Negotiators from Ukraine and Russia have opened their first direct peace talks in more than two weeks. Ahead of today’s negotiations in Istanbul, Turkey, President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukraine was unwilling to compromise on its sovereignty and territorial integrity but was open to discussing neutrality and a prohibition on Ukraine joining NATO.
On Monday, The Wall Street Journal and the investigative news site Bellingcat reported Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich and Ukrainian peace negotiators suffered symptoms of suspected poisoning after a meeting in Kyiv earlier in March. The symptoms reportedly included red eyes and peeling skin on their faces. The Journal cited unnamed officials who suspected the negotiators were poisoned by hard-liners in Moscow seeking to sabotage peace talks. Others have expressed skepticism. The BBC reports a senior Ukrainian official said members of the Ukrainian delegation were “fine” and that one of them had called reports of poisoning “false.” Roman Abramovich is in Istanbul today as part of the latest round of peace talks. Ahead of the negotiations, Ukraine’s foreign minister warned his delegation to be cautious.
Dmytro Kuleba: “I advise anyone going for negotiations with the Russian Federation not to eat or drink anything, and preferably avoid touching any surface.”
Ukraine’s military says it has recaptured several towns from Russian forces, including Irpin, a strategic suburb outside the capital Kyiv. Meanwhile, the mayor of Mariupol said nearly 5,000 residents — including 210 children — have died in Russia’s assault on the besieged city, which was home to nearly half a million people before Russia’s invasion.
On Monday, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called for an immediate ceasefire.
Secretary-General António Guterres: “A cessation of hostilities will allow essential humanitarian aid to be delivered, and enable civilians to move around safely. It will save lives, prevent suffering and protect civilians.”
In Russia, the prominent independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta said Monday it will halt operations until the war in Ukraine has ended, after the paper’s editors received a second warning from a Russian state censor. Last year, the paper’s editor-in-chief, Dmitry Muratov, won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work reporting in the face of government repression and censorship. Muratov recently put his Nobel medal up for auction, with proceeds of its sale set to support Ukrainian refugees.
Also on Monday, the Kremlin ordered Russian media outlets not to publish a rare interview of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky by Russian journalists, including Dmitry Muratov. It’s believed at least 150 journalists have left Russia since the start of the Ukraine invasion last month.
President Biden said Monday he was expressing his moral outrage — and not official U.S. policy — when he suggested last weekend that Vladimir Putin should be removed as president of Russia. Biden’s off-the-cuff remark during a visit to Poland on Saturday threatened a rupture in diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Russia.
President Joe Biden: “I want to make it clear: I wasn’t then, nor am I now, articulating a policy change. I was expressing the moral outrage that I feel, and I make no apologies for it.”
Kelly O’Donnell: “Personal feelings, sir? Your personal feelings?”
President Joe Biden: “Personal. My personal feelings.”
On Monday, the Pentagon said it was sending six Navy attack planes and 240 more troops to Germany to bolster NATO’s military buildup during the war in Ukraine.
The White House has sent Congress a $5.8 trillion budget request that would raise taxes on billionaires and corporations while massively boosting funding for the Pentagon and the police. Biden’s budget proposal does not include items from his “Build Back Better” plan, which failed to pass the narrowly divided Senate over objections from conservative Democrats Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin. The budget proposes more than $30 billion in grants to state and local police departments. It would also boost military spending by about 10% to a record-shattering $813 billion — eclipsing even former President Trump’s Pentagon budget requests.
Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders responded in a statement, “At a time when we are already spending more on the military than the next 11 countries combined, no we do not need a massive increase in the defense budget.”
A federal judge ruled Monday that former President Trump and his lawyer “likely” committed multiple felonies in their bid to block certification of Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory in the 2020 election. In a 44-page ruling, U.S. District Court Judge David Carter ordered Trump legal adviser John Eastman to turn over hundreds of emails to the House committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol. Judge Carter determined that Trump and Eastman launched a campaign to overturn a democratic election that was unprecedented in U.S. history, calling it a “coup in search of a legal theory.”
