matériel, but fear it could soon be surrounded, trapping a large number of Ukrainian troops.

Mr. Michta wrote for Politico.

“For the first time in the modern era,” he wrote, “it would force Moscow to come to terms with what it takes, economically and politically, to become a ‘normal’ nation-state.”

Reporting was contributed by Andrew E. Kramer and Valerie Hopkins from Kyiv, and Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Lysychansk, Ukraine.

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Shortage of Artillery Ammo Saps Ukrainian Frontline Morale

DONETSK REGION, Ukraine — Nearly four months after Russia invaded, the Ukrainian military is running low on ammunition for its Soviet-era artillery and has not received enough supplies from its allies to keep the Russians at bay, Ukrainian officials and artillery officers in the field say.

The shortage has put Ukrainian troops at a growing disadvantage in the artillery-driven war of attrition in the country’s east, with Russia’s batteries now firing several times as many rounds as Ukraine’s. While the West is sending in weapons, they are not arriving fast enough or in sufficient numbers to make up for Ukraine’s dwindling arsenal.

The Western weapons, heavy, long-range artillery pieces and multiple-launch rocket systems, are more accurate and highly mobile, but it takes time to deploy them and train soldiers to use them. In the meantime, Ukraine is running out of ammunition for the older weapons.

The Guardian newspaper that Ukraine was losing the artillery battle with Russia on the front lines because of the shortage of artillery shells for its older guns. He said Ukraine was firing 5,000 to 6,000 artillery rounds a day and had “almost used up all of our ammunition.”

By contrast, Russian forces are firing about 60,000 artillery shells and rockets each day in the Donbas fighting, according to a senior adviser to the Ukrainian military command who was not authorized to speak publicly.

Michael Kofman, the director of Russia studies at CNA, a research institute in Arlington, Va., said ammunition supplies would be critical to the final outcome in the battle for eastern Ukraine.

“This war is far more about attrition by artillery than maneuver, which means one of the deciding factors is who has more ammunition,” he said.

That Ukraine was running low on ammunition has hardly been a secret. Ukrainian officials flagged the problem months ago. On the front lines, commanders watched, alarmed, as stocks dwindled mid-battle. Soldiers say requests for artillery support go unanswered, for lack of shells.

Vadym Mischuk, 32, a Ukrainian soldier who had just rotated off the frontline near the eastern city of Bakhmut, said Thursday that there is so much Russian artillery fire that “we don’t even hear ours.” One soldier, who declined to provide his name for security reasons, estimated that for every one Ukrainian shell fired, the Russians fired 10.

The Ukrainian military has been honest about the shortfalls — something an army would not typically telegraph to the enemy in a war — perhaps because doing so adds a sense of urgency to appeals for more powerful Western weaponry.

“In early March we were already well aware that during intensive war with Russia our resources were depleting,” Ukraine’s defense minister, Oleksiy Reznikov, wrote on Facebook on Thursday. He added, “Relying solely on Soviet weapons was definitely a losing strategy.”

Even before the invasion, Ukraine’s ammunition depots had been targets for saboteurs, regularly blowing up like gigantic, lethally dangerous fireworks displays.

Spies or drones dropping incendiary devices were blamed in many cases. Between 2015 and 2019, six ammunition depots blew up in Ukraine, burning about 210,000 tons of ammo, or three times more than the Ukrainian army expended in the same time span fighting Russian-backed separatists, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Following Russia’s invasion, NATO countries have stepped in to bolster Ukraine’s supply of ammunition, but the transfers have not always gone smoothly. Countries of the old Warsaw Pact and NATO countries used different calibers of ammunition — an enduring legacy that means much of Ukraine’s arsenal, built decades ago to Soviet specifications, cannot fire Western ammunition.

Ukraine’s newly acquired hoard of NATO’s 155-millimeter artillery shells is now larger than its entire artillery ammunition stockpile before the war started, Mr. Reznikov said. But the Ukrainian forces have too few guns at the front to fire the munitions, and are facing extensive logistics challenges not only to get them into the fight, but also to maintain them once there.

Some European countries have shipped so many of their own ammunition reserves to Ukraine — in some cases up to 30 percent — that they’re increasingly anxious about replenishing their stocks, European Union officials said.

Officials said that while there was still a relatively steady flow of military equipment from the E.U. and its allies, Ukraine was not receiving as much heavy artillery as it needs.

With artillery shells in short supply, Ukrainian forces have adjusted their tactics to compensate for the lack of artillery support. On Friday, for example, a tank unit in Donbas was using a Ukrainian T-64BV tank more like an artillery piece than a main battle tank.

Instead of attacking targets directly, the tank drove several kilometers toward the front, positioned itself in a tree line, and lobbed shells at Russian positions while a Ukrainian officer adjusted its aim over the radio and using a drone overhead — the procedure typically used with mortars or howitzers.

“It is a fact already that the tanks are used because there is not enough artillery,” said the artillery unit commander, who asked to go by his nom de guerre, Razor. His unit of 122-millimeter, self-propelled howitzers had run out of Ukrainian ammunition and was now using Czech-supplied shells.

But ammunition can be fickle. Decades-old ammunition can become unreliable if not stored properly over time, potentially leading to more duds. Another soldier, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that a batch of Czech-supplied rockets were faulty, with only three out of 40 firing.

Ukrainian soldiers wounded in combat have also voiced dismay about the paltry artillery support, which they blamed on a lack of ammunition.

“There is not an hour with a pause” in Russian bombardments, Lt. Oleksandr Kolesnikov, who was wounded late last month, said in an interview in an ambulance while being evacuated to a hospital to the west. “The artillery is very intense.” He said his commander called in artillery in response but received only one salvo.

The Russian artillery superiority has frightened soldiers, he said. “In war, everything is scary and we fear everything. Only idiots are not afraid.”

