Monday briefing: Russia and Ukraine to return to negotiating table

Top story: Zelenskiy seeks peace ‘without delay’

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

Representatives from Russia and Ukraine will meet this week for a new round of talks aimed at ending the war, with Volodymyr Zelenskiy saying he hoped they would bring peace “without delay”. The new talks are set to start in Turkey on either Monday or Tuesday. Zelenskiy is desperate to halt the bombardment of cities such as Mariupol, where officials said the situation was “catastrophic”. He also said he could make compromises about the status of the eastern Donbas region but said any agreement would have to be guaranteed by third parties and put to a referendum. It comes after Ukrainian intelligence said Putin has been forced to rethink his strategy after failing to take Kyiv in the early days of the war, and that he now aims to split Ukraine into two, emulating the postwar division between North and South Korea.

Joe Biden has said that he was not calling for regime change in Russia when he said that Putin “cannot remain in power” as the White House continued its efforts to talk down the weekend gaffe. When asked by a reporter in yesterday if he wanted to see the Russian president removed from office, the US president said “no”. French president Emmanuel Macron called for restraint in both words and actions in dealing with the Ukraine conflict. A unit of 30 Ukrainian special forces troops using quad bikes and drones played a large part in halting the massive Russian armoured convoy that threatened Kyiv in the first weeks of the war. The commuter town of Irpin near Kyiv has been under bombardment for weeks and some of the last residents to escape tell a story of constant noise, near misses and unbearable conditions. You can follow all the developments at our live blog, and catch up on what we know so far on day 33.

Play Video 1:24 Will Smith slaps and swears at Chris Rock on stage at the Oscars – watch the full video

The slap – The annual Hollywood backslapping fest that is the Oscars was thrown into chaos last night when Will Smith strode on to the stage at the Dolby theatre in Los Angeles and slapped Chris Rock in the face after the comic made a joke about Smith’s wife. On stage to present the award for best documentary, Rock cracked a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith being lined up to star in GI Jane 2 – seemingly a reference to her shaved head. (Pinkett Smith suffers from alopecia, a condition that causes hair loss.) Her husband was enraged by the gag and rushed the stage and struck Rock in front of a horrified audience. He then twice told Rock to “Keep my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth”. In the pandemonium that followed, Smith was awarded best actor for King Richard and broke down in tears as he accepted his statuette while apologising to for “doing crazy things”. Elsewhere, Kenneth Branagh won his first Oscar for best screenplay for Belfast, Jane Campion won best director for The Power of the Dog, and Jessica Chastain won best actress for The Eyes of Tammy Faye. The event’s hosts – Amy Schumer, Wanda Sykes and Regina Hall – made jokes about race, sexism and Hollywood in their opening segment, although it seemed tame compared with what followed. And here’s the all-important red carpet gallery.

School shake-up – Changes to the school system in England to be unveiled in a white paper today will allow councils to establish their own academy trusts and give schools the opportunity to leave failing ones. A target date of 2030 will be set for converting council-maintained schools into academies and for them to have joined or be preparing to join a multi-academy trust (Mat). The plans also include a “parent pledge” for families to request additional support for their children, but that has been dismissed as a “gimmick” by school leaders. A survey reveals that a majority of adults think childhoods have got worse in the UK amid Covid, mental health issues and poverty.

China surge – Shanghai is entering a phased lockdown to curb an Omicron-fuelled Covid-19 outbreak that has hit China with its highest caseloads since the early days of the pandemic. China’s biggest city, which has a population of 25 million, will lock down its eastern half from today until Friday, when it will be the turn of the western side. The ongoing outbreak in Hong Kong has seen an influx of doctors from the Chinese mainland and workers to build hospitals as Beijing tightens its grip on the city. In the UK, less than half of the severely immunosuppressed adults in England have had their Covid booster, with levels of uptake differing dramatically across ethnicities.

