UK to provide 1.3 billion pounds of further military support to Ukraine

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson attend a news briefing, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine April 9, 2022. Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT/File Photo

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LONDON, May 7 (Reuters) – Britain said it would provide a further 1.3 billion pounds ($1.60 billion) in military support and aid to Ukraine, making the pledge ahead of a planned video call on Sunday by Group of Seven leaders with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Prime Minister Johnson has been one of the strongest supporters of Ukraine’s efforts to resist Russian forces since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion on Feb. 24. Johnson’s government has sent anti-tank missiles, air defence systems and other weapons to Ukraine.

The new pledge almost doubles Britain’s previous spending commitments on Ukraine and the government said this is the highest rate of spending on a conflict since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, although it did not give details of this calculation.

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“Putin’s brutal attack is not only causing untold devastation in Ukraine – it is also threatening peace and security across Europe,” Johnson said in a statement. Last week he became the first Western leader to address Ukraine’s parliament since the start of the invasion.

The leaders of the G7 countries – Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States – will hold their virtual meeting with Zelenskiy on Sunday, the day before Russia marks its Victory Day holiday, which marks the end of World War Two in Europe. read more

Britain said the extra spending on Ukraine will come from a reserve used by the government for emergencies.

The government also said Johnson will host a meeting of leading defence companies later this month to discuss increasing production in response to increased demand created by the war in Ukraine.

While Britain has provided significant military aid, it has so far accepted relatively few of the more than 5 million Ukrainians who have fled their country. The British government said on Saturday that so far it had issued more than 86,000 visas to Ukrainians, of whom about 27,000 had reached Britain.

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Reporting by Andrew MacAskill
Editing by Frances Kerry

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Ukraine Live Updates: Russia’s Top Officer Visited the East’s Front Line

BRUSSELS — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi traveled to Ukraine’s capital over the weekend, leading the second senior American delegation to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky in a week and declare support for his country’s fight to beat back the Russian invasion.

With each visit — the secretaries of state and defense traveled to Kyiv last weekend — the promise of American commitment to a Ukrainian victory appears to grow, even as how the United States defines victory has remained uncertain.

On Sunday, a day after her visit to Ukraine, Ms. Pelosi told a news conference in Poland: “America stands with Ukraine. We stand with Ukraine until victory is won. And we stand with NATO.”

Ms. Pelosi, the second in line to succeed President Biden, is the highest-ranking American official to visit Kyiv since the war began, and her words carry weight, seeming to underscore an expanded view of American and allied war aims.

Her visit, with a congressional delegation, followed a joint visit to Kyiv by Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III only last Sunday. Mr. Austin caused some controversy and debate afterward when he appeared to shift the goal of the war from defending Ukraine’s independence and territorial sovereignty to weakening Russia.

“We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine,” Mr. Austin said, implying that the United States wanted to erode Russian military power for years to come — presumably so long as Vladimir V. Putin, president of Russia, remains in power.

Credit…Omar Marques/Getty Images

In one positive development on Sunday, the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross helped organize what was described as an “ongoing” evacuation of civilians from the Azovstal steel works in Mariupol, where they have been taking shelter with a dwindling number of Ukrainian soldiers who have refused to surrender to the Russians. Between 80 and 100 civilians arrived in a convoy of buses at a temporary accommodation center 18 miles east of the city, in the village of Bezimenne.

The evacuation appeared to be the fruit of a visit to both Mr. Putin in Moscow and Mr. Zelensky in Kyiv last week by António Guterres, the U.N. secretary general, who called the war in Ukraine “an absurdity.” Mr. Guterres and the Red Cross have been working to get humanitarian aid and supplies of food and water to civilians trapped by the fighting; any serious peace negotiations still appear far off.

In a Twitter message, Mr. Zelensky applauded the evacuation of what he said was a “first group of about 100 people,” and said that “tomorrow we’ll meet them in Zaporizhzhia.”

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, said in a statement that it would not provide details of the effort while it was continuing; further evacuations are expected to resume on Monday.

Russian forces have not yet been able to finally take the last slice of Mariupol, which no longer matters militarily but which has been an inspiring symbol of Ukrainian bravery, morale and resistance that is bound to go down in Ukrainian history.

But if there is a new allied consensus about supplying Ukraine with heavier and more sophisticated weapons for the latest stage of the war in eastern Ukraine, there is no allied consensus about switching the war aim from Ukraine to Russia.

Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

There is a sense in Europe that “the U.S. is dragging everyone into a different war,” said François Heisbourg, a French defense analyst, citing similar comments by President Biden about “the butcher of Moscow” and how “Putin must go.”

Some wonder what Washington is trying to say — or do.

“To help Ukraine prevail is not about waging war against Russia for reasons related to its governance,” Mr. Heisbourg said. “Regime change may be a vision, but not a war aim.”

He and others said that such talk from Washington plays perfectly into Mr. Putin’s narrative that NATO is waging war against Russia, and that Russia is fighting a defensive war for its survival in Ukraine. That may give Mr. Putin the excuse on May 9, the annual celebration of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany, to declare this “special military operation” a war, which would allow him, if he chooses, to mobilize the population and use conscripts widely in the battle.

Talk of victory over Russia “gives easy ammunition to the other side and creates the fear that the West may go further, and it’s not what we want,” said Ulrich Speck, a German analyst. “We don’t want to cut Russia into pieces.”

Gérard Araud, a former French ambassador to the United States and the United Nations, commented on Twitter: “The support to Ukraine in its modalities and its objectives should be agreed at a political level between allies. Right now, we are sleepwalking to nobody knows where.”

In response, Moscow has raised the tone of its own rhetoric.

On Wednesday, Mr. Putin said that any countries who “create a strategic threat to Russia” during this war in Ukraine can expect “retaliatory strikes” that would be “lightning-fast.” Days before, the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said in an interview that “NATO is essentially going to war with Russia through a proxy and arming that proxy.”

Mr. Putin’s military, having lost what Britain estimates to have been at least 15,000 killed in action — that is more than in the Soviet Union’s entire war in Afghanistan — has been struggling to cut supply lines of Western arms, munitions and heavy weapons to Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine.

Credit…Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

On Sunday, the Russians said they had bombed a runway and a munitions dump at a military airfield near Odesa that was storing Western arms, and Russia has been attempting to attack roads and especially railway terminals, since most heavy weapons are traveling east by rail. The Russian aim is to slowly cut off or encircle the bulk of Ukraine’s army east of the Dnipro River and starve it of new supplies.

But that grinding effort is going slowly, with fierce artillery battles and high casualties on both sides.

It is not just Ukraine’s military that is being starved of supplies. There is now a shortage of gasoline and diesel, at least for civilian use, stemming from Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports and attacks on refineries and fuel depots. Long lines for gasoline have been seen even in cities like Lviv, and there are concerns about the impact of the shortages on agriculture, even in fields untouched by the war.

A report by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said that only a fifth of almost 1,300 large agribusinesses surveyed by the government in mid-March had enough fuel to operate the farm equipment needed to plant corn, barley and other crops this spring, which is already causing rising food prices in countries far from Ukraine.

In a possible indication of flagging Russian morale, the chief of staff of the Russian armed forces, Gen. Valery V. Gerasimov, the country’s top uniformed officer, made a visit to a dangerous frontline position in eastern Ukraine this weekend in an effort to “change the course” of Russia’s offensive there, according to a senior Ukrainian official with knowledge of the visit.

Ukrainian forces launched an attack on a Russian headquarters in Izium on Saturday evening, but General Gerasimov had already left to return to Russia, the official said. Still, some 200 soldiers, including at least one general, were killed, the Ukrainian official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive military operation. A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that General Gerasimov had been in eastern Ukraine but did not confirm the rest of the Ukrainian account.

Fighting has intensified around the large eastern city of Kharkiv in recent days as Ukrainian forces have attempted to push away Russian units. Though the gains have been small, they are emblematic of both the Ukrainian and Russian forces’ strategy as the war drags into its third month, one that focuses on a village at a time and leverages concentrated artillery fire to dislodge one another.

Ukraine’s military said in a statement on Saturday that it had been able to retake four villages around Kharkiv: Verkhnya Rohanka, Ruska Lozova, Slobidske and Prilesne. The claims have been hard to verify since much of those areas are currently closed to the media; on Sunday, Ukraine announced that it had rebuffed Russian advances toward villages in the Donbas, but that, too, could not be confirmed.

Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Ukrainian forces were also suspected of another attack over the border near the Russian city of Belgorod, a staging area for Russian forces, where a fire broke out in a defense ministry facility, the regional governor said.

