Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: February 21, 2022

Biden agrees 'in principle' to summit with Putin to discuss Ukraine, Canadian police regain control of downtown Ottawa, and more

1

Biden agrees 'in principle' to meet with Putin on Ukraine

The White House said Sunday that President Biden had agreed "in principle" to meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the Ukraine crisis. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the two leaders could speak after Secretary of State Antony Blinken talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Feb. 24, provided Russia has not sent troops into Ukraine. "We are always ready for diplomacy. We are also ready to impose swift and severe consequences should Russia instead choose war," Psaki said. French President Emmanuel Macron spoke by phone with Putin on Sunday to push negotiations for a possible ceasefire between Russian-backed forces and Ukrainian forces in the eastern part of the country, the Élysée Palace said. Macron later spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

2

Canadian police regain control of downtown Ottawa  

Canadian police fenced off parts of downtown Ottawa on Sunday to reestablish control of the capital city after a weekend crackdown ended the so-called Freedom Convoy protest against COVID-19 restrictions. Officers made 191 arrests and towed nearly 80 vehicles. Truckers started the demonstration more than three weeks ago, blocking city streets with parked trucks to protest a vaccine mandate on cross-border truck drivers. The demonstration grew as others came to express opposition to other coronavirus restrictions. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week invoked emergency powers to give the government authority to shut down the protest. Police said they had gathered intelligence on departing protesters "to make sure that these illegal activities don't return to our streets."

3

U.S. intelligence indicates Kremlin has ordered military to invade Ukraine

The United States has gathered intelligence indicating that the Kremlin has ordered Russia's military to go ahead with an invasion of Ukraine, U.S. officials said Sunday. The Biden administration's level of confidence in the assessment has increased as Moscow took steps intelligence agencies predicted, including renewed shelling in areas claimed by pro-Russian separatists. "Everything leading up to the actual invasion appears to be taking place," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on CNN's State of the Union. "All of these false-flag operations, all these provocations to create justifications." President Biden met with the National Security Council to discuss the threat of war as Belarus extended military exercises with Russian forces near the Ukraine border. The drills previously were scheduled to end Sunday.

4

Boris Johnson to detail plans to lift U.K. COVID restrictions

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that on Monday he would unveil his government's plan to lift coronavirus restrictions under its new "living with COVID" strategy. The effort will make Britain the first major European country to let people diagnosed with COVID-19 go to work and shops, and use public transport. Johnson said Sunday people shouldn't "throw caution to the wind," but that the success of the U.K. vaccination program meant the nation could start relying on personal responsibility rather than government mandates to curb infections. 81 percent of adults have been vaccinated and boosted in England. "Today will mark a moment of pride after one of the most difficult periods in our country's history," Johnson said in a statement.

5

COVID cases continue to fall as Omicron surge fades

New COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continued to fall in the United States over the weekend. The average daily count of confirmed new infections barely exceeded 100,000, down from 800,850 on Jan. 16, according to Johns Hopkins University data. New York saw the number of cases drop by more than 50 percent in the last two weeks, the latest sign that the surge driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant is fading. "I think what's influencing the decline, of course, is that Omicron is starting to run out of people to infect," said Dr. Thomas Russo, professor and infectious disease chief at the University of Buffalo's Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. 

6

Trump's Truth Social launches in Apple's App Store

Former President Donald Trump's new social media platform, Truth Social, is launching in Apple's App Store on Monday, Reuters reported Sunday, citing posts from the network's chief product officer posted on a test version of the service. The release of the app would give Trump a way to return to social media on the Presidents Day holiday after his ban from Twitter, Facebook, and Alphabet's YouTube following the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack. The companies said Trump's post encouraging supporters to fight the certification of his election loss had violated their policies against inciting violence. Last week, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted a screenshot of a message his father posted on the Truth Social beta version saying, "Get Ready! Your favorite President will see you soon!"

7

1 dead, 5 wounded in shooting near Portland protest site

One person died and five others were wounded on the fringes of a protest against police killings in Portland, Oregon, over the weekend. The clash appeared to be "a confrontation between armed protesters and an armed homeowner," Lt. Nathan Sheppard told The New York Times on Sunday. Police said investigators were having a hard time piecing together what happened because the crime scene was "extremely chaotic" and some witnesses "were uncooperative with responding officers." Dajah Beck, one of the wounded victims, told the Times she was participating in a volunteer motorcade setting up a safety plan and rerouting traffic in preparation for the march. She said the group was unarmed and "not part of the protest." She said a man had called the women in the group "violent terrorists" and screamed a misogynist vulgarity, then started shooting.

8

Closing arguments to start in Arbery hate-crime trial

Closing arguments begin Monday in the federal hate-crime trial of the three white men convicted of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man they chased down as he was jogging through their south Georgia neighborhood. The killing, which was caught on video by defendant William "Roddie" Bryan, fueled nationwide racial justice protests. Prosecutors introduced texts in which Travis McMichael, who fatally shot Arbery with a shotgun, and Bryan used racial slurs to argue that the crime was racially motivated. Defense attorneys have said the men thought Arbery was behind recent crimes in the neighborhood. Travis McMichael said at a hearing last month that he would admit to attacking Arbery because of his "race and color" under a plea agreement, but Arbery's family opposed the deal and the judge rejected it.

9

Steph Curry smashes NBA 3-pointer record in All-Star game

Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry smashed the record for three-pointers in the NBA All-Star Game, and was named the game's MVP. Curry hit 16 three-pointers — more than anyone has ever made in an NBA game. The previous record for the All-Star game was nine. Curry finished with 50 points to help Team LeBron beat Team Durant 163-160. LeBron James hit the game-winning shot, a one-legged turnaround jumper. "It was kind of a perfect ending," Curry said. "Obviously, I got the MVP; I played well the whole night. He hit the game winner." The game was part of the NBA's 75th anniversary celebration, with the league honoring the 75 greatest players in its history during halftime. The last player announced, Michael Jordan, got what ESPN said was the loudest ovation.

10

Austin Cindric narrowly beats Bubba Wallace to win Daytona 500

Rookie Team Penske driver Austin Cindric won the Daytona 500 on Sunday, blocking Bubba Wallace's last-second attempt to pass him. Cindric, 23, finished the 500-mile car race fractions of a second ahead of Wallace, the third-smallest margin of victory in Daytona 500 history. Cindric took the lead after two late crashes, and won the big race at the start of his first full NASCAR Cup Series. "I know there's going to be highs and lows, being a rookie in a field of drivers this strong. I'm just grateful for the opportunity," Cindric said. It was Wallace's second time finishing as runner-up. "Damn, I wanted to win that one," he said.

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