Reporting was contributed by Oleksandr Chubko from Kramatorsk, Ukraine, Maria Varenikova from Barvinkove, Ukraine, Matina Stevis-Gridneff from Brussels and Helene Cooper and John Ismay from Washington.

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What Happened on Day 103 of the War in Ukraine

KHERSON REGION, Ukraine — Since Russia invaded, NATO nations have upgraded Ukraine’s arsenal with increasingly sophisticated tools, with more promised, like the advanced multiple-launch rocket systems pledged by the United States and Britain.

But training soldiers how to use the equipment has become a significant and growing obstacle — one encountered daily by Junior Sgt. Dmytro Pysanka and his crew, operating an aged antitank gun camouflaged in netting and green underbrush in southern Ukraine.

Peering through the sight attached to the gun, Sergeant Pysanka is greeted with a kaleidoscope of numbers and lines that, if read correctly, should give him the calculations needed to fire at Russian forces. However, errors are common in the chaos of battle.

More than a month ago, the commanders of his frontline artillery unit secured a far more advanced tool: a high-tech, Western-supplied laser range finder to help with targeting.

But there’s a hitch: Nobody knows how to use it.

“It’s like being given an iPhone 13 and only being able to make phone calls,” said Sergeant Pysanka, clearly exasperated.

The range finder, called a JIM LR, is like a pair of high-tech binoculars and likely part of the tranche of equipment supplied by the United States, said Sergeant Pysanka.

It may seem like a perfect choice to help make better use of the antitank gun, built in 1985. It can see targets at night and transmit their distance, compass heading and GPS coordinates. Some soldiers learned enough to operate the tool, but then rotated elsewhere in recent days, leaving the unit with an expensive paperweight.

“I have been trying to learn how to use it by reading the manual in English and using Google Translate to understand it,” Sergeant Pysanka said.

Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

On Monday, Britain promised to send Ukraine mobile multiple-rocket launchers, improving the range and accuracy of Ukrainian artillery, days after President Biden committed to sending similar weapons.

Ukraine’s most advanced new arms are concentrated in the eastern Donbas region, where the fiercest fighting rages as President Vladimir V. Putin’s forces — approaching from the east, north and south — try to crush a pocket of Ukrainian-held territory. At the eastern tip of that pocket, the two sides have waged a seesaw battle for the devastated, mostly abandoned city of Sievierodonetsk.

Over the weekend, Ukrainian troops regained some ground in the city, according to Western analysts and Ukrainian officials. But on Monday, the Ukrainians were forced back again as the Russian military ramped up its already intense artillery attack, according to Serhiy Haidai, Ukraine’s administrator for the region.

A day after a risky visit to troops in Lysychansk, near Sievierodonetsk, President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday gave journalists a blunt assessment of the challenge: “There are more of them. They are more powerful. But we have every chance to fight in this direction.”

Ukraine’s leaders frequently call for high-end Western weapons and equipment, pinning their hopes for victory to requests for new antitank guided missiles, howitzers and satellite-guided rockets.

But atop the need for the tools of war, Ukrainian troops need to know how to use them. Without proper training, the same dilemma facing Sergeant Pysanka’s unit and their lone range finder will be pervasive on a much larger scale. Analysts say that could echo the United States’ failed approach of supplying the Afghan military with equipment that couldn’t be maintained absent massive logistical support.

“Ukrainians are eager to employ Western equipment, but it requires training to maintain,” said Michael Kofman, the director of Russian studies at C.N.A., a research institute in Arlington, Va. “Some things it’s not easy to rush.”

The United States and other NATO countries gave extensive training to the Ukrainian military in the years before the war, though not on some of the advanced weapons they are now sending. From 2015 to early this year, U.S. military officials say, American instructors trained more than 27,000 Ukrainian soldiers at the Yavoriv Combat Training Center near Lviv. There were more than 150 American military advisers in Ukraine when Russia invaded in February, but they were withdrawn.

Since the beginning of the war, the United States has pledged roughly $54 billion in aid for Ukraine and supplied a bevy of weapons and equipment, most recently several advanced HIMARS mobile rocket launchers, a move greeted with swift condemnation from the Kremlin.

But to avoid a more direct confrontation with Russia, the Biden administration has so far declined to send military advisers back into Ukraine to help train Ukrainian forces to use new weapons systems, and has instead relied on training programs outside the country.

This has put enormous pressure on Ukrainian soldiers like Sgt. Andriy Mykyta, a member of the country’s border guard who, before the war, received brief training from NATO advisers on the advanced British antitank weapons, known as NLAWs.

Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Now he races around frontline positions trying to educate his comrades on how to use them. In many cases, he said, Ukrainian soldiers learned how to use some weapons, including NLAWs, on their own, using online videos and practice.

“But there are types of weapons that you can’t learn from intuition: surface-to-air missiles, artillery and some gear,” Sergeant Mykyta said in a telephone interview. “So we need formal courses,” he added.

Ukraine’s needs are palpable in the region where Sergeant Pysanka’s unit is dug in, just northeast of the Russian-occupied city of Kherson. The area was the site of a brief Ukrainian offensive in the past week that slowed as soon as the retreating Russians destroyed a key bridge; the Ukrainians’ lack of longer-range artillery meant they were unable to attempt a difficult river crossing in pursuit, Ukrainian military officials said.

For Sergeant Pysanka’s gun team, the only instructor available for the laser range finder is a soldier who remained behind from the last unit and had taken time to translate most of the 104-page instruction manual. But it’s still trial and error as they figure out what combination of buttons do what, while searching for ad hoc solutions to solve the lack of a mounting tripod and video monitor (both of which are advertised in the instruction manual).

