Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today’s Headlines and Commentary

By Katherine Pompilio
Monday, February 28, 2022, 1:17 PM

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Russian and Ukrainian delegations held talks near the Ukrainian border in southern Belarus, reports the Washington Post. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reported via the Telegram app that the “key issue of the negotiations is an immediate cease-fire and the withdrawal of troops from the territory of Ukraine.” Members of the Russian delegation stated on Sunday that Russia was “quite uncompromising in [their] position” that Ukraine must “demilitarize and denazify.” After five hours, the talks ended with an agreement to continue discussions in the next few days after both delegations consult with their respective presidents. 

Belarus is reportedly preparing to assist Russia in its full-scale military invasion of Ukraine, according to CNN. Ukrainian intelligence allegedly suggests Belarusian “readiness to participate directly” in the invasion “in addition to allowing Russians to use their territory as well as letting them cross the border.” Officials at the White House report that U.S. intelligence officials are watching Belarus’s actions closely and the Biden administration is prepared to issue more sanctions on the eastern European country. 

Ukrainian forces managed to hold off Russian advances toward major cities on Monday, writes the Washington Post. Russian forces reportedly remain approximately 19 miles north of the capital city of Kyiv. Additionally, Ukrainian forces were able to remain in control of the airfield at Hostomel, which is allegedly a key strategic priority for the advancement of Russian troops. The British Defense ministry reported that heavy fighting is ongoing around the cities of Kharkiv and Chernihivm but both still remain in Ukrainian control. The ministry cited “staunch Ukrainian resistance” for the forces’ ability to manage Russian military advancements. 

A rocket attack in Kharkiv, Ukraine killed at least 11 people and harmed dozens more during a Russian attack on the city, according to Reuters. Kharkiv is Ukraine’s second-largest city and is reportedly one of the major battleground locations during Russia’s invasion. Oleg Syengubov, head of the regional administration in Kharkiv, reported that Russian forces were firing artillery into residential areas of the city where there are currently no Ukrainian army positions or strategic infrastructure. Syengubov said of the attacks, “this is happening in the daytime, when people have gone out to the pharmacy, for groceries, or for drinking water. It’s a crime.”

Hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled Ukraine since Russia began its full-scale invasion of the eastern European country, reports the Associated Press. Ukrainians fled on foot or via cars and buses hoping to find peace and security at checkpoints at the borders of Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Moldova. The U.N. high commissioner for refugees estimates that approximately 500,000 refugees have fled from Ukraine into neighboring countries since the Russian invasion began. 

The United States escalated its sanctions on Russia by freezing Russian Central Bank assets, writes the New York Times. The Treasury Department announced on Monday that it would immobilize Russian Central Bank assets held in the U.S. and would also impose sanctions on the Russian Direct Investment fund, which is run by a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The move to freeze Russian assets will reportedly work to limit Russia’s ability to use international reserves to lessen the impact of sanctions the U.S. and Western allies have already enacted in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said of the new sanctions, “The unprecedented action we are taking today will significantly limit Russia’s ability to use assets to finance its destabilizing activities, and target the funds Putin and his inner circle depend on to enable his invasion of Ukraine.” 

Setting aside its tradition of neutrality, Switzerland announced it would freeze Russian financial assets, according to the New York Times. Swiss President Ignazio Cassis announced that the country would freeze the assets of Putin, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail V. Mishustin and Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov in addition to all 367 Russian individuals sanctioned by the E.U. last week. Switzerland–a major financial center for Russian oligarchs–said it was straying away from its usual diplomatic policy of neutrality because of “the unprecedented military attack by Russia on a sovereign European state.” 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the U.S. will send almost $54 million in humanitarian aid to Ukraine, reports the New York Times. In a statement, Blinken reported that the financial assistance will go directly to international humanitarian organizations to provide food, water, shelter and health care to Ukrainians in need. Additionally, funds will be allocated to help reunite families who have been separated during Russia’s attacks. Blinken also commended the hospitality of neighboring countries hosting Ukrainian refugees. He said, “we are engaging diplomatically to support their efforts to keep their borders open and assist those seeking international protection.”

The first trial of a Jan. 6 Capitol riot defendant began on Monday, writes the Washington Post. Guy Wesley Refitt of Wylie, Texas is the first Jan. 6 defendant to go on trial out of about 275 others similarly charged with storming the Capitol and disrupting the certification process for President Biden’s 2020 election victory. Refitt pleaded not guilty to five felony counts including obstructing an official proceeding of Congress, trespassing at the Capitol while carrying a holstered semiautomatic handgun, interfering with police in a riot and witness tampering.   

The U.N.-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report warning that the dangers of climate change are developing at a faster rate than both nature and humanity can adapt unless greenhouse gas emissions are rapidly reduced , according to the New York Times. The report says that the world is not doing enough to protect cities, farms and coastlines from the dangers of climate change such as record droughts and rising seas. The U.N. secretary general said that the report is “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership.”

ICYMI: This Weekend on Lawfare

Jessica Davis published a foreign policy essay on global counterterrorism in and after a pandemic. 

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