The Russian forces in control of the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson and its surrounding province started to enforce a transition to the Russian ruble from Ukrainian currency on Sunday, a move that Ukrainian officials have described as part of an attempt to scrub a part of the country clean of its national identity and embed it in Moscow’s sphere of influence.

At the same time, the Ukrainians reported on Sunday that nearly all cellular and internet service in the area was down. The Ukrainian Ministry of the Interior accused Russian forces of cutting service, saying it was an attempt to keep Ukrainians from seeing truthful information about the war.

The Hollywood actor Angelina Jolie, who has been a special representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees since 2011, made her own surprise visit to Ukraine over the weekend, visiting the western city of Lviv to meet displaced Ukrainians from the east who have found refuge there, including children undergoing treatment for injuries sustained in Russia’s missile strike on the Kramatorsk railway station in early April.

Ms. Pelosi was accompanied by legislators whose comments largely echoed her own.

“This is a struggle of freedom against tyranny,” said Representative Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California. “And in that struggle, Ukraine is on the front lines.”

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

Representative Jason Crow, a Democrat from Colorado, a veteran and a member of the House intelligence and armed services committee, said his focus was on the supply of weapons. “We have to make sure the Ukrainians have what they need to win,” he said. Praising Ukrainian bravery, he said, “The United States of America is in this to win, and we will stand with Ukraine until victory is won.”

But as ever, what is meant by “victory,” whether it involves pushing Russia entirely out of Ukraine or just blocking its advance until its offensive runs out of steam and negotiations ensue, remains an open question. So does the equally central question of what Mr. Putin decides is victory enough for his own war of choice.

Steven Erlanger reported from Brussels, Jane Arraf from Lviv and Marc Santora from Krakow, Poland. Michael Schwirtz contributed reporting from Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine; and Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Kharkiv.

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Live Updates: Biden Seeks $33 Billion More in Aid for Ukraine

WASHINGTON — President Biden signaled a vast increase in America’s commitment to defeating Russia in Ukraine on Thursday as he asked Congress to authorize $33 billion for more artillery, antitank weapons and other hardware as well as economic and humanitarian aid.

The request represented an extraordinary escalation in American investment in the war, more than tripling the total emergency expenditures and putting the United States on track to spend as much this year helping the Ukrainians as it did on average each year fighting its own war in Afghanistan, or more.

“The cost of this fight is not cheap,” Mr. Biden said at the White House. “But caving to aggression is going to be more costly if we allow it to happen. We either back the Ukrainian people as they defend their country or we stand by as the Russians continue their atrocities and aggression in Ukraine.”

Mr. Biden also sent Congress a plan to increase the government’s power to seize luxury yachts, aircraft, bank accounts and other assets of Russian oligarchs tied to President Vladimir V. Putin and use the proceeds to help the Ukrainians. Just hours later, Congress passed legislation allowing Mr. Biden to use a World War II-era law to supply weapons to Ukraine on loan quickly.

The latest American pledge came as Moscow raised the prospect of a widening conflict with the West. Russian officials accused the United States and Poland of working together on a covert plan to establish control over western Ukraine and asserted that the West was encouraging Ukraine to launch strikes inside Russia, where gas depots and a missile factory have burned or been attacked in recent days.

Credit…David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

A Russian missile strike setting off a fiery explosion in central Kyiv shattered weeks of calm in the capital and served as a vivid reminder that the violence in Ukraine has not shifted exclusively to the eastern and southern portions of the country, where Russia is now focusing its efforts to seize and control territory. Russian forces are making “slow and uneven” progress in that part of Ukraine but are struggling to overcome the same supply line problems that hampered their initial offensive, the Pentagon said.

The strike came on the same day that President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine was meeting with António Guterres, the U.N. secretary general, just a few miles away in Kyiv, a visit that was no secret in Moscow. Mr. Guterres arrived in Ukraine, after sitting down with Mr. Putin in Moscow, in hopes of securing evacuation routes for besieged Ukrainian civilians and support for the prosecution of war crimes.

In the hours before the latest strike, Mr. Guterres toured the stunning wreckage in Borodianka, Bucha and Irpin, three suburbs of Kyiv that have borne the heavy cost of the fighting. Standing in front of a row of scorched buildings where dozens of people were killed, he called Russia’s invasion “an absurdity” and said, “There is no way a war can be acceptable in the 21st century.”

In his nightly address, Mr. Zelensky condemned the strike, saying it revealed Russia’s “true attitude to global institutions” and was an effort to “humiliate the U.N.” He vowed a “strong response” to that and other Russian attacks. “We still have to drive the occupiers out,” he said.

Credit…David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

Just as the United States was ramping up its flow of arms to the battlefield, the German Parliament voted overwhelmingly to deliver heavy weapons to Ukraine, a largely symbolic move to show unity after the government announced the plan earlier this week.

A day after Russia cut off gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria, the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, said his country must be prepared for the possibility that Germany could be next. “We have to be ready for it,” Mr. Scholz told reporters in Tokyo, where he paid Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan a visit to shore up ties between the two countries.

Russian strikes and Ukrainian counterattacks continued to batter eastern and southern battlegrounds in Ukraine, but Russian troops are advancing cautiously in this latest phase, able to sustain only several kilometers of progress each day, according to a Pentagon official speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss operational details.

Despite having much shorter supply lines now than they did during the war’s first several weeks in Ukraine’s north, the Russians have not overcome their logistics problem, the Pentagon official said, citing slow shipments of food, fuel, weapons and ammunition.

Moscow now has 92 battalion groups fighting in eastern and southern Ukraine — up from 85 a week ago, but still well below the 125 it had in the first phase of the war, the official said. Each battalion group has about 700 to 1,000 troops.

Russia has amassed artillery to support its troops near the city of Izium, according to the latest assessment by the Institute for the Study of War, a research group. Russian forces have used the city as a strategic staging point for their assault in the east and probably seek to outflank Ukrainian defensive positions, the analysts said.

Since Wednesday, Russian troops have captured several villages west of the city, according to Ukraine’s Defense Ministry, with the likely aim of bypassing Ukrainian forces on two parallel roads running south, toward the cities of Barvinkove and Sloviansk.

A senior American diplomat accused Russia of engaging in systematic campaigns to topple local governments in occupied Ukraine and to detain and torture local officials, journalists and activists in so-called “filtration camps,” where some of them have reportedly disappeared.

The diplomat, Michael R. Carpenter, the American ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said the United States has information that Russia is dissolving democratically elected local governments and has forced large numbers of civilians in occupied areas into camps for questioning.

The Ukrainian military said it was moving more troops to the border with Transnistria, a small breakaway region in Moldova, on Ukraine’s southwest flank, hundreds of miles from the fighting on the eastern front.

Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Ukraine ordered the reinforcements after it accused Russia this week of orchestrating a series of explosions in Transnistria, potentially as a pretext to attack Ukraine from the south and move on Odesa, Ukraine’s major Black Sea port. Russia has thousands of troops in Transnistria, which is controlled by Kremlin-backed separatists.

Russia sought to turn the tables by accusing Ukraine and its allies of being the ones to widen the war, citing the supposed secret Polish-American plan to control western Ukraine and the recent attacks on targets inside Russia. Maria Zakharova, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman, urged Kyiv and Western capitals to take seriously Russia’s statements “that further calls on Ukraine to strike Russian facilities would definitely lead to a tough response from Russia.”

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Mr. Zelensky, said Ukraine had a right to strike Russian military facilities and “will defend itself in any way.” Britain’s defense minister, Ben Wallace, also said Ukraine would be justified in using Western arms to attack military targets inside Russia, as he warned that the war could turn into a “slow-moving, frozen occupation, like a sort of cancerous growth in Ukraine.”

Speaking at the White House, Mr. Biden rejected Russian suggestions that the United States was waging a proxy war against Moscow. “It shows the desperation that Russia is feeling about their abject failure in being able to do what they set out to do in the first instance,” Mr. Biden said.

He likewise condemned Russian officials’ raising the specter of nuclear war. “No one should be making idle comments about the use of nuclear weapons or the possibility that they could use that,” Mr. Biden said. “It’s irresponsible.”

The massive aid package Mr. Biden unveiled on Thursday would eclipse all the spending by the United States so far on the war. There is widespread bipartisan support on Capitol Hill for more aid, but it remained uncertain whether the issue could get tied up in negotiations over ancillary issues like pandemic relief or immigration.

The request, more than twice the size of the $13.6 billion package lawmakers approved and Mr. Biden signed last month, was intended to last through the end of September, underscoring the expectations of a prolonged conflict.