“If you’re working long distances while holding it by hand, sometimes it can transmit inaccurate figures,” Sergeant Pysanka said. “It is safer,” he added, “to work when the gear is stationed on the tripod facing the enemy and the operator is working with the monitor under cover.”

The JIM LR, made by the French company Safran, looks like a cross between a virtual reality headset and traditional binoculars, and can be used alongside a mapping application on a computer tablet that Ukrainian troops use to help call in artillery strikes.

At around six pounds, it is far smaller than the four-and-a-half-ton, U.S.-supplied M777 155 mm howitzer that has recently made its way to the frontline in Ukraine’s east. But both pieces of equipment have intricacies that are reminders of the complications that come from supplying a military with foreign matériel.

The M777 is highly mobile and capable of firing long distances, but training has been a bottleneck in deploying the howitzers, Ukrainian officers say. At courses in Germany that lasted a week, the United States trained soldiers to fire the weapon and others to maintain it.

Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

But an oversight nearly delayed all maintenance on the guns at the hard-to-reach front lines, Ukrainian officers said. The entire M777 machine is put together on the imperial system used in the United States, meaning that using a Ukrainian metric wrench on it would be difficult, and would risk damaging the equipment.

Only after sending the guns did the United States arrange for a rushed shipment of toolboxes of imperial-gauge wrenches, said Maj. Vadim Baranik, the deputy commander of a maintenance unit.

But tools can be misplaced, lost or destroyed, potentially leaving guns inoperable unless someone scrounges up a U.S.-supplied wrench.

And the JIM LR, capable of displaying extremely accurate targeting data, supplies the information, known as grid coordinates, in a widely used NATO format that Sergeant Pysanka has to convert to the Soviet-era coordinate system used on the Ukrainians’ maps. Such minor speed bumps and chances for error add up, especially when under the stress of a Russian artillery barrage.

Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

For now, Sergeant Pysanka is focused on learning the range finder. In his small slice of the war, Western-supplied weapons and equipment are limited to a small number of antitank rockets and first-aid kits.

“We can’t boast the same kind of resources that there are in the east,” said Maj. Roman Kovalyov, a deputy commander of the unit that oversees Sergeant Pysanka’s gun position. “What Ukraine gets, we can only see on the TV. But we believe that sooner or later it will turn up here.”

Reporting was contributed by Andrew E. Kramer from Kramatorsk, Ukraine, and Eric Schmitt from Washington State.

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Biden waives solar panel tariffs for four countries, invokes defense law

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WASHINGTON, June 6 (Reuters) – President Joe Biden waived tariffs on solar panels from four Southeast Asian nations for two years and invoked the Defense Production Act to spur solar panel manufacturing at home, the White House said on Monday, confirming a Reuters report.

The tariff exemption applies to panels from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam and will serve as a “bridge” while U.S. manufacturing ramps up, the White House said.

Shares in U.S. solar companies including SunPower Corp (SPWR.O), Enphase Energy Inc (ENPH.O) and Sunrun Inc (RUN.O) climbed after Reuters earlier reported that Biden would issue a proclamation that ensured panels accounting for some 80 percent of U.S. imports would not face tariffs, which could have been levied retroactively as part of a Commerce Department probe.

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The move comes in response to concerns about a freezing of solar projects nationwide and the resulting impact on the administration’s plans to fight climate change. The investigation, announced in March, is considering whether solar panel imports from the four countries were circumventing tariffs on goods made in China.

The probe had prompted the largest solar trade group to cut its installation forecasts for this year and next by 46% as developers including NextEra Energy Inc (NEE.N), Southern Co (SO.N) warned of major project delays read more .

The White House said the Defense Production Act would also be used to expand manufacturing of building insulation, heat pumps, transformers, and equipment for “clean electricity-generated fuels” such as electrolyzers and fuel cells.

“With a stronger clean energy arsenal, the United States can be an even stronger partner to our allies, especially in the face of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s war in Ukraine,” the White House said in a statement.

Manufacturing makes up a small portion of the U.S. solar industry, with most of the jobs concentrated in project development, installation and construction. Proposed legislation that would encourage domestic solar manufacturing is currently stalled in Congress.

Heather Zichal, chief executive of the American Clean Power Association, said Biden’s announcement would “rejuvenate the construction and domestic manufacturing of solar power by restoring predictability and business certainty.”

The Commerce Department investigation – kicked off in response to a complaint from a small solar panel provider, Auxin – essentially halted the flow of solar panels that make up more than half of U.S. supplies and 80 percent of imports.

Auxin’s CEO, Mamun Rashid, criticized the White House move as having “opened the door wide for Chinese-funded special interests to defeat the fair application of U.S. trade law.”

Top U.S. panel manufacturer First Solar said the administration’s move “undermines American solar manufacturing.” Its shares were down more than 2% in mid-day trade on the Nasdaq.

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Reporting by Jeff Mason; additional reporting by Nichola Groom; editing by John Stonestreet and Tomasz Janowski

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Live Updates: Ukraine Appears to Surrender Control of Steel Plant in Mariupol

Army vehicles were so decrepit that repair crews were stationed roughly every 15 miles. Some officers were so out of shape that the military budgeted $1.5 million to re-size standard uniforms.

That was the Russian military more than a decade ago when the country invaded Georgia, according to the defense minister at the time. The shortcomings, big and small, were glaring enough that the Kremlin announced a complete overhaul of the military to build a leaner, more flexible, professional force.

But now, almost three months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it is clear the Kremlin fell woefully short of creating an effective fighting machine. Russian forces in Ukraine have underperformed to a degree that has surprised most Western analysts, raising the prospect that President Vladimir V. Putin’s military operation could end in failure.

