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Ukraine Update: Blinken Says U.S., Allies Discussing Oil Embargo

These translations are done via Google Translate
(Bloomberg) The International Atomic Energy Agency said it’s having trouble getting through to staff operating the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which is now under the control of Russian forces.Russian President Vladimir Putin told his Turkish counterpart that Ukraine must agree to his demands in order for fighting to end, lowering hopes for progress at a third round of talks between the warring countries that could happen as soon as Monday.An evacuation from the southern city of Mariupol was halted for a second day, with Ukrainian officials claiming Russia again violated a cease-fire brokered to allow the safe passage of civilians. An aid group called conditions in the city “catastrophic.” Over 1.5 million people have fled Ukraine since the war began, the U.N. said.
Where Ukraine’s Refugees Are Fleeing

Putin signed a decree Saturday allowing Russia and Russian companies to pay some foreign creditors in rubles, in a bid to avoid defaults. Russia’s biggest lender is looking for a workaround after credit card issuers American Express, Visa and Mastercard said they’re suspending operations in Russia.

All times CET:

Blinken To Meet Israeli Foreign Minister on Monday (7:33 p.m.)

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet his Israeli counterpart, Yair Lapid on Monday in Riga, Latvia.

The meeting follows a flurry of diplomacy by Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who spoke by phone with Putin on Sunday, one day after meeting him in person in Moscow. Israel is one of several countries that have offered to mediate between Ukraine and Russia.

Blinken and Lapid will discuss Ukraine and attempts by world powers to revive a nuclear deal with Iran, the Israeli foreign ministry said.

American Express Suspends Russia, Belarus Operations (7:06 p.m.)

American Express Co. says it is suspending its operations in Russia and Belarus.

Globally issued American Express cards will no longer work at merchants or ATMs in Russia, while cards issued locally in Russia by Russian banks will no longer work outside of the country on the American Express global network, the company said in a statement.

The moves are “in addition to the previous steps we have taken, which include halting our relationships with banks in Russia impacted by the U.S. and international government sanctions.”

Blinken Says U.S., Allies Discussing Oil Embargo (6:50 p.m.)

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Biden administration and its allies are discussing an embargo of Russian oil.

“We are now talking to our European partners and allies to look in a coordinated way at the prospect of banning the import of Russian oil, while making sure that there is still an appropriate supply of oil on world markets,” Blinken said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “That’s a very active discussion as we speak.”

Separately, German Finance Minister Christian Lindner said work is continuing on “further sanctions,” adding that it is a “a special priority to hit the oligarchs.”

IAEA Says Communication With Staff at Nuclear Site Compromised (6:14 p.m.)

The International Atomic Energy Agency said communications with Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia power plant, captured by Russian forces last week, has been compromised after the occupiers shut off mobile networks and internet access. Ukraine’s nuclear regulator told the IAEA that phone lines, emails and faxes weren’t functioning, and that mobile communication was also poor.

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi also said he was “extremely concerned” after learning that management of the plant, Europe’s largest, was under orders of the Russian commander at the site.

“Management and staff must be allowed to carry out their vital duties in stable conditions without undue external interference or pressure,” Grossi said in a statement posted on the IAEA website. Radiation levels at the plant remained normal, the agency said.

The IAEA reported problems meantime communicating with personnel at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, saying the only channel currently is email. That site is also under Russian control.

IAEA – International Atomic Energy Agency


#Ukraine’s nuclear regulator tells IAEA it is having problems in communicating with staff operating #Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant.

Sent via Twitter Web App.

View original tweet.

Russia Warns Nations About Hosting Military Jets (6:02 p.m.)

Russia’s Defense Ministry warned other countries near Ukraine against any potential move to host its military jets.

Letting Ukraine use overseas airfields to base aircraft would be considered involvement in an armed conflict with Russia, Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a statement. He said Ukrainian combat aircraft had previously flown to nearby countries.

Ukraine is unlikely to have flown fighters to other countries since the war broke out, aside from an incident in the early days of the conflict where a pilot diverted to Romania after his base was bombed and he lost contact with it. He quickly returned to Ukraine.

Russia Says Bondholder Payment Hinge on Sanctions (5:30 p.m.)

Sanctions imposed on Russia will determine if international investors are able to collect debt payments on sovereign bonds denominated in foreign currencies, according to the Finance Ministry in Moscow.

Residents will receive their payments on the Russian state debt in rubles, regardless of the denomination currency, the ministry said in an emailed statement on Sunday.

VTB Bank Prepares to Exit Europe, FT Reports (3:32 p.m.)

Russia’s VTB Bank is preparing to wind down its European operations after being hit hard by sanctions, the Financial Times reported, citing people with knowledge of the internal discussions. VTB declined to comment to the newspaper.

