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By ALEX WICKHAM
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Good Monday morning.
DRIVING THE DAY
PUTIN’S EXECUTIONERS: Western leaders are preparing to dramatically increase sanctions on Russia this week after evidence emerged its soldiers massacred hundreds of Ukrainian civilians in execution-style killings in Bucha and Irpin, two cities near Kyiv. NATO is also expected to ramp up military support to Ukraine and provide it with tanks for the first time. Over the weekend, the international community condemned Russian President Putin’s forces following reports that Ukrainian civilians had been shot dead with their hands tied behind their backs. Ukraine said 410 bodies had been found in towns around the capital, and there were also widespread reports of Russian soldiers raping Ukrainian women. Boris Johnson said on Sunday night: “Russia’s despicable attacks against innocent civilians in Irpin and Bucha are yet more evidence that Putin and his army are committing war crimes in Ukraine.”
Coming soon: Playbook is told the U.K. government is likely to announce new sanctions on Russia this week. Britain has been pushing EU nations including France and Germany to agree tougher measures on energy — where Ukraine is calling for a full embargo on Russian oil gas and coal — as well as closing ports to Russian vessels and goods, and further measures targeting Russia’s gold reserves. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is traveling to Poland today where she will meet Ukrainian and Polish ministers, before she heads to Brussels for meetings with G7 and NATO counterparts on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
EUROPE’S RESPONSE: An EU official told my POLITICO colleague Helen Collis that EU countries have agreed to prepare — and possibly speed through and tighten — the next phase of sanctions. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told reporters in Berlin: “We will decide on further measures in the circle of allies in the coming days.” And he vowed: “President Putin and his supporters will feel the consequences.” Charles Michel, president of the European Council, said he was “shocked by haunting images of atrocities committed by [the] Russian army. Further EU sanctions & support are on their way.” France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the strongest possible economic and international pressure must be “maintained and reinforced” on Russia.
Reality check: As my colleague Jakob Hanke Vela reports in this morning’s Brussels Playbook, German Economy Minister Robert Habeck discounted sanctions on energy, saying that while Berlin was moving to reduce gas imports week by week, a sudden import ban would harm the EU more than Russia. Instead, Habeck said, the government would move to expropriate and nationalize refineries and energy infrastructure owned by Russian companies in Germany, confirming earlier reports in POLITICO and others.
THE EVIDENCE: Human Rights Watch says it has collected evidence of Russian war crimes in multiple Ukrainian cities. In one case, “Russian forces in the village of Staryi Bykiv, in Chernihiv region, rounded up at least six men on February 27, and later executed them, according to the mother of one of the men.” In another, “Russian forces in Bucha, about 30 kilometers northwest of Kyiv, rounded up five men and summarily executed one of them. A witness told Human Rights Watch that soldiers forced the five men to kneel on the side of the road, pulled their T-shirts over their heads, and shot one of the men in the back of the head.” In a third incident: “Russian soldiers in the village of Vorzel, about 50 kilometers northwest of Kyiv, threw a smoke grenade into a basement, then shot a woman and a 14-year-old child as they emerged from the basement, where they had been sheltering.”
On the ground: The BBC’s Jeremy Bowen has been in Bucha and Hostomel, outside Kyiv, and filed a series of essential reports over the past three days documenting Russian war crimes. On Friday, Bowen found evidence of unarmed Russian civilians shot dead, with the bodies of other murdered civilians burned in an apparent attempt to destroy evidence. On Saturday, Bowen reported seeing at least 20 bodies, some with their hands tied behind their backs. On Sunday, he interviewed a woman whose son was shot dead by Russian soldiers, who then took over their house and apparently held a party with large numbers of bottles of vodka and whisky. Bowen says he and his team will retain all the video and photos they have taken for the record. In her disturbing report for the Sunday Times, Louise Callaghan reported the mutilated bodies of men, women and children had been found in a basement.