By any measure, despite capturing territory in the south and east, the Russian military has suffered a major blow in Ukraine. It has been forced to abandon what it expected would be a blitzkrieg to seize the entire country in a few days. Its forces were driven from around Kyiv, the capital. The flagship of its Black Sea fleet, the Moskva, was sunk; it has never controlled the skies; and by some Western estimates, tens of thousands of Russians have died.

Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

This war has exposed the fact that, to Russia’s detriment, much of the military culture and learned behavior of the Soviet era endures: inflexibility in command structure, corruption in military spending, and concealing casualty figures and repeating the mantra that everything is going according to plan.

The signs of trouble were hiding in plain sight. Just last summer, Russia held war games that the Ministry of Defense said showed its ability to coordinate a deployment of 200,000 men from different branches of the military in a mock effort to combat NATO. They would be among the largest military exercises ever, it said.

Lt. General Yunus-Bek Evkunov, the deputy defense minister, told reporters the exercises demonstrated Russia’s ability to rapidly deploy joint forces in a manner that would “make sober any enemy.’’

The whole exercise was scripted. There was no opposing force; the main units involved had practiced their choreography for months; and each exercise started and stopped at a fixed time. The number of troops participating was probably half the number advertised, military analysts said.

“It is the Soviet army, basically,” said Kamil Galeev, an independent Russian analyst and former fellow at The Wilson Center in Washington. “The reforms increased the efficiency of the army, but they only went halfway.”

Credit…Vadim Savitskiy/Russian Defense Ministry Press Service

When, after the Georgia conflict in 2008, Russia tried to revamp its military, the idea was to jettison the rigidly centralized, Soviet-era army that could supposedly muster four million troops in no time. Instead, field officers would get more responsibility, units would learn to synchronize their skills and the entire arsenal would be dragged into the computer age.

Many traditionalists resisted change, preferring the old model of a huge, concentrated force. But other factors also contributed to the military’s inability to transform. Birthrates plunged in the 1990s, leading to a shrinking pool of men that could be conscripted. That, and persistent low salaries, delayed recruitment targets. Endemic corruption handicapped the efforts.

But the basic problem was that the military culture of the Soviet Union endured, despite the lack of men and means to sustain it, analysts said.

“The Soviet military was built to generate millions of men to fill lots and lots of divisions that had endless stockpiles of equipment,” said Michael Kofman, the director of Russia studies at CNA, a research institute in Arlington, Va. “It was designed for World War III, the war with NATO that never came.”

Ultimately, the push for change stalled, leaving a hybrid version of the military somewhere between mass mobilization and a more flexible force, analysts said. It still favors substantial artillery over infantry troops who can take and hold land.

The scripted way the military practices warfare, on display in last summer’s exercises, is telling. “Nobody is being tested on their ability to think on the battlefield,” said William Alberque, the Berlin-based director of the arms control program at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Instead, officers are assessed on their ability to follow instructions, he said.

Russia would like the world to view its army as it appears during the annual Victory Day parade — a well-oiled instrument of fit soldiers in dashing uniforms marching in unison and bristling with menacing weapons.

Credit…Yuri Kochetkov/EPA, via Shutterstock

“They use the military forces as a propaganda machine,” said Gleb Irisov, 31, a former air force lieutenant who left the military in 2020 after five years. He then worked as a military analyst for the official TASS news agency before quitting and leaving the country because he strongly opposed the invasion.

Senior military commanders argue that recent expeditionary forces, especially in Syria, provided real combat training, but analysts call that claim inflated.

Russian troops faced no real adversary in Syria; the war was mostly an air force operation where the pilots could hover over targets at will. Russia has not fought a large land war since World War II.

Yet Russia’s leaders exaggerated the country’s success. In 2017, Sergei K. Shoigu, Russia’s defense minister, bragged at a meeting of fellow ministers in the Philippines that Russia had “liberated’’ 503,223 square kilometers in Syria. The problem is that the area Mr. Shoigu claimed to have freed from militants is more than twice the size of the entire country, reported Proekt, an independent news outlet.

Credit…Russian Defense Ministry Press Service

With about 900,000 people overall, a little over one third of them ground forces, the Russian military is not that large, considering that it must defend a vast country covering 11 time zones, analysts said. But the goal of recruiting 50,000 contract soldiers every year, first stated a decade ago, has not been met, so there is still a yearly draft of 18- to 27-year olds.

Mr. Putin has not resorted to a mass military draft that would muster all able-bodied adult males for the war. But even if he did, the infrastructure required to train civilians en masse no longer exists. The consensus is that the bulk of Russia’s available ground forces have already been deployed in Ukraine.

Rampant corruption has drained resources. “Each person steals as much of the allocated funds as is appropriate for their rank,” said retired Maj. Gen. Harri Ohra-Aho, the former Chief of Intelligence in Finland and still a Ministry of Defense adviser.

The corruption is so widespread that some cases inevitably land in court.

In January, Col. Evgeny Pustovoy, the former head of the procurement department for armored vehicles, was accused of helping to steal more than $13 million by faking contracts for batteries from 2018 to 2020, according to TASS.

In February, a Moscow military court stripped Maj. Gen. Alexander Ogloblin of his rank and sentenced him to 4.5 years in prison for what the charges called fraud on an “especially large scale.” The authorities accused him of embezzling about $25 million by vastly overstating the expenses in state contracts for satellite and other equipment, the business news website BFM.RU reported.

Credit…Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

Huge contracts are not the only temptation. The combination of low salaries — a senior officer earns roughly $1,000 per month — and swelling budgets is a recipe for all sorts of theft, analysts said, leading to a chain reaction of problems.

Commanders disguise how few exercises they hold, pocketing the resources budgeted for them, said Mr. Irisov, the analyst. That exacerbates a lack of basic military skills like navigation and shooting, although the air force did maintain flight safety standards.

“It is impossible to imagine the scale of lies inside the military,” Mr. Irisov said. “The quality of military production is very low because of the race to steal money.”

