.”
“The White House’s move reflects how quickly the conditions of the pandemic have changed in a matter of a few weeks, and how eager Mr. Biden is to project a symbolic return to normalcy.”
“Hill leaders are retiring their workplace masking policies, making masks optional throughout the Capitol complex ahead of Congress’ return to Washington this week and Tuesday’s State of the Union address,” Politico reports.
“For his part, Mr. Barr portrays Mr. Trump as a president who — despite sometimes displaying ‘the menacing mannerisms’ of a strongman ruler as a ‘schtick’ to project an image of strength — had operated within guardrails set up by his advisers and achieved many conservative policy goals. But Mr. Trump ‘lost his grip’ after the election.”
Writes Barr: “He stopped listening to his advisers, became manic and unreasonable, and was off the rails. He surrounded himself with sycophants, including many whack jobs from outside the government, who fed him a steady diet of comforting but unsupported conspiracy theories.”
“Russian President Vladimir Putin is doing in days what decades of American prodding and pressure couldn’t: Getting Germany and other European nations to unite, expand defense spending and strategic thinking, and do more to protect themselves and others,” Axios reports. “Putin calculated a divided America and Europe would make it hard to punish him for invading Ukraine. Instead, he’s spawned a new coalition of the willing that spreads from Europe, to U.S. companies, to Russians in the streets.”
“As the leaders of the European Union gathered for an emergency summit on Thursday night, momentum was already moving toward imposing tough new sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine,” the Washington Post reports. “But a handful of key leaders, notably including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, were reluctant to proceed with some of the harshest proposals.”
“Then Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky dialed into the meeting via teleconference with a bracing appeal that left some of the world-weary politicians with watery eyes. In just five minutes, Zelensky — speaking from the battlefield of Kyiv — pleaded with European leaders for an honest assessment of his country’s ambition to join the European Union and for genuine help in its fight with the Russian invaders. Ukraine needed its neighbors to step up with food, ammunition, fuel, sanctions, all of it.”
“Why do I care what’s going on in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia? And I’m serious, why do I care? And why shouldn’t I root for Russia, which I am.” — Tucker Carlson, on Fox News.
“I voted for many Republicans. I don’t see how I’ll ever get back to that.” — Howard Stern, quoted by The Hill, slamming Republicans like Donald Trump for praising that “fucking animal” Vladimir Putin.
“The United Nations Security Council voted Sunday to convene a rare special session of the General Assembly to address Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The move came as President Vladimir Putin declared that he had placed Russia’s nuclear defense system on high alert,” the New York Times reports. “The General Assembly has held a special session only 10 times since 1950.”
Wall Street Journal: “Russia won’t have a veto in the General Assembly, which passes resolutions with a majority or two-thirds vote, but resolutions in the broader body aren’t binding.”
“A Russian government representative apologized to Ukraine and said there was no justification for his country’s invasion during a meeting of climate scientists and governments on Sunday morning,” Politico reports. Said Oleg Anisimov: “First of all, let me thank Ukraine and present an apology on behalf of all Russians who were not able to prevent this conflict. All of those who know what is happening fail to find any justification for this attack against Ukraine.”