Execution-style killings: The Times’ Catherine Philp has this dispatch from Bucha in today’s paper. She reports seeing the bodies of the dead men: “One has his hands tied behind his back with army boot laces; another with plastic tape wound round and round his wrists. A third has his ankles bound with electrical cable, an empty Russian ration box by his side. All of their shoes are missing.” Philp counted eight men, “all in civilian dress and shot through the head and chest.” She says there is evidence of similar crimes, as well as of women being raped, in other towns around Kyiv. Melinda Simmons, Britain’s ambassador to Ukraine, tweeted: “Rape is a weapon of war. Though we don’t yet know the full extent of its use in Ukraine it’s already clear it was part of [the Russian] arsenal. Women raped in front of their kids, girls in front of their families, as a deliberate act of subjugation. Rape is a war crime.”
Satellite proof: Chilling images released by the U.S. satellite firm Maxar overnight appear to show Russian troops had dug a 45-foot long mass grave in a church yard in Bucha.
C speaks: Richard Moore, aka C, the chief of MI6, said last night: “We knew Putin’s invasion plans included summary executions by his military and intelligence services. The reports of execution-style killings of civilians emerging from liberated areas are horrifying and chilling.”
ZELENSKYY SPEAKS: Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivered this powerful nightly address: “Hundreds of people were killed. Tortured, executed civilians. Corpses on the street. Mined areas. Even the bodies of the dead were mined … Concentrated evil has come to our land. Murderers. Torturers. Rapists. Looters, who call themselves the army, and who deserve only death after what they did.” As Playbook’s own Zoya Sheftalovich noted in a Twitter thread on the speech, Zelenskyy also directly addressed the mothers of Russian soldiers, saying: “I want every mother of every Russian soldier to see the bodies of those who have been killed in Bucha, in Irpin, in Hostomel. What did they do? Why were they murdered? … Why were women strangled after their earrings were ripped out of their ears? How could women be raped and murdered in front of their children? Their bodies tortured even after their deaths?”
Hard truths: In his address, Zelenskyy also took aim at Western leaders who he says enabled Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine. Zelenskyy said the U.N. Security Council would meet on Tuesday to consider Russia’s war crimes, noting that there would be a new sanctions package proposed. “But I’m sure that’s not enough,” Zelenskyy said. “More conclusions must be drawn. Not just about Russia, but also about the political behavior that actually allowed this evil to come onto our land.” He name-checked former German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former French President Nicolas Sarkozy directly, saying: “I invite Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Sarkozy to visit Bucha, to see what the policy of 14 years of concessions to Russia has led to,” adding that he wants the them “to see with their own eyes the tortured Ukrainian men and women.” Zoya explains why Zelenskyy named the duo here.
Zelenskyy at the Grammys: The Ukrainian president also made a surprise appearance at the Grammy Awards ceremony in the early hours of this morning. “What is more opposite to music? The silence of ruined cities and killed people,” Zelenskyy said, calling on the audience to help his country “in any way you can.” More here.
Tanks arriving soon: Separately, Zelenskyy told CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday that Russia’s war crimes amounted to “genocide.” The Sun’s Harry Cole reports the Ukrainian president also said in another video address that he had “agreed on new defensive support for Ukraine” in a call with Boris Johnson, adding: “Thank you Boris for the leadership! Historical leadership. I’m sure of it.” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told Times Radio’s Tom Newton Dunn yesterday that NATO had agreed for the first time to send tanks and heavy armor to help defend Donbas. “We will be receiving tanks shortly. I cannot say more now but it will be in the news this week.”
NOT SUCH A PROUD MOMENT: Some nine in 10 refugees who have been granted visas under the Homes for Ukraine program have still not reached the U.K., the Times’ Steve Swinford reports. We were told by allies of Home Secretary Priti Patel and Leveling Up Secretary Michael Gove last week that they had ordered officials to speed up the process. There will be pressure on them this morning to explain how that’s going. Swinford has more anti-Patel briefing, including that Johnson considers the Home Office a “basket case.” One Cabinet minister tells the paper: “I think even Boris realises he’s at the end of the road with Priti as home secretary. The Home Office has been a mess for decades but at this point you have to accept she isn’t going to be the one to sort it out.”