One out of every five rubles spent on the armed forces was stolen, the chief military prosecutor, Sergey Fridinsky, told Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the official government newspaper, in 2011.

Mr. Irisov said he had encountered numerous examples of subpar equipment — the vaunted Pantsir air defense system unable to shoot down a small Israeli drone over Syria; Russian-made light bulbs on the wings of SU-35 warplanes melting at supersonic speeds; new trucks breaking down after two years.

In general, Russian weaponry lags behind its computerized Western counterparts, but it is serviceable, military analysts said. Still, some new production has been limited.

For example, the T-14 Armata, a “next generation” battle tank unveiled in 2015, has not been deployed in Ukraine because there are so few, they said.

Credit…Ramil Sitdikov/Host Photo Agency, via Getty Images

Russia has poured hundreds of billions of dollars into its military, producing under the State Armament Program a stream of new airplanes, tanks, helicopters and other matériel. Military spending has not dipped below 3.5 percent of gross domestic product for much of the past decade, according to figures from the International Institute for Strategic Studies, at a time when most European nations struggled to invest 2 percent of G.D.P. And that is only the public portion of Russia’s military budget.

This kind of financial investment has helped Russia make what gains it has in Ukraine.

Johan Norberg, a Russia analyst at the Swedish Defense Research Agency, said Russia and its military are too sprawling to expect them to fix every problem, even in a decade. The war in Ukraine exposed the fact that the Russian military is “not 10 feet tall, but they are not two feet tall, either,” he said.

Alina Lobzina and Milana Mazaeva contributed reporting.

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North Korea fires likely submarine-launched ballistic missile, South Korea says

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meets troops who have taken part in the military parade to mark the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army, in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) April 29, 2022. KCNA via REUTERS

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  • Submarine launch an escalation before key diplomatic events
  • N.Korea may conduct nuclear test as soon as this month-officials
  • S.Korea to seek deterrence against North’s nuclear threat-aide

SEOUL/TOKYO, May 7 (Reuters) – North Korea fired a ballistic missile from a submarine on Saturday, South Korea said, an escalation just before the inauguration of a South Korean president who has vowed to take a hard line against the North and the visit of the U.S. president.

South Korean military said North Korea fired what is believed to be a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) into the sea off its east coast around 0507 GMT on Saturday from near Sinpo, where North Korea keeps submarines as well as equipment for test-firing SLBMs.

Japan also said the projectile was a short-range ballistic missile. Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi said North Korea’s recent development in nuclear missile-related technology and repeated launches of ballistic missiles threatened the region and the international community.

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“This is absolutely unacceptable,” he told reporters, adding that Japan will continue to “strengthen defence capabilities drastically” to protect its citizens from such security threats, in close cooperation with the United States, South Korea and other allies.

The launch comes three days before Tuesday’s inauguration of Yoon Suk-yeol as South Korea’s president, and ahead of his May 21 summit with U.S. President Joe Biden in Seoul.

South Korea’s National Intelligence Service chief Park Jie-won said North Korea may conduct a nuclear test between the inauguration and the Biden visit, Yonhap news agency reported.

Kishi said it is possible for North Korea to complete nuclear test preparations as early as this month, and take further provocative acts.

This was also in line with a U.S. assessment that Pyongyang was preparing its Punggye-ri nuclear test site and could be ready to conduct a test there as early as this month. read more

“This is aiming at the (South’s) new administration beginning next week, and applying preemptive pressure to take control of the situation before the U.S.-South Korea summit,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

“It also creates tension to strengthen the regime’s internal coherence in the face of circumstances such as prevention of COVID-19 spreading.”

The United States condemned the launch as a threat to North Korea’s neighbors and the world. A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department said Washington’s commitment to defending South Korea and Japan “remains ironclad.”

YOON TO SEEK DETERRENCE

Intelligence chief Park told Yonhap that Tunnel No. 3 at the Punggye-ri site is designed to test smaller nuclear devices, without elaborating.

Analysts and South Korean and U.S. officials have said the North appears to be restoring Tunnel No. 3 at the east coast site, which was used for underground nuclear blasts before it was closed in 2018 amid denuclearisation talks with Washington and Seoul. read more

Japan and South Korea estimated Saturday’s missile had flown as high as 50-60 km (30-40 miles) and as far as 600 km (370 miles).

The Yoon administration will muster its capabilities as soon as possible for fundamental measures against North Korean provocations and practical deterrence against nuclear missile threats, Yoon’s nominee for national security adviser, Kim Sung-han, said in a statement.

On Wednesday, North Korea fired a ballistic missile toward the sea off its east coast, South Korea and Japan said, after Pyongyang vowed to develop its nuclear forces “at the fastest possible speed”. read more

“Instead of accepting invitations to dialogue, the Kim regime appears to be preparing a tactical nuclear warhead test. The timing will depend most on when the underground tunnels and modified device technology are ready,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

“A seventh nuclear test would be the first since September 2017 and raise tensions on the Korean Peninsula, increasing dangers of miscalculation and miscommunication between the Kim regime and the incoming Yoon administration.”

Last month, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pledged to speed up development of his country’s nuclear arsenal. He presided over a huge military parade that displayed intercontinental ballistic missiles as well as what appeared to be SLBMs being carried on trucks and launch vehicles. read more

In October, North Korea test-fired a new, smaller ballistic missile from a submarine, a move that analysts said could be aimed at more quickly fielding an operational missile submarine. read more

Yoon, in an interview with Voice of America released on Saturday, said that a meeting with Kim Jong Un is not off the table but would need to have concrete results.

“There’s no reason to avoid meeting” Kim, Yoon said. “However, if we are not be able to show any results, or results are just for show and does not have actual outcomes in denuclearisation… it’s not going to help the relationship between the two Koreas progress.”

