Russia-Ukraine (March 8): As Russia Attacks Ukraine, China Eyes the Indo-Pacific: Australia Intelligence Boss

The latest on the Russia–Ukraine crisis, March 8. Click here for updates from March 7.

As Russia Attacks Ukraine, China Eyes the Indo-Pacific: Australia Intelligence Boss

A “troubling new strategic convergence” between Beijing and Moscow has developed and the risk of “major power conflict” had grown since Russia invaded Ukraine, Australia’s intelligence chief said on Wednesday.

Andrew Shearer, director general of the Office of National Intelligence, said Chinese leader Xi Jinping appears to be planning to dominate the Indo-Pacific region and use it as a base to overtake the United States as the world’s leading power.

The comments reinforce warnings that the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has met near-universal condemnation by the West, may spread into a regional or global conflict. This week Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called on liberal democracies to stop an “arc of autocracy” reshaping the world.

“We’re going to have to work much harder to maintain the liberal quality of the rules-based order in Europe and here in the Indo-Pacific region,” Shearer said at a conference hosted by the Australian Financial Review.

“We see a leader who’s really battening down and hardening his country for this struggle to overtake the United States as the world’s leading power,” he added, referring to Xi.

“The base camp … is to establish primacy in the Indo-Pacific region.”

___

Russia Underestimated Ukraine’s Resistance, US Officials Say

The United States believes Russia underestimated the strength of Ukraine’s resistance before launching an invasion that has likely caused thousands of Russian casualties, the Biden administration’s top intelligence official told lawmakers Tuesday.

The testimony, in a hearing before the House Intelligence Committee, amounted to the first public assessment of the 2-week-old war by the nation’s senior intelligence officials, who offered their insights into the thinking and motives of Russian President Vladimir Putin as his forces continue their march through Ukraine.

The officials made clear that Russia’s assault has been slowed by unexpected resistance by Ukrainian defenders and that it was now uncertain if Putin would proceed with a “maximalist” strategy to try to capture all of Ukraine or would settle for something short of that. Either way, they said they believed he was determined to press his invasion forward despite mounting casualties, global sanctions and efforts by Western nations to isolate the Kremlin, including a U.S. ban on Russian oil imports.

“We assess Putin feels aggrieved the West does not give him proper deference and perceives this as a war he cannot afford to lose,” Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said. “But what he might be willing to accept as a victory may change over time given the significant costs he is incurring.”

___

McDonald’s, Starbucks, Coke, and Pepsi Halt Sales in Russia

McDonald’s, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, and Starbucks stopped sales of their best-known products in Russia on Tuesday.

All four companies have major operations in Russia.

McDonald’s said it would go on paying salaries to its 62,000 employees in Russia as it closed 847 restaurants.

Starbucks Corp. is temporarily closing hundreds of stores. PepsiCo Inc. will suspend all advertising in Russia and stop the sale of its drinks brands, while continuing to sell essentials such as milk and baby food. Rival Coca-Cola Co. said it will suspend its business there.

Scores of other companies also have rebuked Russia, and Amazon.com Inc. said on Tuesday it would stop accepting new customers for its cloud services in Russia and Ukraine. Universal Music suspended all operations in Russia, and online dating service Bumble Inc. will remove its apps from stores in Russia and Belarus.

___

Pentagon Says Poland’s Offer to Send Fighter Jets for Ukraine Is Not Tenable

The Pentagon said late on March 8 that Poland’s offer to send fighter jets is not tenable, after Poland’s Foreign Ministry announced it would deploy MiG-29 jets to the U.S. Air Force’s Ramstein Air Base in Germany “and place them at the disposal of the Government of the United States of America.”

The deployment of the 28 MiG-29s would be immediate and free of charge, the Foreign Ministry added. “At the same time, Poland requests the United States to provide us with used aircraft with corresponding operational capabilities,” it said in a statement.

The Polish government also called on other NATO member nations that own MiG-29 planes to transfer their planes to the United States.

In a statement late on March 8, Pentagon press secretary John F. Kirby said: “The prospect of fighter jets ‘at the disposal of the Government of the United States of America’ departing from a U.S./NATO base in Germany to fly into airspace that is contested with Russia over Ukraine raises serious concerns for the entire NATO alliance.

