Ukraine Russia talks in Belarus

On Sunday, reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin has placed nuclear forces on high alert as day four of the invasion into the Ukraine rages on with no clear end in sight. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told George Stephanopoulos on Sunday that this move by Putin is “a part of a wider pattern of unprovoked escalation and manufactured threats from the Kremlin.”

Other senior Biden Administration officials echoed Psaki’s statement, describing the latest announcement by the Russian government “totally unnecessary” and “unprovoked.”

Putin’s announcement was accompanied by his usual statements disparaging the West and its allies: “Top officials in leading NATO countries have allowed themselves to make aggressive comments about our country, therefore I hereby order the Minister of Defense and the chief of the General Staff to place the Russian Army Deterrence Force on combat alert.” Other comments by Putin stated that the economic sanctions placed on Russia by the West are “unlawful.”

The Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova, called Putin’s announcements “one more example of the terrorist behavior of Russia.”

Members of the European Union have responded as well; their response is considered “unprecedented.”

The European Union says it will close its airspace to Russian airlines, and will ban some “pro-Kremlin” media outlets in an effort to support Ukraine. The EU has also announced it will provide funding for the purchase of weapons for Ukraine. This is the first time the European Union has ever provided military equipment funding for a country that has come under attack.

Fighting in Ukraine on Sunday was quite fierce; Russian troops targeted fuel facilities south of Kyiv around 1 AM local time. One of two large explosions heard on the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv hit an oil depot; the other was aimed at the Zhuliany airport. A pipeline in Kharkiv, the “second city” in the Ukraine, was destroyed as well.

Residents have been told that evacuation is no longer possible, and Ukrainian officials are telling people to stay indoors.

In the wake of all the violence, President Zelenskyy said in a video Sunday morning that he would welcome talks between a Ukrainian delegation and Russia.

Later on Sunday, it was announced that the talks had been scheduled and will take place in Belarus on Monday. The talks have been set up “without preconditions.” Zelenskyy related his belief regarding the talks: “I do not really believe in the outcome of this meeting, but let them try, so that later not a single citizen of Ukraine has any doubt that I, as president, tried to stop the war.”

Moscow reports that talks have already begun, but fighting continues to carry on.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister shared a video in which he vowed the Ukraine would not give up and would not surrender. Ukraine Foreign Minister Kuleba said that the Ukraine is “inflicting disastrous losses” on Russian forces.

As of this writing, the United Nations has confirmed that 240 civilian casualties in Ukraine; at least 64 of them are people killed in the fighting that began on Thursday.

After several days of debate, the United States and the European Union have decided to remove “selected” Russian banks from the SWIFT financial messaging system. SWIFT is a method by which information about money transfers can be transmitted. On a disappointing note, since only certain Russian banks will be removed from SWIFT, energy transactions utilizing the system are still allowed. Many people in Russia are heading to ATMs ahead of the freeze, pulling their money from accounts. Word is that the ruble will fall in value in the wake of the SWIFT sanction.

Reports offer that hotels in many Russian cities are asking for payment in U.S. dollars or for payment up front in case the ruble becomes financially worthless.

In other news, BP, the oil giant, has given up its Rosneft stake. The company wrote off the $25 billion it will potentially lose from giving up its 19.75 percent ownership.