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Reporting by Joyce Lee in Seoul and Kantaro Komiya in Tokyo; Additional reporting by Soo-hyang Choi and Hyonhee Shin; Editing by William Mallard and Daniel Wallis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Ukraine Live Updates: Seeing a Stalled Russia, West Adds Support and Arms for Ukraine

ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine — Some flashed bright smiles and others bent over in heaving sobs, sharing the end of their hellish subterranean ordeal. Here, at last, were ordinary things they thought they might not live to see again: sunlight, enough food and escape from incessant Russian shelling.

On a fleet of city buses, flanked by white United Nations and Red Cross vehicles, nearly 130 women, children and elderly people on Tuesday reached the relative safety of Ukrainian-controlled territory, after weeks huddled in the belly of Mariupol’s sprawling steelworks.

They had sheltered in the near-darkness of underground bunkers, with little food or water as explosives of all shapes and sizes rained down day and night, slowly chipping away the steel and concrete overhead that was their only protection.

“For some reason I remember Easter, Easter Day,” said Inna Papush, who spent 58 days underground with her daughter, Dasha, 17. “We thought it would be a holy day and they would take a break,” she said of the Russian forces.

“But the shelling became even heavier,” Dasha said, completing her mother’s thought.

Leaders of the United States and Europe pressed harder on Tuesday to arm Ukraine, hinder the Kremlin and strengthen the NATO alliance — President Biden visited a factory that makes antitank missiles that have been vital to the Ukrainian cause — even as President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia warned that they were only making matters worse.

And in the parking lot of the Epicenter shopping complex in Zaporizhzhia, in southeastern Ukraine, evacuees from Mariupol stepped from buses, blinking in the sunshine. They were greeted by a parade of aid workers offering tea and snacks and a less-than-quiet place to rest in a large white tent buzzing with journalists, psychologists and the occasional politician. Children were given candy, while an air raid siren sounded briefly, ignored by all.

Their evacuation was a rare but limited victory for diplomacy, and an unusual concession to human dignity by Russian forces who have inflicted death and misery upon civilian populations across a broad swath of Ukraine since the war began on Feb. 24.

Negotiators from the United Nations and the International Committee for the Red Cross brokered a deal with the Russians that allowed for the civilians to escape the Azovstal steel plant, the sprawling complex that had been their refuge. But it came only after more than two months of intense attacks that have turned Mariupol, once a vivacious port city, into a ruin of bomb-blasted buildings and corpse-strewn streets. In addition to 127 evacuees who fled to Zaporizhzhia, about 30 escaped the plant but chose to remain in Mariupol, according to The Associated Press.

In the days leading up to a cease-fire that allowed the civilians to escape, Russian forces escalated their attacks on the plant, causing cave-ins that hampered rescue efforts and killing and injuring unknown numbers, according to Ukrainian officials and troops who are still there.

“I was in Azovstal for two and a half months and they slammed us from all sides,” said Olga Savina, an elderly woman, as she emerged from a white city bus provided by the Zaporizhzhia authorities for the evacuation.

As she spoke, she repeatedly cast her gaze down to the pavement, explaining that the sun burned her eyes after so many days underground.

From the evacuees a picture began to emerge of life in Azovstal. The steel mill was like a small city, with roads and buildings dating to the post-World War II era, when any big Soviet construction project included reinforced bomb shelters equipped with everything needed for long-term survival.

Evacuees described bunkers, most housing 30 to 50 people, with kitchens, bathhouses and sleeping areas. The shelters were spread out around the grounds of the complex, so there was little contact between groups hiding in different places.

There in the dark, a semblance of day-to-day life took shape.

“We got used to it being very dark. We had to economize food,” said Dasha Papush. “The soldiers brought us what they could: water, food, oatmeal.”

“We didn’t eat like we did at home,” she added.

Many of the evacuees had been underground since the earliest days of the war. For a woman named Anna, 29, who placated her young son, Ivan, with a lollipop, it was 57 days. While there, she was separated from her husband, a fighter in the National Guard, by a brisk, 15-minute walk through the factory ruins, though visits were rare because of the shelling and constant fighting.

Leaving the safety of the underground shelter was treacherous, but necessary for survival.

“The guys who are with us went out under fire and tried to find us a generator and fuel, so that we had electricity to charge our flashlights,” she said. “We of course had to search for water.”

For Sergei Tsybulchenko, 60, the reason to emerge was firewood. Scattered around the grounds of the factory were shipping palettes that he and a few men would collect and break up to fuel the cooking fire he and his fellow inmates had made in a part of their bunker. He and the 50 or so others crammed into his bunker would gather to prepare and share one meal a day, he explained — usually a mix of macaroni, oatmeal and canned meat, cooked all together in a large pot.

Mr. Tsybulchenko said the fire had to be kept low, for fear that it could be detected by thermal sensors on Russian jets.

“It was just always, boom, boom, boom, boom,” he said. “It was a real strain on the brain.”

Under constant bombardment, he said, the shelter began to disintegrate, with a portion of it collapsing.

Over the weekend, for the first time in weeks, it stopped.

In Mr. Tsybulchenko’s shelter, three soldiers with the Azov regiment, a Ukrainian military unit whose soldiers make up the bulk of those fighting at Azovstal, asked for anyone suffering from any illnesses to come forward. Mr. Tsybulchenko’s wife, Nelya, who has asthma, raised her hand. The couple walked out of the shelter into the sunlight with their daughter, her husband and a small dog.

Only 11 people from their bunker were chosen to leave, leaving some 40 others behind. Those who remained included a mother with her two children, who Mr. Tsybulchenko said was scared to leave because her husband was a high-ranking officer fighting at the plant.

“She was worried that if they found out, she would end up in a prison camp together with the children,” he said.