“It is simply not clear to us that there is a substantive rationale for it. We will continue to consult with Poland and our other NATO allies about this issue and the difficult logistical challenges it presents, but we do not believe Poland’s proposal is a tenable one,” he said.

___

US Commerce Secretary Warns Chinese Firms Not to Help Russia Skirt Sanctions

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo on March 8 bluntly warned Chinese companies not to contravene trade sanctions against Russia by supplying the belligerent nation with chips and other supplies needed to sustain the war effort against Ukraine. Firms that do not abide by the sanctions can be “essentially shut” down, she said.

Raimondo, in an interview with the New York Times, said that Russia “is certainly going to be courting other countries to do an end run around our sanctions and export controls,” but issued a harsh ultimatum to companies not to cooperate with any such circumvention.

The commerce secretary emphasized the ease with which the Biden administration could shut down China’s largest chipmaker Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC) or any other firms that make their technology available to Russia, adding it does not make sense from the companies’ own point of view to flout U.S. sanctions.

“They have their own self-interest to not supply this stuff to Russia. So they’re not doing it out of the goodness of their heart. It would be devastating to China’s ability to produce these chips,” Raimondo said.

___

Los Angeles City Council Condemns Invasion

Lawmakers in the second most populous city in the U.S. on Tuesday approved a resolution condemning the actions of Russian President Vladimir Putin in waging war against Ukraine.

The Los Angeles City Council voted 14-0 to pass the resolution, which also urges international divestment of holdings in Russia.

The Board of Supervisors in neighboring Orange County unanimously passed a similar resolution Tuesday. It encourages the county to sever ties with any Russian-backed bank or financial institution. The county currently doesn’t have any direct investments in Russia.

In Los Angeles, members of the City Council expressed support for Ukraine, denounced “horrific acts against humanity” and expressed concern that history is repeating itself.

___

Belarusians in Ukraine Preparing to Join the Fight Against Russia

Belarusians living in Ukraine have formed a military unit and are preparing to join the fight against Russia.

Jan Derbeiko, 26, said he has been living in Kyiv since November 2020 after being forced to leave Belarus for participating in protests against President Alexander Lukashenko.

“I had a job and I had plans for future, but the war happened here,” Derbeiko said. “At that moment, I decided to stay here. I’ve already lost my homeland and now my new home is being destroyed.”

Derbeiko urged all Belarusians “who have a conscience and honor left” to provide “maximum support to the Ukrainians.”

He said the squad of Belarusians, which grows each day, he is preparing to take their positions when the Russian soldiers attack Kyiv.

___

Russian Currency Restrictions Tightened

Russia’s Central Bank has sharply tightened currency restrictions amid crippling Western sanctions over the Russian war in Ukraine.

The bank ordered the country’s commercial banks to cap the amount clients can withdraw from their hard currency deposits at $10,000. Any withdrawals above that amount would be converted to rubles at the current exchange rates.

It also told commercial banks to stop selling hard currency to clients, a measure that will likely foment a black market for foreign currency. The draconian restrictions are unprecedented since the Soviet times when the authorities maintained strict hard currency controls.

The Central Bank noted that the currency controls were tightened because of the Western sanctions that froze a large share of the Central Bank’s hard currency reserves. The crippling blow to the country’s financial system also prevented Russia from getting foreign cash.

___

Poland to Send All MiG-29 Fighter Jets to US Base

Polish officials announced on March 8 they would deploy the country’s MiG-29 fighter jets to the U.S. Air Force’s Ramstein Air Base in Germany amid the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

“After consultations between the President and the Government,” officials “are ready to deploy–immediately and free of charge–all their MIG-29 jets to the Ramstein Air Base and place them at the disposal of the Government of the United States of America,” according to a statement from the Foreign Ministry.

Poland then requested the United States provide it with its “used aircraft with corresponding operational capabilities,” adding that Warsaw is “ready to immediately establish the conditions of purchase of the planes.”

The Polish government also called on other NATO member nations that own MiG-29 planes, which were first put into service in the 1980s by the Soviet Union, to transfer their planes to the United States. Ukrainian pilots are trained to fly Soviet-era fighter jets.

