Update(1700ET): Recall that Biden in Brussels just days ago hailing a NATO that’s “more united than ever”… as France24 and others reported: “Russian President Vladimir Putin had banked on NATO being split when he launched an invasion of Ukraine last month, but Putin actually sparked the exact opposite, with the alliance now being more united than ever, US President Joe Biden said at a NATO-G7 summit in Brussels on Thursday.”
And now on Monday, NATO allies are said to be split on whether they should talk to Putin, which also comes after weeks of France’s Emmanuel Macron coming under intense pressure for being among the only Western leaders willing to hold frequent phone calls directly with Putin seeking de-escalation. Macron, it should be remembered, was the first to criticize Biden over the US president’s remarks suggesting US policy is now regime change in Russia. “We shouldn’t escalate, with words or actions,” Macron said.
“As NATO allies discuss the terms of any potential peace deal to be struck between Russia and Ukraine, signs of strategic splits are emerging from within their ranks,” writes Bloomberg. “With the war now in its second month, a series of dilemmas are coming into sharp focus over which conditions could be deemed acceptable by Ukraine for any accord, especially as regards the security guarantees alliance members might be able to offer Kyiv.”
Divergences have also come into more public view also given Ukraine’s President Zelensky has openly backed off a path to NATO membership, saying “neutrality” is now on the table (but while also desiring individual security alliances with Kiev’s backers). Speaking of NATO security documents being hotly debated, Bloomberg comments, “The U.K., Poland and other central and eastern European nations – with the exception of Hungary – are skeptical that Russia’s president is serious about negotiating an acceptable peace deal, according to the same document.”
But one NATO diplomat was emphatic that, “At the end of the day, allies will have to find a way to deal with Putin whether they like it or not, the second official added.”
On the Russian side, new reports out Monday strongly suggest Putin is backing off the stated goal of “denazification” – hinting that full regime change is not an end-goal. Ukraine is alleging that Russia may be eyeing splitting the country into Western and Eastern halves.
“The international community” (in yellow) https://t.co/6b2QBZV137
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) March 26, 2022
There are also under the surface disagreements within the NATO alliance over what kind of weapons and to what extent arms should continue to pour into Ukraine from the West. It seems Biden’s Saturday Warsaw speech, which critics said will potentially lead to unnecessary direct NATO-Russia escalation, has also served to bring inter-NATO divergences of opinion into the open. Bloomberg continues:
Berlin is on a similar wavelength. Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s chief spokesman, Steffen Hebestreit, told reporters on Monday that “in view of the horrible pictures that we currently have to stomach now for several days and actually weeks, the highest priority for now is to be able to reach a cease-fire so that the killing can stop.”
But more hawkish corners of the alliance worry that any dialogue with Putin will be taken as a sign of Western weakness, and will only serve to embolden the Kremlin.
Even his apologies for gaffes are gaffes pic.twitter.com/oG62t1HhyI
— Max Abrahms (@MaxAbrahms) March 28, 2022
And without doubt there will only be deeper inter-NATO dilemmas on the horizon as other pressing issues come to a head and reach an “end of the road” in terms of urgent decision-making for Europe, particularly on the energy dependence question…
Let the Groups of Seven explain:
– Why Russia should accept Euros or Dollars if those get confiscated?
– Where they will get their energy imports from? https://t.co/Z3sMVKKkfJ
— Moon of Alabama (@MoonofA) March 28, 2022
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Update(9:01ET): Russia on Monday has issued a firm and unyielding response to G-7 ministers who had dismissed as “unacceptable” its plan to only accept ruble payments for Russian gas going to “unfriendly” nations.
Earlier Monday German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said from Berlin that the Kremlin demand for natural gas contracts to be paid in rubles is a “one-sided and clear breach of contracts” – saying the contracts must be honored under prior conditions, according to Bloomberg. “That means that a payment in rubles is not acceptable and we urge the relevant companies not to comply with Putin’s demand,” Habeck said. “Putin’s effort to drive a wedge between us is obvious but you can see that we won’t allow ourselves to be divided and the answer from the G-7 is clear: the contracts will be honored.”
The Kremlin’s quick shooting down of the German economy minister’s comments and the G-7’s stance on the ruble came Monday via a Russian lawmaker to state-run RIA Novosti: “Russian lawmaker Abramov says G7’s refusal to pay in Russian roubles for gas will definitely lead to a halt in supplies.”
Elsewhere the Kremlin said it’s not running a “charity” – according to TASS:
Moscow is handling the details of its gas delivery plans to unfriendly countries for payment in rubles, but it won’t engage in charity if Europe refuses to pay in the Russian currency, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday.
…The Kremlin spokesman remained tight-lipped on what measures Russia might take if Europe refused to pay for gas in rubles, noting that these “issues should be sorted out as they develop.” “But we will definitely not supply gas for free, that’s for sure. It is hardly possible and reasonable to engage in charity in our situation,” he emphasized.
