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In The News

Zelensky Says He’d Accept Ukraine’s “Neutral” Status

Zelensky Says He’d Accept Ukraine’s “Neutral” Status

In Kyiv, Ukrainians cover the monument of political and civic leader Petro Konashevych-Sahaidachny with sandbags

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Lorraine Olaya and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Tungjatjeta!*

Welcome to Monday, where Ukrainian President Zelensky calls for a referendum on Ukraine’s neutrality after Russian troops leave, Shanghai goes back into full lockdown and Will Smith’s slap steals the Oscars spotlight. Meanwhile, following U.S. President Biden’s provocative words about Vladimir Putin, we look at what would be needed for regime change to actually happen in Russia.

[*Albanian]

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🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Ukraine ready to discuss neutral status, new round of negotiations: Three days of direct Ukrainian-Russian negotiations have begun in Turkey after President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukraine will be ready to discuss “neutral status” as part of a peace deal with Moscow. The talks come as U.S. officials are forced to declare that President Joe Biden’s remark in a speech Saturday night about Vladimir Putin was not a call for regime change in Russia. Meanwhile, Ukraine announced it would not open humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians on Monday, because of potential Russian “provocations” along the routes.

• Israel gun attack leaves two police officers dead: Two gunmen opened fire Sunday night at a bus stop in the northern city of Hadera. The Islamic State group took responsibility for the attack which killed two 19-year-old police officers and wounded four other people. Undercover officers nearby shot both gunmen dead.

• Israel holds historic summit with Arab and U.S. leaders: Foreign ministers from Morocco, Bahrain, Egypt, the UAE and the U.S., meet in Israel for the Negev Summit. The historic meeting will focus on regional threats, Iran nuclear talks in Vienna and the Russia-Ukraine war.

• Shanghai on lockdown: A full COVID-19 lockdown — China’s largest lockdown in two years — began today in Shanghai and will last until April 1. The lockdown has been implemented to conduct mass testing, and help curb the spread of COVID-19.

• Residents flee volcano in Portugal: More than 14,000 small earthquakes have hit the island of São Jorge this past week. Experts fear the earthquakes could lead to a volcanic eruption — the first in 214 years — or a much more powerful, devastating earthquake. At least 1,250 people have already fled the island.

• Canada’s first World Cup qualification since 1986: Canada qualified for the 2022 FIFA World Cup for the first time in 36 years after the national football team beat Jamaica 4-0 in Toronto.

• Academy Awards results + The Slap!: In an Oscar first, actor Will Smith slapped presenter Chris Rock in response to a joke the comedian made about Smith’s wife, actress Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved head. A few minutes later, Smith won the award for best actor and apologized to the Academy. Here’s a full list of winners, including the surprise best picture award to drama-musical Coda.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Moscow-based daily Kommersant features Joe Biden’s “bad polka dance” on its front page today, after the U.S. president seemingly called for regime change in Russia in off-script remarks on Saturday.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$438 million

Joining the many brands stopping businesses in Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, Dutch brewing giant Heineken announced it would withdraw from the country at an expected cost of $438 million, after initially saying it would only pause new investment and exports. Heineken is the third largest brewer in Russia but sales in the country account for just 2% of the company's worldwide total.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Regime change inside Russia? What it would take to push Putin out

A perfect storm must come together with deepening troubles on the battlefield in Ukraine, Kremlin insiders turning on Putin, popular opposition and (not least of all) ideas for what comes after. More and more signs of all these factors are starting to show up.

🇷🇺 Most of those neighbors in the region, along with much of the international community, would like to see someone else take power in Moscow — starting with Ukrainians who are suffering one month into Putin’s unprovoked invasion. Yet, experts agree, it is only Russians who would have the power to remove the strongman from power. Regime change in the short-term is still considered unlikely, yet the military’s failure to obtain a swift victory in Ukraine and growing domestic popular opposition to the invasion could loosen Putin’s grip.

✊ More and more people, including prominent public figures, are gathering momentum to push for the end to Putin’s autocratic regime. Although Putin had hoped to stamp out political antagonism by condemning vociferous critic Alexei Navalny to another nine years of high-security imprisonment on Tuesday, faith in Putin’s government may be wavering. “We are united so that the voices of Russians who are resisting this war could be heard all around the world,” said former lawmaker Dmitry Gudkov.

❓ Russia is now faced with the political and economic suicide of the Putin regime, isolating Russia to the same level as North Korea or the USSR. Some political commentators and politicians have made suggestions that a regime change is coming. What this may look like, though, remains unclear. But in a time where Putinism is becoming ever more aggressive, it is important to remember that beyond bad people, it was bad ideas widely shared that drove Russia to its current state.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

Oh, wow! Wow! Will Smith just smacked the sh*t out of me.

Chris Rock, upon being slapped in the face by Will Smith on live TV, after the U.S. comedian poked fun at Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett Smith and her shaved head, while the actress had previously shared her struggle with alopecia and hair loss.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Lorraine Olaya and Bertrand Hauger


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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

How Russia's Wartime Manipulation Of Energy Prices Could Doom Its Economy

A complex compensation mechanism for fuel companies, currency devaluation, increased demand due to the war, logistics disruptions, and stuttering production growth have combined to trigger price rises and deepening shortages in the Russian energy market.

Photograph of Novatek's gravity-based structure platform for production of liquefied natural gas, floating on a body of water.

Russia, Murmansk Region - July 21, 2023: A view of Novatek's gravity-based structure platform for production of liquefied natural gas.

TASS/ZUMA
Ekaterina Mereminskaya

In Russia, reports of gasoline and diesel shortages have been making headlines in the country for several months, raising concerns about energy supply. The situation escalated in September when a major diesel shortage hit annexed Crimea. Even before that, farmers in the southern regions of Russia had raised concerns regarding fuel shortages for their combines.

“We’ll have to stop the harvest! It will be a total catastrophe!” agriculture minister Dmitry Patrushev had warned at the time. “We should temporarily halt the export of petroleum products now until we have stabilized the situation on the domestic market.”

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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As the crisis deepens, experts are highlighting the unintended consequences of government intervention in fuel pricing and distribution.

The Russian government has long sought to control the prices of essential commodities, including gasoline and diesel. These commodities are considered "signalling products", according to Sergei Vakulenko, an oil and gas expert and fellow at the Carnegie Endowment. Entrepreneurs often interpret rising gasoline prices as a signal to adjust their pricing strategies, reasoning that if even gasoline, a staple, is becoming more expensive, they too should raise their prices.

The specter of the 2018 fuel crisis, where gasoline prices in Russia surged at twice the rate of other commodities, haunts the authorities. As a result, they implemented a mechanism to control these prices and ensure a steady supply. Known as the "fuel damper," this mechanism seeks to balance the profitability of selling fuel in both domestic and foreign markets.

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