Sanctions begin to bite: Russian ruble loses almost 30%
As the new western sanctions against Russia began to bite, the ruble, on Asian markets this morning, was down 28% to 117,817 on the greenback in offshore trading – a new low. It later recovered some of its losses. The sanctions include selective exclusion of banks from the Swift payment circuit. The new ban on the Central Bank of Russia’s ability to use its roughly $630bn in foreign reserves undermines its ability to defend the rouble. Inflation is likely to go up because of the currency’s weakness. This leaves the central bank with a few options, including raising interest rates or limiting the amount of money that can be brought into or out of the country.
… and crude oil prices sprinting
WTI (World Texas Intermediate) quotations rise up to 7.5%, to 98.46 dollars a barrel. Brent instead gained up to 5.6%, at $103.39. Futures on Wall Street lists collapsed, with tose on the Dow Jones losing over 1.5%, those on the Nasdaq 3% and those on the S&P 500 fell by 2.9%.
Algeria ready to supply gas to the EU
The Algerian public colossus of hydrocarbons, Sonatrach, is ready to supply more gas to Europe in the event of a decline in Russian exports because of the Ukrainian crisis. CEO Toufik Hakkaha told the newspaper ‘Liberté’ it would be conveying it through the Transmed gas pipeline that connects Algeria to Italy.
Peace talks between Moscow and Kiev
Monday will see the start of peace negotiations between Moscow and Kiev in Belarus, swith a firm Ukrainian foreign ministry commitment that “Ukraine will not capitulate and does not intend to give up even a millimetre of its territory in the negotiations with Russia”. Despite an initial denial and skepticism about the outcome of the meeting, Ukraine has accepted the invitation made by Russia (after pressure from China and Israel). “We agreed that the Ukrainian delegation would meet with the Russian delegation, without preconditions, at the Ukrainian-Belarusian border, near the Pripyat River,” President Zelensky said, adding, “I’ll say it frankly: I don’t believe much in the outcome of this meeting, but let’s try.” President Alexander Lukashenko has ensured that military activities would stop during the negotiations. “Lukashenko took responsibility for ensuring that all aircraft, helicopters and missiles on Belarusian territory remain on the ground during the journey, the talks and the return of the Ukrainian delegation,” concluded Zelensky.
Blasts before dawn
On the war front, Russia shelled the northern city of Chernihiv all night, Ukraine’s State Emergency Service says. Blasts were also heard before dawn in the capital Kyiv, and second city Kharkiv. President Zelensky says the next 24 hours – the fifth day of the Russian invasion – will be “crucial” for Ukraine. Writing on Facebook, a senior commander said Russian troops suffered significant losses and the situation was now “under control”.
‘Belarus ready to support Russian troops’
Belarus is on the verge of joining Russian troops in the war in Ukraine, ‘Kyiv Independent’ reports. Quoting unspecified “sources” and adding that Minsk’s entry into the war could take place “within hours”, the report says the first Ilyushin Il-76 transport plane could take off this morning, carrying paratroopers. In the past few hours Belarus approved a constitutional referendum which would allow Russia to install nuclear weapons on its territory, but excluding any “military aggression from the territory” of Belarus.
UN Assembly meets today
Faced with the crisis in Ukraine, the UN Security Council decided with 11 votes in favour, one against (Russia), and 3 abstentions (including China) to convene a rare special emergency session of the General Assembly. The Assembly meeting is to be held within the next 24 hours. The mechanism was used only seven times in history – the last of which was in 1982.
The spectre of Russian nuclear attacks
During the Security Council debate, the spectre of Russian nuclear attacks was raised following President Vladimir Putin ordering the alert of the his country’s nuclear defense system in the context of the crisis with the West over Ukraine. He said he had ordered the Defence Minister and the Chief of Staff “to put the deterrence forces of the Russian army on special alert, in response to aggressive statements by the West”. “The very idea of a nuclear conflict is simply inconceivable,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
US, NATO dencounce escalation
A note from the White House reads Vladimir Putin “fabricates threats” with the alert of the Russian nuclear defense system. Washington, through its American ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield, then denounced an “unacceptable” escalation on the part of Moscow. In the same vein, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: “This war is Putin’s responsibility,” he said, underlining that the Russian leader’s new declarations on nuclear power add to the “aggressive rhetoric” of recent weeks. “It’s aggressive rhetoric,” adds Stoltenberg.
Italy to ask the UN for a humanitarian truce
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio has said that his country will ask the UN for an important initiative on a humanitarian truce. Speaking during ‘Che tempo che fa’ TV programme, he said, “We are calling for a ceasefire” in Ukraine “to be able to evacuate women and children. This war has a name and a surname: Vladimir Putin.”
EU prepares for millions of refugees
The EU is preparing for the arrival of “millions of refugees”. EU Commissioner for Internal Affairs, Ylva Johansson, told the extraordinary council of EU interior ministers that she they discuss the refugee emergency linked to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “Today I will announce a solidarity platform to support fleeing Ukrainians and the most interested member states,” she added. “It is a question of giving support from our agencies and the Commission to the Member States concerned and preparing for a greater number of refugees”.
‘We want Ukraine in the UE’
Meanwhile European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, told Euronews, “Ukraine is one of us and we want it in the Union.” Speaking of European Peace Facility with which the Union will finance the purchase of even lethal material, she said that “for the first time ever, the European Union will finance the purchase and delivery of weapons and crews for a country under attack. It is a watershed moment.”
Action against Belarus
Von der Leyen also announced the introduction of “restrictive measures” against “the most important sectors” of the Belarusian economy. “Stop the export of products such as mineral fuels, tobacco, timber, cement, iron and steel. And the ban on trade will be extended” for those sectors on which “Russia has been sanctioned. All Belarusians who are supporting this war will be sanctioned,” she stressed, calling Minsk “the other aggressor”.
Scholz, historic speech at the Bundestag
“Germany is on the side of the Ukrainians, therefore on the right side of history. And now it focuses on safety.” In a historic speech to the Bundestag, Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced measures that were unthinkable for the Germans until a few days ago: a special fund of €100 billion to strengthen the German army and a year-on-year investment of over two per cent of the GDP in defense.
4,500 arrests in Russia during anti-war protests
A total of 4,552 people were arrested by the Russian police during protests against the invasion of Ukraine, as reported by ‘OVD-Infogruppo’ that deals with the protection of human rights in Russia. Protests were held in 44 cities across Russia – from Moscow to Siberia. Meanwhile, there have been long queues throughout Russia lining up at ATMs to try to withdraw cash. Many line up from the first light of dawn, for fear of not finding more money available.