10 things you need to know today: February 28, 2022
Zelensky downplays expectations as Ukraine ceasefire talks start, Putin places nuclear forces on high alert, and more
Zelensky downplays expectations as ceasefire talks start
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday expressed skepticism about the prospects of peace talks scheduled for Monday between Ukrainian and Russian delegations. Zelensky said he had agreed to a meeting "without preconditions" on the border of Ukraine and Belarus. He said he didn't expect a breakthrough but he wanted his people to have no doubt he tried "to stop the war when there was even a small chance." Ukrainian forces continued to hold Kyiv as Russian forces tried to take the Ukrainian capital. The United Nations Security Council will vote Monday on a resolution calling for an immediate end to the fighting. Russia, which invaded Ukraine last week, has veto power on the Security Council.
Putin places nuclear forces on high alert
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Sunday he was putting Russian nuclear deterrence forces on high alert due to what he called "aggressive statements" Western nations were making against Russia. The White House said Putin was "manufacturing threats that don't exist" as he did in his country's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. The clashing statements came as tensions continued to rise between Russia and the West over Moscow's attack. The European Union said it was closing its airspace to Russian aircraft. The EU also said it would finance Ukrainian weapons purchases. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called the decision by the bloc's 27 foreign ministers to provide $502 million worth of arms and $56 million in non-lethal assistance to Ukraine "a defining moment for European history."
Russian anti-war protesters return to streets despite arrests
Russian anti-war protesters returned to the streets in cities across Russia on Sunday to voice their opposition to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Despite hundreds of arrests daily, and nearly 3,000 total since the invasion began, demonstrators held signs and marched through the centers of cities from Moscow to Siberia, chanting "No to war!" in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Russia's smaller neighbor. "I have two sons and I don't want to give them to that bloody monster," said Dmitry Maltsev, 48, at a rally in St. Petersburg, where police in riot gear dragged away participants from the peaceful protest and put them into police vans. "War is a tragedy for all of us," Maltsev said.
Ukraine says more than 350 civilians killed so far in Russian invasion
Ukraine's Ministry of Internal Affairs said Sunday that more than 350 civilians, 14 of them children, had been killed so far in Russia's invasion. Another 1,684 civilians, including 116 children, had been wounded. The latest numbers marked a jump from Saturday's tally of 198 dead, including three children. Independent sources have been unable to come up with their own estimates or confirm the government data. Russia on Sunday acknowledged for the first time that it had sustained military casualties, although it did not specify how many of its troops had been killed or wounded. A U.S. defense official said Russia's "siege" attacks, including rocket attacks, were increasing the chances of civilian casualties.
Barr says Trump stolen-election claim led to Capitol rioting
Former Attorney General William Barr writes in a new memoir that the "absurd lengths" to which former President Donald Trump "took his 'stolen election' claim led to the rioting on Capitol Hill," The New York Times reported Sunday. Barr writes that Trump lost the 2020 election due to his own "self-indulgence and lack of self-control." Barr says in the book, One Damn Thing After Another: Memoirs of an Attorney General, that Republicans should nominate somebody else for president in 2024, saying Trump "has neither the temperament nor persuasive powers to provide the kind of positive leadership that is needed." Barr was considered a Trump ally until he fell out of favor with the former president by refusing to push his baseless claim that the election was stolen from him.
BP dumps its 20 percent stake in Russian oil giant Rosneft
Energy giant BP is dumping its 20 percent stake in Russian oil company Rosneft in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. BP called the invasion "an act of aggression which is having tragic consequences across the region." Rosneft accounts for half of BP's oil and gas reserves, and about a third of its production. BP said divesting will result in charges of $25 billion, with profits in 2025 alone expected to drop by $2 billion. The exit marks a drastic turnaround for BP, Russia's biggest foreign investor. "Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine must be a wake-up call for British businesses with commercial interests in Putin's Russia," U.K. business and energy secretary Kwasi Kwarteng tweeted.
Trump overwhelmingly wins CPAC straw poll
Former President Donald Trump on Sunday won a straw poll at the country's top conservative conference in a landslide. Trump received 59 percent of the vote at the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC. The poll is not scientific, but it is considered an early measure of popularity among potential Republican presidential candidates. Trump's support rose by 4 percentage points compared to last year's CPAC Florida straw poll, marking the latest sign that his influence over the GOP has remained strong despite his 2020 election loss to President Biden. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis placed second in the straw poll, gaining 7 percentage points since last year to get 28 percent support.
House lifting mask mandate in time for Biden State of the Union
The House of Representatives is lifting its mask mandate for the House floor in time for President Biden's Tuesday State of the Union address, Congress' attending physician, Brian Monahan, said Sunday. Monahan said the move was possible because of the significant drop in COVID-19 cases in Washington, D.C. Still, he said, "People with symptoms, a positive test, or exposure to someone with COVID-19 should wear a properly fitted, high-quality filtration mask." The change came as states and cities across the country roll back mask mandates, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said were no longer necessary in most areas. New York City Mayor Eric Adams said Sunday that the city would remove school mask mandates next week unless cases rise.
Russian central bank hikes interest rate to support crashing ruble
Russia's central bank on Monday hiked a key interest rate from 9.5 percent to 20 percent to fight inflation and depreciation of the ruble, which dropped to a record low against the dollar as Europe and the U.S. imposed harsh sanctions over Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The move came after the United States, European Union, Canada, and the United Kingdom over the weekend announced plans to cut off some Russian banks from the SWIFT financial support network, a global payment system connecting international banks. The allies also said they would take steps to thwart the Russian central bank's attempt to boost Russia's economy with its more than $600 billion in reserves, part of an escalating push by the West for Moscow to negotiate peace.
Fencing reinstalled around Capitol ahead of trucker protests
Federal authorities have started reinstalling fencing around the Capitol as Washington, D.C., braces for planned trucker protests inspired by Canada's so-called Freedom Convoy demonstrations against coronavirus restrictions, U.S. Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger said Sunday. The barriers are part of an effort to provide security for President Biden's Tuesday State of the Union speech and "prevent any disruption to the important work of Congress," Manger said. The fencing was previously put up to protect the Capitol after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack by a mob of former President Donald Trump's supporters. It was removed in July. The truckers, with more than two dozen 18-wheelers and 50 pickups and RVs, left California last week headed for Washington.