“We’re trying to do it as swiftly as we can – but operations in Europe are much more complicated than those in the U.K.,” the FT reported a person involved in the planning as saying. “We’re doing everything we can to get customers’ money back to them.”

Sberbank, Russia’s biggest lender, decided to exit the European market last week. Together, Sberbank and VTB account for more than half of Russia’s banking market.

Blinken Says U.S., Europe Discussing Russia Oil Ban (3:15 p.m.)

The U.S. is in talks with European countries on a joint approach to any ban on Russian oil imports that could still ensure adequate supplies, said Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Blinken, currently in Eastern Europe, said he discussed the matter with President Joe Biden and other cabinet members on Saturday.

“We are now talking to our European partners and allies to look in a coordinated way at the prospect of banning the import of Russian oil, while making sure that there is still an appropriate supply of oil on world markets,” Blinken said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “That’s a very active discussion as we speak.”

Russian Lender Looks for Workaround to Visa, Mastercard Ban (2:41 p.m.)

Russia’s biggest lender, Sberbank PJSC, said it’s looking at the possibility of issuing cards using the domestic payments system Mir and China’s UnionPay after credit card giants Visa Inc. and Mastercard Inc. suspended operations there.

The move could allow Russians to make some payments overseas, since state-owned UnionPay operates in 180 countries and regions. Visa and Mastercard said that any transactions initiated with their cards issued in Russia will no longer work outside the country from March 10.

Dozens of Anti-War Protests in Russia (2:12 p.m.)

Anti-war protests are happening in 44 cities across Russia on Sunday. Hundreds of people have been detained in Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Ekaterinburg, with almost 2,000 arrested across the country as of 4 p.m. Moscow time, according to rights group OVD-Info.

OVD said that authorities were carrying out searches on human rights activists and journalists in several regions, protesters had been beaten with batons, and that in Saint Petersburg, police were using electric shocks on protesters. Some 10,403 people have been detained in anti-war protests across Russia since Feb. 24, the group calculates.

Putin Tells Erdogan Ukraine is Trying to Drag Out Talks (2:06 p.m.)

Vladimir Putin spoke on Sunday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and accused Ukraine of attempting to drag out talks in order to regroup militarily, according to a readout from the Kremlin.

A halt to fighting would depend on Kyiv meeting Russia’s demands, Putin told Erdogan, according to the statement. Russia’s president is insisting on the “demilitarization” of Ukraine and has made clear he wants to remove the government, a stance that makes negotiations extremely difficult.

Officials from Ukraine and Russia have held two rounds of talks without tangible results, and an effort to put in place a humanitarian corridor for the south that can hold for more than a few hours has proved elusive. Both sides have said they’re open to having a further meeting on Monday.

Ukraine Official Says Mariupol Evacuation Truce Violated Again (1:40 p.m.)

A planned evacuation of tens of thousands of people from the besieged southern port city of Mariupol has been halted for a second day, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister said.

Russian troops opened fire, violating the day’s temporary cease-fire agreement, Anton Herashchenko said on his Telegram channel.

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There’s been no comment so far from the Russian military on the cease-fire arrangements. The aid group Doctors Without Borders has described the situation in Mariupol as “catastrophic.”

Doctors w/o Borders


Audio sent to us today from MSF’s emergency coordinator Alex Wade – huge concerns on the situation in Mariupol, Ukraine.

Sent via Twitter Media Studio.

View original tweet.

“The city has been heavily shelled day and night for the last several days… supermarkets have been hit…there’s no electricity, no heating…no water.”

Foreigners Are Signing Up to Fight for Ukraine (1:28 p.m.)

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the number of foreigners who have applied to come and fight for Ukraine was nearing 20,000. The government recently set up a website for potential volunteers and waived visa requirements for those coming in.

Ukraine was monitoring the potential for Belarusian troops to join Russia in its attack on the country, Kuleba said. So far that hasn’t happened but it remains a risk, he added.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video posted by his office that shelling continued in residential areas of cities including Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second biggest, and Chernihiv, north of Kyiv. He accused Russia of planning to bomb the major port city of Odesa in the south, without elaborating.

BBC Says World News Taken Off the Air in Russia (12:53 p.m.)

The BBC’s global news channel, BBC World News, has been taken off air in Russia, the organization reported on its website.

The move follows Friday’s decision by the British national broadcaster to temporarily halt the work of its journalists and support staff in Russia following a law passed there that criminalizes independent reporting in the country.

Moody’s Cuts Russian Debt Further Into Junk Territory (12:00 p.m.)

Moody’s Investors Service cut Russia’s long-term issuer and senior unsecured debt ratings to Ca from B3 on expectations that new capital controls by the Central Bank of Russia will restrict cross border payments, including for debt service on government bonds.

