Ukrainian and Russian delegations were expected to meet Monday at the Belarusian border for their first direct talks since Russia’s invasion began on Thursday, as Russia’s Central Bank dramatically hiked interest rates to try to slow the ruble’s plunge.
Russian President Vladimir Putin put his nuclear forces on increased alert on Sunday in a major escalation of tensions with the West. Russia’s conventional military assault on Ukraine entered its fourth day with fighting in the streets of the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, and troops moving closer to the capital Kyiv.
The explosions and gunfire around Kyiv, besieged by the Russian forces, appeared to subside overnight. The Russian military offered to allow residents to leave via a safe corridor while it has beefed up for an onslaught on the capital.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video message Monday that “every crime, every shelling by the occupiers bring our partners and us even closer.”
In Moscow, Russia’s Central Bank sharply raised its key borrowing rate from 9.5% to 20% in a desperate attempt to shore up the plummeting ruble and prevent the run of banks amid crippling Western sanctions over the Russian war in Ukraine.
The Central Bank also ordered a slew of measures to help the banks cope with the crisis by infusing more cash into the system and easing restrictions for banking operations. At the same time, it temporarily barred non-residents from selling the government obligations to help ease the pressure on ruble from panicky foreign investors eager to cash out.
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WHY IS RUSSIA INVADING UKRAINE? Could this be the start of WWIII? We explain.
A few things to catch you up on:
MOSCOW — The Kremlin has denied that the Russian military targeted populated areas in Ukraine despite abundant evidence that residential buildings, schools and hospitals have been hit during the Russian invasion.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov alleged Monday that civilian casualties have resulted from members of right-wing Ukrainian nationalist groups using civilians as shields and putting military equipment in populated areas. Peskov’s claims couldn’t be independently confirmed and they contradicted statements from Ukrainian officials who accused Russia of targeting civilians.
– Associated Press
The Ukrainian delegation has arrived in Belarus for a meeting with Russian officials and the talks are under way, according to reports from CNN and the Associated Press.
Ukraine demanded an “immediate ceasefire and withdrawal of Russian troops,” CNN reported, citing a statement from the Ukraine presidency.
The delegation includes several senior Ukrainian officials but President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was not planning to attend.
– Caren Bohan
KYIV, Ukraine – Outgunned but determined Ukrainian troops slowed Russia’s advance and held onto the capital and other key cities — at least for now. In the face of stiff resistance and devastating sanctions, President Vladimir Putin ordered Russia’s nuclear forces put on high alert, threatening to elevate the war to a terrifying new level.
Explosions and gunfire that have disrupted life since the invasion began last week appeared to subside around Kyiv overnight, as Ukrainian and Russian delegations prepared to meet Monday on Ukraine’s border with Belarus.
Terrified Ukrainian families huddled in shelters, basements or corridors, waiting to find out. Exact death tolls are unclear, but Ukraine’s president says at least 16 children have been killed and another 45 wounded, among hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other casualties. Millions have fled homes or the country all together.
“I sit and pray for these negotiations to end successfully, so that they reach an agreement to end the slaughter, and so there is no more war,” said Alexandra Mikhailova, weeping as she clutched her cat in a makeshift shelter in the strategic southeastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol. Around her, parents sought to console children and keep them warm.
The relative lull in warfare Monday morning in Ukraine was unlikely to last.
Neighboring Belarus could send troops to help Russia as soon as Monday, according to a senior American intelligence official with direct knowledge of current U.S. intelligence assessments. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
– Associated Press
The civilian death toll from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has risen to 352, including 14 children, the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal affairs said Sunday. The ministry said 1,684 people had been injured.
The United Nations had announced the civilian death toll had reached 240 by Saturday, but stressed that the actual figure was potentially “considerably higher.”
– Jay Cannon
ROME – The Vatican is offering to help in any negotiations to end the war in Ukraine.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s No. 2 official, told several Italian newspapers in an interview published on Monday that the Holy See is “offering its willingness to facilitate dialogue with Russia.”
On Friday, Pope Francis took the extraordinary step of visiting the Russian Embassy to the Holy See to meet with the Russian ambassador. The pontiff urged an end to fighting and a return to negotiations, Parolin said.
While Orthodox Christians are predominant among the faithful in Ukraine, the Catholic Church has a discreet presence in that country through believers who follow the Eastern Rite of Catholicism.
– Associated Press
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed that Western allies would impose the harshest economic sanctions possible against Russian President Vladimir Putin for his “abhorrent campaign against Ukraine.”
