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Canada bans Russian crude oil, foreign minister headed to Polish-Ukraine border

In addition to supplying Ukraine with anti-tank weapons systems, Canada is banning all imports of crude oil from Russia.
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In addition to supplying Ukraine with anti-tank weapons systems, Canada is banning all imports of crude oil from Russia.

The move is mostly symbolic, as Canada does not import much oil from Russia. Statistics Canada says the country imported just C$289 million worth of energy products — including refined fuels — from Russia in 2021. 

Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said Monday that Canada has not received a shipment of Russian crude oil since 2019.

It was not immediately clear if the ban would include refined energy products.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for the end to the war, saying its costs would only grow grow steeper and that those responsible will be held accountable.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly is headed to the Poland-Ukraine border on Tuesday to make sure that Canada's latest supply of military aid flows into the war-ravaged country.

Her visit comes as Trudeau announced Monday that Canada was sending anti-tank weapons and upgraded ammunition to Ukraine, which amounted to a significant upgrade in lethal military aid.

"Of course, this is in addition to our three previous shipments of lethal and non-lethal equipment," Trudeau said.

He added Canada has bolstered its presence in the region so it can fast-track immigration applications for Ukrainians who want to come to Canada.

Joly said she will also be meeting with her Polish counterparts in Warsaw to discuss the refugee crisis spawned by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

"My role in this is to make sure that this aid gets in the arms of Ukrainian soldiers that are fighting for their life and fighting for their motherland," Joly told reporters from Geneva on Monday.

Joly earlier told a United Nations panel that Russia lied to the world in the run-up to its invasion of Ukraine.

"Russia is the only one to blame for this crisis. It chose to resort to lies and violence and fabricate all the pieces of a crisis to try and undermine the rule of law and violate the rights of people," Joly told the UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva.

"Worse, they're trying to justify their war by spreading a false rhetoric and attempting to manipulate the principles of human rights to support their illegal and illegitimate violence."

Joly was in Geneva after Russian and Ukrainian delegations met for talks earlier in the day in an attempt to defuse the biggest land conflict on the continent since the Second World War.

Outmatched Ukrainian forces were holding off the onslaught of a land, air and sea attack by Russia as President Vladimir Putin raised the stakes further by placing his country's nuclear forces on alert.

Asked on a media video conference what she thought about the threat, Joly said it was "madness."

Bob Rae, the Canadian ambassador to the United Nations, offered a harsher assessment in an interview from New York.

"We can't be buffaloed or bullied by that kind of a tactic," Rae said.

"He knows if he has any practical bone in his body, he knows what the consequences will be … for him and for his government and for his people."

Rae spoke after denouncing the invasion in a speech before the UN General Assembly, telling Russia it had a responsibility to play by the international rules that it helped write when it helped create the UN after the Second World War.

"We're not asking any nation state, any member state to do us a favour. We're asking them to follow the rules and to follow the law," Rae said, waving a well-worn blue booklet of the UN's founding charter. "It means that there are no second-class states in this organization.

In the interview, Rae said he wanted use his speech to call Russia out as "bully" and an "abuser," and he also derided the lies that he said Putin and his supporters were now telling the world, including Putin's justification that he is saving Ukraine from the clutches of Nazis.

"This attempt to smear all Ukrainians and the Ukrainian government or anyone who's proud of being Ukrainian … to smear everyone as a Nazi is a terrible lie. It's a horrendous lie," said Rae.

Asked what he thought of the myriad or pre-invasion assurances by Putin and his diplomats that they had no intention of attacking Ukraine, Rae said: "This government under President Putin is profoundly cynical, and a government that's drowning in lies and propaganda.

"You know, you can take the boy out of the KGB, but you can't take the KGB out of the boy."

Joly also condemned the arrests of Russian citizens who have protested the war in demonstrations across their country.

"We call on Russia to respect the human rights not only of Ukrainians, but also of its own citizens, who by thousands have taken to the streets in protest of this unjust war."

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland announced Monday an immediate ban on all Canadian financial institutions from conducting transactions with the Russian central bank.

In addition to that prohibition, Canada is imposing an asset freeze and a dealings prohibition on Russian sovereign wealth funds.

"Canada and its allies continue to take concerted action to ensure that Russia's invasion of Ukraine will be a strategic failure. This has never been done before at this scale — today we are taking a historic step by directly censuring Russia's central bank," Freeland said in a written statement.

There was a tense calm Monday in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, but explosions and gunfire were heard in embattled cities in eastern Ukraine as Russia’s invasion met unexpectedly stiff resistance.

The Russian military assault on Ukraine went into its fifth day after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his nuclear forces put on increased alert, ratcheting up tensions further. A Ukrainian delegation held talks Monday with Russian officials at the border with Belarus, though they ended with no immediate reports of any agreements. French President Emmanuel Macron spoke by phone with Putin, urging him to halt the offensive.

Meanwhile, Western sanctions triggered by the invasion sent the Russian ruble plummeting, leading ordinary Russians to line up at banks and ATMs.

WHAT’S HAPPENING ON THE GROUND?

Kyiv’s outgunned but determined troops slowed Russia’s advance and held onto the capital and other key cities — at least for the time being.

U.S. officials say they believe the invasion has been more difficult than the Kremlin envisioned, though that could change as Moscow adapts. The British Defense Ministry said Monday that the bulk of Putin’s forces were 30 kilometers (20 miles) north of Kyiv

Long lines formed outside Kyiv supermarkets Monday as residents were allowed out of bomb shelters and homes for the first time since a curfew was imposed Saturday. Some found food but others didn’t.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians have have sought safety at night in Kyiv’s subway system and other makeshift shelters around the country, where parents try to calm their children’s fears.