NEW GIG: Today marks 73 years since the foundation of NATO, and its flag will fly above Downing Street today. The PM has also this morning appointed David Quarrey, who was previously the deputy national security adviser, as the U.K.’s next permanent representative to NATO.
**The 15-minute city: Hype or real solution? Read this story and much more in the inaugural newsletter of POLITICO’s Global Policy Lab: Living Cities, a collaborative journalism project exploring life in Europe’s cities. Read it today.**
ETHICS CHIEF FINED: In the story that perhaps sums up the Partygate scandal best so far, the government’s former head of propriety and ethics Helen McNamara has been fined by the police for attending a lockdown-breaking party in the Cabinet Secretary’s Office at 70 Whitehall. The Telegraph’s Martin Evans, Ben Riley-Smith and Tony Diver got the scoop, reporting that McNamara’s karaoke machine was used at a “raucous” bash on June 18, 2020, and she’s been given a £50 fine. The paper reports: “Among those in attendance during the early part of the evening were Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s former senior adviser and Sir Mark Sedwill, the former Cabinet Secretary — who before leaving warned partygoers not to mess up his office.” McNamara left government last year and now works on corporate affairs at the Premier League.
Oh: The karaoke machine mentioned in the Telegraph story brings Partygate round full circle. Playbook has it on good authority that the well-used machine in question was first brought into the Cabinet Office years ago (well before COVID) under the tenure of one ballad-loving senior official by the name of … Sue Gray.
And there’s more: The Guardian’s Aubrey Allegretti reports that No. 10 staff who were at the infamous suitcase-of-wine party the night before Prince Philip’s funeral have also been fined.
Good luck with that: Some Tories are not exactly thrilled with the Metropolitan Police’s decision to draw out the scandal with multiple “waves” of fines and the mystery of not knowing who exactly has got them. Tory MPs Steve Brine told BBC Westminster Hour’s Carolyn Quinn last night: “They should just be honest about who’s been tipped off with what and put it all out there and say, you know what, we got this wrong, or this person’s got this fine, because these guys in the press, they won’t focus on the issues of the local election, they’ll scratch around and try and dig all this stuff up again. You know, just be honest, and put it all out there, that would be my advice.”
SEEDY SENSATIONS: Tory MP David Warburton was admitted to psychiatric hospital with “severe shock and stress,” his wife told the BBC, after the Sunday Times’ Gabriel Pogrund scoop-of-the-year contender revealing he faced multiple sexual harassment claims and had been photographed next to an upturned oven dish laden with cocaine. The Tories have suspended the whip, and you have to assume there will be a by-election in Somerton and Frome soon (Tory majority 19,213).
Staffers’ view: The Tories appear to have moved swiftly to whack Warburton, certainly compared to some previous cases down the years, raising hopes among staffers of a more robust approach to sexual harassment claims from the new Chief Whip Chris Heaton-Harris. That said, the Times’ Steve Swinford says the whips were told about the allegations at least two weeks ago and didn’t act until fronted up by Pogrund on Saturday afternoon.
There is also a financial element to the story: Pogrund reported yesterday that Warburton had borrowed £100,000 from a Russian businessman without declaring it. The Guardian’s Jamie Grierson and Aubrey Allegretti report that one of Warburton’s relatives was given a job at the businessman’s firm.
Toast: The Mail on Sunday’s Glen Owen reported that Tory Party sources believe Warburton may have been targeted in a sting operation. In today’s Telegraph, Tony Diver says the case has been referred to MI6.
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TODAY IN WESTMINSTER
HOUSE OF COMMONS: Not sitting.
ENERGY ENDGAME: Boris Johnson and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng will finally unveil their long-awaited energy security plan on Thursday. Kwarteng rolled the pitch in the Sunday Telegraph. Here’s Playbook’s understanding of where things have ended up following the weeks-long behind-the-scenes wrangling, with a few key sticking points still to play for …
Massive expansion of offshore wind … including “floating offshore wind” where the sea is deeper, eg. in the Irish Sea.
More solar … with local consent, as is the case. Ministers are supportive as solar is seen as the cheapest and quickest-to-deploy energy source.
