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Sanctions Shake Russia’s Economy as Peace Talks Begin

Russia’s slow military progress continues in Ukraine, prompting Putin to issue more nuclear threats.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
A view of the venue that will host talks between delegations from Ukraine and Russia in Belarus's Gomel region on Feb. 28.
A view of the venue that will host talks between delegations from Ukraine and Russia in Belarus's Gomel region on Feb. 28.
A view of the venue that will host talks between delegations from Ukraine and Russia in Belarus's Gomel region on Feb. 28. ERGEI KHOLODILIN/BELTA/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Russian and Ukrainian officials begin peace talks near Belarus-Ukraine border, and the world this week.

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Russia Economy Wavers After Western Blows

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Russian and Ukrainian officials begin peace talks near Belarus-Ukraine border, and the world this week.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Russia Economy Wavers After Western Blows

Russia made dramatic moves to shore up its economy earlier today in the face of devastating Western-led sanctions. Its central bank has more than doubled its key interest rate from 9.5 percent to 20 percent, while exporters are now required to convert 80 percent of foreign exchange revenues to rubles as the currency falls to record lows against the dollar—the Russian currency was down nearly 30 percent against the dollar early Monday, though it later recouped some losses.

The combination of Western actions and a stiff Ukrainian resistance appear to have sped diplomatic efforts, with Ukrainian and Russian delegations set to meet today on Ukraine’s border with Belarus amid reports that Minsk is prepared to join the Russian offensive against Ukraine. Expectations for any outbreak of peace are low, as Russian forces continue to penetrate Ukraine’s defenses in an advance to the capital, Kyiv.

Going nuclear? Nuclear brinkmanship is now part of the conflict, following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to place Russia’s nuclear weapons on high alert.

That it comes after Putin threatened retaliation to those that would interfere in Ukraine on a scale “you have never seen in your history” in a speech announcing the invasion last week only adds to fears of escalation.

There’s also the possibility that the announcement is all bluster and an attempt to distract. There are plenty of reasons for Putin to want the West, and indeed his own people, to look the other way.

One of those reasons is the unprecedented nature of the European Union’s response to Russia’s actions.

New EU measures include a pledge to provide weapons, ammunition, and fuel to the Ukrainian army as well as a closure of EU airspace to Russian planes and the freezing of almost half of Russia central bank reserves.

But chief among the reasons why Putin would want a distraction is the war itself. It is still early days, but initial reports indicate that things aren’t going as planned. Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said that 4,300 Russian service members have been killed so far. She did not add how many Ukrainian service members had perished. At least 352 civilians have been killed since fighting began, Ukrainian officials reported on Sunday.

Germany’s “revolution.” The EU’s new stance has come amid another sea change in policy, this time from Germany. As Jeff Rathke writes in Foreign Policy, Berlin has undergone a “revolution” in its foreign policy over the Ukraine invasion. Breaking with previous stances on weapons transfers, Berlin will now provide anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons to Ukraine. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has also announced a $113 billion fund for the German military this year and will increase the annual German military budget to 2 percent of GDP.

Germany’s new stance may also reflect the realities Europe faces not just with Russia but also with the United States. Liana Fix, a resident fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, told Foreign Policy that German worries about a return of an isolationist Republican Party to the White House, whether in the form of Donald Trump or someone else, has spooked German policymakers. “While I think the main driver is the threat perceived from Russia, the feeling is that the reliance on the trans-Atlantic relationship, as good as it is right now, might not last,” Fix said.

A question of policy. After Putin’s nuclear comments, expect the phrase “escalate to de-escalate” to become ubiquitous over the coming days. The term refers to Russia’s alleged strategy of using nuclear weapons to rapidly end a conventional conflict.

The only problem is it’s not quite settled among Russia analysts as to whether the doctrine even exists. That’s not to say Putin hews closely to written policy papers—the invasion already disproves that.

Olga Oliker, the Russia director at the International Crisis Group, argues that a Russian nuclear strike would raise the stakes and bring in more NATO support for Ukraine rather than begin a process of de-escalation. “The detonation of a nuclear weapon in Europe, it doesn’t really matter if the country is designated as a NATO member state or not,” Oliker told Foreign Policy, suggesting such an event would further unite the alliance and stiffen its resolve. (She has also provided an up to date assessment of Russia’s nuclear posture, including the conditions for using nuclear weapons.)


The World This Week

Monday, Feb. 28: Taiwan commemorates Peace Memorial Day, a day that marks the beginning of the Taiwanese independence movement. President Tsai Ing-wen is expected to deliver remarks.

Egypt marks 100 years of independence.

The United Nations Human Rights Council convenes in Geneva.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group II publishes its report covering adaptation and mitigation measures.

Saber Strike 22, a NATO military exercise involving 13,000 participants across the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Slovakia, begins and runs until March 18.

Tuesday, March 1: U.S. President Joe Biden delivers his State of the Union speech to U.S. lawmakers.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz begins a three-day visit to Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories.

Shrove Tuesday, otherwise known as Pancake Tuesday or Mardi Gras.

Wednesday, March 2: Oil ministers from OPEC+ countries, including Russia, meet virtually.

Friday, March 4: The Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference holds annual meeting ahead of the National People’s Congress.

Final day for French presidential candidates to submit lists of required signatures backing their candidacy.

Saturday, March 5: Fifth session of the 13th National People’s Congress opens in Beijing.

Sunday, March 6:
Ghana’s independence day.


Keep an Eye On 

Iran dealings. Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani is back in Geneva today following consultations in Tehran over the weekend, with a mandate “to resolve outstanding issues causing serious challenges to the deal,” Iranian media reports. Russia’s representative at the talks, Mikhail Ulyanov, said he expected a deal “next week or before the end of the next week,” and he implied that the war in Ukraine and its ensuing geopolitical earthquakes would not disrupt the talks.

Lavrov’s meetings. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov meets today with his Emirati counterpart Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Moscow. Although the United Arab Emirates has called for an “immediate de-escalation and cessation of hostilities” in the war in Ukraine, the country has so far hedged—joining China and India in abstaining on a Friday U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Russia. Russian and UAE government representatives will meet again later this week when OPEC+ oil ministers gather on Wednesday.

Lavrov is also scheduled to travel to Geneva today to attend the U.N. Human Rights Council. A one-on-one meeting with U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet is planned along with other meetings with “a number” of foreign ministers, according to the Russian foreign ministry. It’s not clear whether he can get to Geneva after the EU announced it was closing its airspace to Russian aircraft.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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