Monthly: February 2022

Twitter to Reduce Visibility of Russian State Media Content 

Twitter announced Monday that it will start labeling and making it harder for users to see tweets about the invasion of Ukraine that contain information from Russian state media outlets like RT and Sputnik.

“For years we’ve provided more context about state-affiliated media while not accepting ad $ or amplifying accounts,” Twitter said in a tweet. “With many looking for credible info due to the conflict in Ukraine, we’re now adding labels on Tweets linking to state media & reducing the content’s visibility.”

 

Twitter said it had seen over 45,000 tweets a day from people sharing links to Russian state media, much more than coming from state-sponsored accounts.

Twitter began to de-amplify Russian state media accounts in 2020 and had earlier banned Russian state media from advertising.

The announcement Monday will impact individuals sharing links from those entities.

The move is the latest spat between U.S. social media companies and Russia.

Twitter has been slowed down in Russia several times, most recently on Saturday, and last week, Russia said it would limit Russians’ access to some features of Facebook, saying the company was involved in censorship.

Google and Facebook have also banned Russian state media from monetizing their accounts.

Some information in this report comes from Reuters.

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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, he visited the Russian ambassador to the Holy See, Alexander Avdeev, to express those concerns in person.

The Pope has called for Ash Wednesday this week to serve as a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Ukraine.

His worries were voiced again Sunday when he said his “heart is broken” and called for arms to fall silent.

Referring to those in search of refuge as brothers and sisters, the pope made an impassioned appeal for humanitarian corridors to help refugees leave Ukraine.

The Vatican has now said it is prepared to assist in any negotiation aimed at ending the war in the eastern European country. The Vatican’s No. 2, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said in interviews published in Italian newspapers Monday that the Vatican is offering to facilitate dialogue with Russia. He said there is always space for negotiation.

Earlier, the head of the Italian Bishop’s Conference, Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, announced the pope would not travel after speaking to the Holy Father on the phone.

Bassetti said the pope had given his strong backing to the “Mediterranean, Frontier of Peace” meeting in Florence and had wanted to attend but the doctor recommended that he take a “period of greater rest” for his leg.

It remains unclear whether the pope’s current knee problem is linked to previous sciatica conditions that have forced him to cancel some of his public appearances in recent times and has also caused him to limp. Only last month, the 85-year-old pontiff complained of a pain in his leg, saying it was worse when he remained standing.

Pope Francis underwent colon surgery in July in what was considered his most serious health issue since he was elected head of the Catholic Church in March 2013. After spending 10 days in a hospital, he appeared to recover well and soon returned to his daily activities.

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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 to reach EU standards.

The head of Zelenskyy’s office, Andrii Sybiha, said on his official Facebook page that the documents requesting EU admission “are on the way to Brussels.”

The EU has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and has offered military assistance to Kyiv as well as imposed tough economic sanctions on Russia and blocked Russian planes from EU skies.

Ukraine’s request comes after European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen told Euronews in an interview Sunday of Ukraine: “They are one of us, and we want them in.”

However, Von der Leyen’s spokesperson, Eric Mamer, clarified Monday that the EU chief did not mean that Ukraine could join immediately.

He said Von der Leyen “specified that there is a process (for joining the EU). And I think that this is the important point.”

The application for Ukraine to join the EU, even if largely symbolic, is likely to anger Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has long accused the West of trying to bring Ukraine under its influence.

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse.

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США зупиняє роботу посольства в Мінську – Державний департамент

Департамент також дозволив співробітникам посольства в Москві, які не мають критичних функцій, та родинам дипломатів виїхати з Росії

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США оголосили нові санкції: проти Банку Росії, ФНБ і РФПІ

Центробанк і ФНБ Росії через санкції втратять доступ до активів у США або номінованих у доларах

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Зеленський підписав заявку на членство України в ЄС – Рада

Про те, що Україна має вступити до Європейського союзу, заявила 27 лютого президентка Єврокомісії Урсула фон дер Ляєн

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Понад 100 євродепутатів просять ЄС про санкції проти «особистого багатства Путіна»

Члени Європарламенту закликають заморозити активи Путіна на Заході, записані на його оточення

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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 anymore,” the statement signed by “Not indifferent journalists” said.

The official website of the Kremlin was down on February 26, following reports of denial-of-service attacks on various other Russian government and state media websites.

Anonymous also claimed it was behind that cyberattack as well.

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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 several currencies, including dollars.

“The Russian Central Bank has been attempting to bring those assets back to Russia or to safe havens so they can be used to support their economy and their currency,” the official said during a background briefing, before U.S. markets opened.