It includes more than $20 billion for security and military assistance, including $11.4 billion to fund equipment and replenish stocks already provided to Ukraine, $2.6 billion to support the deployment of American troops and equipment to the region to safeguard NATO allies and $1.9 billion for cybersecurity and intelligence support.

The request also includes $8.5 billion in economic assistance for the government in Kyiv to provide basic economic support, including food and health care services, as the Ukrainian economy reels from the toll of the war. An additional $3 billion would be provided for humanitarian assistance and food security funding, including medical supplies and support for Ukrainian refugees and to help stem the impact of the disrupted food supply chain.

When combined with the previous emergency measure, the United States would be authorizing $46.6 billion for the Ukraine war, which represents more than two-thirds of Russia’s entire annual defense budget of $65.9 billion. Mr. Biden said he expected European allies to contribute more as well.

By comparison, the Pentagon last year estimated that the total war-fighting costs in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 at $816 billion, or about $40.8 billion a year. (That did not count non-Defense Department expenditures, and private studies have put the total cost higher.)

Without waiting for the latest aid plan, Congress moved on Thursday to make it easier for Mr. Biden to funnel more arms to Ukraine right away. The House voted 417 to 10 to invoke the Lend-Lease Act of 1941 to authorize Mr. Biden to speed military supplies to Ukraine. The Senate passed the legislation unanimously earlier this month, meaning it now moves to Mr. Biden’s desk for his signature.

The original act, proposed by Franklin D. Roosevelt, authorized the president to lease or lend military equipment to any foreign government “whose defense the president deems vital to the defense of the United States” and was used originally to aid Britain and later the Soviet Union in their battle against Nazi Germany.

“Passage of that act enabled Great Britain and Winston Churchill to keep fighting and to survive the fascist Nazi bombardment until the United States could enter the war,” said Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland. “President Zelensky has said that Ukraine needs weapons to sustain themselves, and President Biden has answered that call.”

The legislation targeting oligarchs would streamline ongoing efforts to find and confiscate bank accounts, property and other assets from the Russian moguls.

Among other things, it would create a new criminal offense for possessing proceeds from corrupt dealings with the Russian government. It would also add the crime of evading sanctions to the definition of “racketeering activity” in the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO.

Reporting was contributed by Marc Santora from Krakow, Poland; Jeffrey Gettleman and Maria Varenikova from Kyiv, Ukraine; Emily Cochrane, Catie Edmondson, Eric Schmitt and Michael D. Shear from Washington; Ivan Nechepurenko from Tbilisi, Georgia; Shashank Bengali and Matthew Mpoke Bigg from London; and Farnaz Fassihi from New York.

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Ukraine Live Updates: Russian Forces Regroup, Focusing Efforts on Strategic Targets

WARSAW — They were among the final few words of a carefully crafted speech. But they strayed far from the delicate balance that President Biden had tried to strike during three days of wartime diplomacy in Europe.

“For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” Mr. Biden said Saturday, his cadence slowing for emphasis.

On its face, he appeared to be calling for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to be ousted for his brutal invasion of Ukraine. But Mr. Biden’s aides quickly insisted that the remark — delivered in front of a castle that served for centuries as a home for Polish monarchs — was not intended as an appeal for regime change.

Whatever his intent, the moment underscored the dual challenges Mr. Biden faced during three extraordinary summit meetings in Belgium and an up-close look at the war’s consequences from Poland: keeping America’s allies united against Mr. Putin, while at the same time avoiding an escalation with Russia, which the president has said could lead to World War III.

To achieve his first goal, Mr. Biden spent much of the trip drawing the world’s attention to Mr. Putin’s atrocities since he started the war on Feb. 24. He urged continued action to cripple the Russian economy. He reaffirmed America’s promise to defend its NATO allies against any threat. And he called Mr. Putin “a butcher,” responsible for devastating damage to Ukraine’s cities and its people.

Credit…Pavlo Palamarchuk/Reuters

Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said Mr. Putin’s fate was not in the hands of the American president. “It’s not for Biden to decide,” Mr. Peskov told reporters after Mr. Biden finished speaking. “The president of Russia is elected by the Russians.”

Even as he made it his mission to rally his counterparts, Mr. Biden and his aides were determined to avoid taking actions that Mr. Putin could use as pretexts to start a wider and even more dangerous conflict.

“There is simply no justification or provocation for Russia’s choice of war,” Mr. Biden said earlier in his speech Saturday night. “It’s an example of one of the oldest human impulses — using brute force and disinformation to satisfy a craving for absolute power and control.”

In closed-door discussions at NATO and with the leaders of more than 30 nations, Mr. Biden repeatedly vowed not to send American troops into combat against Russia. And despite desperate pleas for additional help from Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, Mr. Biden remained opposed to using NATO or U.S. fighter jets to secure the country’s airspace from Russian attacks.

Mr. Biden’s trip, which began Wednesday, came at a pivotal moment for his presidency and the world, amid the largest war in Europe since 1945 and a mushrooming humanitarian crisis. Both are testing the resolve and cooperation within the NATO alliance after four years in which former President Donald J. Trump cast doubt on its relevance and pushed a policy of America First isolationism.

For most of his foray abroad, Mr. Biden succeeded in staying on message, according to veteran foreign policy watchers — a reality that made his last-minute comment about Mr. Putin’s future even more striking.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

“That message of unity is exactly what Putin needs to hear to convince him to scale back his war aims and end the brutality,” Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “It’s what Ukrainians need to hear to encourage them to keep up the fight. And it’s what Europeans need to hear to steady their nerves and reassure them that the United States is fully committed to their defense.”

And yet, the president ended his trip on Saturday and returned home with few concrete answers about how or when the war will end — and grim uncertainty about the brutal and grinding violence still to come.

A top Russian commander on Friday appeared to signal that Moscow was narrowing its war aims, saying that capturing Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, and other major cities was not a priority. Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi, the chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the Russian military’s General Staff, said in a public statement that the military would instead concentrate “on the main thing: the complete liberation of the Donbas,” the southeastern region that is home to a Kremlin-backed separatist insurgency.

Administration officials say a Russian withdrawal to Donbas would amount to a remarkable failure for Mr. Putin, who has drawn international scorn for his invasion and has plunged the Russian economy into disarray under the weight of global sanctions.

Credit…Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

If Mr. Putin decides to limit the scope of the fight, it would pose new diplomatic challenges for Mr. Biden, who has used the horror of all-out war to rally the world against Russia’s aggression. That could prove more difficult if Mr. Putin decided to move some of his forces back — whether as a real retreat or a strategic feint.

For the moment, however, large portions of Ukraine remain under siege while the country’s forces have mounted a fierce resistance.

On Saturday, even as Mr. Biden prepared to deliver his speech, Russian missiles slammed into Lviv, a city in western Ukraine not far from the Polish border. The missiles hit at or near what is believed to be an oil storage facility, and thick black smoke billowed over the city. At least five people were injured.

Mr. Putin’s thinking remained murky as Mr. Biden boarded Air Force One on Saturday night for the flight back to Washington, complicating his administration’s calculus as it looks for ways to keep the pressure on Russia without going too far.

It all adds up to a tricky task for Mr. Biden, who came into office determined to end America’s 20-year war in Afghanistan and now faces the challenge of managing the response to another war.

He has received high marks — even from Republicans — for sending more than $2 billion in military and security aid to Ukraine, bolstering its ability to fight off Russian forces. And he has joined European leaders in imposing crippling sanctions on the Russian economy, putting immense pressure on the Russian leader’s most ardent backers.

During Mr. Biden’s visit to Brussels, NATO announced the redeployment of additional forces to member countries closest to Russia, an effort that Mr. Biden said would deliver a message of resolve to Mr. Putin.

Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

The president also announced $1 billion in humanitarian aid for Poland and other nations that have taken in 3.5 million people fleeing the fighting in Ukraine. Mr. Biden said the United States would open its borders to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees.

“Visible American leadership is no longer taken for granted in Europe,” said Ian Lesser, the executive director in Brussels for the German Marshall Fund. “In this sense, the president’s trip has made a significant impression.”

But the president also drew criticism from Mr. Zelensky, for refusing to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

“Their advantage in the sky is like the use of weapons of mass destruction,” Mr. Zelensky told Mr. Biden and the leaders of other NATO countries during their closed-door meeting on Thursday. “And you see the consequences today. How many people were killed, how many peaceful cities were destroyed.”

Mr. Biden faced the limits of European action when he put to his allies the question of curtailing Russia’s ability to profit from the sale of its oil and gas. Europe gets a large percentage of its energy from Russia, and Mr. Biden once again found a deep reluctance to making any decision to cut off that lifeline.

Instead, the president announced a longer-term plan to help wean Europeans off the use of Russian fuel.