The European Union has announced unprecedented new actions against Russia, outlining plans to close its airspace to Russian airlines, fund a weapons purchase to assist Ukraine and ban some pro-Kremlin media outlets, while the Associated Press reported the United States approved the delivery of anti-aircraft Stinger missiles to Ukraine.
Western powers in support of Ukraine could soon be joined by Switzerland, an oftentimes neutral country that on Monday is set to review potential sanctions and asset freezes against Russia, said President Ignazio Cassis via Reuters. Cassis said it was “very probable” the country would follow suit, the outlet reported.
“Putin must fail,” the British prime minister wrote on Twitter.
– Caren Bohan and Associated Press
After rejecting Putin’s offer to meet in the Belarusian city of Homel on the grounds that Belarus was helping the Russian assault, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy agreed to send a Ukrainian delegation to meet Russian counterparts at an unspecified time and location on the Belarusian border. CNN quoted a Ukrainian official saying the talks are expected to take place Monday.
Ukraine’s announcement that it would meet came hours after Russia said its delegation had flown to Belarus to await talks. Ukrainian officials initially rejected the location, saying any discussions should take place elsewhere. Belarus has allowed Russia to use its territory as a staging ground for the invasion of Ukraine.
– Associated Press
The Russian military offered to allow residents to leave Kyiv via a safe corridor while it has beefed up for an onslaught on the capital.
With Russian troops closing in around Kyiv, a city of almost 3 million, the mayor of the capital expressed doubt that civilians could be evacuated. Authorities have been handing out weapons to anyone willing to defend the city. Ukraine is also releasing prisoners with military experience who want to fight, and training people to make firebombs.
But Russian Defense Minister Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said the military would let Kyiv residents use a highway that leads out of the city to the southwest — an offer that appeared to signal a new onslaught is coming.
A nearly 40-hour curfew in Kyiv ended on Monday morning. The curfew will resume each night, from 10 p.m.-7 a.m. Ukraine is seven hours ahead of Eastern U.S. time.
– Associated Press
After days of fence-sitting, Swiss President Ignazio Cassis said on Sunday it was “very probable” that neutral Switzerland would follow the European Union’s lead and sanction Russia and freeze Russian assets in the country.
Reuters reported that Cassis, who was interviewed on French-language Swiss public television, said the nation’s seven-member Federal Council would meet Monday and review recommendations by finance and economy officials.
“It is very probable that the government will decide to do so tomorrow, but I cannot anticipate decisions not yet taken,” Cassis said, via Reuters.
Switzerland, a global financial hub and commodities trading center, has so far resisted calls for it to levy sanctions and possibly freeze Russian assets, especially after the EU and U.S. announced sanctions.
It was not known immediately how many wealthy Russian elites, especially oligarchs close to Putin, have stashed money in Swiss banks, known for their strong privacy firewalls. But various leaks of banking documents over the years suggest they have a sizable amount invested in Switzerland.
In 2018, Swiss banks reportedly frozen $1 billion in the accounts of one oligarch alone – Russian metals tycoon Viktor Vekselberg – over fears that they could be fined for doing business with him after Washington levied sanctions against the businessman, the Moscow Times reported at the time.
– Josh Meyer
A senior U.S. intelligence official says Belarus is expected to send troops into Ukraine as soon as Monday to fight alongside Russian forces that invaded Ukraine last week.
Belarus has been providing support for Russia’s war effort, but so far has not taken a direct part in the conflict.
The American official has direct knowledge of current U.S. intelligence assessments and says the decision by Belarus’ leader on whether to bring Belarus further into the war depends on talks between Russia and Ukraine happening in the coming days. The official spoke anonymously to discuss the sensitive information.
— Associated Press
The U.N.’s two major bodies – the 193-nation General Assembly and the more powerful 15-member Security Council – will hold separate meetings Monday on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a reflection of widespread international demands for an immediate cease-fire and escalating concern for the plight of millions of Ukrainians caught up in the war.
The Security Council gave a green light Sunday for the first emergency session of the General Assembly in decades. It will give all U.N. members an opportunity to speak about the war Monday and vote on a resolution later in the week that U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said would “hold Russia to account for its indefensible actions and for its violations of the U.N. Charter.”
French Ambassador Nicolas De Riviere announced that the Security Council will hold a meeting Monday afternoon on the humanitarian impact of Russia’s invasion, a session sought by French President Emmanuel Macron to ensure the delivery of aid to growing numbers of those in need in Ukraine.
Both meetings follow Russia’s veto Friday of a Security Council resolution demanding that Moscow immediately stop its attack on Ukraine and withdraw all troops. The vote was 11-1, with China, India and the United Arab Emirates abstaining.
– Associated Press
Contributing: The Associated Press