”Today’s announcement to prohibit transactions with the Central Bank of Russia and the National Wealth Fund will significantly hinder their ability to do that, and inhibit their access to hundreds of billions of dollars in assets,” the senior official said. “From our actions alone, they will not be able to access assets that are either in the United States or in U.S. dollars.”

Among the new sanctions activity Monday, Britain prohibited British entities from conducting transactions with Russia’s central bank, finance ministry and wealth fund, while Singapore announced a set of sanctions that include targeting bank transactions and export controls.  

The moves follow Saturday’s attempt by the United States and allies to slam the brakes on Russia’s economy and banking systems by expelling selected Russian banks from the global bank-to-bank payment system known as SWIFT – the next step in a series of increasing sanctions punishing President Vladimir Putin for his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

The move to remove Russian institutions was announced in concert with the European Commission, Britain, Canada, France, Germany and Italy. In a Saturday statement, the group of allies warned that these five moves aim to “hold Russia to account and collectively ensure that this war is a strategic failure for Putin.”

The allies also pledged four other moves: leveling “restrictive measures that will prevent the Russian Central Bank from deploying its international reserves;” taking steps to limit the issuance of foreign passports to wealthy Russians; launching a transatlantic task force that will, among other things, target the wealth of Russian officials and elites. And finally, the group pledged to “step up our coordination against disinformation and other forms of hybrid warfare.”

The Biden administration official said Monday the de-SWIFTING of Russian banks – which the White House had been resisting for days – will be felt immediately in Moscow. And, he said, Washington is prepared to escalate further if Moscow does.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Monday that while sanctions imposed against Russia are heavy, it has been planning for them and “has the potential to offset the harm.” 

At least 350 civilians have been killed since Russia invaded last week, with another 1,700 wounded, Ukraine said Sunday. There was no information about casualties among Ukrainian forces, and while Russia has acknowledged casualties among its troops, it has not publicly disclosed any count.     

 

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Рубль впав, ранкова торгова сесія на Московській біржі скасована

Рада ЄС заборонила будь-які операції з валютними резервами російського Центробанку

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Білорусь: дві третини учасників «референдуму» підтримали відмову від безʼядерного статусу – ЦВК

Офіційно: понад 65% учасників голосування підтримали зміни, які уможливлюють владу Лукашенка до 2035 року

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Президент України повідомив про ухвалене «непросте, але корисне рішення» і звернувся до військових Росії

«В умовах воєнного стану учасники бойових дій – українці з реальним бойовим досвідом – будуть звільнені з-під варти та зможуть компенсувати свою провину в найгарячіших точках війни. Ще з деяких людей – учасників АТО знімаються всі санкції. Ключове зараз – оборона»

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Російські війська обстріляли аварійно-рятувальну частину в Запорізькій області – ДСНС

Частина аварійно-рятувальної техніки згоріла, ще частина – пошкоджена, деяка вціліла

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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 (IOC), told AFP. 

“The South African sports boycott over apartheid probably had as much or greater impact than economic sanctions, over forcing regime policy change.”

For Hugh Robertson, Chairman of the British Olympic Association (BOA), a blanket sports ban could affect Putin’s standing domestically.  

“Sport is disproportionately important to absolutist regimes,” he told AFP. 

“The potential inability to compete would hit Russia hard.”

Payne, who in nearly two decades at the IOC was widely credited with transforming its brand and finances through sponsorship, said Putin risked his standing with his own people. 

“Putin may not care what the rest of the world thinks of him, but he has to care what the Russian people think of him,” said the Irishman.

“Lose their support and it is game over -– and the actions of the sports community has the potential to be a very important influencer towards the Russian people.”

‘A greater good’ 

Prominent Russian sports stars have not been shy in voicing their disquiet over Putin’s invasion.

Andrey Rublev, who won the Dubai ATP title on Saturday, veteran Russian football international Fedor Smolov, United States-based ice hockey great Alex Ovechkin and cyclist Pavel Sivakov, who rides for the Ineos team have all expressed a desire for peace. 

“Russian athletes speaking out to their national fan base, will only serve to further prompt the local population to question the actions of their leadership, and undermine the local national support for the war,” said Payne. 

However, another former IOC marketing executive Terrence Burns, who since leaving the organization has played a key role in five successful Olympic bid city campaigns, has doubts about their impact.

“You are making the assumption that Russian people actually see, read, and hear ‘real news’,” he told AFP. 

“I do not believe that is the case. The Government will portray Russia as a victim of a great global conspiracy led by the USA and the West. 

“It is an old Russian trope they have used quite effectively since the Soviet days.”

Burns says sadly the athletes must also be punished for their government’s aggression.

“I believe that Russia must pay the price for what it has done,” he said.

