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March 7, 2022Newsletter

Russia Update: Weekend Recap

Diplomacy

Twice over the weekend, humanitarian corridors were agreed to. Both days, they lasted only hours as Russian troops fired on evacuees. In fact, the International Red Cross went so far as to claim that the evacuation route out of the southern city of Mariupol was lined with mines.

Nevertheless, a third round of negotiations is about to start as a top Ukrainian negotiator told Canada’s Globe and Mail in an interview that he senses that Russia’s attitude is shifting even though their demands have not. That latter portion seems to be confirmed in a call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdo─čan in which Putin said Ukraine must fulfill all of Moscow’s demands.

On Saturday, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett made a secret trip to Moscow to meet President Putin. He also went to Germany and spoke on the phone twice with French President Emmanuel Macron and three times with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. It doesn’t appear anything has come of these negotiations yet, but President Zelenskyy has asked in the past if Israel would help facilitate peace talks, and PM Bennett appears engaged.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is traveling to the UK, Latvia, Germany, and Poland from March 6-11.

Sanctions

Ukrainian President Zelenskyy held a Zoom call with over 300 Members of Congress in which he urged a no-fly zone, Russian oil import ban, and additional sanctions and aid. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said in a Sunday Dear Colleague that the House may consider legislation that would ban Russian oil imports, repeal Permanent Normal Trade Relations with Russia and Belarus, and empower the President to raise tariffs on Russian imports, in addition to humanitarian, military, and economic aid for Ukraine.

The U.S. is discussing a Russian oil export ban with the EU, while debating going it alone. The UK and Japan are also considering such a move, but it appears South Korea is not.

The U.S., UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand requested that Russia be suspended from Interpol’s systems. 28 House Ways and Means Committee members wrote to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen asking for more information on her plan to ensure cryptocurrencies aren’t used to evade sanctions.

Singapore announced sanctions against Russia, which include an export ban on electronics, computers, and military items. It is also banning financial institutions from entering into transactions with or providing services to VTB, Vnesheconombank, Promsvyazbank, and Bank Rossiya.

Israel, as it may or may not be attempting to facilitate peace talks, announced limited sanctions, including a ban on Russian planes.

Consequences

Visa, Mastercard, and American Express announced they are ceasing transactions in Russia, causing Russian banks to turn to China’s state-owned UnionPay and Japan’s JCB system to process payments. PayPal is also cutting off Russian transactions.

Aeroflot is suspending all foreign flights, except Belarus, as of Tuesday, March 8. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty suspended Russia operations following Russia’s new fake news law. Over 3,500 Russian protesters were arrested in weekend protests. WNBA star Brittney Griner was detained in Russia over vape cartridges and has not been released.

Italy seized $126 million worth of yachts and villas from Russian oligarchs that are on the EU’s sanctions list. Samsung, Adobe, Netflix, PwC, and KPMG are suspending or curtailing Russia operations and sales.

Ukraine Sitrep

Ukraine claims over 11,000 Russian personnel have been killed, while the U.S. puts the number closer to 4,500. The Pentagon says that Russia’s invasion is in something of a stalemate. Advances into cities are stalled, with forces remaining outside major city centers, and that Ukraine continues to contest airspace. The UK notes that Russian strikes of late have focused particularly on Ukraine’s communications infrastructure, targeting TV towers and the like. The International Atomic Energy Agency has also said that communications with Ukrainian nuclear power plants and facilities have been cut off or curtailed.

A missile attack destroyed Vinnytsia Airport, which is more in the west of the country than other targets. The attack reportedly originated in the breakaway Moldovan region of Transnistria, which is supposedly only home to Russian peacekeepers. It could be related to Secretary Blinken’s trip to Moldova, and/or it could be targeting a potential base for new fighter jets.

On Sunday shows, Secretary Blinken basically confirmed reports that the U.S. is working on a deal with Poland in which Poland gives Ukraine its Russian-made fighter planes and the U.S. would give Poland F-16s. However, there are still practical issues to work through, such as how to transfer the planes from Poland to Ukraine – just yesterday, Russia reiterated its warning that countries offering airfields to Ukraine would be considered as being part of the conflict. Still, it appears there’s also an appetite for such a transfer in Congress.

The UN updated its estimate of Ukrainian refugee to 1.5 million, the fastest exodus since WWII.

The U.S. and allies are planning for a Ukrainian government-in-exile that would include relocating Ukrainian President Zelenskyy and his aides to Poland even though he appears to have no intention to leave.

Blinken Blitz

  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken hit the NBC, CBS, and CNN Sunday shows. Here are notable comments he made on each, some of which were also noted above:
  • CBS: A fighter jet transfer to Ukraine has a “green light” and the U.S. is “talking with our Polish friends right now”
  • CBS: The U.S. is not pursing regime change in Russia – “the Russian people have to decide who they want to lead them”
  • CNN: “I think we have to be prepared for this to last for some time…We’re doing everything that we can to bring this to an end as quickly as we can, but this still may go on for a while”
  • CNN: The U.S. has seen “credible reports” of war crimes and is documenting it all
  • NBC: “We are now in very active discussions with our European partners about banning the import of Russian oil…I’m not going to rule out taking action one way or another irrespective of what they do, but everything we’ve done, the approach starts with coordinating with allies and partners”
  • NBC: The U.S. remains opposed to a no-fly zone, “we’re not going to put the United States in direct conflict with Russia, not have American planes flying against Russian planes or our soldiers on the ground in Ukraine, because for everything we’re doing for Ukraine, the President also has a responsibility to not get us into a direct conflict, a direct war, with Russia, a nuclear power, and risk a war that expands even beyond Ukraine to Europe”
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