Jeremy Bash, who served as a top adviser at both the Pentagon and the C.I.A. under former President Barack Obama, called Mr. Putin’s war “a geopolitical earthquake” and a “once-in-a-generation contest” that has forced Mr. Biden to adapt quickly to a rapidly changing security and diplomatic world.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

“President Biden is now a wartime commander in chief waging four wars at once,” Mr. Bash said on Saturday. “An economic war, an information war, likely a cyber war, and an unprecedented indirect military war against Putin. And so far, Putin has been unable to achieve a single one of his objectives.”

Several of the administration’s most ardent supporters in the foreign policy world quickly chided the president for seeming to seek Mr. Putin’s removal. Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, called it a “bad lapse in discipline that runs risk of extending the scope and duration of the war.”

While American officials still insist their goal is not regime change in Moscow, even the president’s top national security advisers have made clear they want Mr. Putin to emerge strategically weakened.

“At the end of the day, the Russian people are going to ask the more fundamental question of why this happened and how this happened,” Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, told reporters on Air Force One on Friday, before the president’s speech. “And we believe that, at the end of the day, they will be able to connect the dots.”

Mr. Sullivan added, “These are costs that President Putin has brought on himself and his country and his economy and his defense industrial base because of his completely unjustified and unprovoked decision to go to war in Ukraine.”

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The Lies Putin Tells to Justify Russia’s War on Ukraine

In the tense weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, Russian officials denied that it planned anything of the sort, denouncing the United States and its NATO allies for stoking panic and anti-Russian hatred. When it did invade, the officials denied it was at war.

Since then, the Kremlin has cycled through a torrent of lies to explain why it had to wage a “special military operation” against a sovereign neighbor. Drug-addled neo-Nazis. Genocide. American biological weapons factories. Birds and reptiles trained to carry pathogens into Russia. Ukrainian forces bombing their own cities, including theaters sheltering children.

Disinformation in wartime is as old as war itself, but today war unfolds in the age of social media and digital diplomacy. That has given Russia — and its allies in China and elsewhere — powerful means to prop up the claim that the invasion is justified, exploiting disinformation to rally its citizens at home and to discredit its enemies abroad. Truth has simply become another front in Russia’s war.

Using a barrage of increasingly outlandish falsehoods, President Vladimir V. Putin has created an alternative reality, one in which Russia is at war not with Ukraine but with a larger, more pernicious enemy in the West. Even since the war began, the lies have gotten more and more bizarre, transforming from claims that “true sovereignty” for Ukraine was possible only under Russia, made before the attacks, to those about migratory birds carrying bioweapons.

reaching audiences that were once harder to reach.

“Previously, if you were sitting in Moscow and you wanted to reach audiences sitting in, say, Idaho, you would have to work really hard doing that,” said Elise Thomas, a researcher in Australia for the Institute of Strategic Dialogue, referring to disinformation campaigns dating to the Soviet Union. “It would take you time to set up the systems, whereas now you can do it with the press of a button.”

The power of Russia’s claim that the invasion is justified comes not from the veracity of any individual falsehood meant to support it but from the broader argument. Individual lies about bioweapons labs or crisis actors are advanced by Russia as swiftly as they are debunked, with little consistency or logic between them. But supporters stubbornly cling to the overarching belief that something is wrong in Ukraine and Russia will fix it. Those connections prove harder to shake, even as new evidence is introduced.

That mythology, and its resilience in the face of fact-checking and criticism, reflects “the ability of autocrats and malign actors to completely brainwash us to the point where we don’t see what’s in front of us,” said Laura Thornton, the director and senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund’s Alliance for Securing Democracy.

The Kremlin’s narratives today feed on pre-existing views of the war’s root causes, which Mr. Putin has nurtured for years — and restated in increasingly strident language last week.

President Volodymyr Zelensky himself, whose video messages to Ukrainians and the world have combined bravery with the stage presence of the television performer he once was.

Russia, though, has more tools and reach, and it has the upper hand with weaponry. The strategy has been to overwhelm the information space, especially at home, which “is really where their focus is,” said Peter Pomerantsev, a scholar at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University who has written extensively about Russian propaganda.

Russia’s propaganda machine plays into suspicion of the West and NATO, which have been vilified on state television for years, deeply embedding distrust in Russian society. State media has also more recently echoed beliefs advanced by the QAnon movement, which ascribes the world’s problems largely to global elites and sex traffickers.

Those beliefs make people feel “scared and uncertain and alienated,” said Sophia Moskalenko, a social psychologist at Georgia State University. “As a result of manipulating their emotions, they will be more likely to embrace conspiracy theories.”

Mr. Putin’s public remarks, which dominate state media, have become increasingly strident. He has warned that nationalist sentiment in Ukraine is a threat to Russia itself, as is NATO expansion.

swiftly to silence dissenting points of view that could cut through the fog of war and discourage the Russian population.

For now, the campaign appears to have rallied public opinion behind Mr. Putin, according to most surveys in Russia, though not as high as might be expected for a country at war.

“My impression is that many people in Russia are buying the government’s narrative,” said Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center. “They have doctored images on state-controlled media. Private media don’t cover the war, fearing 15 years in prison. Same goes for people on the social media. Russia has lost information warfare globally, but the regime is quite successful at home.”

appeared in the information fortress the Kremlin is building.

A week after the invasion began, when it was already clear the war was going badly for Russian troops, Mr. Putin rushed to enact a law that punishes “fake news” with up to 15 years in prison. Media regulators warned broadcasters not to refer to the war as a war. They also forced off the air two flagships of independent media — Ekho Moskvy, a liberal radio station, and Dozhd, a television station — that gave voice to the Kremlin’s opponents.

Access to Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and most recently Instagram has also been severed inside Russia — all platforms the country’s diplomats have continued to use outside to misinform. Once spread, disinformation can be tenacious, even in places with a free press and open debate, like the United States, where polls suggest that more than 40 percent of the population believes the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald J. Trump.

“Why are people so surprised that this kind of widespread disinformation can be so effective in Russia when it was so effective here?” Ms. Thornton of the German Marshall Fund said.

As the war in Ukraine drags on, however, casualties are mounting, confronting families in Russia with the loss of fathers and sons. That could test how persuasive the Kremlin’s information campaign truly is.

The Soviet Union sought to keep a similar veil of silence around its decade-long quagmire in Afghanistan in the 1980s, but the truth seeped into public consciousness anyway, eroding the foundation of the entire system. Two years after the last troops pulled out in 1989, the Soviet Union itself collapsed.

Claire Fu contributed research.

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Ukraine Live Updates: 3 European Leaders Say They’re in Kyiv in Show of Support

Shortly after Russia passed a new censorship law that effectively criminalized accurate reporting on the war in Ukraine, CNN executives on two continents gathered for an emergency video call to figure out what would happen next.

The 24-hour news network had employed numerous correspondents in Russia since the latter years of the Soviet Union. Now their future in the country, and perhaps their safety, were up in the air.

Senior producers in New York and London conferred with lawyers at CNN headquarters in Atlanta and reporters in Moscow about the new law, which raised the prospect of 15-year prison terms for journalists who called the war in Ukraine a “war.” Within hours, the network ceased broadcasting in Russia, joining other Western news outlets — including the BBC, Bloomberg News and ABC News — that temporarily or partly suspended their Moscow-based operations.

“When it comes to a potential threat to somebody, that far and away outweighs everything else in the consideration,” Michael Bass, CNN’s executive vice president of programming, said in an interview. “It would be better for our reporting and our coverage of the story to continue reporting every single day and multiple times a day from Russia, but an assessment had to be made of what can be done for your people.”

Credit…CNN

In an echo of the exodus of journalists from Afghanistan after the Taliban swept through the country last year, media executives and editors are engaged in a high-stakes debate about risk in Russia. Is it prudent, they ask their reporters over secure apps each day, to gather news in an increasingly hostile and isolated country? If not, is it feasible to continue from outside its borders?

“There is a constant minute-to-minute triage of that balance,” said Matthew Baise, director of digital strategy at Voice of America, the U.S. government broadcaster, which until recently employed several journalists reporting from Russia. “Every day, we’re attempting to adapt to the situation there while not jeopardizing people’s lives, but we also have to have a way to get reporting out of the country.”

Now a dozen Voice of America employees have left Russia. and others are lying low, Mr. Baise said.

Clarissa Ward, CNN’s chief international correspondent, said in an interview from Kyiv, Ukraine, that “it’s a huge blow to not be able to do the kind of journalism we all aspire to do in Russia at the moment.”