Read the full article here

___

Antony Blinken Meeting With French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris to discuss the response to Russia’s war with Ukraine.

Macron was briefing Blinken on his most recent round of conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin who is pressing ahead with the Ukraine invasion despite global condemnation and severe sanctions being imposed on his country.

The two men were also to discuss the Iran nuclear talks in Vienna, which are nearing an end with conflicting signals about whether the 2015 deal limiting Iran’s atomic program can be salvaged.

Blinken arrived in Paris for a two-hour stop from a tour of the Baltic states, Moldova and Poland, where he heard firsthand dire concerns about Russia’s actions from leaders.
___

Moscow Warns Oil Could Reach $300 a Barrel due to New Sanctions

Crude oil prices could reach more than $300 per barrel if the West goes ahead with its plan to sanction Russian energy supplies, Moscow warned in a statement on state television.

“It is absolutely clear that a rejection of Russian oil would lead to catastrophic consequences for the global market,” Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said. “The surge in prices would be unpredictable. It would be $300 per barrel if not more.”

Novak said that it will take Europe over a year to replace the quantity of oil it imports from Russia. Moreover, Europe will also have to pay a significantly higher price for it.

Read the full article here
___

Russia Says it Destroyed Around 900 Ukrainian Armored Vehicles

The Russian armed forces have destroyed almost 900 Ukrainian tanks and other armored vehicles since the start of what Russia calls a “special military operation” on Feb. 24, the Russian defense ministry said on Tuesday.

It has also downed 84 drones, it added.

The ministry said that after the end of the agreed “silent regime” around the strategic port city of Mariupol on Tuesday, an offensive was renewed there by the forces of the pro-Russian Donetsk region.

___

Russia’s Central Bank Offers Crisis Support to Finance Firms

Russia’s central bank announced on Tuesday a series of steps to help financial market players such as private pension funds and management companies cope with the current “crisis situation,” including relaxing some regulations.

Russia’s financial markets have been thrown into turmoil by severe economic sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine.

The central bank has more than doubled its key interest rate to 20 percent and provided extra liquidity to banks, and the government has rolled out some support measures, but the rouble has tanked and securities like bonds have sold off heavily.

In a statement on the Telegram messaging app, the central bank said its new measures included adapting regulatory requirements to the new economic conditions, waiving penalties for some regulatory violations if they are linked to the current market situation, and extending timeframes for market players to implement some rules.

It added they were part of efforts to lower the regulatory and supervisory burden.

___

Britain Joins US in Banning Russian Oil

Britain is joining the United States in announcing a ban on imports of Russian oil.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng says oil and oil products from Russia will be phased out by the end of the year. He said the transition period “will give the market, businesses and supply chains more than enough time to replace Russian imports,” which account for 8 percent of U.K. demand.

Kwarteng said the U.K. would work with its other oil suppliers, including the United States, the Netherlands, and the Gulf states, to secure extra supplies.

___

Biden Announces Ban on Russian Oil

President Joe Biden announced a ban on all Russian oil imports Tuesday in the latest move by the United States to isolate Russia’s economy in response to its invasion of Ukraine.

This latest measure comes in addition to sanctions already placed on Russian financial systems and individuals in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.

“This is a move that has strong bipartisan support in Congress and I believe in the country,” said Biden. “Americans have rallied to support what made it clear we will not be part of subsidizing Putin’s war.”

Biden acknowledged the move would cost Americans as well. It comes as gas prices in the United States reach record highs. The national average cost for a gallon of gas reached $4.17 Tuesday, according to AAA.

Read the full article here

___

NATO: Russia’s War Must Not Escalate Beyond Ukraine

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday there were credible reports that Russia was targeting civilians in Ukraine and urged Moscow to end the conflict, also vowing not to let it spread.

“We have a responsibility to ensure the conflict does not escalate and spread beyond Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said. “We will protect and defend every inch of all allied territory,” he added.

Speaking alongside Latvia’s President Egils Levits, Stoltenberg said Russia’s invasion was causing horrific suffering and that the humanitarian impact was devastating.

