Monday. 28/2/2022

The Monocle Minute

Breaking News / Ukraine

Latest headlines

• Peace talks between Ukrainian and Russian delegations have begun near the Belarusian border on the fifth day of fighting. Kyiv has called for an immediate ceasefire and withdrawal of Russian troops but expectations of a breakthrough are not high.

• Ukraine’s military commander leading the defence of Kyiv said that troops had successfully defended the capital from a Russian attack overnight. Shelling of Kyiv and Ukraine’s second city, Kharkiv, resumed in the early hours of today.

• Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, has called for his country to be granted “immediate” EU membership. In a video statement, Zelensky also called on Russian troops to lay down their weapons. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said yesterday that Ukraine belongs in the bloc.

• The Kremlin has said that Western sanctions have “significantly changed” Russia’s economic reality. The ruble has fallen to a record low against the dollar and the Russian central bank has more than doubled interest rates. Oil and gas prices are also rising.

• The UN has put the number of civilian casualties in the conflict at more than 100 and warned that the real number could be far higher. Over 400,000 Ukrainians are said to have fled the country. The UN General Assembly and the 15-member security council will meet today to discuss the humanitarian situation.

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Alya Shandra

Anger in Kyiv

In the course of just four days, the world as I knew it ended. Four days ago I was worried about music lessons for my daughter and finding a better work-life balance; now I’m wondering if I will ever return to the house where my family has lived for almost 100 years.

We escaped from Kyiv on Friday, when reports of Russian saboteur groups breaking through the city’s defences started coming in. We spent the previous night in a bomb shelter near our home. I was sceptical that Russia would ever start this kind of war, the idea was simply too insane for me to believe – and so we did not prepare. We just grabbed what we could and left the empty city, like so many others (pictured, crossing from Ukraine to Poland at the Korczowa-Krakovets border). I was never the sort to flee a battleground but having two children and being pregnant makes you review your priorities.

We travelled through endless traffic jams for 16 hours to the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, listening to a live radio marathon telling us about the advance and retreat of Russian troops and kindergartens and hospitals shelled by Russian rockets that were killing civilians. It was surreal – it felt as though we were listening to reports from Syria or Donbas. I had read about all these things and even reported on them myself; now my home had become a war zone.

As we travelled further, the initial anxiety I felt about the overwhelming force of the Russian army and the West’s reluctance to intervene militarily gradually gave way to anger. Rockets were sent into my city – for the sake of the raving ideas of a madman. I felt that all of Ukraine shared my anger. The Ukrainian army is now fighting back and the entire nation is behind them; the Russian blitzkrieg has failed. I am hopeful that Europe has drawn its own conclusions from the Second World War – and will not give this reincarnation of Hitler a chance to succeed.

Alya Shandra is editor in chief of Euromaidan Press, an English-language media outlet launched during Ukraine’s 2014 Euromaidan revolution.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Germany

Stepping up

It’s hard to overstate the sea change that took place in Germany this weekend. As more than 100,000 people took to the streets of Berlin in support of Ukraine (pictured), chancellor Olaf Scholz announced an immediate hike in defence spending of €100bn for this year alone – nearly double the amount that Germany spent on defence in all of 2021 – and said Berlin would allocate more than 2 per cent of annual GDP on defence from now on (up from just 1.5 per cent last year). Germany also abandoned its long-standing principle not to send weapons into conflict regions, agreeing to deliver anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons to Ukraine. And then there was the reversal on financial sanctions; Germany joined the efforts of some Western nations to block a selection of Russian banks from the Swift international payments system. These moves, together with Scholz’s announcement last week that Germany would suspend the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline project, have catapulted Germany from a laggard into a frontrunner in Europe’s response to Russia’s aggression.

Image: Getty Images

Aviation / Europe

Fight or flight

Overflight rights and access to airspace have emerged as a key part of Europe’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This weekend the EU and UK announced the closure of their airspace to Russian aircraft. This will hit Russian airline balance sheets and will be felt acutely by middle-class Russians whose European and even Caribbean holidays have abruptly been cancelled. Russia has retaliated, closing its own airspace to those instituting bans but the effects will be far less severe on European carriers than on the likes of Aeroflot, which will find itself having to cancel most flights. A revocation of Russian overflight rights to all EU and UK carriers will take out a revenue stream for Russia (it charges millions in overflight fees every year) and it will also change route maps significantly for European carriers flying to east Asia.

Finland announced its own ban, even knowing that Russian retaliation would gut the core business of home carrier Finnair, which boasts quick connections from Europe to Asia via Helsinki. If this goes on for very long, we may see a return to Soviet-era aviation route maps, with Europeans connecting in Anchorage to reach Asia, and most Russians only dreaming of taking a flight to Malaga.

Diplomacy / Japan

Old battleground

Japan was quick to condemn Russia for what prime minister Fumio Kishida called its “totally unacceptable” attack on Ukraine last week and has announced sanctions that include controls on hi-tech exports, freezing the assets of Russian banks and excluding Russia from the Swift international payments system. Japan has a thorny diplomatic relationship with Russia: the two countries have never signed a postwar peace treaty and won’t do so while the fate of a group of islands to the north of Japan (the Northern Territories to Tokyo, the Southern Kurils to Moscow) remains unresolved.

The islands, seized from Japan by the Soviet Union in the dying days of the Second World War, are controlled by Russia, as demonstrated by a bust of Lenin on Kunashir Island (pictured), but still claimed by Japan. Former prime minister Shinzo Abe met with Vladimir Putin many times to discuss the return of the islands and tried to sweeten his offer with an economic plan but ultimately came away with nothing. Kishida, who served as foreign minister under Abe, has shown he is not prepared to go easy on Russia just to keep the negotiations alive. “For the time being, we need to refrain from talking about the territorial issue,” Kishida said on Friday.

Image: Shutterstock

Defence / Ukraine

Underground economy

With Russian rockets hitting the city, many Kyiv residents spent most of the weekend underground in its bomb shelters and bunkers, as others signed up for the city’s territorial defence forces. Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko, who has vowed to take up arms with his brother Wladimir, imposed a curfew from Saturday evening until this morning as the city repelled Russian attacks. Many Ukrainians will be familiar with the shelter locations, which have been hiding in plain sight for the better part of 30 years. They take the form of the city’s subway system (pictured) – Kyiv is home to the deepest underground station in the world – and countless commercial properties whose Soviet-era bunkers have housed the likes of cocktail bars and beauty salons since the cold war ended. It’s a reminder that city infrastructure and neighbourhood businesses serve us on so many levels even if, as for those in the Ukrainian capital, this is far from the desired use.

M24 / The Foreign Desk

The Foreign Desk Live: Russia invades Ukraine – week one

On 24 February, Russia commenced a full invasion of Ukraine. What is the latest? Can Ukraine continue to defend itself? And what is likely to happen next? Andrew Mueller speaks to Ukrainian MP Lesia Vasylenko, former Nato chief Richard Shirreff, as well as Russian journalist Ekaterina Kotrikadze and Russia expert Mark Galeotti.

Monocle Films / Germany

Inside the airship industry

Airships, once tipped to be the future of flight, are now largely used as costly billboards that drift across cities or over major sporting events. We travelled to Friedrichshafen in Germany to take a peek inside one of the world’s few commercial operations and explore this niche area of aviation. Read more on the story in the November issue of Monocle magazine.

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