Khan After Putin Visit: Pakistan to Import Wheat, Gas from Russia

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan announced Monday that his country will import about 2 million tons of wheat from Russia and buy natural gas as well under bilateral agreements the two sides signed last week during his official trip to Moscow.   Khan pressed on with his two-day visit and met with President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin on Thursday, hours after Russian forces invaded Ukraine, with Western countries pushing to isolate the Russian leader for his actions.  On Monday, the Pakistani prime minister defended his trip and responded to critics in a televised speech to the nation, saying Pakistan’s economic interests required him to do so.   “We went there because we have to import 2 million tons of wheat from Russia. Secondly, we have signed agreements with them …

US to Expel 12 Russian Diplomats at UN Mission for Spying

The United States said Monday that it was expelling 12 Russian diplomats based at Moscow’s U.N. mission in New York for engaging in espionage activities. “The United States has informed the United Nations and the Russian Permanent Mission to the United Nations that we are beginning the process of expelling twelve intelligence operatives from the Russian Mission who have abused their privileges of residency in the United States by engaging in espionage activities that are adverse to our national security,” U.S. Mission to the United Nations spokesperson Olivia Dalton said in a statement. “We are taking this action in accordance with the U.N. Headquarters Agreement. This action has been in development for several months.”   Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told reporters that the U.S. gave them until March 7 …

UN General Assembly Holds Historic Session on Ukraine

Ukraine and Western states appealed to the international community Monday to support a draft resolution at the United Nations General Assembly condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine and calling for an immediate cease-fire as Moscow’s forces stepped up their bombardment of the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv. “We are today at a crucial and historical moment,” European Union Ambassador Olof Skoog told member states on behalf of the 27 EU members. “Too many times in the past the international community has been blind or too slow in front of unfolding tragedies. Entire generations in many places around the world have paid and are still paying the price of inaction. We can’t make the same mistake again: We have to take action.” The West and Ukraine framed the crisis before the body …

Vatican Offers to Mediate End to Ukraine War

Pope Francis is suffering from acute knee pain and won’t preside over this week’s Ash Wednesday celebrations after his doctor ordered him to rest. Despite his health issues, the pope has launched efforts to mediate an end to the war in Ukraine. Pope Francis will not be presiding over the customary mass for the start of Lent at the Basilica of Saint Sabina on Rome’s Aventine Hill this year. The pope’s knee ailment also forced him to cancel travel plans for the first time in his papacy. Francis was scheduled to celebrate mass Sunday in Florence for the closing of a meeting of bishops and mayors from the Mediterranean region. But knee pain has not stopped the Pope from repeatedly voicing his concern about the developments in Ukraine. On Friday, …

Ukraine President Appeals for Immediate EU Accession

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appealed Monday for the European Union to immediately admit Ukraine to the bloc, as the country battled a Russian invasion. Zelenskyy posted photographs of himself on social media signing an application to join the 27-member nation EU. In a video, he said, “We appeal to the European Union for the urgent accession of Ukraine via a new special procedure.” “We are grateful to our partners for being with us,” Zelenskyy said. “But our goal is to be together with all Europeans and, most importantly, to be on equal footing. I’m sure it’s fair. I’m sure we earned it. I’m sure it’s possible.” It usually takes years for any country to officially join the EU, part of a multi-step process that often requires nations to make reforms …

Moscow Warns Russian Media Over War Coverage

Russia’s media regulator is warning independent news outlets to not report negatively on the war in Ukraine, including on troop causalities. The regulator, Roskomnadzor, issued letters to at least 10 media outlets, including Novaya Gazeta, run by Nobel Peace laureate Dmitry Muratov, and Current Time, a Russian-language digital news network led by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and VOA. On Monday, Russia blocked access to Current Time and RFE/RL’s Crimea.Realities website, in an apparent response to them not complying with the order, RFE/RL confirmed to VOA.  RFE/RL and VOA are independent networks under the taxpayer funded U.S. Agency for Global Media. Separately, police briefly detained several journalists covering anti-war protests in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and authorities limited access to social media platforms. “From the start of the invasion of Ukraine, …