Less than a week ago, Moody’s stripped Russia of its investment grade rating.

Russia Eases Reporting Requirements for Banks (11:40 a.m.)

The Bank of Russia will temporarily reduce the amount of information commercial banks are required to publish in an effort to limit the risks from international sanctions.

Starting from the statements for February, banks will no longer have to release accounts prepared to national standards or any additional disclosures on their websites, the central bank said in statement.

U.S. Supports Moldova’s EU Bid, Will Invest in Energy  (11:34 a.m.)

The U.S. will invest $18 million to help Moldova increase its energy security and reduce its dependence on Russia, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a visit to Chisinau on Sunday.

Blinken also said the U.S. supports Moldova’s bid to join the EU. Moldova officially requested to begin the accession procedure last week, a process that could last more than a decade.

The 27 EU leaders meeting outside of Paris on March 10-11 will discuss the bloc’s enlargement, and specifically the recent requests by Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. The requests could further antagonize Russian President Vladimir Putin as the eastern countries seek closer ties with the west.

No Polish Talks So Far on U.S. Fighter Jet Proposal (11:04 a.m.)

Poland is yet to hold talks with the U.S. about potentially supplying fighter jets to Ukraine or getting replacements from the U.S. in the event it did so, according to a Polish official with direct knowledge of the matter.

The government in Warsaw has previously downplayed the possibility of sending fighter jets in, and expressed concern that doing so could drag it, and potentially NATO, into a broader conflict with Russia.

White House Says U.S., Poland Working on Warplanes for Ukraine

“We’re looking actively now at the question of airplanes that Poland may provide to to Ukraine and looking at how we might be able to backfill,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday in Moldova.

A person familiar with internal White House deliberations noted that Eastern European countries don’t have large-sized fighter jet fleets to begin with, and anything they sent to Ukraine would leave them exposed at home. The process of supplying F-16s to them as replacements could take a long time, let alone adding on retrofitting and providing training, the person added.

Refugees Top 1.5 Million, UN Says (10:53 a.m.)

More than 1.5 million people have crossed from Ukraine to neighboring countries in the past 10 days, Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, tweeted on Sunday. He called it the “fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.”

More than 60% have fled to Poland, where authorities estimate 922,400 people had crossed the border as of early Sunday, and Moldova, to where more than 250,000 have fled, according to President Maia Sandu. Smaller numbers have traveled to Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and other EU countries, as well as to Russia itself.

Last week the EU agreed to give residential rights to Ukrainians and provide health, employment and social support for as long as three years. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Moldovan officials Sunday after visiting a refugee center in Poland on Saturday.

Russia Seeks to Capture Hydroelectric Plant, Ukraine Says (8:53 a.m.)

Russian forces may seek to capture the Kaniv hydroelectric power station, Ukraine’s defense ministry said in a statement, indicating a possible increase in the targeting of civilian infrastructure. Last week, Russian forces partially occupied the site of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.

The dam, about 60 miles (96 km) downstream from the capital Kyiv, is one of the key elements in the cascade of hydroelectric power plants on the Dnieper River. Russia says its main goal in the war is to target Ukrainian military facilities.

Ukrainian Health Minister Viktor Lyashko said Sunday that 34 hospitals have been damaged or destroyed since Russia’s invasion. Some are completely nonoperational, while others have no power or water.

‘Putin’s Act of Aggression Must Fail,’ Johnson Writes (8 a.m.)

In the New York Times essay, Johnson outlined a six-point plan for Ukraine, calling on other nations to help mobilize a humanitarian effort and help Ukraine defend itself.

Johnson said he’d meet on Monday with the leaders of Canada and the Netherlands, and on Tuesday host the leaders of Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic, countries facing a growing refugee crisis as people flee Ukraine.

He also called for every Russian bank to be cut out of the SWIFT financial payments system, and for Europe to start to “wean itself off” Russian oil and gas. Europe is highly dependent on Russian gas, but only about 3% of U.K. energy supplies come from Russia, so any cap on imports would have a limited impact there.

Visa, MasterCard Suspend Russia Operations (11:15 p.m.)

All transactions initiated with Visa cards issued in Russia will no longer work abroad. Any Visa cards issued by financial institutions outside of Russia will no longer work within the country, the company said in a statement Saturday.

“We are compelled to act following Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, and the unacceptable events that we have witnessed,” said Al Kelly, chairman and chief executive officer. MasterCard, which provided fewer details on the suspension, said in a statement that given the “unprecedented nature of the current conflict and the uncertain economic environment – we have decided to suspend our network services in Russia.” U.S. lawmakers had called for the companies to halt transactions in Russia.

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