Ukraine and Russia to meet on Belarus border as conflict intensifies
Ukraine’s government confirmed that a delegation is set to meet with Russian officials Monday, as Russia’s Central Bank dramatically hiked interest rates to try to slow the ruble’s plunge.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office said on the Telegram messaging app that the two sides would meet at an unspecified location on the Belarusian border. The talks are expected to take place Monday, according to CNN.
Russian President Vladimir Putin put his nuclear forces on increased alert on Sunday in a major escalation of tensions with the West. Russia’s conventional military assault on Ukraine entered its fourth day with fighting in the streets of the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, and troops moving closer to the capital Kyiv.
In Moscow, Russia’s Central Bank sharply raised its key borrowing rate from 9.5% to 20% in a desperate attempt to shore up the plummeting ruble and prevent the run of banks amid crippling Western sanctions over the Russian war in Ukraine.
The Central Bank also ordered a slew of measures to help the banks cope with the crisis by infusing more cash into the system and easing restrictions for banking operations. At the same time, it temporarily barred non-residents from selling the government obligations to help ease the pressure on ruble from panicky foreign investors eager to cash out.
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A few things to catch you up on:
After rejecting Putin’s offer to meet in the Belarusian city of Homel on the grounds that Belarus was helping the Russian assault, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy agreed to send a Ukrainian delegation to meet Russian counterparts at an unspecified time and location on the Belarusian border. CNN quoted a Ukrainian official saying the talks are expected to take place Monday.
Ukraine’s announcement that it would meet came hours after Russia said its delegation had flown to Belarus to await talks. Ukrainian officials initially rejected the location, saying any discussions should take place elsewhere. Belarus has allowed Russia to use its territory as a staging ground for the invasion of Ukraine.
– Associated Press
The Russian military offered to allow residents to leave Kyiv via a safe corridor while it has beefed up for an onslaught on the capital.
With Russian troops closing in around Kyiv, a city of almost 3 million, the mayor of the capital expressed doubt that civilians could be evacuated. Authorities have been handing out weapons to anyone willing to defend the city. Ukraine is also releasing prisoners with military experience who want to fight, and training people to make firebombs.
But Russian Defense Minister Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said the military would let Kyiv residents use a highway that leads out of the city to the southwest — an offer that appeared to signal a new onslaught is coming.
A nearly 40-hour curfew in Kyiv ended on Monday morning. The curfew will resume each night, from 10 p.m. until 7 a.m.
– Associated Press
After days of fence-sitting, Swiss President Ignazio Cassis said on Sunday it was “very probable” that neutral Switzerland would follow the European Union’s lead and sanction Russia and freeze Russian assets in the country.
Reuters reported that Cassis, who was interviewed on French-language Swiss public television, said the nation’s seven-member Federal Council would meet Monday and review recommendations by finance and economy officials.
“It is very probable that the government will decide to do so tomorrow, but I cannot anticipate decisions not yet taken,” Cassis said, via Reuters.
Switzerland, a global financial hub and commodities trading center, has so far resisted calls for it to levy sanctions and possibly freeze Russian assets, especially after the EU and U.S. announced sanctions.
It was not known immediately how many wealthy Russian elites, especially oligarchs close to Putin, have stashed money in Swiss banks, known for their strong privacy firewalls. But various leaks of banking documents over the years suggest they have a sizable amount invested in Switzerland.
In 2018, Swiss banks reportedly frozen $1 billion in the accounts of one oligarch alone – Russian metals tycoon Viktor Vekselberg – over fears that they could be fined for doing business with him after Washington levied sanctions against the businessman, the Moscow Times reported at the time.
– Josh Meyer
A senior U.S. intelligence official says Belarus is expected to send troops into Ukraine as soon as Monday to fight alongside Russian forces that invaded Ukraine last week.
Belarus has been providing support for Russia’s war effort, but so far has not taken a direct part in the conflict.
The American official has direct knowledge of current U.S. intelligence assessments and says the decision by Belarus’ leader on whether to bring Belarus further into the war depends on talks between Russia and Ukraine happening in the coming days. The official spoke anonymously to discuss the sensitive information.
Russian forces have encountered strong resistance from Ukraine defenders, and U.S. officials say they believe the invasion has been more difficult, and slower, than the Kremlin envisioned, though that could change as Moscow adapts.
— Associated Press
The U.N.’s two major bodies – the 193-nation General Assembly and the more powerful 15-member Security Council – will hold separate meetings Monday on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a reflection of widespread international demands for an immediate cease-fire and escalating concern for the plight of millions of Ukrainians caught up in the war.
The Security Council gave a green light Sunday for the first emergency session of the General Assembly in decades. It will give all U.N. members an opportunity to speak about the war Monday and vote on a resolution later in the week that U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said would “hold Russia to account for its indefensible actions and for its violations of the U.N. Charter.”
French Ambassador Nicolas De Riviere announced that the Security Council will hold a meeting Monday afternoon on the humanitarian impact of Russia’s invasion, a session sought by French President Emmanuel Macron to ensure the delivery of aid to growing numbers of those in need in Ukraine.
Both meetings follow Russia’s veto Friday of a Security Council resolution demanding that Moscow immediately stop its attack on Ukraine and withdraw all troops. The vote was 11-1, with China, India and the United Arab Emirates abstaining.
– Associated Press
Contributing: The Associated Press