“It’s not just a global audience — there are a lot of Russians inside Russia who look to international news outlets to get a more well-rounded perspective,” said Ms. Ward, who has been reporting from Ukraine for nearly two months. One crucial perspective that can be lost, she said, is “how Russia is viewing this war, what ordinary Russians think about it.”

Inside Ukraine, journalists are facing more direct — and potentially lethal — risks. Brent Renaud, an American documentary filmmaker, was fatally shot in the head on Sunday in a suburb of Kyiv. On Monday, a Fox News correspondent, Benjamin Hall, was hospitalized after he was injured outside Kyiv.

Days earlier, Ms. Ward described via telephone how she and her CNN crew work from 9 a.m. to 4 a.m. each day, starting by assessing whether it is safe to travel outside their hotel. Often, spotty cellular service and security concerns force them to improvise: A 15-minute live dispatch from a subway station, where hundreds of Ukrainians were sheltering from a bombardment, was filmed on a producer’s phone.

For now, in Russia, the threat to journalism is statutory, but still dire: Under the new law, many correspondents there face the prospect of yearslong prison terms for doing their jobs. That has led to a stunning disintegration of Russia’s independent media, and left international news outlets racked with uncertainty.

Amnesty International said on Thursday that 150 journalists had fled the country to avoid the new law, which Marie Struthers, the group’s director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, called “a scorched-earth strategy that has turned Russia’s media landscape into a wasteland.”

Amid the strangled flow of outside news, some have gone to great lengths to disrupt the information blackout inside Russia. On Monday, a state television employee burst onto the live broadcast of Russia’s most-watched news show, yelling, “Stop the war!” and holding up a sign that said, “They’re lying to you here.” The employee, Marina Ovsyannikova, was detained after the protest.

A bill introduced last week would create a register of anyone involved, currently or in the past, with media outlets or other organizations that Russia has deemed a “foreign agent.”

Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

News organizations have scrambled to find a working solution as the cohort of credible outlets shrinks and threatens to leave audiences inside and outside the largest nation in the world blind to its dealings.

“There are many other parts of the world where it is unsafe to be a journalist and where newsrooms are having these debates and discussions,” said Damian Radcliffe, a journalism professor at the University of Oregon. “But what’s different here is that this is such a huge, high-profile story that those internal debates are playing out in the public domain in a much more overt way.”

Last week, The New York Times said it would move its editorial staff out of Russia, and The Washington Post said it would protect Moscow-based journalists by removing bylines and datelines from certain stories. Condé Nast said it had suspended its publishing operations there. Correspondents for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation left Russia on March 6.

“It’s definitely a balancing act, and that’s why we are monitoring the situation closely and taking the necessary time to fully understand the new law,” said Chuck Thompson, a spokesman for the Canadian broadcaster.

Some outlets decided to stay put. The German public broadcasters ARD and ZDF said they planned to resume reporting from Moscow after a suspension. But the coverage will focus on the political, economic and social situations in Russia — such as the effects of economic sanctions on civilians — while the war in Ukraine will be covered from outside the country.

The BBC said last week that “after careful deliberation” it would restart its English-language reporting from Russia. (Its Russian-language correspondents have stopped working.) The broadcaster appointed Steve Rosenberg, its longtime Moscow correspondent, to be its Russia editor, and produced segments on public sentiment and McDonald’s closing its stores.

Still, BBC correspondents “have to be wary and careful about what language they use,” said Jamie Angus, a top executive who oversees news output.

On the air, Mr. Rosenberg describes the fighting as “what the Russians are calling a special military intervention.” Analysis that refers more explicitly to a war or an invasion can be delivered from London, Mr. Angus said.

The BBC has begun broadcasting through alternative channels like shortwave radio and TikTok in hopes of eluding Russian censors. Voice of America said that one day last week, 40 percent of its Russian audience had reached its coverage through censor-evading apps such as Psiphon and nthLink. Its Facebook page has also gotten an unusual surge in traffic from Italy, a sign that some Russian citizens may be using VPN services to bypass information blockades.

“There are no challenges that are insurmountable today in the digital world — we just need to be agile,” said Alen Mlatisuma, the managing editor of Voice of America’s Eurasia division.

Credit…Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr/Associated Press

Deutsche Welle, Germany’s state-owned broadcaster, had 35 people working in Russia, which was also the hub for coverage of Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Kazakhstan and other former Soviet republics.

Last month, the Russian government withdrew the broadcaster’s accreditation and shut down its Moscow studio. Deutsche Welle’s website is now blocked in Russia, and viewership for its Russian Facebook channel plunged. The outlet has pulled all of its reporters out of Russia, said a spokesman, Christoph Jumpelt.

“The fact that they have revoked our credentials and physically kicked us out of the country, and made it impossible to work inside Russia as officially credentialed journalists, doesn’t mean that we cannot continue to cover Russia from inside Russia,” Mr. Jumpelt said. “There are many, many ways to get access to information.”

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Live Updates: Biden Vows Putin Will Pay for Ukraine Invasion

This time, the United States intelligence community got it right, unearthing a rival’s secret planning and accurately predicting and broadcasting Russia’s intentions to carry out a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

For months, the Biden administration has been sharing — with allies and the public — intelligence about President Vladimir V. Putin’s intentions, taking away any element of surprise and stripping the Russian leader of his capacity to go to war on a false pretext.

But even with the threat of substantial sanctions and allied unity, it was not enough in the end to deter Mr. Putin from carrying out the broad assault that got underway early on Thursday.

But it improved Washington’s ability to bring the trans-Atlantic alliance into a unified front against Moscow and to prepare waves of sanctions and other steps to impose a cost on Russia. And after high-profile intelligence failures in Afghanistan, Iraq and other global crises over the past several decades, the accuracy of the intelligence and analysis about Mr. Putin gave the C.I.A. and the broader array of U.S. intelligence agencies new credibility at home and abroad.

The result has been a remarkable four months of diplomacy, deterrence and American-led information warfare, including a last-ditch effort to disrupt Mr. Putin’s strategy by plugging into the Russian military’s plans and then exposing them publicly. Unlike the withdrawal from Afghanistan, it was executed almost flawlessly. Even the Germans and other European nations highly dependent on Russian-supplied gas signed onto the playbook.

The U.S. used its intelligence in innovative ways as the crisis built. William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, confronted the Russian government with its own war plans. Avril D. Haines, the director of national intelligence, shared secret intelligence with allied governments to build support for the American assessment. And the White House and State Department shared some declassified intelligence publicly to expose Mr. Putin’s plans for “false flag” operations and deny him the pretext he wanted to invade.

Credit…Evgeniy Maloletka/Associated Press

The intelligence disclosures may not be over now that the invasion has begun. The Biden administration has made clear it does not want to take on the job of publicly calling out Russian troop movements. But the United States is considering continuing its information releases, mulling various options to hold Russia accountable for actions it will take in Ukraine, according to people familiar with the discussion.

Those new efforts could involve countering Russian propaganda that they are guardians and liberators of the Ukrainian people, not an occupying force. They could also involve work to expose potential war crimes and try to give the lie to Russian claims that their war aims are limited.

Mr. Putin’s plan to topple the government in Kyiv was his goal from the beginning, American officials have said, and some officials are keen to show Russia is simply carrying out a plan crafted months ago.

“It’s not something you want to do forever or as a permanent feature of policy or it loses its novelty, but in extraordinary, life-or-death situations, it is justified,” said John E. McLaughlin, a former acting C.I.A. director. “I always found in confronting Russians with our knowledge of what they were doing, that they would inevitably deny it but that it threw them off balance to know that we knew. And I think it has rattled Putin this time.”

In the end it was not enough to stop Mr. Putin, though it is not clear what strategy, if any, he might have.

The American effort to reveal Mr. Putin’s plans to the world, has “been a distraction to him, it’s been somewhat annoying,” James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, said Wednesday. But, he added, “It remains to be seen what difference it has made on his decision-making.”

Some of information the United States shared with allies, beginning with a trip to NATO by Ms. Haines in November, was initially greeted skeptically, according to Western officials. Many Europeans still remember the bad intelligence around the Iraq war.

But as the information provided grew and the Russian war plan played out as Ms. Haines had predicted, European officials shifted their view. The intelligence-sharing campaign ultimately succeeded in uniting Europe and America on a series of tough sanctions.

Credit…Alexey Nikolsky/Sputnik, via

Republicans have been critical of Mr. Biden for not being more aggressive in the military supplies it sent to Kyiv or acting earlier to impose stiff sentences on Russia to change Mr. Putin’s course of action.

It will take time to know if more and better weapons could have made a difference for the Ukrainian army’s resistance. But administration officials have said they have had to act judiciously not to escalate the situation and not allow Mr. Putin to use American military supplies as excuse to start the war.

