Monday’s Top 5 Stories From Putin’s War in Ukraine

Ukraine has rejected Putin’s demand that the city of Mariupol surrender. Russian military commanders gave city officials until dawn Monday morning to meet demands to give up armed resistance or face military tribunals if they resisted and Russian troops eventually captured the city.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told CBS News on Sunday that Putin’s failure to meet any of the goals he had set for the invasion has led to the deliberate targeting of population centers. Austin noted that the failure has had “the effect of [Putin] moving his forces into a wood chipper.”

The Institute for the Study of War puts it less colorfully: “The Russian military continues to commit small groups of reinforcements to localized fighting rather than concentrating them to launch new large-scale operations. … The culmination of the initial Russian campaign is creating conditions of stalemate throughout most of Ukraine. … “Stalemate will likely be very violent and bloody, especially if it protracts.”

China’s top diplomat has said that the country is not considering supplying military aid to Russia. Ukraine news site UkraineNow posted the following message on its Telegram site:

According to [Foreign Minister Wang Yi], «China is not a party to the [Ukraine] crisis,» and Beijing intends to continue to adhere to this position on Ukraine.

Russia continues to face a potentially catastrophic financial meltdown. Global markets closed higher on Friday following reports that Russia had made an interest payment of some $117 million just one day into the 30-day grace period. But that is just the beginning.

According to a report in the Washington Post, Russia is on the hook for some $2.46 billion in interest and bond payments due by April 4. If Russia attempts to make these payments in rubles instead of dollars, debt rating agencies have said this is equivalent to sovereign default. Russia last defaulted on its sovereign debt in 1918 when Lenin refused to pay debts run up by the czars.

Professor Paul Poast concludes a Twitter thread on Putin’s possible default this way:

In short, if Putin defaults on Russia’s foreign debt, he will do so during war and will undermine his own regime.

For an ostensible student of Russian history, he apparently learned the wrong lessons.

The U.S. Treasury has allowed Russia access its frozen funds to meet these payments until May 25 but that permission could be withdrawn immediately if Putin tries to pay in freshly printed rubles. Rubles are currently trading at around 105 to the dollar. On December 31, the ruble traded at 74.79 to the dollar.

U.S. stock futures traded slightly lower Monday morning. Crude oil traded up about 4.6% at $109.51, while gold was down by less than 1% at $1,926.50. As of Friday’s close, U.S. markets were trading higher than they were a month ago, just ahead of Putin’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine.

The U.K. Ministry of Defense reports heavy fighting north of Kyiv Monday morning.

While Ukrainian forces continue to fight Russian forces to a standstill around Kyiv, the Institute for the Study of War’s outlook is discouraging:

If the war in Ukraine settles into a stalemate condition Russian forces will continue to bomb and bombard Ukrainian cities, devastating them and killing civilians, even as Ukrainian forces impose losses on Russian attackers and conduct counter-attacks of their own. The Russians could hope to break Ukrainians’ will to continue fighting under such circumstances by demonstrating Kyiv’s inability to expel Russian forces or stop their attacks even if the Russians are demonstrably unable to take Ukraine’s cities. Ukraine’s defeat of the initial Russian campaign may therefore set conditions for a devastating protraction of the conflict and a dangerous new period testing the resolve of Ukraine and the West. Continued and expanded Western support to Ukraine will be vital to seeing Ukraine through that new period.

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