Russia-Ukraine update: Putin retaliates; Switzerland freezes Russian assets; Ukraine asks for membership into EU bloc

Russia-Ukraine update: Putin retaliates; Switzerland freezes Russian assets; Ukraine asks for membership into EU bloc
Children board a bus after fleeing from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, at the border crossing in Siret, Romania, February 28, 2022. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

The backstory:

  • Russia invaded and annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine (a former Soviet state) back in 2014, which caused it to be kicked out of the international military alliance, The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
  • Over the last few months, Russia has been amassing large numbers of troops at the Russian-Ukrainian border, worrying people that Russia was looking to invade again, eight years after the first invasion.
  • Russia denied any intention to invade and said that the troops were for self-defense. Meanwhile, they sent some demands to the West, including banning Ukraine from ever entering NATO.
  • The United States responded by writing to Russia, saying that they wouldn’t ban Ukraine but would find ways to work with Russia where appropriate.
  • On February 21, in a televised address, Russian President Putin recognized two Russian-backed separatist regions in Ukraine and then ordered the Russian army into the area to “keep the peace.”
  • Putin described the country as an essential part of Russia’s history and added that he was confident that the Russian public would support his decision.
  • Since Russia’s move, the US, the United Kingdom and the European Union have all announced increasingly intense sanctions against the country.
  • Ukraine declared a state of emergency on February 24 for 30 days. This announcement came after several government websites were experiencing a Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attack.
  • Russia was banned from The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT). As an example of how this ban works, when Iran was banned from SWIFT in 2012, it lost almost half of its oil export revenues and 30% of foreign trade.
  • Russia and Ukraine met Monday morning at the Belarusian border to discuss the conflict. Although no ceasefire has yet been reached, Mikhail Podolyak, adviser to the head of the office of the President of Ukraine, said, “The parties identified a number of priority topics on which certain decisions were outlined."

The development:

Russia Ukraine
People fleeing Russian invasion of Ukraine arrive at a temporary camp in Przemysl, Poland, February 28, 2022. REUTERS/Yara Nardi
  • Zelenskiy has asked the EU to accept Ukraine into the bloc quickly. This is typically a really long process. For example, Croatia was the last country to join the EU. It applied for membership in 2003, which was granted 10 years later.
  • According to the United Nations (UN), 500,000 people have fled Ukraine so far, and this number could reach 4 million.
  • Sanctions have intensified from the West. On Monday, the US said that its people and companies are prohibited from doing business with the Bank of Russia, the Russian National Wealth Fund and the Ministry of Finance.
  • The Swiss government, well-known for its neutrality, is freezing the assets of hundreds of Russian lawmakers and other officials, including Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, “with immediate effect.” Switzerland is a favorite place for Russian money.
  • Russia banned aircraft from 36 countries from its airspace, including all 27 members of the EU, in retaliation to a similar move from the bloc. Russia is a key route for planes flying between Europe and Asia. Switzerland banned all Russian aircraft from its airspace effective immediately.
  • Russia’s ruble tanked to record low levels. To try and prop it up, Putin has banned residents from transferring money abroad and is now forcing exporters to buy the currency.
  • The UK government will focus on Russian oligarchs and tycoons, targeting their assets like houses and yachts – similar to measures that France has imposed.
  • Ukraine asked for more air defense systems, and an anonymous US official said that Russia has yet to achieve air superiority. Ukraine is also selling war bonds on Tuesday to help fund its battle against Russia.
  • People familiar with the matter said that the US and allies are looking to coordinate a release of around 60 million barrels of oil from their stockpiles to try and ease supply strains and worries. This is after the invasion pushed the prices of crude oil up above US$105.
  • The independent Russian news agency Interfax reported that after Russian and Ukrainian officials met in Gomel, Belarus, they agreed to continue talks to try to end the war after consulting with their respective leaders.
  • Oil and wheat prices soared, with people worried about supply because Russia is the world’s largest exporter of wheat and a top three exporter of oil and natural gas. Gold prices are rising as investors seek more stability.

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