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Monday briefing: Rouble tumbles as sanctions bite

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Top story: ‘Crucial’ period ahead, Zelenskiy tells Johnson

Morning everyone. I’m Martin Farrer and here are the top stories this morning.

The west’s economic war against Vladimir Putin has gone into full swing today with punitive sanctions over his invasion of Ukraine prompting the rouble to crash 40% and raising the prospect of severe turmoil inside Russia. As its military struggles to gain the upper hand against Ukraine’s fierce defence, the Russian currency was in freefall and the country’s authorities kept financial markets closed to head off the prospect of a run on banks as people queued to withdraw money from cash points. The UK government has just announced a slew of measures “to prohibit any UK natural or legal persons from undertaking financial transactions involving the Russian central bank, the Russian national wealth fund, and the country’s ministry of finance”. Boris Johnson pledged more weapons for Ukraine after he spoke to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy by phone. Amid reports of a huge column of Russian tanks heading for Kyiv this morning, the prime minister was told by Zelenskiy that the next 24 hours was a “crucial period for Ukraine”, according to No 10. The call is yet another illustration of Zelenskiy’s remarkable mobile-phone diplomacy which has seen him rally worldwide support from his Kyiv bunker. You can follow all the latest at our live blog, along with what we know so far here.

Johnson’s message comes after Vladimir Putin responded to his increasing pariah status by announcing that he had placed Russia’s nuclear deterrence forces on high alert. Concerns about his intentions were compounded this morning by reports from Russian news agencies that Belarus, one of the Kremlin’s staunchest allies, has approved a new constitution renouncing the country’s non-nuclear status. Such a move could pave the way for nuclear missiles to be stationed in the country, which borders Nato members Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.

Play Video 1:05 ‘We left our dad in Kyiv’: young Ukrainian boy in tears after fleeing capital – video

The fighting in Ukraine has led more than 360,000 people to flee Ukraine so far and prompted chaotic scenes at railway stations in a bid to escape westwards. A video has captured the agony faced by many families as they leave for safety while sons and fathers stay in cities to support the army or fight. Others are heading back from overseas to fight the invasion. Shaun Walker reports from Ukraine on the week that saw the country enter all-out war.

Climate impact The climate crisis is having a much worse impact on the world than predicted, and governments must act more urgently or face disaster, the UK president of the UN climate talks has warned on the eve of a new scientific assessment. Alok Sharma, who led the Cop26 climate summit last year, said the “impacts on our daily lives will be increasingly severe and stark”. The report due today is expected to show that droughts, floods and heatwaves will increase in frequency and intensity, with devastating consequences, and all parts of the globe will be affected.

Election battleground – The most important battles in the next general election will be fought in the north of England, according to research, which suggests Labour could win back 31 seats lost when its traditional support switched to the Tories in 2019. However, the thinktank Onward also concluded that some northern seats were still vulnerable to the Conservatives and that there is no evidence of a southern “blue wall” ready to fall.

Russia crackdown – Boris Johnson has said that Russian oligarchs will no longer have a hiding place for their “ill-gotten gains” in the UK under legislation being introduced in parliament this week. The law is intended to stop the foreign owners of property in Britain from hiding their identity, and existing rules about unexplained wealth will be toughened up.

Girls’ ‘deep distress’ – Thousands of girls as young as 11 are hiding signs of “deep distress” from their parents and teachers, according to an “alarming” study of 15,000 children that reveals a “growing gulf” between the mental health of girls and boys. Record numbers of children are seeking access to NHS mental health services amid the pandemic as detailed in multiple studies over the past year.

Trump ‘whack jobs’ – The former US attorney general William Barr has delivered a stinging denunciation of Donald Trump, and says his former boss must not be the Republican candidate for president in 2024. In a new memoir, Barr says Trump has “shown he has neither the temperament nor persuasive powers to provide the kind of positive leadership that is needed”. The former president, Barr says, has surrounded himself with “sycophants” and “whack jobs from outside the government, who fed him a steady diet of comforting but unsupported conspiracy theories”. Meanwhile, Trump has ignored advice from Nigel Farage to stop harping on endlessly about the “stolen election”.

Today in Focus podcast

Thousands of Ukrainians are flooding out of the capital. As the Russian invasion continues, the residents who remain are taking cover – and taking up arms, Emma Graham-Harrison reports.

Today in Focus A family flees Kyiv Sorry your browser does not support audio – but you can download here and listen https://audio.guim.co.uk/2022/02/27-81468-20220228tiffleeingkyiv.mp3 00:00:00 00:29:28

Lunchtime read: Bridget Everett – ‘I don’t believe it’s me’

Facebook Twitter Bridget Everett on stage. Photograph: Storms Media Group/Alamy

Bridget Everett was going nowhere in smalltown Kansas – until she unleashed her voice and became a raucous, booze-swilling cabaret colossus. Now she’s the star of a hard-rocking, emotionally charged HBO drama called Somebody Somewhere and she tells Zoe Williams about the long road to making the big time.

Sport

Liverpool’s second-choice goalkeeper, Caoimhín Kelleher, repaid the faith shown in him by Jurgen Klopp as he kept his nerve in a penalty shootout as the Reds defeated Chelsea in the Carabao Cup final at Wembley. Kelleher converted a penalty and then saw his opposite number Kepa Arrizabalaga blaze over the bar to settle the spot-kick drama 11-10 after the teams played out a 0-0 stalemate over 120 minutes. It was a bad day for Chelsea as Roman Abramovich’s stepping aside at the top of the club cast a shadow over the Blues’ future. Fifa’s handling of the Ukraine crisis has been criticised after the world governing body stopped short of kicking Russia out of the World Cup. fallout In the premier League, West Ham revived their top-four chances by beating Wolves 1-0, while Leeds sacked manager Marcelo Bielsa.

Ireland pummelled Italy 57-6 in the Six Nations in Dublin but it was an afternoon of little real entertainment after the visitors were reduced to 13 men for most of the game. England have problems and are still a work in progress but remain in contention for the title after beating Wales on Saturday. Australia’s cricketers have arrived in Pakistan for the first tour there in 24 years, and it is a particularly special moment for Enfland’s Ashes tormentor Usman Khawaja, who was born in Islamabad.

Business

BP’s decision to sell its 19.75% stake in the Russian oil giant Rosneft will cost the company billions and has already seen its chief executive, Bernard Looney, stand down. BP said it would write down up to $25bn at the end of the first quarter of 2022 following its exit, which it will report to investors in May. The FTSE100 looks like slipping 2% at the opening amid jitters over Ukraine and BP, while the pound is on $1.335 and €1.197.

The papers

Facebook Twitter Photograph: The Guardian

The Guardian leads on “Putin puts nuclear force on high alert as backlash grows”, as does the FT with “Putin puts nuclear forces on alert”. It’s also the splash in the Telegraph, which says “Putin issues nuclear threat”, the Mail says “World outrage as Putin makes nuclear threat”and the Times has “Putin puts nuclear force on alert”. The Scotsman carries a very dramatic picture of a Russian army vehicle in flames and the headline “Putin raises nuclear threat as war rages on city streets”. The Sun’s front page says “Mad Vlad goes nuclear”. The Mirror goes with “Be brave for your mother”, a story about a Ukrainian father saying goodbye to his son as he put him on a train to safety. The i has “Dash to the borders”.

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