Russian artillery kills 70 Ukrainian soldiers at military base, official says: Feb. 28 recap
Editor's note: This page recaps the news from Ukraine on Monday, Feb. 28. Follow here for the latest updates and news from Tuesday, March 1, as Russia's invasion continues.
More than 70 Ukrainian soldiers were killed after Russian artillery hit a military base in Okhtyrka, a city between Kharkiv and Kyiv, the head of the region wrote on Telegram.
Dmytro Zhyvytskyy posted photographs of the charred shell of a four-story building and rescuers searching rubble. In a later Facebook post, he said many Russian soldiers and some local residents also were killed during the fighting on Sunday. The report could not immediately be confirmed.
Earlier Monday, Russian forces shelled Ukraine’s second-largest city, rocking a residential neighborhood as they closed in on the capital, Kyiv, in a 40-mile convoy that included hundreds of tanks and other military vehicles.
The fighting continued as talks aimed at stopping the war yielded only an agreement to keep talking. The country’s embattled president said the stepped-up shelling was aimed at forcing him into concessions.
“I believe Russia is trying to put pressure (on Ukraine) with this simple method," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said late Monday in a video address. He did not offer details of the hours-long talks that took place earlier, but said that Kyiv was not prepared to make concessions “when one side is hitting each other with rocket artillery.”
As Russian forces marched forward and met stiff resistance from Ukrainian soldiers, countries tightened the vise around Moscow's economy Monday, announcing new sanctions on its central bank and individuals. Even Switzerland is breaking its neutral stance to join the EU in its actions.
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Mastercard blocks financial institutions over sanctions on Russia
Mastercard announced Monday it was blocking "multiple financial institutions from the Mastercard payment network" as a result of sanctions imposed on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.
The U.S.-based financial services company said in a statement it will continue to work with regulators to stay in compliance and is actively monitoring and preparing to respond to cyberattacks.
The U.S. and EU have sanctioned top Kremin officials and Russian elites as well as taken steps to remove Russian banks from the SWIFT network, which allows for payments between financial institutions.
The financial corporation also said it would donate $2 million in humanitarian relief.
— Celina Tebor
United States expels Russian diplomats from U.N. headquarters
The United States is expelling 12 Russian diplomats stationed at the United Nation's headquarters in New York. for engaging in “espionage activities” that undermine U.S. national security.
Olivia Dalton, a spokesperson for the U.S. Mission to the UN, said the U.S. action has been in the works for “several months.”
She did not elaborate on the accusations that the Russians were spying on the U.S. but referred to the 12 individuals as “intelligence operatives from the Russian Mission who have abused their privileges of residency in the United States.”
— Deirdre Shesgreen
Australia commits $50 million in support for Ukraine
Australia will provide Ukraine with $50 million in missiles, ammunition and other military hardware to fight Russian invaders.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Tuesday elaborated on his country’s plans after revealing a day earlier that his government would provide Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy with lethal military equipment. Morrison promised only non-lethal military equipment last week.
“President Zelenskyy said: ‘Don’t give me a ride, give me ammunition,’ and that’s exactly what the Australian government has agreed to do,” Morrison said.
Australia had committed $50 million to provide both lethal and non-lethal defensive support for Ukraine through NATO, he said. “The overwhelming majority of that ... will be in the lethal category,” Morrison said.
— Associated Press
Disney, Sony Pictures, Warner Bros. halt release of films in Russia
The Walt Disney Co., Sony Pictures Entertainment and Warner Bros. are joining the list of businesses retaliating against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.
Disney is pausing the release of theatrical films in Russia, including the upcoming “Turning Red” from Pixar, in response to the attack, the company said in a statement Monday.
“We will make future business decisions based on the evolving situation,” the statement said.
The company said it is working with non-governmental organizations to provide aid and other humanitarian assistance to refugees.
WarnerMedia is putting the release of The Batman on hold in Russia. The film starring Robert Pattinson had been set to open in Russia on Thursday.
“We will continue to monitor the situation as it evolves,” Warner Bros. said in a statement. “We hope for a swift and peaceful resolution to this tragedy.”
Sony Pictures is also pausing planned theatrical releases in Russia, including the upcoming release of Morbius, which is due out in early April.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with all those who have been impacted and hope this crisis will be resolved quickly," a Sony Pictures spokesperson told USA TODAY in a statement.
– Michael Collins, Charles Ventura
Ukraine official: 5 million rubles and full amnesty for Russian soldiers who stop fighting
Ukraine is offering Russian soldiers cash to stop fighting in a Kremlin-ordered invasion of the country.
