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Tuesday briefing: Ukraine – calls for diplomacy from all sides

Satellite image showing Su-34 fighter jets deployed at Primorsko Akhtarsk airbase in Russia, south of the border with Ukraine.
A satellite image showing Su-34 fighter jets deployed at Primorsko Akhtarsk airbase in Russia, south of the border with Ukraine. Photograph: AP

Top story: ‘Invasion could begin at any time’

Hello, Tuesday has arrived as promised, and here is a briefing by way of accompaniment. My name is Warren Murray – welcome along.

Boris Johnson and Joe Biden believe there remains “a crucial window for diplomacy and for Russia to step back from its threats towards Ukraine” after a 40-minute call between the two leaders overnight. Russia is sending thousands more troops to its border with Ukraine in a sign that Vladimir Putin could extend the crisis for weeks, as Johnson warned the situation had become “very, very dangerous”. The US is moving its remaining embassy staff in Ukraine from the capital, Kyiv, to the city of Lviv, further west. A White House spokeswoman said: “We are in the window when an invasion could begin at any time.” The British ambassador has remained in Kyiv, along with a core team. Join us for live coverage of the crisis.

A video address from the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said: “We are told that February 16 will be the day of attack.” In another message he said: “They are trying to frighten us by yet again naming a date for the start of military action … We strive for peace and want to solve all issues exclusively through negotiations.”

Putin’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said in a meeting with Putin staged for the cameras: “It seems to me that our possibilities [for negotiation] are far from being exhausted. They certainly should not continue indefinitely. But at this stage I would suggest that they continue and be intensified,” to which Putin assented.

At the same time, a senior Russian diplomat told the Guardian that Russia would be within its rights to “counterattack” against a Ukrainian attack on the population in “Donbas or wherever”. Donbas is the region of eastern Ukraine where Russia has armed and funded an insurgency since 2014, and where the Kremlin has handed out hundreds of thousands of Russian passports. US officials have said they believe Russia is preparing a “false flag” incident that could be used as a pretext for an intervention. Western diplomatic efforts have continued. The German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, is due to meet Putin in Moscow today while Johnson is to chair a Cobra emergency meeting.

* * *

PM answers to Met – Boris Johnson is expected to deny wrongdoing to the police over partygate, arguing his presence at Downing Street gatherings in lockdown was part of the working day. The prime minister has until Friday to answer a questionnaire that may lead to a fixed penalty notice. No 10 said his response to the Metropolitan police would remain private. Scotland Yard will reportedly reveal the number of people fined at each partygate event that is being investigated and explain why the decision was taken, civil servants have been told. Speaking on a visit in Scotland, Johnson said he would have “a lot more in due course” to say on the partygate row once the police investigation was concluded, at which point the full investigation by Sue Gray is expected to be published. Any penalty awarded by the police has the potential to spark fresh expressions of no confidence in Johnson from Tory MPs.

* * *

Canada emergency – Justin Trudeau has invoked an emergency law giving his Canadian government sweeping, month-long powers to fight a growing number of “illegal and dangerous” blockades. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Alberta announced they had seized a truck full of firearms at a blockade near the US border. The deputy prime minister, Chrystia Freeland, said the Act would bar the use of crowdfunding websites for illegal activities and punish companies whose trucks were being used in the protests. It comes after a hack of the crowdfunding site GiveSendGo revealed substantial financial support from outside Canada, which Freeland called an attack on democracy. Both the city of Ottawa and the province of Ontario had already declared states of emergency before Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act.

* * *

More help for abuse victims – Domestic abuse survivors would find it easier to move away from perpetrators under proposals unveiled by ministers. The plans, which are being put out to consultation, would scrap the so-called local connection qualification for social housing, which potentially forces victims to remain in the same community as their abuser. Making it easier for victims to remove perpetrators from joint tenancies will also be considered. Further funding for councils will help ensure safe accommodation spaces such as refuges and shelters that can provide healthcare, social workers and benefits, interpreters, immigration advice, drug or alcohol support and other specialist services.

* * *

‘Unfortunate editorialising’ – A judge has thrown out Sarah Palin’s lawsuit accusing the New York Times of defaming her by incorrectly linking her to a mass murder. But unusually, the jury has not been told of the judge’s decision and is continuing its deliberations. The judge said he expected Palin to appeal, and the appeals court “would greatly benefit from knowing how the jury would decide it”.