Ukraine Crisis Shapes French Presidential Race 

France is gearing up for April presidential elections like no other — with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine shaping the campaign, and President Emmanuel Macron yet to enter the race. That’s expected to change within days, or hours — as the deadline for registering is Friday (March 4). French President Emmanuel Macron seems to be everywhere these days — from Moscow in an unsuccessful bid for peace, to Brussels to hash out European Union sanctions against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He is everywhere that is, except the campaign trail. At Paris’ annual agricultural fair Saturday — a mandatory stop for presidential candidates to pat cows and shake hands— Macron said nothing about his reelection plans. He warned instead that war was returning to Europe. But his silence does not seem to …

US Suspends Operations at Embassy in Belarus

The U.S. Department of State Monday announced it has suspended operations at the U.S. embassy in Minsk, Belarus, and authorized the voluntary departure of non-emergency employees and family members at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Russia’s capital, Moscow. In a statement, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the State Department took the steps due to security and safety issues stemming from “the unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces in Ukraine.” He said the department continually adjusts its posture at embassies and consulates throughout the world based on the local security environment, and the health situation. Blinken said, “We ultimately have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens, and that includes our U.S. government personnel and their dependents serving around the world.” Separately, the United …

Russian Media Sites Hacked; Anonymous Claims Responsibility

Many Russian media outlets have been hacked, with anti-war messages being placed on their websites, as Russia continues its massive, unprovoked attack on Ukraine. Twitter accounts historically associated with Anonymous, the amorphous online activist community that first grabbed global attention about a decade ago, claimed it was behind the hacker attack. Among the media outlets impacted were websites of such news agencies and newspapers as TASS, Kommersant, Izvestia, Fontanka, Forbes, and RBK. “[Russian President Vladimir] Putin forces you to lie and puts you in danger. Why do we need it? So that Putin was added to textbooks? This is not our war, let’s stop him!” one of the messages read. “This statement will be removed, and some of us will be fired or even jailed. But we cannot stand it …

US Moves to Sever Russian Access to Dollars

The U.S. Treasury made its strongest moves yet to sever Russia’s access to its assets, the White House said Monday, with measures aimed at both the Russian Central Bank and the Russian Direct Investment Fund. The moves leave Russia staring down its second week of its brazen invasion of neighboring Ukraine under heavy diplomatic and economic pressure. Delegations from Kyiv and Moscow were meeting near the Ukraine-Belarus border for peace talks on Monday. Meanwhile, the United Nations General Assembly is due to hold an emergency session, and Russia’s currency has sunk to a record low. Monday’s move against the Putin government’s main war chest will have a major effect, a senior Biden administration official told reporters early Monday. White House officials estimate that the bank holds about $630 billion in …

Russia Facing World Cup Exile After ‘Unacceptable’ FIFA Plan  

Russia’s future in the World Cup teetered on a knife-edge Monday after FIFA plans to allow them to play on neutral territory were dismissed as “unacceptable” by rivals, plunging the qualifying process for football’s showpiece event into chaos. Governing body FIFA warned that they were considering the ultimate sanction against Russia as punishment for their bloody invasion of Ukraine. However, after three days of silence, they stopped short and ordered Russia to play home internationals at neutral venues where their national flag and anthem would be banned. Russian teams would be known as the Football Union of Russia. FIFA said dialogue with other sports organizations to determine additional measures “including potential exclusion from competitions” would continue. However, within minutes of the announcement, the Polish FA insisted they would not play …

Ruble Plummets as Sanctions Bite, Sending Russians to Banks

Ordinary Russians faced the prospect of higher prices and crimped foreign travel as Western sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine sent the ruble plummeting, leading uneasy people to line up at banks and ATMs on Monday in a country that has seen more than one currency disaster in the post-Soviet era. The Russian currency plunged about 30% against the U.S. dollar Monday after Western nations announced moves to block some Russian banks from the SWIFT international payment system and to restrict Russia’s use of its massive foreign currency reserves. The exchange rate later recovered ground after swift action by Russia’s central bank.   People wary that sanctions would deal a crippling blow to the economy have been flocking to banks and ATMs for days, with reports in social media of …

