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Columns of Russian tanks and armored vehicles are advancing on Ukraine’s capital Kyiv and have reached the outskirts of the city, after a second night of heavy Russian shelling and airstrikes. U.S. intelligence officials view the military offensive as a move to encircle Kyiv and topple the Ukrainian government — something they warn could happen within days. On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin gathered Russia’s wealthiest men for a meeting just hours after Russian forces began a sweeping attack on Ukraine by land, air and sea. Putin said he had no choice but to attack in order to ensure Russia’s security.
President Vladimir Putin: “Everything that is happening is a desperate measure. They left us no other option. They’ve created such security risks that we couldn’t react differently.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he is remaining in the capital despite threats to his life. On Thursday, he vowed to defend Ukraine, while saying he is open to talks with Russia and discussing the issue of neutrality. Zelensky has ordered a full military mobilization, with all men aged 18 to 60 ordered to remain in Ukraine to face possible conscription into military service.
Elsewhere on Thursday, Russian forces captured the Chernobyl nuclear power plant after a fierce battle, raising fears of a new nuclear disaster. The White House expressed alarm over what it called credible reports that staff at the Cherobyl plant were being held hostage.
The United Nations warns over 100,000 Ukrainians have been displaced by Russia’s assault with thousands fleeing to other European countries. This is U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.
Filippo Grandi: “The humanitarian consequences on civilian populations will be devastating. There are no winners in war, but countless lives will be torn apart. We have already seen reports of casualties and people starting to flee their homes to seek safety.”
Across Russia, thousands of people risked police violence to protest Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine — despite government warnings that dissent would be met with “severe punishment.” Human rights groups said at least 1,800 people were arrested at demonstrations in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other cities across Russia. Meanwhile, antiwar protests were held across the United States and in cities around the world, including New York, Tokyo, Taipei, London, Paris and Berlin.
The Pentagon has ordered 7,000 additional U.S. troops to deploy to Germany. President Biden has also directed Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to move U.S. forces in Europe to Poland and the Baltic republics bordering Russia. On Thursday, Biden announced the U.S. would tighten its sanctions against Russia, with new measures targeting Russian banks, energy producers, weapons makers and wealthy families close to President Putin. But Biden stopped short of directly sanctioning Putin or kicking Russia out of the global SWIFT banking system.
President Joe Biden: “This aggression cannot go unanswered. If it did, the consequences for America would be much worse. America stands up to bullies. We stand up for freedom.”
The 27-nation European Union also announced new sanctions on Russia, as did Japan, South Korea, Australia and other U.S. allies. After headlines, we’ll spend the rest of the hour on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The U.S. launched an airstrike in Somalia Tuesday, its first in the country since August last year. U.S. Africa Command said the strike was carried out under the Authorization of Use for Military Force in response to an al-Shabab attack on partner forces. This comes amid a spate of deadly suicide attacks and as Somalia remains in political turmoil, once again extending parliamentary elections — that were supposed to be completed by today — to next month. Meanwhile, Save the Children has warned millions are going hungry and hundreds of thousands are being displaced as Somalia faces its worst drought in a decade.
Syrian state television reported Israeli missiles hit near the capital Damascus Thursday, killing three soldiers. It’s the fourth Israeli airstrike on Syria this month and comes a day after missiles that were launched from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights struck the Syrian border province of Quneitra. Israel says its attacks target Syrian government positions, Iran-backed militias and Hezbollah fighters.
President Biden has nominated federal judge and former public defender Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court. The 51-year-old once served as a law clerk for Justice Stephen Breyer, who announced his retirement from the High Court in January. Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination comes exactly two years to the day after Biden vowed on the campaign trail to nominate the first Black woman Supreme Court justice.
In coronavirus news, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to announce a relaxation of its mask guidance today, allowing most people to forgo them in public indoor spaces. The new guidance will rely more heavily on the rate of hospitalizations, rather than just caseloads, to determine if masks are recommended. Most states have already lifted or significantly eased their mask mandates. Recorded cases have dropped by around two-thirds from two weeks ago, though daily deaths are still averaging close to 2,000.
