Sunday, January 29

Talks commence but fighting rages on. Here’s what you need to know.

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Battles have continued throughout Monday near several key Ukrainian cities, even as delegates from Ukraine and Russia sat down for talks.

It’s early afternoon in Kyiv. Here’s what you need to know if you’re just joining us.

  • Talks underway: A meeting between Ukrainian and Russian delegations in Belarus began just before 1 p.m. Kyiv time (6 a.m. ET) on Monday. Ukraine’s delegation includes several high-ranking officials, but not President Volodymyr Zelensky. Ukraine demanded an “immediate ceasefire and withdrawal of Russian troops” in the lead-up to the meeting.
  • Ukraine beats back Russian forces: Russian forces have “slowed their offensive” but are “still trying” to take Ukrainian ground around the country, according to the Ukrainian military. The bulk of Russian ground forces are still more than more than 30 kilometers (about 19 miles) north of Kyiv, the UK’s Ministry of Defense said Monday.
  • More civilians killed: The latest toll for civilian deaths in Ukraine stands at 102, with 304 people injured, but the true figure is feared to be “considerably higher,” the UN’s Michelle Bachelet said Monday. The death toll includes seven children, Bachelet said. Ukraine’s interior ministry released higher figures on Sunday, at 352 civilians killed.
  • Belarus could join invasion, intel suggests: A Ukrainian government official told CNN that the country’s intelligence indicates Belarusian “readiness to maybe participate directly” in the invasion of Ukraine. A second source close to the Ukrainian government said the Biden administration has conveyed similar warnings.
  • Russian economy stunned: Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold a meeting Monday with his top economic advisers amid massive fallout from Western sanctions, the Kremlin said. Moscow’s stock exchange will not open Monday, after the country’s currency plummeted.
  • Ukraine asks to join the EU: Zelensky asked the European Union on Monday to “urgently admit Ukraine” to the bloc. “Our goal is to be with all Europeans, and to be equal to them. I am sure we deserve it. I am sure it is possible,” he said in a televised message.
  • Nuclear threat: White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Sunday that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to put Russia’s deterrence forces, which includes nuclear arms, on high alert is part of a wider pattern of unprovoked escalation and “manufactured threats” from the Kremlin.

In aggressive move, US will cut off Russia’s central bank from US dollar transactions

The US is taking immediate action on Monday to prohibit US dollar transactions with the Russian central bank and fully block the Russian direct investment fund, senior administration officials said, taking aim at some of Russia’s most powerful means of mitigating the effect of sanctions.

The steps are meant to prevent Russia from accessing a “rainy day fund” that officials said Moscow had been expecting to rely upon during the invasion of Ukraine. Instead of using the reserves to buffer a plummeting Ruble, Russia will no longer be able to access the funds it keeps in US dollars.

The sweeping new sanctions, taken with Germany, France, the UK, Italy, and Canada, European Union and others, come as Russia’s economy is already in freefall.

“No country is sanction proof,” a White House official said. “Putin’s war chest of $630 billion in reserves only matters if you can use it to defend his currency, specifically by selling those reserves in exchange for buying the ruble.”

“After today’s actions that will no longer be possible, and fortress Russia will be exposed as a myth.” 

In a phone call with reporters Monday morning, a senior administration official said the move was “the culmination of months of planning and preparation across our respective governments across technical, diplomatic and political channels, including at the highest levels.”

“We were ready and that’s what allowed us to act within days, not weeks or months of Putin escalation,” the official said. 

“Our strategy, to put it simply, is to make sure that the Russian economy goes backward as long as President Putin decides to go forward with his invasion of Ukraine,” a second senior administration official said.

In a bid to mitigate the impact of the sanctions on US and European energy consumers, the Treasury Department will exempt most energy-related transactions from the sanctions, a significant carve-out in the sanctions.

One official called the ongoing sanctions a “vicious feedback loop that’s triggered by Putin his own choices and accelerated by his own aggression.” 

The sanctions also fully block the Russian Direct Investment Fund and its CEO, Kirill Dmitriev. Officials said they were, “symbols of deep seated Russian corruption and influence peddling globally.” 

“Today’s actions represent the most significant actions in the US Treasury is taken against an economy of this size and assets of this size,” another official said. “What also makes this asset significant is not just the amount of assets or the size of the country we’re targeting, but the speed at which our partners and allies have worked with us to enact this response.”

Asked about potential additional sanctions on Belarus, which appears poised to elevate its role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, an official said the US is watching events “very carefully” and that sanctions on Belarus would “continue to ratchet much higher.”

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