News Headlines 3/9/22

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ANOTHER SAFE CORRIDOR EVACUATION FAILS IN UKRAINE: Repeated efforts in Ukraine to establish safe corridors to allow civilians to escape cities being shelled and allow humanitarian aid in have failed, with Ukrainian officials accusing Russian forces of firing on them, while they charge it’s the Ukrainians that are blocking evaucation efforts. Another safe corridor effort failed Tuesday (March 8th), in the beleagured port city of Mariuipol, where an attempt to evacuate civilians and bring in food, water and medicine fell apart as Ukrainian officials said Russian forces fired on the convoy before it reached the city. The situation in Mariupol, which has been surrounded by Russian soldiers for days, is dire, with no electricity, water, heat, working sewage systems, or phone service. Authorities  there are planning to dig mass graves for all the dead. 

There was one apparent successful safe corridor evacuation yesterday, with Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk saying 5,000 civilians, including 1,700 foreign students, had been  able to leave the city of Sumy. But Russia continued its attacks elsewhere, including bombing residential areas around Kharkiv,  Ukraine’s second-largest city, increasing shelling in the suburbs around the capital city of Kyiv, and bombing the city of Zhytomyr, west of the capital.

People continued to stream out of Ukraine to escape the war, with U.N. officials saying yesterday that two million people have now fled the country in the two weeks since Russia invaded, half of them children. 

In other developments: 

Poland Says Will Give Fighter Jets to U.S., Which Says No: Poland unexpectedly announced yesterday that it would give the U.S. its 28 MiG-29 fighter jets for use by Ukraine, delivering them to America’s Ramstein Air Base in Germany. But the U.S., which reportedly wasn’t consulted by Poland beforehand and was blindsided by the announcement, rejected the move, with Pentagon spokesman John Kirby saying, “we do not believe Poland’s proposal is a tenable one.” He said it would raise the risk of the war expanding beyond Ukraine by having warplanes leaving from a U.S. and NATO base to fly into airspace contested with Russia in the Ukraine conflict. 

Zelenskyy Speaks to U.K.’s Parliament Via Video: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke to the U.K.’s Parliament via video from Ukraine yesterday, the first time a foreign leader was allowed to address the House of Commons. Zelenskyy thanked Britain for its support, which has included humanitarian aid and defensive weapons, and urged more sanctions on Russia and to help keeping the skies above Ukraine safe. Although he’s repeatedly asked NATO leaders to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine, they have resisted because it could lead to a direct military confrontation with Russia. Zelenskky also used language that evoked Winston Churchill and his rallying of Britain during World War Two with his “never surrender” speech, saying, “We will fight till the end at sea, in the air. We will continue fighting for our land, whatever the cost. We will fight in the forests, in the fields, on the shores, in the streets” and even on the banks of rivers. 

BIDEN BANS IMPORTS OF RUSSIAN OIL: President Biden announced a ban on Russian oil imports into the U.S. yesterday (March 8th), a major trade action that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had repeatedly asked for and that a growing number of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle favored. Russia’s oil imports had been a major omission from the huge sanctions that the U.S. and its allies have imposed on Russia since it invaded Ukraine two weeks ago. Although oil from Russia makes up only a small part of U.S. imports, Biden had been reluctant to ban it because it would push already high gas prices even higher. He acknowledged that result in his remarks yesterday, saying, “Defending freedom is going to cost,” but stating, “I’m going to do everything I can to minimize Putin’s price hike here at home.” Gas prices have already been rising for weeks because of the war in Ukraine, and when saying that was understandable, Biden also warned U.S. energy companies against, quote, “excessive price increases” and exploiting consumers.

VENEZUELA FREES TWO U.S. PRISONERS: President Biden announced last night (March 8th) that two Americans who’d been held in Venezuela had been released, with Gustavo Cardenas and Jorge Fernandez freed days after a U.S. delegation visited the country. Biden said in a statement, “Two Americans who were wrongfully detained in Venezuela will be able to hug their families once more.” Cardenas has been held since November 2017, one of six Citgo Petroleum executives arrested on claims of embezzlement. The other five are still being held. Fernandez was arrested last year, with Politico saying he’s been described as a Cuban-American tourist who was carrying “a small domestic drone” when he arrived in Venezuela. The U.S. has been at odds with Venezeula’s leftist government for years, but there have been recent indications that the administration might be looking to the country as an alternative to replace oil from Russia, imports of which Biden banned last night following the invasion of Ukraine two weeks ago.

CONVICTION ON ALL COUNTS IN FIRST U.S. CAPITOL ATTACK TRIAL: A 49-year-old Texas man who’s a member of a far-right militia was convicted on all counts yesterday (March 8th) in the first trial related to the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol. Guy Wesley Reffitt was convicted of storming the Capitol with a holstered handgun, as well as obstructing Congress’ certifying of Joe Biden‘s election victory, interfering with police officers who were guarding the Capitol, and threatening his two teenage children if they reported him to law enforcement after the attack. Reffitt will be sentenced in June. AP said the verdict could give Justice Department prosecutors more leverage in plea negotiations for other January 6th cases, and discourage other defendants from gambling on going to trial.

PROUD BOYS LEADER ARRESTED FOR CONSPIRACY RELATED TO U.S. CAPITOL ATTACK: Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, a leader of the far-right Proud Boys extremist group, was arrested yesterday (March 8th) on a conspiracy charge for his alleged role in the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol. Tarrio wasn’t actually there on January 6th, having been arrested two days earlier on charges of vandalizing a Black Lives Matter banner at a historic Black church in Washington, D.C., during a protest a month earlier, and he was ordered to stay out of Washington. The indictment claims, however, that Tarrio didn’t leave town, and instead met with the leader of the far-right Oath Keepers militia, Elmer “Stewart” Rhodes, and others in an underground parking garage leading up to the riot and and at least one participant “referenced the Capitol.” The indictment also says, among other claims, that an unnamed person sent Tarrio a document titled “1776 Returns” on December 30, 2020, that laid out plans for occupying a few, quote, “crucial buildings” in Washington on January 6th, including House and Senate office buildings around the Capitol.