More large-scale nuclear … but target number is still undecided as of this morning, Playbook is told. Johnson has previously said nuclear is his “big bet” to get Britain off fossil fuels, and Kwarteng wants six or seven new nuclear power stations by 2030, but Chancellor Rishi Sunak has reportedly sought to scale back his ambitions, so this one is very much TBC. The i’s Hugo Gye reckons Johnson has won the funding battle with the Treasury. (Sunak will be checking his emails from Santa Monica over Easter.)
Big on small modular reactors: The Sunday Times’ Caroline Wheeler and Tim Shipman got there first on SMRs last year — interestingly, back then Sunak was a fan. Kwarteng is setting up a new government company, which will be called Great British Nuclear, to be staffed with nuclear and commercial experts. The idea is it will identify large sites, cut through planning red tape and raise private finance.
Onshore wind: Tricky after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps laid into the “eyesores” on a punchy Sunday broadcast round, despite Kwarteng (and the public) being pro. Playbook is told the government will continue to support onshore wind in Great Britain through its “Contracts for Difference” energy auctions, with Scotland expected to continue to be the main beneficiary. There have been no decisions yet on planning relaxation for onshore wind farms in England. In today’s Times, Steve Swinford says the PM will reject Kwarteng’s ambition to treble onshore wind capacity in favor of nuclear.
Community benefits: The Sun’s Harry Cole reckons homeowners who have a new onshore wind or solar farm built near their property will get massive energy discounts — Playbook is told that is on the money.
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY: Keir Starmer has been in charge of Labour for two years.
MEDIA NEWS: Chris Mason is the frontrunner for the still-vacant role of BBC political editor, the Sunday Times had yesterday.
PEACE OUT: Labour was accused of having someone “treasonous” on its frontbench ranks in a big Mail on Sunday Glen Owen story. The paper has footage of Fabian Hamilton, the shadow minister for peace and disarmament, appearing to tell a CND rally in 2019 that he’d be “quite happy” if Russian hackers took control and disabled Trident, “as long as we could do the same to theirs.” Watch the footage for yourself here. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace called on Keir Starmer to sack Hamilton for “siding with” Vladimir Putin.
POLITICAL FOOTBALL: English football will have a new independent regulator to assess the suitability of potential new club owners or directors, under plans outlined by Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries in a letter seen by the FT. Both the Football Association and the Premier League are against a fully independent regulator for different reasons, leaving Dorries on a collision course with the sporting bodies. It won’t be a particularly speedy course however, with no plans to introduce the legislation until next year.
PO, SCHULZE: DIT slipped out the news last week that Ernst Schulze, chief executive of DP World U.K. (i.e. the owners of P&O Ferries,) is no longer on the transport trade advisory group, Emilio Casalicchio reports for POLITICO Trade UK Pros. Check out the “updates” bit at the bottom of the page here. The reason for his departure is not clear. One minister told Emilio that Schulze was kicked off as punishment, after P&O sacked almost 800 staff in a surprise and brutal move. “We value DP World’s huge investments in the U.K. but they have been let down by the conduct of management at their subsidiary,” said one government official.
However: Others insist Schulze decided to step down himself and won’t confirm whether he jumped before being pushed. The trade department said TAG members are appointed for their expertise and not their organizational affiliation. Schulze failed to respond to a request for comment by Playbook’s deadline.
Lords: Sits from 2.30 p.m. with questions on the Falkland Islands, the humanitarian situation in Ethiopia and College of Policing Guidance on live facial recognition … Peers will then quickly move through the third reading of the Building Safety Bill … Followed by the main business: Ping pong of the Nationality and Borders Bill. Last time out the Commons stripped away most of the Lords’ changes to the bill, which concerns handling of refugees and the asylum system. Peers are likely to hit back with more changes.
IN EASTERN EUROPE
FOUR-BÁN: Far-right Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán described Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskyy as one of many “opponents” in a victory speech delivered overnight, after the nationalist leader won Sunday’s parliamentary elections. The Kremlin-friendly leader’s Fidesz party easily defeated an alliance of opposition parties to win Orbán his fourth term in office — he’s used the previous three to reshape Hungary’s constitution in his favor and repeatedly clash with EU institutions. Though his government has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and backed EU sanctions on the former, Orbán has taken a softer line than much of Europe by opposing any ban on Russian energy imports and declining to provide Ukraine with weapons. POLITICO’s Lili Bayer has more.
