Our main focus today is once again the Russian invasion of Ukraine. As the EU foreign affairs chief put it: "These are among the darkest hours of Europe since the second World War." With that in mind, we were struck by the images of thousands of Ukrainians taking shelter in the subway systems overnight (top right). They are eerily similar to the photos of London residents taking cover in the Tube during the German 'blitz' in November 1940 (top left).
We'll also take a look at some other news making headlines this morning. And because it's Friday, and we could all use a little news break, we'll preview what we're Watching, Reading & Eating this weekend.
P.S. Thanks to everyone who joined us for the Instagram Live last night where I answered your questions on the conflict. The full conversation is on @mosheh.
Russian forces launched rockets on the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv overnight and this morning as they close in on the capital city. US intelligence officials are concerned that Kyiv could fall under Russian control within a couple days, per CNN. At least 137 Ukrainians are dead after the first full day of fighting and more than 300 are injured. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba compared the invasion to World War II in a tweet.
QOTD: "We shall deal with Putin like a man who has lost reason. He's just simply mad. He's just simply crazy. He's just simply evil to come here to kill Ukrainians." - Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, holding an AK-47 on the streets of Kyiv Friday
Meanwhile, the current Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, says Russia has made him "target number one" and his family "target number two. They want to destroy the country politically, terminating the head of state." Still, he says he's staying in the capital of Kyiv. Zelensky declared martial law and ordered mass mobilization of conscripts and reservists to help Ukraine's military. Males aged 18-60 cannot leave the country. Zelensky believes Russian sabotage groups have already entered Kyiv. At the same time he added the following, Friday morning: “The enemy has been stopped in most directions. The fights continue...Russia expects us to get tired, but we’re not tired.”
Russian forces have taken control of the Chernobyl power plant in northern Ukraine, the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster. There does not appear to be a nefarious purpose to the move as Western military analysts said Russia was simply using the fastest invasion route from Belarus to capture Kyiv. It is a straight shot from Chernobyl, about 80 miles north of the capital, to the capital as Putin's forces converge from all side. Securing the facility is also important for the Russians if they plan to occupy the country and want to prevent insurgents from sabotaging the site. One concern: recent fighting in the area this week could stir up contaminated soil and other debris, raising concerns about the possibility of harmful environmental impacts. (NBC News)
And one more thing on the defense of Ukraine. This audio emerged Thursday of Ukraine soldiers defending a strategic island telling the Russians to ‘go f... yourself." The thirteen border guards died in Russian bombardment on Snake Island in Black Sea after refusing to surrender. Zelensky says they will be honored as heroes. (Guardian)
FROM THE US WITH LOVE
President Biden announced major new sanctions in coordination with G7 allies Thursday, including freezing billions of dollars worth of Russian assets and new export controls to limit technology imports to Moscow. The US and allies have now targeted 10 of Russia's biggest financial institutions, largest state-owned banks and a number of Russian political and business elites in virtually every major sector of the economy. At the same time, several Biden aides fear the sanctions won't do enough to stop Putin. (Washington Post/Bloomberg News)
But the West can still ratchet up the pressure further. There are calls to sanction Putin, who is estimated to be worth $200 billion, personally. Biden would not rule that out Thursday. Additionally, there is some support to ban Russia from the SWIFT banking system which would cut it off from international finance, including oil and gas profits. However several European Union countries are opposed to that, for now, because it will also make it tough for creditors to get their money back. For now, it also looks like the Russians can use crypto to get around some sanctions. (NY TIMES)
UKRAINIANS: WHERE CAN WE GO?
Ukrainians are fleeing the country, hiding in bomb shelters, or just sheltering in place. According to the UN, about 100,000 Ukrainians fled their homes. Many have started to arrive in central Europe. As for those who are staying in the country, thousands of people, especially women and children, headed underground to the subway stations. Built by the Soviets, many of these underground stations also double as bomb shelters originally meant for a war with the US. This CNN interview with Ukrainians taking shelter in the Kharkiv subway is devastating.
Ukrainian vlogger Olena Gnes recorded a message from a bomb shelter in Kyiv: "Please protest in your country. Please stop this war. Please stop Putin. Help us."
