Friday briefing: Biden to warn Xi over helping Russia

Top story: Zelenskiy urges Russians not to enlist

Morning everyone. I’m Martin Farrer and these are the top stories today.

Joe Biden will warn Chinese president Xi Jinping he faces “costs” if he helps Russia’s war effort when the pair speak for the first time since Vladimir Putin ordered troops into Ukraine. The US president will use the call scheduled at 1pm today to pile pressure on China to distance itself from its ally, and argue that it is not in Chinese interests to back a loser. It comes as Biden described the Russian president as a “murderous dictator, a pure thug” as his administration joined the UK, France, Albania, Ireland and Norway in accusing Russia of war crimes in Ukraine. It follows outrage over the Russian bombing of a theatre in the besieged city of Mariupol where women and children were sheltering.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy made another defiant late-night address in which he appealed to young Russians not to be “tricked” into risking their lives by signing up to bolster Moscow’s faltering invasion. Some military analysts think that Russian forces are now so bogged down and facing such resistance that they won’t be able to conquer Ukraine, although others point to successes for Putin in the south. US experts fear the Russian president could resort to using tactical nuclear weapons to break the stalemate, while US intelligence has seen signs of poor Russian troop morale. If you want more background on the war, here’s a podcast on whether war was inevitable, and there’s also what we know so far on day 23. Blasts have been heard in Lviv this morning and you can follow updates with the blog. As the journalist who staged a TV protest quits her job and pressure increases on the media in Russia, staff at the independent outlet Dozhd TV have fled to Istanbul and are wondering what to do next. And Arnold Schwarzenegger says the Russian people are being fed misinformation and called on Putin to stop the war.

P&O outrage – Ministers and trade unions have condemned P&O Ferries’ mass sacking of 800 British seafarers and replacement with agency crew as shameful and “completely unacceptable”, amid furious calls for action against the company’s Dubai owners. P&O Ferries’ services could be suspended for up to 10 days, disrupting its cross-Channel and Irish Sea routes, as politicians on both sides called on the government to stop a “scandalous betrayal”. Passengers were left stranded by the sudden cancellations, with one saying the sackings made them “ashamed to be British”. Many workers learned the news of their redundancy via a pre-recorded video message and have spoken of their devastation. “There were grown men in tears,” one said. Lawyers have mapped out the legal implications and said the workers could make unfair dismissal claims.

Covid concerns – Ministers failed to allow parliament enough opportunity to scrutinise the sweeping laws passed to tackle the Covid pandemic, according to MPs. The 329-page Coronavirus Act of 2020 included a wide range of emergency powers, but MPs were given only three days to debate it. It comes as rising numbers of people entering hospital with Covid are leading to other patients becoming infected, staff absences, delayed operations and long waits in emergency departments, experts have warned. In Hong Kong, the big question is why death rates are so high.

Donation doubts – A senior Conservative backbencher, Bernard Jenkin, said a “change in attitude” was required to improve transparency around attempts to curry favour with politicians as concerns grow about the lack of checks on wealthy Russians donating money to the party. He also expressed disbelief at Boris Johnson nominating the son of a former KGB officer, Evgeny Lebedev, for a peerage.

Burglary spree – A 12-year-old boy has denied carrying out a 10-month burglary spree at prestigious hotels in London, a court heard. The boy is charged with 14 counts of burglary, and his 13-year-old brother is accused of being involved in three. The targets included Claridge’s hotel in Mayfair, the Four Seasons in Park Lane and the Corinthia hotel in Whitehall, as well as the BBC Television Centre complex in White City. The pair, accompanied by their mother, pleaded not guilty.

Facebook Twitter A display for the orchid festival at Kew Gardens. Photograph: Neil Hall/EPA

Grand day out – Visitor numbers at Britain’s museums, galleries, zoos, castles and country houses increased by 25% last year, but are still down 57% on pre-pandemic levels. The most-visited attraction was Windsor Great Park, which drew 5.4m visitors – the first time the list was not topped by a London attraction. In second place was the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, which saw a 61% increase in visitors to 1.9m. Chester Zoo was in third place, while other outdoor sites in the top 20 included RHS Garden Wisley, Jeskyns community woodland in Kent and Longleat in Wiltshire.

Today in Focus podcast

Across the country, journalist Nataliya Gumenyuk has been chronicling how people in Ukraine are just carrying on – and how that in itself is a form of resistance

Today in Focus Ukraine’s defiance Sorry your browser does not support audio – but you can download here and listen 00:00:00 00:28:43

Lunchtime read: Vashti Bunyan: ‘I didn’t even sing to my children’

Facebook Twitter Vashti Bunyan at home in Edinburgh. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

Groomed to be a 60s pop star, the folk singer Vashti Bunyan instead headed for the Hebrides in a horse-drawn cart and then withdrew from music for 30 years. In a memoir to be published this month, she recalls those fraught, naive but incomparable years.


Ben Stokes reflected on one of the most memorable hundreds of his career at the close of day two of the second Test in Barbados, with the all-rounder putting West Indies to the sword in fine style after a year of personal difficulties. The Ukrainian Andriy Yarmolenko was the hero as West Ham beat Sevilla after extra time to reach the Europa League quarter-finals. In the Premier League, Alex Iwobi scored in the 99th minute to fire Everton to a crucial 1-0 home win over Newcastle despite finishing the game with 10 men after Allan’s red card. Liam Farrell scored two tries as Wigan beat Castleford 33-22 in the Super League at the DW Stadium. Rafael Nadal quelled the challenge of a typically combustible Nick Kyrgios to reach the BNP Paribas Open semi-finals, as the Hollywood actor Ben Stiller was dragged into the drama in Indian Wells. George Russell has insisted there is no rivalry with his teammate Lewis Hamilton, as he prepares for his first race as a full-time driver with his new team, Mercedes. Brittney Griner’s detention in Russia for the possession of vape cartridges containing hashish oil has been extended until 19 May, according to the Russian state news agency, Tass. And before Friday’s deadline for offers to buy Chelsea from Roman Abramovich, we look at the known runners and riders.


The pound has risen a bit today after the Bank of England responded to the likelihood that the war in Ukraine will push inflation higher this year by raising interest rates back to the pre-pandemic level of 0.75%. The boss of John Lewis thinks inflation – currently 5.5% – could hit double figures. Sterling is buying $1.316 and €1.186.

The papers

Facebook Twitter The Guardian’s front page, Friday 18 March 2022

The Guardian leads with “Nations unite to condemn Putin over ‘war crimes’”, whereas the Times goes with the military line – “Ukraine takes fight to Putin” – and the Telegraph has “Russians target Patel and Wallace with fake video calls”. The Mirror likes the story of Britons helping Ukrainian refugees – “Band of mothers”.

The Mail leads with “Mutiny on the P&O Ferries” – ditto the Metro – and the FT has “P&O halts ferry crossings and sacks 800 sailors via Zoom call”. “Betrayal” says the Express, while the Sun says “Up ship creek”. The Yorkshire Post splash is “Unions to act over sacking of ferry staff” and the Daily Record says “Pushed out”. The i leads with “Part-human, part-monkey embryo is created by scientists”.

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