The mayor of Mariupol, Vadym Boichenko, said in a televised interview on Tuesday that more than 200 civilians were still hiding at the plant, and that more than 100,000 people remained scattered about the city. Inside Azovstal, supplies of food, water and medicines have dwindled to critical levels.

The Russians resumed shelling the plant almost immediately after international negotiators departed with evacuees, according to soldiers there. On Tuesday, Russian forces attempted to storm the complex after pummeling it with planes, tanks and artillery, Capt. Svyatoslav Palamar, the deputy commander of the Azov regiment at the plant, said in a statement on Telegram. The regiment released video showing the bodies of two women, who it said were killed in the renewed attack.

“We will do everything possible to repel this assault,” Captain Palamar said. “However, we call for immediate action to evacuate civilians from the plant’s grounds.”

It took Mr. Tsybulchenko and his family nearly two hours just to make it out of the complex. An elderly man who was with them had to be carried over twisted equipment, through massive craters and around unexploded ordinance.

Once outside, the evacuees were handed over to Russian troops and eventually put on buses for what would become a three-day, roundabout journey through dozens of checkpoints, where Russian soldiers fingerprinted and photographed them and interrogated them about the locations of Ukrainian fighters still at the plant.

At one point on the journey, Mr. Tsybulchenko looked off in the distance and saw the remains of Mariupol, the city of his birth. The apartment that his grandfather had received from the Soviet authorities in the 1960s and where he had lived since he was 3 years old was gone. On the horizon, he could make out the jagged shapes of the steel factory.

“A black smoke hung over Azovstal,” he said.

Cora Engelbrecht contributed reporting from Krakow, Poland.

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Ukraine Live Updates: Amid Hardening Western Resolve, Russia’s Eastern Drive Seems to Stall

Western support of Ukraine hardened Friday as the European Union was poised to approve an embargo on Russian oil, amid fresh assessments that the Russian military’s eastern offensive was faltering, hampered by logistical issues and stiff Ukrainian resistance.

The oil embargo, which would be phased in over a period of some months, is expected to be approved by E.U. ambassadors next week, in a step that should avoid the time-consuming process of gathering heads of state.

Word of the European oil embargo came amid a surge of activity to provide Ukraine with more weapons and support, while shoring up NATO’s defenses, as the Kremlin and Western allies seemed to gird for a drawn-out struggle that risked spilling over Ukraine’s borders.

President Biden’s request Thursday for Congress to approve $33 billion to bolster Ukraine’s arsenal and economy was followed by more commitments by allies. Britain’s military said on Friday that it would deploy 8,000 soldiers to Europe, who were to join tens of thousands of troops from NATO countries in exercises meant to deter further Russian aggression.

While the NATO allies’ commitments to Ukraine grew, the Russian offensive in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine showed signs of stalling amid heavy battlefield losses and was now “several days behind” schedule, a senior Pentagon official said on Friday.

Britain’s Defense Intelligence agency largely concurred, saying on Friday that “Russian territorial gains have been limited and achieved at significant cost to Russian forces.”

In a video released on Friday, an aide to the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, called the Russian losses “colossal.”

Credit…Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

The Russian military is trying to encircle Ukrainian troops in the Donbas region by attacking from the north, east and south, but has made little progress, experts and Pentagon officials say.

Victory in the Donbas campaign is vital to Moscow’s plans of carving out a large chunk of southern and eastern Ukraine, from Odesa in the south through Mariupol and up to Kharkiv in the north, and bringing it under Russian domination or even outright annexation.

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

Russia still has massive firepower in the region, but many of those battalions were badly damaged in early fighting around the capital, Kyiv, and have been rushed back into action in Donbas before being restored to full fighting strength, the Pentagon official said.

Some military experts gave a grimmer assessment of Russia’s prospects on Friday. Dr. Mike Martin, a visiting fellow in war studies at King’s College London, told the BBC that Russia’s offensive had “sort of fizzled” and that the battle for eastern Ukraine could be over in two to four weeks.

Russia’s early failures, its inability to do “some bold maneuver” in recent fighting and Ukraine’s growing prowess on the battlefield is behind a “major strategic shift” among Western countries, he said, as they expand their aims beyond defending Ukraine to defeating Russia and degrading its military.

In an effort to shore up its forces, Russia has unleashed a barrage of missile and artillery strikes all along the front, continuing its strategy of targeting civilian as well as military targets. “It’s brutality of the coldest and the most depraved sort,” the Pentagon spokesman, John Kirby, told reporters on Friday.

Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Ukrainian troops on Friday staged a counterattack in the northern Donbas, retaking Ruska Lozova, a town of around 6,000 people about 12 miles north of Kharkiv that had been occupied by Russian forces since March.

Many of the town’s remaining residents quickly evacuated, taking advantage of the now-open road to Kharkiv. Cars, some riddled with bullet holes, limped into the city, fully packed with luggage, people and pets.

The battle for Ruska Lozova is part of a broader campaign launched by Ukrainian forces in recent weeks to push Russian troops away from Kharkiv, and hopefully put it outside of Russian artillery range. Fighting has been fierce, as the Russian border is roughly 20 miles from the city.

Before the war, Kharkiv was Ukraine’s second-largest city with a population of around 1.4 million people. But it is now a shell of itself, with many of its neighborhoods emptied, after relentless bombardment.

In another sign of Moscow’s sense of urgency, several of the dozen battalion groups that had been fighting in Mariupol were sent to fight in Donbas, the Pentagon official said, even as Ukrainian fighters resisted in the beleaguered city.

The remaining Russian forces continued to pound Mariupol in their struggle to eliminate the last pocket of resistance there. The city’s mayor made a desperate appeal to the international community Friday to save those still trapped at an enormous steel plant that has become the last holdout for Ukrainian fighters and civilians.