“We offer Russian soldiers a choice: to die in an unjust war or a full amnesty and 5 million rubles in compensation. If they lay down their arms and surrender voluntarily,” Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said in a statement posted to the department’s Twitter account.
The offer of 5 million rubles is worth less than $50,000 dollars as the currency has cratered amid global sanctions levied against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.
– Rick Rouan
Durbin requests Temporary Protected Status for Ukrainians in U.S.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told reporters that he plans to send a bipartisan letter to President Biden this evening asking for Temporary Protected Status for all Ukrainians currently in the U.S.
“There are 29,500 Ukrainians in the United States now on visas," said Durbin, the second most powerful Democrat in the Senate. "They include tourists and students and people working here."
He said some have expired visas and are now expected to return to Ukraine, which is “unacceptable under these current circumstances.” Temporary Protected Status would allow them to stay in the U.S. temporarily without fear of deportation.
“That is something we could and should do immediately,” he said.
– Dylan Wells and Rebecca Morin
Ukraine ambassador compares Russia to Nazi Germany
Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States said Monday Russian forces that invaded her country are acting like the Nazis during World War II and killing innocent civilians.
Russian troops have shot into residential areas, orphanages, schools and kindergartens, Ambassador Oksana Markarova told reporters after a meeting with U.S. lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
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“It is horrible,” she said. “They have to pay the price. They have to be isolated. They have to understand that it’s not OK in the 21st century to start a war and kill people in a neighboring sovereign country.”
Russia is trying to inflict devastation on Ukraine, Markarova said, but Ukrainians continue to fight back and will not surrender. “We are defending our home,” she said. “We do not have any other option.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., one of the Congress members who met with Markarova, praised the Ukrainians and said there was “universal” support among lawmakers at the meeting to offer assistance.
“We’re exploring all the ways that we can help them,” he told reporters after the meeting.
– Michael Collins
U.S. not ruling out closing airspace to Russian planes
The U.S. has not ruled out the possibility of banning Russian flights from its airspace in retaliation for Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, the White House said Monday.
“There are obviously a range of options that remain on the table,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. “So it's not off the table.”
Canada and the 27-nation European Union have closed their airspace to Russian planes. Russia has responded by closing its airspace to airlines from 36 countries.
On Monday, Russia announced that it has closed its airspace to carriers from 36 nations, including European countries and Canada, responding in kind to their move to close their respective airspaces to all Russian aircraft.
The move, announced Monday by the state aviation agency, follows a decision by the EU and Canada over the weekend to close their skies to the Russian planes in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
It added that planes from those countries could only enter Russia’s airspace with special permission.
– Michael Collins
U.S. has no plans to update nuclear threat level
The U.S. sees no reason to update its nuclear threat level despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to put his nuclear forces on high alert, the White House said Monday.
The U.S. is assessing Putin’s directive, but “at this time, we see no reason to change our own alert levels,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.
Neither the U.S. nor NATO has any desire for conflict with Russia, Psaki said, “and we think provocative rhetoric like this regarding nuclear weapons is dangerous, adds to the risk of miscalculation, should be avoided and will not indulge in it.”
- Michael Collins
Poll: Majority of Americans fear Russia could deploy nuclear weapons
Most Americans are wary that Russia could use nuclear weapons if the United States and its NATO allies step in to stop the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine, a new poll found.
A Quinnipiac University poll conducted mostly before Russian President Vladimir Putin put his country’s nuclear forces on high alert found that more than six in 10 Americans are worried Russia could deploy nuclear weapons.
President Joe Biden says they shouldn't.
Asked Monday by a reporter as he attended a Black History Month celebration at the White House whether Americans "should be worried about nuclear war," Biden answered with a simple 'no'."
Still, there is growing support among Americans for U.S. military involvement. The share of respondents who support President Joe Biden’s decision to send U.S. troops to shore up NATO’s eastern flank increased from 54% in a Feb. 16 poll to 70% in the most recent survey.
About 70 percent of respondents said American troops should get involved if Russia moves beyond Ukraine and into a NATO country, a prospect that nearly two-thirds believe Putin has in his sights.
The poll surveyed 1,364 U.S. adults between Feb. 25-27.
-- Rick Rouan
Shell to cut ties with Russian natural gas company
Shell will exit a joint-venture with the Russian-owned natural gas company Gazprom a day after BP said it was cutting ties with a Russian state-owned oil company amid the Kremlin’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
“We are shocked by the loss of life in Ukraine, which we deplore, resulting from a senseless act of military aggression which threatens European security,” Shell CEO Ben van Beurden said in a prepared statement.