Mental health deaths – An inquiry into the deaths of 1,500 people while being cared for as patients of NHS mental health services in Essex has found evidence of “dispassionate” mistreatment. The deaths were “unexpected, unexplained or self-inflicted” between 2000 and 2020 and occurred while they were receiving treatment from NHS mental health trusts that for years had faced persistent complaints of providing poor care. The initial findings of an inquiry by Geraldine Strathdee have revealed “unimaginable pain and heartache” for the families.

Royal crisis – The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have insisted they are interested only in a “better future” for the Commonwealth, not in who leads it, as they ended their controversial tour of the Caribbean. The royal couple’s visit was punctuated by calls for slavery reparations and fury over the Windrush scanda and Prince William reportedly called an emergency summit with his most senior aides this week to discuss where it leaves the monarchy.

Today in Focus podcast: the race to mine the oceans

One of the largest mining operations ever seen on Earth aims to despoil an ocean we are only just beginning to understand, global environment editor Jonathan Watts says.

Today in Focus The race to mine the deep sea Sorry your browser does not support audio – but you can download here and listen 00:00:00 00:32:12

Lunchtime read: ‘Bond was quite frightening’ – Jane Seymour

Facebook Twitter Jane Seymour at home in Malibu, California. Photograph: Philip Cheung/The Guardian

Jane Seymour discusses her breakthrough part in the Bond film Live and Let Die and why the film would never be made now, explains how she has stayed friends with her four ex-husbands and her new role as an action hero.


With speculation about his future as England captain at fever pitch after England slumped to defeat against West Indies in Grenada to confirm another lost series, Joe Root has recommitted himself to the role. Lewis Hamilton and other F1 drivers have made it clear they still have serious misgivings about racing in Saudi Arabia, after Red Bull’s Max Verstappen finally vanquished Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in Sunday’s race. Plans that would enable football clubs to qualify for the Champions League based on historic performance and not their league position are back on the table, a year after the collapse of the European Super League. Gareth Southgate says it would be “hugely unfortunate” if Harry Kane was to break the England goalscoring record in a match where supporters were banned. Goals from lifelong fans Alessia Russo and Katie Zelem helped Manchester United to come from behind and defeat Everton 3-1 in front of a club‑record crowd of 20,241 at Old Trafford for a Women’s Super League match. Biniam Girmay became the first rider from Eritrea to win a cycling World Tour (elite) race when he prevailed in the Ghent-Wevelgem classic. And Cameron Norrie overcame a late wobble to defeat Hugo Gaston and move into the fourth round of the Miami Open, as Andy Murray, Dan Evans and Heather Watson all fell on Saturday.


Major investors led by Legal & General Investment Management have launched a campaign calling for Sainsbury’s to help tackle the cost of living crisis by becoming the first supermarket group to pay all its workers the “real living wage” of £9.90 an hour. The spread of lockdowns in China has put the skids under Asian markets today and the FTSE100 is set to shed around one quarter of a percentage point this morning. The pound is on $1.315 and €1.200.

The papers

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The tabloids mostly lead on the royal tour debacle with the Sun splash saying “fresh prince”, in reference to William’s planned modernisation of the firm. “A battle of Wills” says the Mirror, while the Mail’s lead is Mail “William: I’ll end royal era of ‘never explain’”. “Putin wants to split Ukraine in two like Korea, warns Kyiv”, reads the Guardian’s main headline, while the Times also opts for that line with “Putin wants to divide Ukraine, West warned”. The i says “Russia is ‘trying to split Ukraine in two’”. The FT reports on the backlash over Biden’s weekend gaffe with “Blinken softens Biden remarks by saying US has no aim to oust Putin”, as does the Telegraph – “Backlash at Biden for ‘Putin must go’ comment” – and the Scotsman “West rolls back on Biden call for regime change in Russia”. The Daily Record says “3 million face debt timebomb” and the Express also leads on the cost of living crisis: “New council tax cut on way for millions”.

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