Vadym Boychenko, Mariupol’s mayor, said there were more than 600 wounded — including soldiers and civilians — at the Azovstal complex. “They have been there for more than 60 days and they are begging to be saved,” he said, reiterating that supplies of water, medicine and ammunition were quickly depleting. “It is not a matter of days, it’s a matter of hours.”

About 20,000 civilians have been killed, he said, but denied that the city had been fully conquered.

Credit…Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

The European Union move to ban Russian oil imports, a long-postponed step that has divided the bloc’s members and highlighted their dependence on Russian energy sources, was another sign that Ukraine’s Western allies were dialing up their support by taking difficult measures to punish Russia.

It has taken weeks for E.U. countries to agree on the contours of the measure, and intensive talks will continue over the weekend before the European Commission, the bloc’s executive, puts a finalized proposal on paper for E.U. ambassadors to approve, several E.U. officials and diplomats involved in the process said.

The diplomats and officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the progress of the sensitive talks.

Russia is Europe’s biggest oil supplier, providing about one quarter of the bloc’s yearly needs, according to 2020 data, about half of Russia’s total exports. As the oil embargo is phased in, officials said the bloc would seek to make up the shortfall by increasing imports from other sources, like Persian Gulf countries, Nigeria, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.

That the European Union is now seemingly able to hammer out a compromise among its 27 member countries on a measure this difficult highlights a fundamental miscalculation by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in his assault on Ukraine: Instead of sowing discord, the war has forged a united front that is making tough compromises easier to reach.

“More important than the oil embargo is the signal that Europe is united and taking back the initiative,” said Mujtaba Rahman, managing director for Europe at Eurasia Group, a consultancy. Mr. Rahman said that a more abrupt cut to oil imports would have been more painful for Russia, but also too costly for Europe, risking erosion of public support for Ukraine.

If enacted next week, as expected, the oil embargo will be the biggest and most important new step in the E.U.’s sixth package of sanctions since Russia invaded Ukraine. It will also include sanctions against Russia’s biggest bank, Sberbank, which had so far been spared, officials said.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

Germany’s position has been critical in finalizing the new measure; the country, the bloc’s economic leader, was importing about a third of its oil from Russia at the time of the Ukraine invasion. But its influential energy minister, Robert Habeck, said this week that Germany had been able to cut that to just 12 percent in recent weeks, making a full embargo “manageable.”

“The problem that seemed very large for Germany only a few weeks ago has become much smaller,” Mr. Habeck told the news media during a visit to Warsaw on Tuesday. He added, “Germany has come very, very close to independence from Russian oil imports.” But he did not explain how it was able to accomplish that so quickly.

Matina Stevis-Gridneff reported from Brussels and Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Kharkiv, Ukraine. Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington, and Cora Engelbrecht from Krakow, Poland.

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Putin’s Ukraine Gamble Pivots to a Very Different Battlefield

KYIV, Ukraine — There are fields instead of city streets, farmsteads instead of apartment buildings. Open highways stretch to the horizon.

The battles in the north that Ukraine won over the past seven weeks raged in towns and densely populated suburbs around the capital, Kyiv, but the war is about to take a hard turn to the southeast and into a vast expanse of wide-open flatland, fundamentally changing the nature of the combat, the weapons at play and the strategies that might bring victory.

Military analysts, Ukrainian commanders, soldiers and even Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, acknowledge that a wider war that began with a failed attempt to capture the capital will now be waged in the eastern Donbas region.

With few natural barriers, the armies can try to flank and surround each other, firing fierce barrages of artillery from a distance to soften enemy positions.

Russia invaded in February, Ukraine had been fighting Russia-backed separatists there since 2014, when Moscow fomented an uprising and sent in forces to support it. That war had settled into a stalemate, with each side controlling territory and neither gaining much ground.

Now, what may be the decisive phase of Mr. Putin’s latest war is returning to that same region, blighted by eight years of conflict and littered with land mines and trenches, as he tries to conquer the portion of Donbas still held by Ukraine. Neither side has made a major move in recent days, and analysts say it will most likely require a long and bloody conflict for either one to prevail.

Slovakia this week provided Ukraine with a potent, long-range antiaircraft missile system, the S-300. And on Wednesday, President Biden announced an $800 million military aid package to Ukraine that for the first time included more-powerful weaponry, including 18 155-millimeter howitzers, 40,000 rounds of artillery ammunition and 200 armored personnel carriers.

warn the United States of “unpredictable consequences” of shipping such arms, American officials said on Friday.

Perhaps the biggest difference from the northern phase of the war, fought among towns, woods and hills, will be the terrain. Military analysts are forecasting an all-out, bloody battle on the steppe.

“There’s nowhere to hide,” said Maksim Finogin, a veteran of Ukraine’s conflict in Donbas.

considering applying for membership in the alliance. Dmitri A. Medvedev, Russia’s former president and prime minister, said Moscow would be forced to “seriously strengthen” its defenses in the Baltics if the two countries were to join.

“The surrounding forces draw in closer, tighten the flanks and then methodically destroy” those trapped inside with artillery, he said, recalling a strategy that nearly cost him his life.

designated a single theater commander, Gen. Aleksandr V. Dvornikov, a former commander of the Russian army in Syria known for brutal tactics there.

And the fight in the east will begin closer to supply lines stretching back to the Russian border; that could be key for a mechanized Russian army advancing in a major conventional assault across the countryside.

“They are now prepared to fight the war that they really want,” the retired Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, a former NATO supreme allied commander for Europe, said of the Russians. “They want to meet force on force in open fields and go at it.”

Andrew E. Kramer reported from Kyiv, Ukraine; Eric Schmitt from Washington; Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Kharkiv, Ukraine; and Michael Schwirtz from Lviv, Ukraine.

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