___

Latvian Lawmaker Travels to Ukraine to Fight Alongside Ukrainians

A Latvian lawmaker has traveled to Ukraine to fight alongside Ukrainians, the Baltic country’s Justice Minister Janis Bordans said Tuesday.

Juris Jurass, who is the chairman of the Saeima assembly’s Legal Affairs Committee and a member of the same party as Bordans, “has volunteered to defend the territory of Ukraine and to fight against the invaders,” the justice minister said.

“He made the decision based on his private and moral principles,” Bordans told the Baltic News Service. He was not immediately available for comment.

On Twitter, Ukraine 4 Freedom, a volunteer project by students of international relations at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, wrote that he had joined a foreign legion unit for international volunteers.

___

Zelensky Open to Compromise on NATO, Crimea, and Separatist ‘Republics’

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has signaled openness to a compromise with Russian President Vladimir Putin on some of his key demands for halting the offensive in Ukraine, including on NATO membership and the status of Crimea and the breakaway pro-Moscow territories, but the Ukrainian leader insisted his forces would not capitulate.

“I’m ready for a dialogue, but we’re not ready for surrender,” Zelensky said in an interview with ABC News published on Tuesday.

The Ukrainian president said he was not prepared to give in to what he described as “ultimatums” put forward by Russia in the latest round of peace talks, but insisted he’s ready to open discussions on issues including NATO membership and the status of the separatist-controlled regions of Donetsk and Luhansk and Russia-annexed Crimea.

Read the full article here

___

UK Says It Will Back Poland if It Decides to Send Jets to Ukraine

British defense minister Ben Wallace said on Tuesday Britain would support Poland if it decided to provide Ukraine with fighter jets, but warned that doing so might have direct consequences for Poland.

“I would support the Poles and whatever choice they make,” Wallace told Sky News, adding that the United Kingdom could not offer aircraft that the Ukrainians would be able to use.

“We would protect Poland, we’ll help them with anything that they need,” he said. “Poland will understand that the choices they make will not only directly help Ukraine, which is a good thing, but also may bring them into direct line of fire from countries such as Russia or Belarus.”

Britain has provided Ukraine with defensive weapons as well as other military and humanitarian aid.

Wallace said he would make a statement to parliament on Wednesday setting out what further lethal and non-lethal aid Britain would be providing, as well as what measures the British government would urge other countries to do.

___

Civilians Flee Ukrainian City as One Safe Corridor Opens

A new effort to evacuate civilians along safe corridors finally got underway Tuesday.

The route out of the eastern city of Sumy was one of five promised by the Russians to offer civilians a way to escape the Russian onslaught.

Video posted by the Ukrainian state communications agency showed people with bags boarding buses, but it was not clear how long the effort would last.

Earlier on Tuesday Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk confirmed the humanitarian corridor for civilians to flee the city would be organized and a ceasefire would be declared on the route at 9 a.m. Kyiv time.

The Russian Defence Ministry also said a ceasefire would be observed from 10 a.m. Moscow time and humanitarian corridors would be open from Kyiv, Chernigov, Sumy, Kharkiv, and Mariupol.

Previous attempts to lead civilians to safety have crumbled with renewed attacks.

____

Nickel Trade Halted in London as Prices Soar

Trading in nickel, much of it produced in Russia, was suspended Tuesday on the London Metal Exchange (LME) after prices doubled to an unprecedented $100,000 per metric ton.

Nickel is used mostly to produce stainless steel and some alloys, but increasingly it is used in batteries, particularly electric vehicle batteries.

Russia, facing severe economic sanctions after invading Ukraine, is the world’s third-biggest nickel producer. The Russian mining company Nornickel is a major supplier of high-grade nickel used in electric vehicles.

Nickel prices had quadrupled in a week due to supply issues and the spike Tuesday forced the LME to shut down electronic and floor trading.

Trading in nickel will not resume Tuesday and the halt could last longer than that “given the geopolitical situation which underlies recent price moves,” the LME said Tuesday.

___

Zelensky Calls for Expansion of Humanitarian Corridors for Ukrainians Fleeing War

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called for the expansion of humanitarian corridors for Ukrainian civilians fleeing war, and more support from the Red Cross.

