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Russia has launched air strikes on previously untouched Ukrainian cities in a sign President Vladimir Putin is widening the scope of his military operation as the war enters its third week.
Russian jets hit the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro earlier today while rockets pounded military airfields in Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk in the west of the country, putting them “out of action”, according to the Russian ministry of defence.
Meanwhile, western intelligence officials said they believed a 40-mile column of Russian armoured vehicles and military hardware north of Kyiv had split into two as the Kremlin prepares for an assault on the capital.
As Russian forces intensified their campaign, Putin ordered the deployment of thousands of “volunteers”. Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s defence minister, told the Russian president at a meeting of the national security council that 16,000 fighters from the Middle East were prepared to go into combat on behalf of the separatist-held territories in eastern Ukraine.
In the UK, a government minister warned Putin not to “cross the line” and use chemical weapons in the war as he tries to overcome the slow start to his military campaign. In recent days Russia has repeated claims over chemical and biological weapons, raising fears in the west that Putin is preparing to deploy unconventional weapons.
Russia has requested a meeting of the UN Security Council later today to discuss allegations that the US has funded unconventional weapons research in Ukraine. The White House said the claims were “preposterous” and believes Moscow is using them to possibly justify its own use of chemical weapons.
More on Ukraine
Ukraine’s economy: More than half of Ukraine’s economy has shut down and infrastructure assets worth $100bn have been destroyed, President Volodymyr Zelensky’s economic adviser said yesterday.
Technology: China’s internet companies and technology platforms have become propaganda tools in Putin’s war.
Opinion: Tackling the Kremlin’s money in “Londongrad” will be a long-term campaign, writes our editorial board.
Five more stories in the news
1. EU and UK open antitrust probe into Google and Meta Antitrust regulators in the UK and EU have formally opened an investigation into an agreement between the two internet companies known as “Jedi Blue”. The probe follows a similar move by the US Department of Justice which accuses Google and the company formally known as Facebook of colluding in the internet advertising market.
2. China struggles to rein in biggest virus outbreak since Wuhan Changchun, capital of the north-eastern Jilin province with 9mn people and an important manufacturing base, was ordered into lockdown today after 23 new cases were reported. Health authorities in China said daily case numbers had tripled in the past week.
3. US inflation hits new 40-year high Consumer price growth approached 8 per cent last month ahead of a surge in energy prices following the Ukraine invasion, raising pressure on the Federal Reserve to tighten monetary policy. Explore our global inflation tracker here.
4. ECB scales back stimulus plan The European Central Bank has scaled back its bond-buying stimulus plan in response to inflation being driven up by the war in Ukraine, while giving itself more flexibility on the timing of a potential interest rate rise this year.
5. SEC sets clock for delisting Chinese companies over audit demand Five Chinese companies listed in New York have been named by US regulators as the first of as many as 270 groups that will be delisted if they do not hand over detailed audit documents that back their financial statements.
The days ahead
Data The University of Michigan’s preliminary consumer sentiment index is expected to come in at 61.4 in March, from a final reading of 62.8 in February. Mexico‘s statistics agency is expected to report a 0.4 per cent drop in industrial output for January, compared with a rise of 1.2 per cent in December.
Elections Left-winger Gabriel Boric, 36, will be sworn in as Chile’s youngest-ever leader today. Turkmenistan will hold early presidential elections tomorrow after incumbent Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov resigned. On Sunday, Colombians will vote in parliamentary elections and Mali will hold its first round of parliamentary and presidential elections.
Worldwide web’s 33rd birthday Sir Tim Berners-Lee is set to publish his annual letter on the state of his invention and his vision for the future.
What else we’re reading and watching
WeWork co-founder Adam Neumann on his next steps After a fall as spectacular as his rise, the charismatic salesman is back. This time he plans to found start-ups, fund others and create a new property empire.
The great NFT sell-off Internet collectibles ranging from cartoon apes to artsy doodles have plunged in value as real-world conflict and a broader cryptocurrency slump begins to unwind one of the biggest speculative frenzies. Has the digital craze hit its peak?
Evergrande: the end of China’s property boom The rapid expansion of the country’s property sector was powered by a great migration from the farms to the cities — and built on cheap credit. The FT tells the story of Evergrande, the most indebted property developer in the world, which now stands on the brink of collapse.
When do we declare the Covid pandemic over? As the World Health Organization prepares to mark the second anniversary of the coronavirus pandemic, Anjana Ahuja asks when can we declare it over?
What is the true value of a tree? Countless organisations and institutions have tree-planting targets. But if what we plant is going to survive for future generations, we need to factor in climate change. Experts say only five or six of the UK’s native species are suited to the warming weather.
This week’s releases include Red Rocket, starring Simon Rex as a washed-up porn star who returns to the city of his youth after a career in Los Angeles. In Midnight, one of the stars of the Netflix sensation Squid Game, Wi Ha-joon, plays a cocksure killer in pursuit of a mother and her daughter, both of whom are deaf, through the darkened streets of Seoul. For something lighter, Netflix and Disney have both chosen this week to launch high profile children’s movies. The Adam Project stars Ryan Reynolds while Turning Red is a gently upbeat tale from Pixar.