The company said it had about $3 billion in assets tied up in Russian ventures at the end of 2021. That includes interests in the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and other joint ventures.
– Rick Rouan
Twitter to flag tweets sharing Russian state media content
Twitter will begin flagging content shared on its platform from Russian state media as it tries to stem the tide of disinformation flowing from the Kremlin.
The social media platform announced its plan on Monday. Twitter already labeled the accounts of state media outlets, but now it will flag tweets from any account sharing that content, the company’s head of site integrity Yoel Roth said.
Roth said about 45,000 tweets a day are sharing links to Russian state-affiliated media outlets.
– Rick Rouan
Macron: France will bring resolution to UN security council
French President Emmanuel Macron said he will bring a resolution to the United Nations Security Council after reinforcing to the Kremlin the need to protect civilians in the invasion of Ukraine.
Macron tweeted on Monday that he asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to adopt a ceasefire and to stop attacks against civilians, residences and infrastructure. He asked Putin to respect humanitarian law, according to a translation of his tweet, and said France would bring the resolution to the UN.
The UN general assembly is scheduled to meet in an emergency special session on Monday.
Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States previously accused Russia of committing war crimes in the attack, including the use of heavy missiles and artillery to hit hospitals and kindergartens as well as infrastructure.
– Rick Rouan
Zelenskyy asks European Union to grant Ukraine immediate membership
Ukraine President Volodomyr Zelenskyy has formally made his appeal for membership into the European Union.
Zelenskyy signed an application to grant Ukraine membership in the EU on Monday after urging the union publicly to expedite the process under a special procedure.
The request came after the European Union announced new actions against Russia, including plans to close its airspace to Russian airlines, bankroll weapons for Ukraine and ban pro-Kremlin media outlets.
-- Rick Rouan
FACT CHECK ROUNDUP: What's true and what's false about the Russian invasion of Ukraine
Ruble-to-bitcoin trades surge after sanctions crater Russian currency
Holders of Russian currency are turning to bitcoin as the ruble cratered in the aftermath of global sanctions that have cut off Russia from western financial institutions.
Coindesk, a cryptocurrency news organization, reported a spike on Monday in trading volume between the Russian ruble and bitcoin. Trading volumes have hit a nine-month high, according to Coindesk.
The increase came after the U.S., European allies and other countries around the globe imposed financial sanctions that have crippled Russia’s economy in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. The value of the ruble compared with the U.S. dollar has plunged since the announcement of those sanctions.
-- Rick Rouan
Kremlin: Sanctions 'problematic,' worsened economy
At the outset of a brewing financial crisis, the Kremlin conceded Monday that Western sanctions were affecting the economy but remained confident effects could be dampened.
"The economic reality has considerably changed," Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesperson, said during a press call with reporters, according to Reuters and CNN. "These are heavy sanctions, they are problematic, but Russia has the potential to offset the harm."
The U.S. and EU have sanctioned top Kremin officials and Russian elites as well as taken steps to remove Russian banks from the SWIFT network, which allows for payments between financial institutions. The West also took steps to stop the Kremlin from accessing its $640 billion in foreign reserves which Russian banks could use to buoy the isolated economy.
"Russia has been making plans for quite a long time for possible sanctions, including the most severe ones. There are response plans, they were developed and are being implemented as problems appear,” Peskov said.
He added that sanctions on Russian elites and Russian President Vladimir Putin himself were “pointless.”
– Matthew Brown
EU Foreign Affairs chief: 'Sanctions have a cost'
Days after the United States and European Union levied stringent sanctions on the Russian elite and financial system, the EU’s foreign affairs chief reiterated that sanctions will have a negative effect on the global economy. It’s a price that the West must be ready to pay, he stressed.
“This is not a free lunch. Sanctions will backlash. Sanctions have a cost,” Josep Borrell, vice president of the European Commission, said Monday. Borrell said it is important to “explain to public opinion” the costs of sanctions on the global economy.
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“We have to be ready to pay this price now because if not, we will have to pay a much bigger price in the future,” Borrell continued. He noted there would be turbulence in global energy markets that would especially impact Europe in the short term, which the EU and U.S. are working to mitigate.
While the U.S. is more insulated from the economic pain of isolating Russia than Europe, President Joe Biden has also cautioned Americans that the sanctions will have ripple effects for the U.S. economy that will be felt in the stock market and energy prices
– Matthew Brown
IOC calls for exclusion of athletes from Russia, Belarus
In a sweeping move to isolate and condemn Russia after invading Ukraine, the International Olympic Committee urged sports bodies on Monday to exclude the country’s athletes and officials from international events.