Britain Widens Russian ‘Dirty Money’ Crackdown With New Law 

Britain will intensify a crackdown on what Prime Minister Boris Johnson called “dirty money” by introducing the government’s Economic Crime Bill to parliament on Monday, a step brought forward in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The much-delayed legislation comes as many opposition lawmakers and those in the governing Conservative party have called on Johnson’s government to do more to stop the flow of Russian cash into London, dubbed by some as “Londongrad.” “There is no place for dirty money in the UK. We are going faster and harder to tear back the facade that those supporting [Russian President Vladimir Putin’s campaign of destruction have been hiding behind for so long,” Johnson said. “Those backing Putin have been put on notice: there will be nowhere to hide your ill-gotten gains,” …

Belarus Votes to Give Up Non-nuclear Status

Belarusians voted Monday to allow the country to host nuclear weapons and Russian forces permanently, results showed, part of a package of constitutional reforms that also extended the rule of leader Alexander Lukashenko. The referendum was held Sunday as the ex-Soviet country’s neighbor Ukraine is under attack from Russian troops and delegations from Moscow and Kyiv are expected to meet for talks on the Belarusian border. Central Election Commission head Igor Karpenko said 65.16% of referendum participants voted in favor of the amendments and 10.07% voted against, Russian news agencies reported. According to Karpenko, voter turnout stood at 78.63%.  To come into force, the amendments need to receive at least 50% of the vote with a turnout of over half the electorate. Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, …

Euro Backlash as FIFA Refuses to Expel Russia From Football

FIFA drew a swift backlash from European nations for not immediately expelling Russia from World Cup qualifying Sunday and only ordering the country to play without its flag and anthem at neutral venues under the name of its federation — the Football Union of Russia. Protesting against FIFA’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Poland said it would still refuse to play the country in a World Cup playoff semifinal, which is scheduled for March 24. “Today’s FIFA decision is totally unacceptable,” Polish football federation president Cezary Kulesza tweeted. “We are not interested in participating in this game of appearances. Our stance remains intact: Polish National Team will NOT PLAY with Russia, no matter what the name of the team is.”   The unanimous ruling by the FIFA Bureau, featuring …

Sporting Sanctions Can Land Significant Blow on Putin, Say Experts

Russia hosting the 2018 World Cup, the scandal-plagued 2014 Winter Olympics and Gazprom’s sponsorship of the Champions League were powerful tools for the country’s global image and gained Vladimir Putin prestige amongst the Russian population. However, the Russian president’s decision to invade Ukraine has resulted in destroying the warm global afterglow and experts believe it could cost him dearly internally. Saint Petersburg has already been stripped of hosting this year’s Champions League final with Gazprom’s reported 40-million-euro ($45 million) a year sponsorship deal with UEFA also in doubt.  The Russian Formula One Grand Prix has been cancelled and there are calls for the country’s football team to be expelled from the 2022 World Cup play-offs.  “Sport has always had a tremendous impact on society,” Michael Payne, former head of marketing at the International Olympic Committee …

EU to Finance Weapons Purchases For Ukraine, Ban Russian Media

The European Union plans to take the unprecedented step of funding weapons purchases for Ukraine, EU officials said on Feb. 27 as the bloc announced a raft of new sanctions in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  The EU’s plan to fund weapons purchases will use millions of euros to help buy air-defense systems, anti-tank weapons, ammunition and other military equipment for Ukraine’s armed forces. It would also supply things like fuel, protective gear, helmets and first-aid kits.  “For the first time ever, the European Union will finance the purchase and delivery of weapons and other equipment to a country that is under attack,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said of the weapons purchases, calling it a “watershed moment.”  Von der Leyen expects the measure to be endorsed …