Russia’s Ukraine invasion has sparked a major refugee crisis that’s changing EU minds

Good morning. David Meyer here in Berlin, filling in for Alan.

According to the latest update from British intelligence, ongoing logistical difficulties and Ukrainian resistance continue to slow Russian gains following its invasion last week. The bombardment of Kharkiv, Kyiv, Mariupol, and Chernihiv continues, and according to the UN more than 850,000 people have been forced to flee Ukraine.

The vast majority of those refugees—whose numbers will surely enter the millions soon—have crossed into the European Union, in particular Poland. The last time the EU saw such a massive refugee influx was at the peak of the Syrian civil war in 2015. Then, its response was chaotic, with Angela Merkel’s Germany ultimately shouldering most of the load. This time has turned out differently.

This morning, the EU activated a tool called the Temporary Protection Directive for the first time since its creation in the wake of the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s. The decision means Ukrainians will get residence and work permits, and will be able to access education, housing, and medical care, in EU countries. Non-Ukrainian asylum seekers who were in the country and had to flee will also get protection in the EU. The European Commission is setting up a “Solidarity Platform” so EU countries can “exchange information about reception capacity,” though EU officials say the refugees can move freely in the bloc and settle where they like for now.

Depending on how the war progresses in Ukraine, many of the refugees will probably stay in the EU, continuing a Ukrainian brain drain that was already severely damaging the country. That could end up being good news for Europe, which has long had a dangerously shrinking workforce, but there are serious debates to be had about the thinking behind who gets welcomed and who doesn’t.

While Ukraine is a European country (the largest, not counting Russia) and right on the doorstep of countries like Poland and Hungary, the fact remains that these countries had a hard-hearted response to refugees fleeing wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East. There have also been multiple reports of African citizens and students who were in Ukraine being turned back by Polish border guards (and being thwarted by Ukrainian officials), which prompted Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari to point out that “all who flee a conflict situation have the same right to safe passage under UN convention, and the color of their passport or their skin should make no difference.” The EU has characterized such reports of discrimination as Russian propaganda, though many seem credible.

“We did genuinely consider [activating the Temporary Protection Directive] in the 2015–16 refugee crisis. However, we didn’t think it would address the issue,” said a senior European Commission official this morning. “You had thousands of people arriving on the Greek islands or in [Italy’s] Lampedusa every day, only 40% of which at any given time were of one nationality. This is primarily to address the situation of one nationality.”

Google, for its part, is trying to aid the humanitarian situation by launching an SOS alert on its core Search product in Ukraine. “When people search for refugee and evacuation information, they will see an alert pointing them to United Nations resources for refugees and asylum seekers,” global affairs chief Kent Walker said in a blog post yesterday. “We’re working with expert organizations to source helpful humanitarian information as the situation unfolds.”

Walker also explained that Google is adding “information on refugee and migrant centers in neighboring countries” to Google Maps—while also disabling some of that app’s live features within Ukraine, to hide information about traffic and footfall that could compromise people’s safety. Apple has done the same with its Maps product. Like Microsoft (see Brad Smith’s blog post from a couple of days ago), Google is also keeping an eye out for and providing protection from cyberattacks in Ukraine. And like Meta and Apple, it’s taking steps to combat Russian disinformation.

More news below, but do also read this piece by Yale’s Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, Anjani Jain, and Steven Tian about how the Ukraine invasion has forced academic institutions such as MIT to terminate partnerships with Russian institutions. “Did it take a brutal, murderous invasion of Ukraine for MIT to see this alliance with global pariahs as damaging?” they ask. “Clearly this was too little too late.”

Christiaan Hetzner contributed to this report.

David Meyer


Chinese response

China has finally called what’s going on in Ukraine a “war,” breaking away from the Kremlin-approved “special military operation” tag. It also talked vaguely about providing “mediation for the realization of the cease-fire.” However, it won’t join sanctions against Russia, and the U.S.’s Middle East partners aren’t being very helpful, either. (In related news, China is annoyed at the passage of a U.S. destroyer through the Taiwan Strait, accusing Washington of being provocative and trying to “embolden Taiwan separatist forces.”) Fortune

Oil prices

Crude prices rose above $110 a barrel today, amid a widespread boycott of Russian oil. Natural gas prices also rose a whopping 50% in Europe today, hitting a record price of $205 per megawatt-hour. Financial Times

Corporate taxes

President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address last night highlighted his plan to hit global corporations with a minimum 15% tax. Biden: “Just last year, 55 Fortune 500 corporations earned $40 billion in profits and paid zero dollars in federal income tax. That’s simply not fair.” (Bonus read: Elon Musk is again annoyed that Biden bigged up Ford and GM and ignored Tesla.) Fortune

COVID vaccines

Biden also said the U.S. would “deploy new vaccines within 100 days” if the emergence of a new COVID variant demands it. “I cannot promise a new variant won’t come, but I can promise you we’ll do everything within our power to be ready if it does,” he said. CNBC


Metaverse requirements

Meta says telecom networks will need big upgrades to support its ambition of building the “metaverse.” Here’s Meta’s VP of connectivity (a title that says it all), Dan Rabinovitsj, speaking at the Mobile World Congress: “We need to develop a common language around the performance of networks.” CNBC

Travel restrictions

India just indefinitely extended its ban on international flights for no clear reason, despite the fact that other tourism hotspots in the region are opening up again. Fortune

Edward Jones

The century-old brokerage Edward Jones employs more financial advisers than any other firm, even though it’s not the biggest. And as Fortune’s Geoff Colvin explains in this piece, its strategy of sticking to “customers who want guidance…seems to be a winning proposition.” Fortune

Russian yacht

“I don’t regret anything I’ve done, and I would do it again,” said Ukrainian mechanic Taras Ostapchuk after trying to sink the yacht of Russian oligarch (and weapons exporter) Alexander Mikheev in Majorca. Ostapchuk had just seen a video of a helicopter attack on a building in Kyiv. (Bonus read: Fortune’s Sophie Mellor on how Russian oligarchs are trying to protect their yachts from sanctions and asset freezes.) Fortune

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.

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