The IOC said it was needed to "protect the integrity of global sports competitions and for the safety of all the participants."
The decision opened the way for FIFA, the governing body of soccer, to exclude Russia from a World Cup qualifying playoff match on March 24. Poland has refused to play the scheduled game against Russia.
The Olympic body’s call also applied to athletes and official from Belarus, which has abetted Russia’s invasion.
– Associated Press
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Swiss adopt EU sanctions
The Swiss government on Monday took the extraordinary step of joining in the EU's sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.
Switzerland's Federal Council decided to adopt the financial sanctions, whiich include freezing the assets of individuals and companies, as well as levying sanctions upon Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
The Swiss government is also joining the EU in closing its airspace to all flights from Russia and to aircraft with Russian markings. The Federal Council is suspending visas for Russian nationals, excluding diplomatic passports, and is blocking entry for "a number of individuals who have a connection to Switzerland and are close to the Russian president."
– Katie Wadington
United States imposes sanctions on Russia's Central Bank
The U.S. on Monday imposed new sanctions on Russia targeting the country's Central Bank, dealing a major blow to Moscow's economy, which holds more than $630 billion in foreign currency reserves.
The sanctions effectively cut off Russia's Central Bank from accessing assets either held in the U.S. or in U.S. dollars, severely restricting any effort by Russian President Vladimir Putin to blunt the effects of previous sanctions that have sent the country's economy into a free fall.
The new restrictions, in response to Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, also target Russia's National Wealth Fund and the Ministry of Finance.
The measures prohibit foreign financial firms with U.S. dollars from sending it to Russia's Central Bank, National Wealth Fund or finance ministry, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the announcement.
The official said the U.S. wanted to put the penalties in place before markets opened Monday after learning from allies over the weekend that the Russian Central Bank was attempting to move assets beginning Monday morning from institutions around the world.
– Courtney Subramanian
WHAT IS SWIFT?: How would a removal from SWIFT affect Russia?
Zelenskyy creates 'international legion,' enlists foreign fighters
President Volodomyr Zelenskyy announced the creation of an “international legion” to enlist non-Ukrainians who want to support the war effort against Russia.
“We already have thousands requests from foreigners, who want to join the resistance to the (Russian) occupiers and protect the world security from Putin regime,” a spokesperson for the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense said Monday.
While no other country has sent its own troops to Ukraine, the U.S., European Union and NATO have all ramped up the delivery of weapons to the eastern European country amid the Russian invasion.
Anyone interested in joining the new unit should reach out to the Ukrainian embassies in their home countries, the statement said.
The Ukrainian government has also called on the support of its civilians to assist in defending the country from Russian invasion by directly resisting and confusing invading forces.
– Matthew Brown
U.S. closes embassy in Belarus
The State Department has shut down the U.S. Embassy in Minsk, Belarus, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Monday morning. Non-emergency personnel and family members at the embassy in Moscow have also been authorized to leave.
Blinken said the steps were taken "due to security and safety issues stemming from the unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces in Ukraine."
Belarus has served as a staging area for Russian troops for weeks ahead of the invasion that started on Thursday.
– Katie Wadington
Pope Francis offers to help solve Ukraine crisis
The Vatican is offering to help in any negotiations to end the war in Ukraine.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s No. 2 official, told several Italian newspapers in an interview published on Monday that the Holy See is “offering its willingness to facilitate dialogue with Russia."
On Friday, Pope Francis took the extraordinary step of visiting the Russian Embassy to the Holy See to meet with the Russian ambassador. The pontiff urged an end to fighting and a return to negotiations, Parolin said.
While Orthodox Christians are predominant among the faithful in Ukraine, the Catholic Church has a discreet presence in that country through believers who follow the Eastern Rite of Catholicism.
– Associated Press
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson: 'Putin must fail'
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed that Western allies would impose the harshest economic sanctions possible against Russian President Vladimir Putin for his "abhorrent campaign against Ukraine."
The European Union has announced unprecedented new actions against Russia, outlining plans to close its airspace to Russian airlines, fund a weapons purchase to assist Ukraine and ban some pro-Kremlin media outlets, while the Associated Press reported the United States approved the delivery of anti-aircraft Stinger missiles to Ukraine.
Western powers in support of Ukraine could soon be joined by Switzerland, an oftentimes neutral country that on Monday is set to review potential sanctions and asset freezes against Russia, said President Ignazio Cassis via Reuters. Cassis said it was “very probable” the country would follow suit, the outlet reported.
"Putin must fail," the British prime minister wrote on Twitter.
– Caren Bohan and Associated Press
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ukrainian soldiers killed after Russian artillery hits base: Recap