More clearly, American sanctions against Mr. Putin go only so far. It is European sanctions against Russia and its billionaire class that really bite, and it took time, and intelligence, for Europe to come on board with a tough package of sanctions.

While the United States clearly has the some of the best, if not the best, intelligence collection in the world, it also had a reputation that remained tarnished, at home and abroad, by the 2003 Iraq invasion, when faulty information was publicly released to justify the war. While the intelligence community had long been pessimistic about the survival prospects for the U.S.-supported Afghan government, some in the administration criticized the spy agencies last year for not accurately predicting how quickly the country’s military forces would fold.

There is little doubt that reputation increased some of the skepticism of the assessment of Mr. Putin’s intentions, both by reporters questioning public officials for more evidence, and by allies.

The warnings this time were far different, the information released to try to prevent a war, not to start one. But releasing the information was nevertheless a risk. Had it proved wrong, the intelligence agencies would have been saddled with fresh doubts about their ability to collect and properly analyze intelligence about an adversaries’ capabilities and intentions. Their ability to credibly warn against future threats would have diminished.

Instead, the public got a rare glimpse of an intelligence success. It is usually the failures, or partial failures, like Iraq, the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the surveillance of domestic civil rights groups or the Bay of Pigs, that are publicly aired.

Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

But the failures do not mean America’s spy agencies do not have many successes, said Nicholas Dujmovic, a former C.I.A. historian who now teaches at the Catholic University of America.

“This is a rare case that intelligence successes are being made public, and the public should conclude, in my view, that this is rather the norm,” Dr. Dujmovic said. “They are getting a rare glimpse of the normal process and production of intelligence that normally they do not see.”

Most accusations of intelligence failures are failures to properly warn about an attack or to overstate a threat. And it is those warnings that this time proved prescient.

“The warning analysts have the hardest job in analysis because they are trying to figure out intentions — whether the attack will come, when it will come, how it will come,” Dr. Dujmovic said. “The best way to penetrate that fog is with a human source close to the decision maker, in this case, Putin — and it’s also the hardest kind of collection to acquire.”

The intelligence agencies succeeded in divining Mr. Putin’s intentions early on. And that was no easy feat. It is simply not publicly known how strong is America’s source network in Russia or how close those people are to Putin, but it is clear Mr. Putin shares his counsel with very few.

Monday’s televised meeting of Russia’s national security aides showed the foreign intelligence chief being berated by Mr. Putin for failing to endorse recognition of the breakaway enclaves in Eastern Ukraine. Juxtaposed with the months of American disclosures, the scene suggested that people atop America’s spy agencies, for once, may have understood Mr. Putin’s intentions better than his own intelligence officers.

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Ukraine Live Updates: U.S. and NATO See No Immediate Sign of a Russian Military Drawdown

michael barbaro

From The New York Times, I’m Michael Barbaro. This is The Daily.

[music]

Today: Russia is making preparations for what many fear may be a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, prompting warnings from the U.S. of serious consequences if it does. I spoke to my colleague, Moscow bureau chief Anton Troianovski, about what Vladimir Putin wants from Ukraine and just how far he may go to get it.

It’s Wednesday, December 8.

Anton, describe the scene right now on the border between Ukraine and Russia. What does it look like? What exactly is happening there?

anton troianovski

Well, what you’re seeing on the Russian side of the border within 100 to 200 miles away is that thousands of Russian troops are on the move.

archived recording 1

A top military official says intelligence shows nearly 100,000 Russian troops —

archived recording 2

Russian troops have massed on the border of Ukraine.

archived recording 3

— troops on the border with Ukraine. And that’s prompted fears of an invasion early next year.

anton troianovski

We’re seeing a lot of social media footage of tanks and other military equipment on the move, on trains, in some cases, heading west toward the Ukraine border area from as far away as Siberia.

archived recording

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have been building for some time in the wake of —

anton troianovski

These satellite images that we’re seeing show deployment areas around Ukraine that were empty as recently as June that are now full of military equipment-like tanks and armored personnel carriers.

archived recording

The U.S. called it unusual activity.

anton troianovski

And obviously, Russia moves its forces all the time. It does big military exercises, snap military exercises all the time, but what we’re being told is that these military movements are very unusual. Some of them are happening at night and, in other ways, seemingly designed to obfuscate where various units are going. And experts are saying we’re also seeing things like logistics and medical equipment being moved around, stuff that you really would see if there were real preparations being made for large-scale military action.

michael barbaro

So what’s happening in Russia is not just the movement of the troops that would perhaps carry out an invasion, but the kind of military personnel and equipment that would be required to deal with the repercussions of something like invading Ukraine?

anton troianovski

Yes. So American intelligence officials are seeing intelligence that shows Russia preparing for a military offensive involving an estimated 175,000 troops —

michael barbaro

Wow.

anton troianovski

— as soon as early next year.

michael barbaro

And Anton, is Ukraine preparing for what certainly looks, from what you just described, as a potential invasion?

anton troianovski

They’re in a really tough spot because no matter how much they prepare, their military would be utterly outgunned and outmatched. Ukraine doesn’t have the missile defense and air defense systems that could prevent a huge shock-and-awe campaign at the beginning of Russian military action.

They also don’t know, if and when an attack comes, which direction it might come from, because Russia could attack from any of three directions. So we’re not seeing a big mobilization in Ukraine right now, but our reporting on the ground there does show a grim and determined mood among the military. The soldiers on the border have made it clear that if it comes to it, they will be prepared to do what they can to make this as costly as possible for the other side.

michael barbaro

So I guess the question everyone has in this moment is why would Putin want to invade Ukraine right now and touch off what would no doubt be a major conflict, one in which, as you just said, Russia would have many advantages, but would nevertheless end up probably being a very deadly conflict?

anton troianovski

So obviously, we don’t yet know whether Putin has made the decision to invade. He’s clearly signaling he’s prepared to use military force. What we do know is that he has been extraordinarily fixated on the issue of Ukraine for years. But I think to really understand it, you have to look at three dates over the last 30 years that really show us why Ukraine matters so much to Putin.

michael barbaro

OK. So what’s the first date?

anton troianovski

The first one, 1991, almost exactly 30 years ago, the Soviet Union breaks up, and Ukraine becomes an independent country. For people of Putin’s generation, this was an incredibly shocking and even traumatic moment. Not only did they see and experience the collapse of an empire, of the country that they grew up in, that they worked in, that, in Putin’s case, the former K.G.B. officer that they served. But there was also a specific trauma of Ukraine breaking away. Ukraine, of all the former Soviet republics, was probably the one most valuable to Moscow.

It was a matter of history and identity with, in many ways, Russian statehood originating out of the medieval Kiev Rus civilization. There’s the matter of culture with so many Russian language writers like Gogol and Bulgakov coming from Ukraine. There was the matter of economics with Ukraine being an industrial and agricultural powerhouse during the Soviet Union, with many of the planes and missiles that the Soviets were most proud of coming from Ukraine.

michael barbaro

So there’s a sense that Ukraine is the cradle of Russian civilization, and to lose it is to lose a part of Russia itself.

anton troianovski

Yeah. And it’s a country of tens of millions of people that is also sandwiched between modern-day Russia and Western Europe. So the other issue is geopolitical, that Ukraine in that sort of Cold War security, East-versus-West mindset, Ukraine was a buffer between Moscow and the West. So 1991 was the year when that all fell apart.