Meanwhile, The Washington Post is reporting that records released to the January 6 select committee show a gap of more than seven hours in President Trump’s phone logs as the Capitol was being assaulted. The Post reports that the committee is investigating whether Trump communicated that day through backchannels, phones of aides or personal disposable phones, known as “burner phones.”
Also on Monday, the House January 6 committee voted unanimously to recommend criminal contempt of Congress charges against former White House aides Peter Navarro and Dan Scavino, after they became the latest former Trump administration officials to refuse to cooperate with congressional subpoenas.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban has banned several international media outlets, including Voice of America, the BBC and Germany’s Deutsche Welle. This comes after dozens of women students and teachers held a peaceful protest in front of Afghanistan’s Education Ministry in Kabul over the weekend in response to the Taliban’s order to shut down secondary schools for girls. This is a schoolteacher.
Schoolteacher: “The Taliban are scared of an educated girl. When a girl is educated, a family will be educated. And when a family is educated, a nation will be educated. And finally, an educated nation will never, ever nourish the motives of terrorists.”
The move prompted U.S. officials to cancel talks with Taliban leaders in Doha Friday to address key economic issues impacting Afghanistan.
In India, hundreds of thousands of workers have gone on strike to protest Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s neoliberal economic policies. A two-day shutdown began Monday, called on by dozens of labor unions from the private and public sectors. Government workers, coal and copper miners, steel, oil and health workers are among those who’ve joined the strike as anger mounts over mass unemployment, rising food and fuel prices, worsening poverty and lack of access to healthcare and education.
In Spain, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Madrid Saturday to protest the Spanish government’s recent announcement it no longer supports self-determination for the Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara.
Fatu Abahai: “All Sahrawis in Spain have come here to demonstrate against the decision taken by Pedro Sánchez, which is once again betraying the Sahara. We feel betrayed because he said that he’d give sovereignty over the Sahrawi territory to the Moroccans, and we do not feel equal to them. We are Sahrawi, and we are the ones who decide our rights.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Morocco Monday, where he’s meeting with the kingdom’s foreign minister.
In Mexico, 20 people were killed Sunday when gunmen opened fire on a crowd watching a cockfight in a small town in the western state of Michoacán. Police said they found more than 100 30-caliber shell casings at the crime scene. Mexico’s military has joined the search for the killers, but so far no arrests have been made.
Last year Mexico filed a lawsuit in a U.S. federal court seeking to hold 10 U.S.-based gunmakers accountable for Mexico’s epidemic of gun violence. The complaint says more than half a million U.S.-made guns are smuggled to Mexico each year.
A new independent report into the 2014 disappearance of the 43 Ayotzinapa students says Mexico’s Navy and Army officials had been surveilling the students and knew they were going to be kidnapped. The report also found officials hid evidence that could have helped locate the students. This is a member of the independent panel.
Claudia Paz y Paz: “It was known by the authorities in Iguala, but also by authorities at the national level, what was happening at the time of the detention and subsequent disappearance of the students.”
Academy Award-winning actor Will Smith has issued an apology for slapping presenter Chris Rock at the Academy Awards Sunday after Rock joked about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, being bald. Pinkett Smith suffers from alopecia. In an Instagram post, Smith said his reaction was “unacceptable and inexcusable.” Smith continued, “Jokes at my expense are a part of the job, but a joke about Jada’s medical condition was too much for me to bear and I reacted emotionally. … I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be. There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness.” The Academy on Monday condemned Smith’s actions and launched an inquiry into what happened.
In Florida, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis on Monday signed a bill that prohibits school discussions of sexuality and gender identity with students in kindergarten through third grade. DeSantis signed the bill, known by critics as “Don’t Say Gay,” despite widespread condemnation from teachers, students and LGBTQ+ rights advocates who say the law will severely impact the mental health of children.
Gov. Ron DeSantis: “I don’t care what corporate media outlets say. I don’t care what Hollywood says. I don’t care what big corporations say. Here I stand. I’m not backing down.”
In a statement, the group Equality Florida said, “DeSantis has damaged our state’s reputation as a welcoming and inclusive place for all families … This law will not stand. We will work to see it removed either by the courts as unconstitutional or repealed by the legislature.”