(Bloomberg) -- In a largely symbolic step, the International Criminal Court based in The Hague issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin, citing his alleged role in the “war crime” of unlawfully deporting thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia. The Kremlin, which doesn’t recognize the court’s judgments, termed the move unacceptable and void. 

China announced that Xi Jinping will travel to Russia on a three-day state visit starting on Monday, his first trip there since Kremlin forces invaded Ukraine and a strong show of support for President Vladimir Putin. Xi and Putin are expected to discuss Beijing’s 12-point blueprint for ending the war, a document dismissed by most Western governments. 

Turkey will ratify Finland’s accession into NATO, bringing it a step closer to welcoming its 31st member as the ripples from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine spread across the European security landscape. Sweden’s bid to join the military alliance is still in doubt.   

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Key Developments

  • IMF Changes Lending Rules, Paving Way for Billions for Ukraine
  • Putin Faces War-Crime Warrant Issued by International Court
  • Xi to Visit Russia for First Time Since Putin Invaded Ukraine
  • Slovakia Will Send Entire Fleet of MiG-29 Jets to Ukraine 
  • NATO Edges Closer to Expansion as Turkey Backs Finland’s Bid
  • Ukraine Crop Deal Renewal Unresolved a Day Before It Ends

(All times CET)  

Kremlin Calls ICC Warrant for Putin Unacceptable (6:10 p.m.)

The Kremlin in a statement termed the International Criminal Court arrest warrant for President Vladimir Putin unacceptable and void. Russia, like the US, isn’t a signatory to the Hague-based court’s statutes. 

Chief Ukrainian Prosecutor Hails ‘Historic’ Warrant (5:19 p.m.)

The ICC arrest warrant for Putin sends a global signal that Russia’s current regime is criminal and its leaders will be brought to justice, Ukrainian Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin said on his office’s website. 

“World leaders will think thrice whether to shake his hand or sit with him at the negotiations table,” Kostin said of Putin. 

The prosecutor general’s office has registered forced deportations of more than 16,000 children from Ukraine by Russia, saying the actual number may be higher. Ukraine has managed to bring back just 308 kids so far.

ICC Issues Arrest Warrant for Russia’s Putin (4:20 p.m.)

The International Criminal Court on Friday issued an arrest warrant for Russia’s president and for Maria Lvova-Belova, Putin’s presidential commissioner for children’s rights, in both cases for their roles in an alleged scheme to forcibly deport thousands of Ukrainian kids.

The efforts were termed a “war crime” by the Hague-based court, whose jurisdiction isn’t recognized by Russia, China or the US, among others. Lvova-Belova has been sanctioned by the US, EU, the UK and Canada for her alleged role in illegal deportations. 

Officials in Kyiv celebrated the move, with foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba saying on Twitter that the “wheels of justice are turning.” 

NATO Edges Closer to Expansion as Turkey Backs Finland’s Bid (3:35 p.m.)

Turkey will ratify Finland’s accession into NATO, bringing the military alliance a step closer to welcoming its 31st member as the ripples from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine spread across the European security landscape.

Turkey has decided to start the process in parliament, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at a news conference Friday together with his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto in Ankara. 

Crop-Export Deal Renewal Still Unresolved (2:30 p.m.) 

The extension of the deal that’s bolstered Ukraine’s crop exports is still clouded by uncertainty as talks continue before the existing term ends on Saturday. 

The agreement — brokered in July by Turkey and the UN — has been vital to shoring up global grain supplies after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent shock-waves through agriculture markets. Shipments continue for now, with vessels still heading into and out of Ukrainian Black Sea ports and new deals being inked as well. 

Russia this week proposed extending the initiative for 60 days — half the duration of its prior two terms — but Kyiv has pushed back, saying that it contradicted the terms of the overarching agreement.  


Kyiv Nightly Curfew to be Shortened (2:02 p.m.)

Ukraine’s capital will shorten its nightly curfew and extend operating hours for shopping centers and public transport as of March 26, mayor Vitali Klitschko told reporters on Friday. 

The curfew at that point will last for five hours instead of six, from midnight to 5 a.m. 

Sunak Spokesman Says UK Wants China to Play ‘Genuine’ Role (1:21 p.m.)

A aide to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the UK would “obviously welcome” China if it “wants to play a genuine role in restoring sovereignty to Ukraine,” as Xi Jinping prepared for a three-day visit to Russia. 

“We have called on them before to use their influence over Russia to try and encourage Putin to withdraw his troops from Ukraine,” Sunak spokesperson Jamie Davis told reporters. 

However, any plan “not predicated on Ukraine’s sovereignty and self-determination is not a peace deal at all,” Davies added.  

Xi to Visit Russia Next Week (1 p.m.) 

Xi Jinping is making his first state visit to Russia since it invaded Ukraine over a year ago in a show of support for President Vladimir Putin.

The Chinese leader will be in Russia from Monday to Wednesday, according to a statement from China’s Foreign Ministry. Xi, who secured a third term as president a week ago, will be the most prominent international leader to visit Putin since the Kremlin’s war on its neighbor started in February 2022. 

Xi is expected to discuss China’s 12-point blueprint for ending the war, a document dismissed by most Western governments. Criticism of the plan was more muted from Kyiv, which has sought talks at a leader level with China since the war broke out while also urging Beijing to take a more critical stance against Russia. 

Bank of Russia Sticks to Hawkish Bias (12:07 p.m.) 

Russia’s central bank kept interest rates unchanged and repeated guidance that it will consider a hike in the coming months even with inflation poised to fall to its target already in March.

In a statement accompanying the decision on Friday, the central bank said higher borrowing costs could soon be in play “if pro-inflation risks intensify,” almost word-for-word how it described policy plans in February.

Scholz Says Ukraine Needs ‘Security Guarantees’ (11:30 a.m.)

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Ukraine will need “security guarantees” after the war is over, even as he warned the government in Kyiv and its allies that they should be prepared for a “prolonged” conflict.

“The discussion about the form of such guarantees has been going on for months,” Scholz was quoted as saying Friday by the Handelsblatt newspaper. “But for that, there must first be an end to hostilities and a withdrawal of Russian troops,” the German leader said, adding that “all other questions follow on from that.”

Germany Mulls Training of Ukrainian Pilots (11:20 a.m.)

Germany is looking into training Ukrainian fighter-jet pilots and could quickly pave the way for Poland to re-export MIG-29 fighters to Ukraine if they’re from stocks from the former East Germany, according to a lawmaker from the ruling coalition.

“Germany should participate in efforts to train Ukrainian pilots, for example with lessons in flight simulators,” said Marcus Faber, a lawmaker from the Free Democrats. Germany is unlikely to send any of its Tornado fighters to Ukraine as they’re relatively difficult to maintain and spare parts are also lacking, Faber added.

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