In a video address Tuesday from an undisclosed location, he said evacuation buses have been sent to Mariupol, but said there was no firm agreement on the route, so “Russian troops can simply shoot on this transport on the way.”

Zelensky accused the International Red Cross of “forbidding the use of its emblem on our cars,” but did not give details. Videos of buses heading out of Sumy and toward Mariupol have had signs with a red cross on the side but it’s not clear who pasted them there.

___

Russia Summons the Irish Ambassador Over Embassy Truck Crash

Russia says it has summoned the Irish ambassador to Moscow a day after a truck was driven through the gates of the Russian embassy in Ireland during a demonstration against the war in Ukraine.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said Tuesday it told Irish ambassador Brian McElduff that Russia demanded an apology from the Irish authorities and for Ireland to pay compensation.

Russia likened the incident to “a tactic widely used by terrorists” and said Irish law enforcement had not acted to stop it. The Irish Times newspaper reported Monday that the driver of the truck was arrested.

___

Ukraine Says Aircraft Bombed Cities Overnight

Russian aircraft bombed cities in eastern and central Ukraine overnight, Ukrainian officials said. Shelling pounded suburbs of the capital, Kyiv.

In Sumy and Okhtyrka, to the east of Kyiv near the Russian border, bombs fell on residential buildings and destroyed a power plant, regional leader Dmytro Zhivitsky said. He said there were dead and wounded but gave no figures.

Bombs also hit oil depots in Zhytomyr and the neighboring town of Cherniakhiv, located west of Kyiv.

In Bucha, a Kyiv suburb, the mayor reported heavy artillery fire.

“We can’t even gather up the bodies because the shelling from heavy weapons doesn’t stop day or night,” Mayor Anatol Fedoruk said. “Dogs are pulling apart the bodies on the city streets. It’s a nightmare.”

___

World Bank Approves $723 Million Emergency Finance Package for Ukraine

The World Bank says it has approved more than $700 million in emergency support for Ukraine.

Dubbed FREE Ukraine, it includes nearly $500 million in loans and guarantees and $134 million in grants, with Japan promising another $100 million in financing. The aid is meant to help the Ukrainian government pay wages of hospital workers, pensions, and other social programs. Bundling the aid into a package is intended to streamline and speed the provision of the funding, the World Bank said in a statement.

The World Bank also said it is preparing a $3 billion package of support for Ukraine and the region to help it cope with the flood of displaced people fleeing the fighting.

____

Russian No Show at UN Court Hearing on Ukrainian ‘Genocide’

Ukraine sought an emergency order from the United Nations’s highest court on Monday to halt hostilities on its territory, arguing that Russia—which boycotted the hearing—had falsely applied genocide law to justify its invasion.

The hearing was held at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) without legal representation for Russia.

“The fact that Russia’s seats are empty speaks loudly. They are not here in this court of law: they are on a battlefield waging an aggressive war against my country,” Ukrainian envoy Anton Korynevych said.

The court said it regretted Russia’s non-attendance. After Ukraine presented its arguments Monday the court said it would start deliberations and rule “as soon as possible.”

Countries usually, but not always, follow the court’s orders, which are legally binding. A spokesperson for the Russian Embassy in the Netherlands did not reply to a request for comment.

After the hearing, Korynevych stressed that Russia’s absence would not impact the proceedings and Moscow would have to heed any court orders.

“They need to listen and they must listen to the court, under international law,” he told reporters.

____

Ukraine Claims 2nd Russian General Killed

A Russian general was killed in the fighting around Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, which Russian forces have been trying to seize since the invasion began, the Ukrainian military intelligence agency said.

It identified him as Maj. Gen. Vitaly Gerasimov, 45, and said he had fought with Russian forces in Syria and Chechnya and had taken part in the seizure of Crimea in 2014.

It was not possible to confirm the death independently. Russia has not commented.

Another Russian general was killed earlier in the fighting. A local officers’ organization in Russia confirmed the death in Ukraine of Maj. Gen. Andrei Sukhovetsky, the commanding general of the Russian 7th Airborne Division.

Sukhovetsky also took part in Russia’s military campaign in Syria.

Nick Ciolino, Jack Phillips, Tom Ozimek, Naveen Athrappully, The Associated Press, and Reuters contributed to this report.