And then by the time that Putin comes to power 10 years later, he’s already clearly thinking about how to reestablish Russian influence in that former Soviet space in Eastern Europe and in Ukraine in particular. We saw a lot of resources go in economically to try to bind Ukraine to Russia, whether it’s discounts on natural gas or other efforts by Russian companies, efforts to build ties to politicians and oligarchs in Ukraine. Really, a multipronged effort by Putin and the Kremlin to really gain as much influence as possible in that former Soviet space that they saw as being so key to Russia’s economic and security interests.

michael barbaro

Got it.

anton troianovski

And then fast forward to the second key date, 2014, which is the year it became clear that that strategy had failed.

archived recording

Now, to the growing unrest in Ukraine and the violent clashes between riot police and protesters.

michael barbaro

And why did that strategy fail in 2014?

anton troianovski

That was the year that Ukraine had its — what’s called its Maidan Revolution.

archived recording 1

The situation in Kiev has been very tense.

archived recording 2

Downtown Kiev has been turned into a charred battlefield following two straight nights of rioting.

anton troianovski

It’s a pro-Western revolution —

archived recording

They want nothing short of revolution, a new government and a new president.

anton troianovski

— that drove out a Russia-friendly president, that ushered in a pro-Western government, that made it its mission to reduce Ukraine’s ties with Russia and build its ties with the West.

archived recording

Ukrainians who want closer ties with the West are once again back in their thousands on Independence Square here in Kiev. They believe they —

michael barbaro

Hmm. And what was Putin’s response to that?

anton troianovski

Well, Putin didn’t even see it as a revolution. He saw it as a coup engineered by the C.I.A. and other Western intelligence agencies meant to drive Ukraine away from Russia. And —

archived recording

With stealth and mystery, Vladimir Putin made his move in Ukraine.

anton troianovski

— he used his military.

archived recording

At dawn, bands of armed men appeared at the two main airports in Crimea and seized control.

anton troianovski

He sent troops into Crimea, the Ukrainian Peninsula in the Black Sea that’s so dear to people across the former Soviet Union as kind of the warmest, most tropical place in a very cold part of the world.

archived recording

Tonight, Russian troops — hundreds, perhaps as many as 2,000, ferried in transport planes — have landed at the airports.

anton troianovski

He fomented a separatist war in Eastern Ukraine that by now has taken more than 10,000 lives and armed and backed pro-Russian separatists in that region. So that was the year 2014 when Russia’s earlier efforts to try to bind Ukraine to Moscow failed and when Russia started taking a much harder line.

michael barbaro

And this feels like a very pivotal moment because it shows Putin’s willingness to deploy the Russian military to strengthen the ties between Russia and Ukraine.

anton troianovski

Absolutely. Strengthened the ties or you can also say his efforts to enforce a Russian sphere of influence by military force. And it’s also the start of what we’ve been seeing ever since, which is Putin making it clear that he is willing to escalate, he is willing to raise the stakes and that he essentially cares more about the fate of Ukraine than the West does.

And that brings us to the third date I wanted to talk about, which is early this year, 2021, when we saw the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, really start taking a more aggressive anti-Russian and pro-Western tack. He cracked down on a pro-Russian oligarch and pro-Russian media. He continued with military exercises with American soldiers and with other Western forces.

He kept talking up the idea of Ukraine joining NATO. That’s the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Western military alliance. And in a sense, this is what Putin seems to fear the most, the idea of NATO becoming more entrenched in this region. So Putin made it clear that this was starting to cross what he describes as Russia’s red lines and that Russia was willing to take action to stop this.

michael barbaro

So to put this all together and understand why Putin is doing what he’s doing when it comes to Ukraine, we have as a backdrop here this fixation with Ukraine for historic, political, economic and cultural reasons. And what’s new and urgent here for Putin is his belief that Ukraine is on the verge of a major break with Russia and toward the West — in particular, a military alliance, NATO — and that he cannot tolerate. And so that brings us up to now and this very imminent and scary threat of a Russian invasion.

anton troianovski

That’s right, Michael. I spoke to a former advisor of Putin’s recently who described Ukraine as a trauma within a trauma for the Kremlin — so the trauma of the breakup of the Soviet Union plus the trauma of losing Ukraine specifically for all those reasons you mentioned. And the thing is it’s true.

Russia is losing Ukraine. I think objectively, though, you have to say it’s losing Ukraine in large part because of Putin’s policies, because of the aggressive actions he’s taken. And if you look at the polls before 2014, something like 12 percent of Ukrainians wanted to join NATO. Now, it’s more than half.

michael barbaro

Wow.

anton troianovski

So you put all that together, Ukraine is indeed drifting toward the West. It does seem like Putin feels like he’s running out of time to stop this and that he’s willing to escalate, he’s willing to raise the stakes, to keep Ukraine out of the West. And what we’re seeing right now on the border is all that playing out.

[music]
michael barbaro

We’ll be right back.

So Anton, the question right now is will President Putin actually carry out an invasion of Ukraine? And how should we be thinking about that?

anton troianovski

Well, it’s quite perilous, of course, to try to get inside Putin’s head, but here’s the case for invading now. Number one: NATO and the United States have made it clear that they are not going to come to Ukraine’s defense, because Ukraine is not a member of the NATO alliance, and NATO’s mutual defense pact only extends to full-fledged members. And of course, I think, politically, Putin believes that neither in the U.S., nor in Western Europe, is there the will to see soldiers from those countries die fighting for Ukraine.

michael barbaro

Right. And President Biden has just very publicly pulled the United States out of the war in Afghanistan and more or less communicated that unless American national security interests are at play, he will not be dispatching troops anywhere.

anton troianovski

Exactly. So Putin saw that, and he sees that potentially things could change. If the West does have more of a military presence in Ukraine in the future, let alone if Ukraine were to become a member of NATO at some point — it’s not going to happen in the next few years, but perhaps at some point — then attacking Ukraine becomes a much more costly proposition. So it’s a matter of war now could be less costly to Russia than war later.

michael barbaro

Right. The geopolitics of this moment may work in favor of him doing it in a way that it might not in a year or two or three.

anton troianovski

Absolutely. And then there’s a couple of other reasons. There’s the fact that if we look at everything Putin has said and written over the last year, he really seems convinced that the West is pulling Ukraine away from Russia against the will of much of the Ukrainian people. Polling doesn’t really bear that out, but Putin really seems to be convinced of that. And so it seems like he may also be thinking that Ukrainians would welcome Russian forces as liberators from some kind of Western occupation.

And then third, there’s the economy. The West has already threatened severe sanctions against Russia were it to go ahead with military action, but Russia has been essentially sanctions-proofing its economy since at least 2014, which is when it took control of Crimea and was hit by all these sanctions from the U.S. and from the E.U. So Russia’s economy is still tied to the West.

It imports a lot of stuff from the West. But in many key areas, whether it’s technology or energy extraction or agriculture, Russia is becoming more self-sufficient. And it is building ties to other parts of the world — like China, India, et cetera — that could allow it to diversify and have basically an economic base even if an invasion leads to a major crisis in its financial and economic relationship with the West.

michael barbaro

Right. So this is the argument that Putin can live with the costs of the world reacting very negatively to this invasion?

anton troianovski

Exactly.

michael barbaro

OK. And what are the reasons why an invasion of Ukraine might not happen? What would be the case against it, if you were Vladimir Putin?

anton troianovski

Well, I mean, I have to say, talking to analysts, especially here in Russia, people are very skeptical that Putin would go ahead with an invasion. They point out that he is a careful tactician and that he doesn’t like making moves that are irreversible or that could have unpredictable consequences.

So if we even look at the military action he’s taken recently, the annexation of Crimea, there wasn’t a single shot fired in that. That was a very quick special-forces-type operation. What we’re talking about here, an invasion of Ukraine, would be just a massive escalation from anything Putin has done so far. We are talking about the biggest land war in Europe since World War II, most likely. And it would have all kinds of unpredictable consequences.

There’s also the domestic situation to keep in mind. Putin does still have approval ratings above 60 percent, but things are a bit shaky here, especially with Covid. And some analysts say that Putin wouldn’t want to usher in the kind of domestic unpredictability that could start with a major war with young men coming back in body bags.

And then finally, looking at Putin’s strategy and everything that he’s said, for all we know, he doesn’t really want to annex Ukraine. He wants influence over Ukraine. And the way he thinks he can do that is through negotiations with the United States.

And that’s where the last key point here comes in, which is Putin’s real conviction that it’s the U.S. pulling the strings here and that he can accomplish his goals by getting President Biden to sit down with him and hammering out a deal about the structure of security in Eastern Europe.

So in that sense, this whole troop build-up might not be about an impending invasion at all. It might just be about coercive diplomacy, getting the U.S. to the table, and getting them to hammer out an agreement that would somehow pledge to keep Ukraine out of NATO and pledge to keep Western military infrastructure out of Ukraine and parts of the Black Sea.

michael barbaro

Well in that sense, Anton, Putin may be getting what he wants, right? Because as we speak, President Putin and President Biden have just wrapped up a very closely watched phone call about all of this. So is it possible that that call produces a breakthrough and perhaps a breakthrough that goes Putin’s way?

anton troianovski

Well, that’s very hard to imagine. And that’s really what makes this situation so volatile and so dangerous, which is that what Putin wants, the West and President Biden can’t really give.

michael barbaro

Why not?

anton troianovski

Well, for instance, pledging to keep Ukraine out of NATO would violate the Western concept that every country should have the right to decide for itself what its alliances are. President Biden obviously has spent years, going back to when he was vice president, really speaking in favor of Ukrainian sovereignty and self-determination and trying to help Ukraine take a more Western path. So Biden suddenly turning on all of that and giving Putin what he wants here is hard to imagine.

michael barbaro

Right, because that would create a very slippery slope when it comes to any country that Russia wants to have influence over. It would then know that the right playbook would be to mass troops on the border and wait for negotiation with the U.S. and hope that the U.S. would basically sell those countries out. That’s probably not something you’re saying that President Biden would willingly do.

anton troianovski

Right. And then, of course, the other question is, well, if Russia doesn’t get what it wants, if Putin doesn’t get what he wants, then what does he do?

michael barbaro

So Anton, it’s tempting to think that this could all be what you just described as a coercive diplomatic bluff by Putin to extract what he wants from President Biden and from the West. But it feels like history has taught us that Putin is willing to invade Ukraine. He did it in 2014.