In Minnesota, three former Minneapolis police officers have been found guilty of violating George Floyd’s civil rights. On Thursday, a federal jury found J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas K. Lane and Tou Thao each failed in their duties on May 25, 2020, as they ignored Floyd’s repeated pleas of “I can’t breathe” while Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes, murdering him. Two of the officers also helped Chauvin physically restrain Floyd, while one officer prevented passersby from intervening. Federal prosecutor Charles Kovats spoke after the verdict.
Charles Kovats: “These officers had a moral responsibility, a legal obligation and a duty to intervene, and by failing to do so, they committed a crime. This is a reminder that all sworn law enforcement officers, regardless of rank or seniority, individually and independently, have a duty to intervene and provide medical aid to those in their custody.”
The three officers remain free on bond until their sentencing hearing. They still face a state trial in June on charges of aiding and abetting George Floyd’s murder. Floyd’s family welcomed Thursday’s verdict, which they said should serve as an example for police departments around the country. This is George Floyd’s nephew, Brandon Williams.
Brandon Williams: “Oftentimes, you know, officers kill Black and Brown men and women, and we get little to no consequences. A lot of times we don’t even get charges, let alone a conviction, you know, so we’ll take this small victory and smile about it and be happy. But deep down, we’re still hurting. You know, we want this to stop.”
A judge in Michigan has ordered the parents of an alleged teenage gunman to stand trial for involuntary manslaughter. Fifteen-year-old Ethan Crumbley is being charged as an adult with first-degree murder, terrorism and gun charges over last November’s shooting at Oxford High School, which killed students Hana St. Juliana, Tate Myre, Justin Shilling and Madisyn Baldwin. Seven others were injured in the assault. On Thursday, a judge said there was enough evidence to merit a trial for Crumbley’s parents, Jennifer and James Crumbley, who allegedly gave the gun used in the shooting to their son as an early Christmas present. Prosecutors say the pair failed to intervene when their son showed clear signs of mental distress in the weeks leading up to the massacre. An Oakland County sheriff’s detective testified the teen’s journal contained disturbing images and repeated, graphic entries about his plans.
Lt. Timothy Willis: “Toward the bottom half of the page, it says, 'First off, I got my gun. It's a SP2022 Sig Sauer 9mm. … Second, the shooting is tomorrow, I have access to the gun and ammo.’”
Jennifer and James Crumbley remain jailed on $500,000 bond. If convicted of involuntary manslaughter, they each face up to 60 years in prison.
Immigrant justice advocates are demanding Amazon divest from an air cargo holding company whose subsidiaries include Omni Air International, which carries out deportation flights for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as the ”ICE Air” program. The Intercept reports Amazon purchased a percentage of Air Transport Services Group, the company that owns Omni Air, for some $131 million last year. Activists have long exposed abuse faced by asylum seekers on Omni Air deportation flights. In 2017, deported asylum seekers returned to Somalia in an Omni Air flight were reportedly beaten and restrained with straitjackets. In another incident in 2012, a Salvadoran asylum seeker “miscarried her triplets” aboard a removal flight to El Salvador.
In New York, immigrant rights leader Ravi Ragbir has been granted three years of deferred action, allowing him to stay in the United States to fight for permanent immigration relief. The settlement is part of a First Amendment lawsuit filed by Ragbir and several immigrant justice organizations accusing Immigration and Customs Enforcement of targeting and retaliating against activists. In January 2018, Rabgir was detained during a check-in with ICE and was ordered deported. He recorded this message before his apprehension.
Ravi Ragbir: “I hope and I pray that you will step out of your comfort zone to create a network of safety, not just in the houses of worship, not just in the space where we call sensitive zone, but create a network of safety around you and around the community because you refuse to let this agency act, Immigration and Customs Enforcement. You are refusing to let them come into your community and destroy it and take away those families only because they don’t have one piece of paper. Our humanity is not dependent on a piece of paper.”