Want to do something? Global Citizen looks at 8 Meaningful Ways You Can Help Ukraine.
WHAT DO RUSSIANS THINK?
In a country where dissent has major ramifications, Russians turned out by the thousands in dozens cities Thursday to protest their country’s invasion of Ukraine. This is significant because protesting in Russia gives you a criminal record and jailtime. Police detained nearly 2,000 people in 54 Russian cities. Nikita Golubev, a 30-year-old teacher, told reporters: "I am embarrassed for my country. To be honest with you, I am speechless. War is always scary. We don't want this."
A poll from the independent Levada Center showed only 45% of Russians are in favor of the recognition move of the eastern Republic that preceded the invasion. It is unclear how many support the decision to invade Ukraine and potentially replace the government, though Putin maintains a pretty high approval rating.
WHAT'S UP WITH CHINA?
As most of the world strongly condemns Russia, issuing statements and sanctions, there is one notable exception: China.
In a news conference Thursday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson refused to say if she'd consider Russia's actions in Ukraine an "invasion," and instead, seemed to place blame on the United States: “The U.S. has been fueling the flame, fanning up the flame, how do they want to put out the fire?"
China will likely help ease the pain of new sanctions from the U.S. and other western nations. [China also provided economic support to Russia back in 2014 during its annexation of Crimea, and since that time, the two countries have only ramped up trade.] FINANCIAL TIMES
Russia and China have grown increasingly close; Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping have met 38 times as national leaders. Most recently, Putin visited China at the start of the Olympics, negotiating a 30-year-contract for a new oil pipeline from Russia to China. Putin and Xi also issued a statement saying their partnership had “no limits," with Putin throwing his tacit support behind a potential Chinese takeover of Taiwan. NY TIMES
WALL STREET IMPACT
Stock futures are pointing slightly lower again this morning. On Thursday, U.S. markets plunged at the open only to make an about-face, finishing the day sharply higher... particularly the tech-heavy Nasdaq which had dropped about 3.5% in intraday trading only to finish the day in the green.
One sector that surged: cybersecurity stocks. Palo Alto Networks and CrowdStrike are both way up on concern Russia will launch cyber attacks on U.S. companies as retaliation for U.S. sanctions. CrowdStrike's CEO says he's been talking to bank CEOs who are concerned. Former CIA Acting Director Michael Morell told Mo News he expects "a significant increase in Russian cyber attacks on Americans" but not on our "critical infrastructure, because they know that's a red line, that's mutually assured destruction."
🗞 OTHER BIG HEADLINES
President Biden has made a final decision on who he will pick to be his first Supreme Court nominee and could announce his nominee Friday depending on developments in Ukraine. The president promised during the 2020 campaign to elevate the first Black woman to America's highest bench. (NY TIMES)
The former officers, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao, all were convicted of depriving Floyd of his civil rights while acting under government authority when they failed to give him medical aid. Kueng and Thao, additionally, were convicted of not intervening to stop their fellow officer Derek Chauvin from using excessive force. They had pleaded not guilty. (NBC NEWS)
The Biden administration will significantly loosen federal mask-wearing guidelines to protect against COVID-19 transmission on Friday, according to two people familiar with the matter, meaning most Americans will no longer be advised to wear masks in indoor public settings. (AP)
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Wednesday he is removing emergency powers police can use after authorities ended the border blockades by those opposed to COVID-19 restrictions as well as the occupation of downtown Ottawa. (NPR)
A group of American truckers began a cross-country drive from California to Washington on Wednesday to protest coronavirus restrictions, taking a cue from demonstrations that paralyzed Canada's capital city, Ottawa, for weeks. (REUTERS)
Investigation looks partly at Kimbal Musk’s trades before brother’s pledge to sell based on Twitter poll (WSJ)
🎉 CHEERS TO THE FREAKIN' WEEKEND
What we're reading: Why Success Can Feel So Bitter: Achieving a goal and achieving happiness are two entirely different things. (The Atlantic)
[Top Photo Banner Credit: Imperial War Museum/ITV News]