History has also taught us that he’s obsessed with Ukraine, dating back to 1991 and the end of the Soviet Union. And it feels like one of the ultimate lessons of history is that we have to judge leaders based on their actions. And his actions right now are putting 175,000 troops near the border with Ukraine. And so shouldn’t we conclude that it very much looks like Putin might carry out this invasion?

anton troianovski

Yes, that’s right. And of course, there are steps that Putin could take that would be short of a full-fledged invasion that could still be really destabilizing and damaging. Here in Moscow, I’ve heard analysts speculate about maybe pinpoint airstrikes against the Ukrainian targets, or a limited invasion perhaps just specifically in that area where Russian-backed separatists are fighting.

But even such steps could have really grave consequences. And that’s why if you combine what we’re seeing on the ground in Russia, near the border, and what we’ve been hearing from President Putin and other officials here in Moscow, that all tells us that the stakes here are really high.

michael barbaro

Well, Anton, thank you very much. We appreciate your time.

anton troianovski

Thanks for having me.

michael barbaro

On Tuesday afternoon, both the White House and the Kremlin released details about the call between Putin and Biden. The White House said that Biden warned Putin of severe economic sanctions if Russia invaded Ukraine. The Kremlin said that Putin repeated his demands that Ukraine not be allowed to join NATO and that Western weapons systems not be placed inside Ukraine. But Putin made no promises to remove Russian forces from the border.

[music]

We’ll be right back.

Here’s what else you need to know today. On Tuesday night, top Democrats and Republicans said they had reached a deal to raise the country’s debt ceiling and avert the U.S. defaulting on its debt for the first time. The deal relies on a complicated one-time legislative maneuver that allows Democrats in the Senate to raise the debt ceiling without support from Republicans, since Republicans oppose raising the debt ceiling under President Biden. Without congressional action, the Treasury Department says it can no longer pay its bills after December 15.

Today’s episode was produced by Eric Krupke, Rachelle Bonja and Luke Vander Ploeg. It was edited by Michael Benoist, contains original music by Dan Powell and Marion Lozano, and was engineered by Chris Wood. Our theme music is by Jim Brunberg and Ben Landsverk of Wonderly.

That’s it for The Daily. I’m Michael Barbaro. See you tomorrow.

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Live Updates: In Phone Call, Biden Warns Putin of ‘Severe’ Costs of Invading Ukraine

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transcript

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Russia Could Invade Ukraine at Any Time, U.S. Says

Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, warned that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia could launch a major assault on Ukraine before the end of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, but said that Mr. Putin had not reached a final decision yet.

“We are in the window when an invasion could begin at any time should Vladimir Putin decide to order it. I will not comment on the details of our intelligence information, but I do want to be clear: It could begin during the Olympics. We encourage all American citizens who remain in Ukraine to depart immediately. We want to be crystal clear on this point. Any American in Ukraine should leave as soon as possible and in any event, in the next 24 to 48 hours. We obviously cannot predict the future. We don’t know exactly what is going to happen, but the risk is now high enough and the threat is now immediate enough that this is what prudence demands. If you stay, you are assuming risk with no guarantee that there will be any other opportunity to leave, and there — no prospect of a U.S. military evacuation in the event of a Russian invasion.” Reporter: “Does the United States believe that the president — pardon me — that President Putin has made a decision because PBS NewsHour just reported a little bit ago that the United States does believe that Putin has made a decision, and has also communicated that decision to the Russian military. Is that accurate?” “The report that you just referenced, which I have not seen yet, it does not accurately capture what the U.S. government’s view is today. Our view is that we do not believe he has made any kind of final decision or we don’t know that he has made any final decision, and we have not communicated that to anybody.”

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Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, warned that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia could launch a major assault on Ukraine before the end of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, but said that Mr. Putin had not reached a final decision yet.CreditCredit…Photo by Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

President Biden warned Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on Saturday that invading Ukraine would result in “swift and severe” costs to Russia, diminish his country’s standing and cause “widespread human suffering,” as Western officials made another diplomatic push to dissuade Mr. Putin from pressing forward with an attack.

It remained unclear if Mr. Putin would invade, according to senior administration officials. One senior national security official, who briefed reporters shortly after the call took place, said that there was “no fundamental change in the dynamic that has unfolded now for several weeks,” an acknowledgment that Mr. Putin has continued to build up a military presence that has effectively surrounded Ukraine.

After the call, a senior administration official said that the situation remained as urgent as it was on Friday when Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, warned Americans to leave the country in the coming days.

The official pointed out that the Russians were continuing their military buildup even as Mr. Biden and Mr. Putin prepared to speak, underscoring concern among U.S. officials that Mr. Putin was capable of initiating a major military incursion, even if it remained unclear if he would actually do so.

The officials discussed the call on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

The Russian government was expected to present its assessment of the call soon.

The two leaders spoke just hours after the State Department ordered all but a “core team” of its diplomats and employees to leave the American Embassy in Kyiv over fears that Moscow would soon mount a major assault.

Reflecting the urgent concern in Washington over Russia’s growing military buildup surrounding its smaller neighbor, the Pentagon said it would temporarily pull 160 American military trainers out of the country, where they had been working with Ukrainian troops near the Polish border.

Even as Mr. Biden and Mr. Putin spoke by telephone — and after calls earlier Saturday between the top U.S. and Russian diplomats and between the countries’ defense secretaries — the path to a diplomatic resolution to the standoff appeared to be narrowing, with growing numbers of Russian and Russian-backed forces massing around Ukraine on three sides.

U.S. intelligence officials had thought Mr. Putin was prepared to wait until the end of the Winter Olympics in Beijing before possibly ordering an offensive, to avoid antagonizing President Xi Jinping of China, a critical ally. But in recent days, they say, the timeline began moving up, an acceleration that Biden administration officials began publicly acknowledging on Friday.

“We continue to see signs of Russian escalation, including new forces arriving at the Ukrainian border,” Mr. Sullivan told reporters on Friday, adding that an invasion could begin “during the Olympics,” which are scheduled to end on Feb. 20.

U.S. officials do not know whether Mr. Putin has decided to invade, Mr. Sullivan insisted. “We are ready either way,” he said. “Whatever happens next, the West is more united than it has been in years.”





Border with Russian units

KAZAKHSTAN

Russian units

SEA OF

AZOV

Transnistria, a

Russian-backed

breakaway region

of Moldova.

Russia invaded and

annexed the Crimean

Peninsula from

Ukraine in 2014.

Approximate line

separating Ukrainian and

Russian-backed forces near

two breakaway provinces.

Border with

Russian units

Russian

units

Russia annexed

the Crimean

Peninsula from

Ukraine in 2014.

Transnistria, a

Russian-backed

breakaway region

of Moldova.

Approximate line

separating Ukrainian

and Russian-backed

forces.

The United States has picked up intelligence that Russia is discussing next Wednesday as the target date for the start of military action, officials said, acknowledging the possibility that mentioning a particular date could be part of a Russian disinformation effort.

The Ukrainian government urged calm, with President Volodymyr Zelensky saying that he had not seen intelligence indicating an imminent Russian attack, and that “too much information” about a possible offensive was sowing unnecessary fear.

The United States has ruled out sending troops to defend Ukraine, but it has increased deployments to NATO member countries in Eastern Europe. The Pentagon on Friday said it had ordered 3,000 more soldiers to Poland.

The White House is eager to avoid a repeat of the chaotic evacuation of the U.S. Embassy staff from Kabul last August as Afghanistan fell to the Taliban. The United States and countries including Britain, Denmark, Germany, Japan, Latvia and the Netherlands have issued increasingly urgent calls for their citizens to leave Ukraine. On Saturday, KLM, the main Dutch airline, announced that it will stop flying to Ukraine, citing the security situation.

A State Department official emphasized on Saturday that the U.S. military would not be evacuating American citizens from Ukraine in the way troops did in Afghanistan.

Russia has accused Western countries of spreading misinformation about its intentions. On Saturday, its Foreign Ministry said it was pulling some of its diplomatic personnel out of Ukraine because it was “drawing the conclusion that our American and British colleagues seem to know about certain military actions.”

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