Despite the shortages, lack of privacy and other challenges, Ukrainians were trying to put on a brave face.

“It’s much harder for soldiers at the front. It’s embarrassing to complain about the icy floor, drafts and terrible toilets,” said 74-year-old Irina, who sought safety in a Kyiv underground station and would not give her last name. Her grandson Anton is among those fighting in eastern Ukraine.

Ukrainian authorities said at least 44 people have been wounded in fighting in Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv, and that seven of them died in the hospital. The state emergencies agency said the casualties could still go higher because the damage from Monday’s shelling of residential areas is still being assessed.

U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said her office has confirmed that 102 civilians, including seven children, have been killed in the Russian invasion and 304 others wounded in Ukraine since Thursday. She cautioned that the tally was likely a vast undercount.

IS THERE ANY CHANCE FOR DIPLOMACY?

That’s hard to tell. Ukrainian and Russian delegations met Monday on Ukraine’s border with Belarus. The meeting ended with no immediate reports of agreements, but Mykhailo Podolyak, a top advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said further talks could take place “in the near future.”

Before the meeting, Zelenskyy’s office said Ukraine would demand an immediate ceasefire.

While Ukraine sent its defense minister and other top officials, the Russian delegation was led by Putin’s adviser on culture — Vladimir Medinsky — an unlikely envoy for ending the war and a sign of how Moscow viewed the talks.

Medinsky said the sides “found certain points on which common positions could be foreseen.” He also said the talks would continue in the coming days on the Polish-Belarusian border.

Western officials believe Putin wants to overthrow Ukraine’s government and replace it with a regime of his own, reviving Moscow’s Cold War-era influence. His comments Sunday raised fears that the invasion of Ukraine could lead to nuclear war, whether by design or mistake.

On Monday afternoon, Macron spoke by phone with Putin for 90 minutes, according to the French presidency. It said that Putin expressed his “will to commit” to stopping all strikes against civilians and residential areas and to preserving civilian facilities. Macron asked him to end the military offensive in Ukraine and reaffirmed the need for an “immediate ceasefire.”

DOES UKRAINE WANT TO JOIN THE EUROPEAN UNION?

In a move sure to antagonize the Kremlin, Zelenskyy signed an application Monday asking that Ukraine be allowed to join the 27-nation European Union.

He posted photos online of himself signing the application, and his office said the paperwork was on its way to Brussels, where the EU is headquartered. The move was largely symbolic, as Ukraine is very far from reaching the EU’s membership standards, and the bloc is expansion-weary and unlikely to take on new members anytime soon.

WHAT’S GOING ON WITH THE UNITED NATIONS?

The U.N.’s two major bodies — the 193-nation General Assembly and the more powerful 15-member Security Council — were holding separate meetings Monday. The Security Council gave a green light Sunday for the first emergency session of the General Assembly in decades. It will give all U.N. members an opportunity to speak about the war Monday and vote on a resolution later in the week.

HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE FLED UKRAINE?

Filippo Grandi, the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees, tweeted that more than 500,000 people have fled Ukraine for neighboring countries since Russia’s invasion started on Thursday.

Shabia Mantoo, a UNHCR spokeswoman, said the growing count included 281,000 in Poland, more than 84,500 in Hungary, about 36,400 in Moldova, over 32,500 in Romania and about 30,000 in Slovakia. The rest were scattered in other countries, she said.

WHAT ABOUT THE ECONOMIC FALLOUT OF THE INVASION?

The Russian currency plunged about 30% against the U.S. dollar on Monday after Western nations moved to block some Russian banks from the SWIFT international payment system and to restrict Russia’s use of its massive foreign currency reserves. The ruble later recovered ground after swift action by Russia’s central bank. The Moscow stock exchange was closed all day.

The U.S. Treasury Department announced new sanctions targeting the Russian central bank and state investment funds. It said the move effectively immobilizes any assets of Russia’s central bank in the United States or held by Americans.

The president of neutral Switzerland said his country would adopt the EU’s sanctions targeting Russians, including asset freezes, all but depriving well-heeled Russians of access to one of their favorite safe havens to park money.

In Russia, people have been flocking to banks and ATMs for days, seeking to exchange rubles for dollars or euros, with reports on social media of long lines and machines running out.

Economists and analysts said a sharp devaluation of the ruble would mean a drop in the standard of living for the average Russian. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the new sanctions as “heavy,” but argued Monday that “Russia has the necessary potential to compensate the damage.”

Speaking at a meeting with top officials that focused on Western sanctions, Putin denounced the U.S. and its allies as an “empire of lies.” He described Western allies as U.S. “satellites which humbly fawn on it, kowtow to it, copy its conduct and joyfully accept the rules it offers to follow.”

WHAT’S HAPPENING WITH RUSSIA’S NUCLEAR DETERRENT?

The Russian military said its nuclear deterrent forces have been put on high alert in line with Putin’s order on Sunday.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to Putin that command posts of all components of Russia’s nuclear forces have been beefed up with additional personnel.

The Defense Ministry said the high alert status applies to all components of Russian nuclear forces — the Strategic Missile Forces that oversee land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, the Northern and Pacific Fleets that have submarine-launched intercontinental ballistic missiles; and long-range aviation, which has a fleet of nuclear-capable strategic bombers.

WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES FOR TRAVEL?

Russia has closed its airspace to carriers from 36 nations, including European countries and Canada, responding in kind to their moves.

The decision, announced by the state aviation agency, follows a decision by the 27-nation EU and Canada to close their skies to Russian planes.

The agency said planes from those countries could only enter Russian airspace with special permission.

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