Sarah Palin arriving at a New York courthouse on Monday
Sarah Palin arriving at a New York courthouse on Monday. Photograph: Eduardo Muñoz/Reuters

Palin, the 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate, sued over an editorial linking her to a mass shooting that wounded the Democratic congresswoman Gabby Giffords. Judge Jed Rakoff said it was “an example of very unfortunate editorialising” by the paper but “the law here sets a very high standard [for actual malice]. The court finds that that standard has not been met.” The New York Times has not lost a libel case in a US courtroom in more than 50 years.

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Heart in the whitebait’s place – Scientists at Harvard and Emory universities have engineered an artificial fish whose tail is powered by cells from a human heart. It doesn’t sound all that necessary, but they say the “biohybrid” of paper, plastic, gelatin and two strips of living heart muscle cells marks a hopeful step in the advancement of heart treatments. “The heart is extremely complex and it’s not enough to mimic the anatomy,” said Kit Parker, one of the authors of the study. “One must recreate the biophysics in order to have the robust behaviour required of building engineered hearts for children born with malformed hearts.” The artificial fish swam for more than 100 days, during which the muscle cells even grew stronger.

Today in Focus podcast: The view from Kyiv right now

As US intelligence sources warn of an imminent Russian invasion, residents of the Ukrainian capital are refusing to be cowed, reports Shaun Walker.

Lunchtime read: ‘Every year it astounds us’

Archaeologists excavating the windswept Ness of Brodgar are unearthing a treasure trove of neolithic villages, tombs, weapons and mysterious religious artefacts, some to be displayed in a blockbuster exhibition.

The standing stones of Stenness, Orkney, built around 3000-2500BC
The standing stones of Stenness, Orkney, built around 3000-2500BC. Photograph: theasis/Getty Images/iStock

Sport

On day 11 of the Winter Olympics, Russian Kamila Valieva returns to the ice after being cleared to compete again at the Beijing Games despite a positive doping test hanging over her head. The 15-year-old figure skater has been caught in a complicated mess that has been coming for years, writes Sean Ingle, while Bryan Armen Graham argues that the blame lies with the coaches and organisations who have failed her. Meanwhile, the US sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson, who was banned from the summer Olympics for a similar offence, questioned the decision.

Eddie Jones is hopeful of unleashing Manu Tuilagi and Courtney Lawes against Wales when England’s Six Nations campaign resumes on Saturday week. Stuart Broad has hit out at his “unjust” omission from England’s Test squad, describing the “five-minute” phone call from Andrew Strauss that delivered the news as a case of being “blindsided”. The FIA has chosen not to disclose the findings of its inquiry into the controversial climax of the Formula One world championship-deciding Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last season. And Ralf Rangnick has turned to his sports psychologist Sascha Lense to try to rebuild Manchester United’s confidence and end their habits of losing leads.

Business

It could be another turbulent day on the markets after Asian stocks fell sharply today in line with the big losses in London and Europe yesterday. The FTSE is due to lose about 0.4% at the opening although hopes of more diplomacy in Ukraine could take the edge off investor nerves. Oil has dropped about 1% today while the pound is flat at $1.353 and €1.196. Our economics team look at whether the Bank of England is right to be pushing interest rates higher or whether the denizens of Threadneedle Street are merely laying the groundwork for the next recession.

The papers

Our Guardian splash headline today says “‘Very, very dangerous’: PM’s warning on Russia build-up”. The i has “Last-ditch efforts to stop war in Europe” while the Mirror’s read is “Final warning from west: Last chance to stop war”. Not the least bit inflammatory is the Express: “Final warning Putin! It’s peace or you’ll pay high price”.

Guardian front page, 15 February 2022
The Guardian’s front page, Tuesday 15 February 2022 Photograph: Guardian

“Lavrov’s hint at ‘way forward’ lifts hopes on averting war in Ukraine” – that’s the Financial Times, and the Times and Telegraph have similar headlines but attributed to Boris Johnson and Joe Biden instead. The Metro’s tack is a little different: “PM: just say ‘no’ … ‘Europe hooked on Russian gas supplies’” – Johnson said countries like France and Germany needed to stand up to Putin and “get Nord Stream out of the bloodstream”.

There’s a basement strapline for Ukraine in the Mail but its lead is “33 die without justice in post office scandal”, which is about people running post offices being wrongly accused of fraud and theft. As on other fronts, Naomi Campbell is shown holding her baby daughter.

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