Russian–Ukrainian talks resume
As the new round of talks between the Russian and Ukrainian delegations kicked off this morning in Istanbul – the first in more than two weeks – Ukraine said its top priority from the talks is to negotiate a ceasefire but President Volodymyr Zelensky has warned they would not give up the territories. Hopes of progress are slim, and both the US and Ukraine have expressed scepticism about Russia’s intentions. Turkey has admitted that Russia’s demands on Donbass and Crimea “are not realistic”. Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told CNN, “The Russians should really change their minds.” President Zelensky pleaded overnight for world powers to toughen sanctions on Russia, including an oil embargo. Air raid sirens sounded before dawn, while officials say exit routes from some cities are blocked by Russian attacks.
We don’t want to use nuclear weapons – Kremlin
“Nobody in Russia is considering the idea of using nuclear weapons,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Pbs. Asked whether President Vladimir Putin ever threatened to use nuclear weapons if a third party intervened in the conflict in Ukraine, Peskov replied: “I don’t think so. Instead, he clearly stated that if someone were to interfere, Russia would have all the means necessary to react and punish those who do.”
Paying for gas in rubles is against existing contracts
G7 countries have said that asking for payment in rubles for Russian gas is “unacceptable” and shows that President Putin has “his back to the wall”. German Economy Minister Robert Habeck, current president, said after a virtual meeting, “All G7 ministers agreed that this is a clear unilateral breach of existing contracts which means that a payment in rubles is not acceptable.” The Kremlin’s reaction was immediate: “Does Europe not want to pay for gas in rubles? Certainly Russia will not distribute its gas for free, we will not do charity,” Kremlin spokesman Pesko said adding, “It is almost impossible to do charity in our situation.”
Guterres blasts Biden
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has criticised US President Joe Biden for calling for a regime change in Moscow. Meanwhile, Biden retorted, “I don’t care what Putin thinks of my words.” He tweeted, “Russia’s brutal tactics have strengthened Ukrainian resolve rather than breaking it” and, likewise, “instead of dividing NATO” have ensured that “the West is now stronger and more united than it has ever been”. Addressing a media conference on the 2023 budget, Biden said he had “no backtrack” on his statement that Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power”. Biden made it clear that the words he spoke in Warsaw reflected his personal outrage at Putin’s war in Ukraine. Biden also said he did not believe that his statement would complicate diplomatic action. “I wasn’t talking about a political change (in Moscow) and I’m not talking about it now,” Biden said. “I was expressing my indignation for Putin.”
US defence budget up by 8%
The United States has announced an 8% increase in the defense budget for 2023, bringing it to $773 billion, “with Ukraine in mind”. The Pentagon also explained that Russia constitutes “an acute threat” but the top priority of the United States, in the field of defence, “remains to counter China’s ambitions in the Indo-Pacific”.
US strengthens the Eastern front in Germany
The Pentagon has announced a strengthening of the East Front of the Atlantic Alliance with the sending to Germany of six Navy aircraft specialising in electronic warfare and 240 Navy men. In total, the US Defense has allocated $4.2 billion to the European Deterrence Initiative in its 2023 budget, support that includes shipments. The new weapons, spokesman John Kirby clarified, will not be used in the conflict in Ukraine. Nonetheless, Kiev will receive $300 million in assistance from the Pentagon.
‘Abramovich suffered symptoms of suspected poisoning’
The Wall Street Journal and the British national press report Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich and some Ukrainian negotiators suffered symptoms of suspected poisoning after a meeting in Kiev earlier this month. The news was confirmed by an Abramovich spokesperson, who said Abramovich took part in several meetings and his collaborators stressed that he was committed to peace on his behalf, after it was reported that he had been asked for help.
EU looks to share Ukrainian refugees
Germany has called for a more even distribution of Ukrainian refugees in the European Union, after some 3.8 million people fled the war and crossed into the 27-nation bloc. Since Russia invaded its neighbour on February 24, the fighting has displaced more than 10 million people and forced nearly four million to flee Ukraine. Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria, the Czech Republic, Spain and Lithuania have seen high arrivals of Ukrainian refugees. “We need to more actively distribute refugees within the EU and show solidarity by taking in refugees,” German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser told reporters in Brussels, where interior ministers of all EU countries met to discuss the situation.
EU: ‘Stop golden passports and revoke sanctioned Russians’
The European Commission has asked member states to immediately repeal so-called golden passports – all citizenship schemes offered to investors, and to assess whether EU-sanctioned Russian or Belarusian citizens have benefited from these schemes. “Residence permits granted under an investor residence scheme to Russian or Belarusian citizens subject to sanctions should be immediately revoked,” reads a statement from the Commission.
Will Smith apologises to Chris Rock for the slap
Actor Will Smith has apologised to Chris Rock for slapping him on the stage of the Oscars. “Jokes at my expense are part of the job, but Jada’s joke about a medical problem was too much to bear and I reacted emotionally,” said the new Oscar winner for King Richard, calling his behaviour unacceptable and without apology. “I want to make my public apologies, Chris. I was wrong and I feel embarrassed. My actions are not indicative of the man I want to be,” he added.