Putin has reportedly set a deadline for days away…
Prepare to switch to rubles for natural gas exports by March 31, Vladimir Putin tells Gazprom and Russia’s central bank https://t.co/lYIV6fgL7v
— Markets Insider (@MktsInsider) March 28, 2022
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Grab a cup of coffee and catch up on all the latest development, news and fake news out of Ukraine, courtesy of Newsquawk:
Ukrainian President Zelensky said he would like an all for all prisoner exchange with Russia and that they have handed over a list to Russia. Zelensky added that they will not sit down for talks with Russia if discussions are about “demilitarisation and some kind of denazification.” Zelensky stated that Ukraine is ready to discuss neutrality and non-nuclear status if backed by security guarantees, while he added that a deal is only possible with a troop withdrawal and that he wants a compromise with Russia regarding Donbass.
Ukrainian Interior Ministry Advisor says he expects no major breakthrough at peace discussions.
Turkish President Erdogan told Russian President Putin in a call that there needs to be a quick ceasefire with Ukraine and that they need to improve the humanitarian situation in the region, while it was also reported that the next round of face-to-face talks between Russia and Ukraine will be held in Turkey on March 28th-30th.
Senior Turkish official says that talks between Ukrainian and Russian negotiators will begin in Istanbul later today. However, the Russian Kremlin said talks are unlikely to commence on Monday, may start on Tuesday. No substantial achievements/breakthroughs in talks, no progress re. a potential Putin-Zelensky meeting.
Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov says President Putin never refuses to meet with Ukrainian President Zelensky, but since meetings must be well prepared, a (presidential) meeting to exchange views at this time would be counter-productive.
Ukraine’s Deputy PM says that no humanitarian corridors will be opened today as intelligence suggested potential Russian provocations on corridor routes.
US President Biden said NATO is a defensive alliance and it has never sought Russia’s demise and that “swift and punishing” costs are the only things that will influence Russia to change course. Biden added that US forces are in Europe to defend NATO allies, not to engage with Russian forces and stated that Russian President Putin cannot remain in power, although Biden later said that he was not calling for a regime change in Russia.
White House official said President Biden was not calling for a change of regime in Russia and the US envoy to NATO also commented that the US does not have a policy of regime change in Russia. In relevant news, a Kremlin spokesman responded that it is not for US President Biden to decide and said the President of Russia is elected by Russians.
German Chancellor Scholz said a regime change in Russia is not NATO’s goal. Furthermore, Scholz said that Germany is considering purchasing a missile shield.
US Secretary of State Blinken said Israeli efforts to mediate on Ukraine-Russia are important and closely coordinated with the US.
Russia launched 70 missiles on targets in Ukraine on Saturday which was the largest daily amount since the war began, although reports added only 8 of the 70 missiles reached the target, according to Pravda with most shot down by Ukrainian defense.
UK Ministry of Defence said Russia is maintaining a distant blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea coast and effectively isolating Ukraine from maritime trade, while it noted that Russian naval forces are continuing their sporadic missile strikes against targets throughout Ukraine. UK Defence Ministry also said Russia is stepping up attempts to encircle Ukrainian forces directly facing the separatist regions in the east, advancing from the direction of Kharkiv in the north and Mariupol in the south, according to Bloomberg.
US is to provide an additional USD 100mln in civilian security assistance to Ukraine, according to the State Department.
Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister said that Russian forces are regrouping but not able to advance anywhere within Ukraine, via Reuters. Subsequently, reports suggest that Russia is attacking to the east and northwest of Kyiv, trying to take key roads and settlements, according to a war reporter based in Ukraine
US is to sanction companies providing technology for Russian military and intelligence services, according to a WSJ report late on Friday.
Japanese Finance Minister Suzuki said the government cannot confiscate foreign central banks’ reserves parked with the BoJ under current laws, while Chief Cabinet Secretary Matsuno said they will revise FX control laws swiftly to strengthen sanctions against Russia and hope to submit a bill at the current parliamentary session.
Russian Kremlin says President Putin has instructed the CBR and Gazprom to use the RUB in gas sale transactions to unfriendly nations by March 31st, via AJA Breaking.
- Iranian Foreign Minister said that France, Germany and UK agree on the text and that the US ‘accepts’ it must address some remaining issues, while he also stated that a deal hinges on the US removing the IRGC from the terror list, according to Bloomberg. Furthermore, Iran’s Foreign Minister said Tehran welcomes normalisation of ties with Saudi Arabia and is determined to expand cooperation with Syria, according to state TV.
- EU’s Borrell said a nuclear agreement with Iran is very close.
- US Special Envoy for Iran Malley said he can’t be confident that a deal is imminent and said they also thought they were close a few months ago.
- US Secretary of State Blinken said a return to the JCPOA is the best way to put Iran’s nuclear program back in the box and that US commitment to the principle of Iran never acquiring a nuclear weapon is unwavering, while he added the US will continue to stand up to Iran if it threatens the US and its allies.
- Israeli PM Bennett said that he hopes the US will heed calls against the delisting of the IRGC from its terrorism blacklist, while Israel’s Foreign Minister said Israel and the US will continue working together to prevent a nuclear Iran.
- Two police officers were killed and four people were injured during a shooting attack in Israel’s Hadera, which ISIS claimed responsibility for.
- North Korean leader Kim said North Korea will keep developing formidable striking capabilities and their self-defence force cannot be bartered nor be bought according to KCNA, while it was separately reported that North Korea is to accelerate the restoration of its demolished nuclear test site, according to South Korea press.