Welcome to Friday, where a battle is underway for control of the capital city of Kyiv a day after Russia’s assault on Ukraine began, which included the capture of the Chernobyl nuclear site. Meanwhile new international sanctions are imposed on Moscow as protests erupt around the world against the invasion. We also have a story from French business daily Les Echos looking at how Russian oligarchs are turning to cryptocurrencies to preserve their financial assets in the face of sanctions.
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• Russian strikes hit Kyiv after seizing Chernobyl: After seizing the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, Russia sends a wave of strikes that hit Kyiv early Friday. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky says the first-day toll of Russia’s assault is 137 dead and 316 injured. Russian strikes have hit civilian buildings in other parts of Ukraine despite their stated intention to attack military infrastructure.
• EU leaders agree on new sanctions after emergency summit: EU leaders agree to impose “massive and severe” sanctions on Russia that will target dual-use goods, visa policy, export control and financing, as well as the energy and transport sectors. The penalties aim to make it difficult for Russia to continue financing war. In addition to these sanctions, the EU also wants to punish Belarus for allowing Russian troops to invade Ukraine over their border, and several member countries suggest Ukraine be granted EU membership.
• Protests in several countries around the world, including in Russia: Following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, protests break out worldwide — including inside Russia. Demonstrations in major European and American cities express solidarity with Ukraine, mobilizing in front of Russian embassies and central squares. Concurrently, hundreds of protesters who assembled in Moscow, St Petersburg and other Russian cities were met with a police crackdown that has led to more than 1,300 detentions.
• Myanmar airstrikes: Myanmar’s military has attacked the Karenni National Defense Force, a rebel militia group, deploying ground troops and launching air and artillery strikes causing thousands to flee.
• Three ex-police officers found guilty in George Floyd death: Three former police officers involved with the murder of George Floyd were found guilty of willfully violating Floyd’s constitutional rights by failing to provide him with medical care. Two of these officers were also found guilty of not intervening to prevent Floyd’s murder.
• Russia stripped of Champions League final: After pressure to strip Russia of the Champions League final, UEFA confirms that the final will now be taking place in Paris at the Stade de France on May 28.
• Famed bear burglar Hank the Tank turns out to be three bears: The alleged 500-pound bear who broke into almost 40 California homes turns out to be three bears as new DNA evidence suggests.
“Putin’s war,” titles Slovak daily Dennik as newspapers around the world devote their front pages to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, featuring headlines such as “War In Europe,” “A Dark Day For Europe” or “The Unthinkable.”
Thanks to new data provided by the sensitive Low Frequency Array telescope, known as LOFAR, researchers were able to map some 4.4 million space objects (galaxies, flaring stars) billions of light-years away, including 1 million that had never been spotted before.
Russian oligarchs turn to crypto to skirt sanctions
Faced with a $32 billion drop in their wealth this year, Russian oligarchs are looking for assets to allow them to overcome sanctions that will increase with the invasion of Ukraine. Familiar with crises, they see bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as an escape from the hegemony of the dollar, and a way to diversify their holdings, reports Nessim Aït-Kacimi in French daily Les Echos.
💳💻 With the European Union and the United States delivering the harshest ever sanctions on Russia following the invasion of Ukraine, ultra-wealthy Russians are turning to new tech to preserve their financial assets. Cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin (circa $32,000) and ethereum (circa $2,470) can be seen as life savers during financial and geopolitical crises that threaten private assets. For those close to the Russian power personally targeted by Western sanctions, holding crypto allows them to escape seizures of their assets abroad.
💰 Earlier this month, the Russian government estimated that its citizens held $214 billion worth of crypto, or around 12% of the global total. Among these holders are the mighty fortunes of Russian oligarchs. Although cryptocurrencies have fallen by 8.5%, it has held up much better than the Moscow Stock Exchange, which has dropped by 23% in 2022. The 23 certified Russian billionaires still hold assets estimated at $343 billion. However, when placed abroad, this money is in the crosshairs of the American authorities.
🏦 Already, the Russian government is creating its own central bank electronic currency, a digital ruble, to trade directly with other countries without converting to dollars (China, Russia’s largest trading partner, has also developed its own central bank digital currency.) But Russia has only partially met the expectations of its oligarchs. It has not allowed cryptos as a means of payment, according to a bill from the Minister of Finance that was presented earlier this week. Individuals will be able to invest a maximum of $7,700 a year in bitcoin if they pass a test to assess their knowledge of this cryptocurrency.
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There is no safe place in Ukraine any more.
— Marta Shokalo, editor in chief at BBC News Ukraine, recounted the first day of the Russian invasion and the explosions heard from her home in Kyiv. Shokalo describes the queues outside the supermarkets, roads blocked with traffic and crowds of people trying to flee by taking a train. “There is an air of panic, now that we know the entire country is under attack,” she writes.
✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Bertrand Hauger and Lorraine Olaya
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