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FirstFT: The clearest sign yet that Putin is prepared to invade Ukraine

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The Kremlin said two Moscow-backed separatist territories in eastern Ukraine had asked Vladimir Putin to “repel the aggression of the Ukrainian regime”, in the strongest signal yet that Russia is about to launch a full invasion of the country.

Russian newswires published letters on Wednesday in which the leaders of the breakaway statelets in the Donbas border region asked Russia’s president to use military force to protect them from what they described as “ongoing military aggression” by Ukraine.

Kyiv and its western allies say the claims of a Ukrainian attack — which have been spread widely on Russian state television, backed up by little or no evidence — are “phoney allegations” meant to create a pretext for war.

Ukraine’s parliament late on Wednesday approved President Volodymyr Zelensky’s decree calling for declaring a “state of emergency” with 335 MPs voting in favour, more than a constitutional majority.

Putin has repeatedly denied he is planning to invade Ukraine but demanded that Kyiv “demilitarise,” surrender the entire Donbas border region to the separatists, and declare neutrality.

US stocks closed at their lowest levels since last June as tensions escalated between Russia and the west over Ukraine, exacerbating a sell-off that has taken the benchmark S&P 500 index deeper into correction territory. has the latest news on the Ukraine conflict.

  • Explainer: Kyiv has few ways to respond beyond bolstering its defences.

  • Sanctions: Vladimir Putin’s chief of staff and his defence minister have been blacklisted by the EU as part of the bloc’s first round of sanctions. Plus, fresh US sanctions imposed on Russian bonds add “more teeth” to existing curbs.

  • Opinion: The UK’s weak initial response risks emboldening Putin’s coercive diplomacy, writes our editorial board. Russian banks are getting off lightly, says our Lex column.

Thanks for reading FirstFT Asia. What questions do you have about the crisis in Ukraine? Share them with us at — Emily

1. Traders leave US penny stocks in sign speculative fever is cooling Trading in unlisted US shares has dropped almost three-quarters from its peak at the height of last year’s retail trading frenzy, as investors rein in speculative bets and regulators crack down on potential fraud in penny stocks.

Line chart of Number of transactions by month (million) showing OTC stock trading falls back to earth

2. The world’s first quantum gravity sensor Birmingham university researchers and their industrial partners have demonstrated what they say is the world’s first quantum gravity sensor that works reliably in the real world, detecting subterranean structures outside tightly controlled lab conditions. Construction and infrastructure projects could be a key application of the technology.

3. Turkey set to ban German and US public broadcasters Two international public broadcasters are facing an imminent ban in Turkey after defying a demand from authorities that they described as “censorship”.

4. Rio Tinto to pay $7.7bn final dividend as earnings soar Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the mining sector has emerged as the dividend-paying powerhouse of the London stock market, returning huge sums of cash from record raw material prices.

5. India’s IT sector grapples with hiring ‘crisis’ The India chief executive of software giant Salesforce said the country’s IT sector was suffering a skills shortage “crisis” as companies struggled to meet surging demand and compete with well-funded tech start-ups for workers.

Coronavirus digest

  • Hong Kong launched a new round of financial handouts as the city struggles to contain China’s biggest outbreak of coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, even as economists warned the city’s zero-Covid strategy was “unsustainable”.

  • Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline will apply for regulatory approval of their long-awaited Covid-19 vaccine as a primary jab and booster, after reporting an overall efficacy rate of 57.9 per cent.

  • The World Health Organization is establishing a South Korea facility to provide training for drug manufacturing in poorer countries to increase local production, combat chronic diseases and enhance preparation for future health crises.

  • Employers warned they will be flying blind when all restrictions in England end as the government has not issued workplace safety guidance.

  • Opinion: A mass return to the workplace brings a much-misunderstood area of risk to all careers: the work social event.

Conduct or conversation that is beyond the pale in the office is equally unacceptable at the party © Getty Images

The day ahead

Jimmy Lai in court The national security case of the media tycoon and other former Apple Daily associates is expected to resume in court

South Korea interest rate decision Policymakers are expected to keep interest rates on hold after raising rates at the previous two meetings. Rate hikes are expected to resume in the second quarter. (Yahoo Finance)

EU summit in Brussels EU leaders are planning to convene to discuss the escalating crisis in Ukraine. Charles Michel, European Council president, told EU leaders that he wanted to meet in Brussels to “jointly define our collective approach and actions”.

Join Financial Times journalists and leading experts on February 25 at 13:00 GMT for an unmissable virtual briefing, Russia-Ukraine Conflict: What Next? Register free here.

What else we’re reading

Ukraine crisis saddles Washington with Indo-Pacific dilemma In capitals from Canberra to Tokyo, the spectre of a Russian attack on Ukraine has diverted attention from the Indo-Pacific strategy — which the Biden administration published this month — to the fact that the US is again focusing its efforts elsewhere.

The monetarist dog is having its day Economists are being forced to relearn lessons about the importance of money supply. When people are holding more money than they desire, they want to get rid of it. This would lower the price of most assets, but the nominal price of money is fixed: a dollar is a dollar. The adjustment comes via higher prices for everything else — or inflation, writes Martin Wolf.

Martin Wolf: ‘A big lesson of history is that if economists think they understand how the macroeconomy works, they will be wrong’
Martin Wolf: ‘A big lesson of history is that if economists think they understand how the macroeconomy works, they will be wrong’ © James Ferguson

Carl Icahn’s push for happier McDonald’s pigs is just the start Single issue charities and activist hedge funds have long sought to use US annual general meetings to demand change. Now, they are getting backing from a much wider range of investors who won’t sit by idly when companies fail to match stakeholder rhetoric and ESG promises with genuine action.

Real-world profits in the metaverse Retailers such as Forever 21, Nike and Chipotle are creating virtual world stores in a bet it can boost profits. But is it a gimmick, or will the metaverse allow for the creation of low-overhead, high-margin ecommerce businesses that will transform global retail?

The rise of ‘wellness’ apartments For some, “wellness” isn’t merely an ill-defined buzzword, it’s a way of life. And property developers have been rushing to cash in. By one estimate there are now more than 2,300 “wellness residential projects” around the world that are either built, partially built, or in development. But buyers face hefty premiums.


Conflicts come to a head in Peaky Blinders’ final series, which makes its debut on BBC1 this weekend. This season, the last battle looms for Cillian Murphy’s gangster Tommy Shelby as he moves across the Atlantic. Critic Dan Einav gives it four stars in his review.

Cillian Murphy returns as a more composed Tommy © BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions

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