“Sadly, that has to include her athletes as well. 

“Many people, like me, believed that by helping them host the Olympics and World Cup could somehow open and liberalize the society, creating new paths of progress for Russia’s young people. Again, we were wrong.”

Robertson too says allowing Russians to compete when Ukrainians are unable to due to the conflict is “morally inconceivable.” 

Payne says individual sports have to look at a bigger moral picture than their own potential losses over cutting Russian sponsorship contracts. 

“The sports world risks losing far more by not reacting, than the loss of one or two Russian sponsors.” 

Former British lawmaker Robertson, who as Minister for Sport and the Olympics delivered the highly successful 2012 London Games, agrees. 

“The sporting world may have to wean itself off Russian money,” said the 59-year-old.

“Over the past few days, it has become apparent that political, economic and trade sanctions will hurt the West as well as Russia, but this is a price that we will have to pay to achieve a greater good.”

For Robertson sport could not stand idly by in response to Russia’s invasion. 

“The Russian invasion of Ukraine will impact sport but the consequences of inaction, or prevarication, will be far more serious.” 

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Counting Both US and Russia as Partners, India Faces Diplomatic Test in Ukraine Crisis

Balancing relations with the West and Russia will become a harder challenge for New Delhi

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Російські туристи не можуть виїхати з Європи – ЗМІ

Російські туристи не можуть виїхати з Європи – їх планують вивезти звідти транзитними рейсами через ОАЕ, Єгипет і Туреччину, повідомив агенції «РИА Новости» віцепрезидент Російського союзу туріндустрії Дмитро Горін.

«Через закриття авіасполучення туроператори зараз вирішують із Ростуризмом питання про перевезення 400 самостійних та організованих туристів з угорського Будапешта, 500 організованих туристів з Болгарії та близько 200 – з португальської Мадейри», – зазначив Горін.

За його словами, через невизначеність та нестабільну ситуацію російські туристи зайняли вичікувальну позицію.

«Туристи ставлять дуже багато питань туркомпаніям. Продажі суттєво скоротилися», – сказав Горін.

Раніше голова Єврокомісії Урсула фон дер Ляйєн повідомила про рішення ЄС закрити повітряний простір країн-членів блоку для всіх російських літаків, включаючи приватні.

Канада також заборонила російським літакам літати у своєму повітряному просторі. Закриття неба одночасно над Ісландією та Канадою означає, що стало неможливо або вкрай складно виконувати трансатлантичні рейси з Росії до США, маршрути яких проходять над Північною Атлантикою.

За повідомленнями, ввечері 27 лютого літак російської авіакомпанії «Аерофлот» рейсу Москва – Нью-Йорк на підльоті до США розвернувся і полетів назад.

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У РФ заблокували сайт, де можна ідентифікувати загиблих і полонених в Україні російських військових

На сайті зазначають, що продовжує працювати телеграм-канал «Ищи своих»

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ООН: число біженців з України наближається до 400 тисяч

Комісар Євросоюзу з питань урегулювання криз Янез Ленарчич заявив 27 лютого, що війна Росії проти України може перевести в статус переміщених осіб «понад сім мільйонів людей»

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Арахамія повідомив про позиції України на переговорах із Росією

Відповідаючи на коментарі у фейсбуці, Арахамія уточнив: «Ми їдемо вислухати пропозиції. А потім уже будемо обговорювати, варто це того чи ні»

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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, promised the referendum in the wake of historic protests against his disputed re-election in 2020.

By amending the constitution Lukashenko, 67, follows in the footsteps of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who in 2020 oversaw a vote on constitutional changes that made it possible for him to remain in power until 2036.

The constitutional changes also grant immunity to former leaders for crimes committed during their term in office.

Russia is a key ally of Belarus and last week Lukashenko allowed Russian troops to use Belarusian territory to invade Ukraine from the north. 

Belarus inherited a number of Soviet nuclear warheads following the break-up of the USSR in 1991, according to the Nuclear Threat Initiative think tank, which it then transferred to Russia.

Lukashenko first floated possible changes after a presidential vote in August 2020 sparked unprecedented demonstrations that were met with a brutal crackdown.

He claimed a sixth term in the vote and imprisoned leading opposition figures, while his main rival, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, was forced to seek refuge in neighboring Lithuania.

The amendments would reinstate presidential term limits — previously ditched by Lukashenko — to two five-year terms, but they would only apply to the next elected president.

Were Lukashenko to put himself forward as a candidate for re-election in 2025, he could remain in power for an additional 10 years.

Tikhanovskaya’s office in Lithuania has hit out at the vote, saying that a sweeping crackdown on any dissenting voices since the 2020 election made any real discussion of the proposals impossible.

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