Are we the baddies? Orbán told supporters in Budapest that “they will remember this victory until the end of our lives because we had to fight against a huge amount of opponents: The left at home, the international left, the bureaucrats in Brussels, the money of the Soros empire, the international media and even the Ukrainian president in the end.”
Another one for Putin: There was also no surprise in Serbia, where incumbent president and Orbán-ally Aleksandar Vučić secured his second term in office following elections on Sunday. Aleks Eror has the details for POLITICO. Vučić reaffirmed his plan to keep in place Serbia’s military neutrality on Ukraine after the polls closed — Eror also had a good piece for POLITICO just before election day on the balancing act between the EU and Moscow Vučić has tried to negotiate.
Welsh Secretary Simon Hart broadcast round: Sky News (7.05 a.m.) … Times Radio (7.20 a.m.) … LBC (7.50 a.m.) … ITV GMB (8.30 a.m.) … talkRADIO (8.50 a.m.).
Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson broadcast round: ITV GMB (7.20 a.m.) … Sky News (8.05 a.m.) … Times Radio (8.35 a.m.).
Also on Nick Ferrari at Breakfast (LBC): Former Labour adviser Andrew Fisher (7.10 a.m.) … Zelenskyy adviser Oleg Ustenko (8.20 a.m.) … Phone-in with Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg (9 a.m.).
Also on Times Radio Breakfast: Policy Editor at Carbon Brief Simon Evans (7.35 a.m.) … Professor Ted Baker, the outgoing chief inspector of hospitals (7.45 a.m.).
Also on Julia Hartley-Brewer breakfast show (talkRADIO): Foreign affairs committee Chairman Tom Tugendhat (8.05 a.m.) … Defense committee Chairman Tobias Ellwood (9.05 a.m.).
Cross Question with Iain Dale (LBC 8 p.m.): Columnist Ali Miraj … Die Welt’s Stefanie Bolzen … Tortoise Westminster reporter Lara Spirit … Broadcaster Petrie Hosken.
Reviewing the papers tonight: Sky News (10.30 and 11.30 p.m.): The Sun’s Harry Cole and the Guardian’s Jessica Elgot.
TODAY’S FRONT PAGES
(Click on the publication’s name to see its front page.)
Daily Express: Putin will pay for ‘despicable’ war crimes, vows PM.
Daily Mail: Putin’s stain on humanity.
Daily Mirror: Genocide.
Daily Star: Lie-in of duty.
Financial Times: EU plans fresh Russia sanctions as evidence grows of war crimes.
i: Massacre of innocents.
Metro: ‘Worse than ISIS.’
POLITICO UK: Hungarian PM Orbán set for fourth straight term with big election win.
PoliticsHome: Government rules out rationing energy after Labour suggests they should plan for it in wake of Ukraine crisis.
The Daily Telegraph: Allies want Putin to face justice for war atrocities.
The Guardian: Horror in Bucha — Russia accused of torture and massacre of civilians.
The Independent: ‘A terrible war crime.’
The Sun: Coke shame MP in hospital.
The Times: Civilians ‘shot in the streets.’
WESTMINSTER WEATHER: 🌧🌧🌧 Light rain all day. Highs of 13C.
BLOGOSPHERE NEWS: LabourList is about to announce its new editor this morning … Playbook hears it will be Elliot Chappell, currently a reporter at the site.
BIRTHDAYS: DUP Commons Chief Whip Sammy Wilson … East Yorkshire MP Greg Knight … Gloucester MP Richard Graham … Former Farming Minister Jim Fitzpatrick … Tory peer Karren Brady … Crossbench peer Donald Curry.
PLAYBOOK COULDN’T HAPPEN WITHOUT: My editor Zoya Sheftalovich, reporter Andrew McDonald and producer Grace Stranger.
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