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he Brandenburg Gate in Berlin is illuminated in the colors of the Ukrainian flag

The German capital lit up the monument in blue and yellow on Wednesday evening in a show of solidarity with Kyiv

Laure Gautherin, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Bertrand Hauger and Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

👋 Dia dhuit!*

Welcome to Thursday, where Russia launches a full-scale Ukraine invasion, sparking condemnation from around the world. A new COVID vaccine is unveiled and a study finds out pets are also good for your brain. Meanwhile, Ukrainian news website Livy Bereg offers exclusive details of the apparent “staged evacuations” in Donbas last week that have been used to justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

[*Gaelic]

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🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Russia launches attacks on Ukraine: Shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin used a televised address to announce the launch of a “special military operation,” Russian forces fired missiles at several cities in Ukraine and tanks crossed the border in what appears to be a large-scale assault from several sides of the country. Putin said Russia didn’t plan to occupy Ukraine, but warned that Moscow’s response would be “instant” if any country tried to intervene. Ukraine says more than 40 Ukrainian soldiers and at least 10 civilians have been killed so far in the first hours of Russia’s invasion. NATO announced it would deploy additional forces to protect its allies in the region.

• World reacts to Russian invasion: Leaders from around the world roundly condemned Putin’s actions, calling for additional sanctions and other consequences for Russia. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted that Russia is pursuing a “path of bloodshed and destruction,” French President Emmanuel Macron called on Russia to “end its military operations immediately” and U.S. President Joe Biden said the attack is “unprovoked and unjustified.” Even China, which has backed Putin’s criticism of NATO, called for restraint and avoiding further escalation of tensions.

• Trudeau revokes emergency powers: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has ended his use of the rarely used executive powers after police dislodged the remaining truckers and other anti-COVID restrictions protesters in the capital of Ottawa. He said in a news conference that the threat remains, but is no longer an emergency situation.

• New COVID vaccine: Drugmakers Sanofi and GSK are seeking authorization in the U.S. and Europe for their new COVID vaccine, which showed a high level of protection from the disease in human trials. Original plans to release the vaccine last year were delayed after early trials found it produced an “insufficient” immune response in people over 60.

• Israeli airstrike kills three Syrian soldiers: Multiple Israeli strikes near the capital Damascus killed three soldiers, in the fourth attack inside Syria by Israel this month targeting the pro-Iranian forces supporting the Damascus government.

• Death toll from Brazilian storm rises: More than 200 people have died in the Brazilian city of Petropolis from flash floods and landslides following torrential rain. More than 51 people are still missing after the storm that began a week ago in the city north of Rio de Janeiro.

• New study finds link between pets and cognitive function: Could your furry friend help you stay mentally sharp? New research found that long-term pet ownership can in fact delay memory loss and other kinds of cognitive decline, most notably helping verbal memory. Now that’s one good boy.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

cover of The New York Times on Thursday, February 24, 2022

All eyes are on Ukraine this morning, as reports of a Russia-led “full-scale attack from multiple directions” mark a turning point in conflict, the New York Times reports.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Putin’s pretext: How a staged evacuation in Donbas paved way for Russian invasion

New details emerge of a would-be forced evacuation last week of pro-Russian civilians from the Donetsk and Luhansk territories that Vladimir Putin used to justify Thursday’s invasion of Ukraine. Locals call the operation a “farce,” reports Andriy Olenin for Ukrainian news website Livy Bereg.

🇷🇺🇺🇦 It was February 18, one week before Vladimir Putin launched the Russian invasion of Ukraine, when the occupied parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk territories were witness to what can only be described as a kind of variety show. The operation was effectively organized by Putin and the leaders of the LNR-DNR breakaway republics in Eastern Ukraine, regions that the Russian President would soon recognize as independent states to pave the wave for Thursday’s pre-dawn invasion.

🚨 The “show” in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas featured staged detonation of cars and armored personnel carriers, which then led to a "nationwide evacuation and mobilization" that would be cited by the Kremlin in recognizing the new independent "republics" and justify the subsequent war. The evacuees were each given 10,000 rubles ($125) and were put on buses, and would wind up stuck in the freezing cold on the border without food and water for several days. They would be housed in gyms and abandoned children’s summer camps, while the homes of some were being looted back in Donbas.

❌ The breakaway republic leaders said the aim was to move 700,000 people to the Rostov region in southwestern Russia. Still, most locals decided not to leave their homes. According to Russian media, about 60,000 residents were evacuated to Russia. The drama described did not match the reality on the ground that this newspaper witnessed and in multiple conversations with locals in the occupied territories. There had been no fear of a Ukrainian offensive, no panic on the street as people tried to go about their daily lives. There were no mass lines for buses going to Russia.


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📣 VERBATIM

No panic. We are strong. We are ready for everything. We will win over everybody because we are Ukraine.

— Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky declared martial law in the country, and urged people to remain calm in a video released this morning, following Russia’s launch of a major military assault on Ukraine.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

-44%

The MOEX index of leading Russian shares plummeted immediately following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, dropping 44%. Russia’s Central Bank unveiled an emergency support package as the ruble currency hit a new low (falling at one point more than 10%) following unprecedented global sanctions.

✍️ Newsletter by Laure Gautherin, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Bertrand Hauger and Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

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The potential sabotage has raised the question of the vulnerabilities of European pipelines

Christian Bueger

Whatever caused the damage to the Nord Stream gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea, it appears to be the first major attack on critical “subsea” (underwater) infrastructure in Europe. It’s now widely thoughtnot least by Nato – that the explosions that led to major leaks in the two pipelines were not caused by accidents.

The alliance says they were a deliberate act of sabotage.

The attacks occurred in the exclusive economic zones of Denmark and Sweden and demonstrate the risks that Europe’s subsea infrastructures are facing. This raises the question of the vulnerabilities of European pipelines, electricity and internet cables, and other maritime infrastructure. Europe will have to revisit its policies for protecting them.

But it is still unclear how the attacks were carried out. The investigations will probably take months to complete. Still, there are two likely scenarios.

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