U.S. and Ukrainian flags are pictured prior to the start of the Ukraine Defense Consultative Group meeting hosted by U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, at U.S. Airbase in Ramstein, Germany, April 26, 2022. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach
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WASHINGTON, June 26 (Reuters) – The United States is likely to announce this week the purchase of an advanced medium to long range surface-to-air missile defense system for Ukraine, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters on Sunday.
Washington is also expected to announce other security assistance for Ukraine, including additional artillery ammunition and counter-battery radars to address needs expressed by the Ukrainian military, the source added.
The weaponry is the latest assistance to be offered to Ukraine by the United States since Russia invaded its eastern European neighbor in February.
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This month, President Joe Biden agreed to provide Ukraine with $700 million in military aid, including advanced rocket systems that can strike with precision at long-range targets.
Ammunition, counter fire radars, a number of air surveillance radars, additional Javelin anti-tank missiles, as well as anti-armor weapons are also part of that package, officials said.
Another effort, to sell four large, armable drones to Ukraine, was paused earlier this month amid concerns that their radar and surveillance equipment could create a security risk for the United States if it fell into Russian hands. read more
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Reporting by Steve Holland in Washington, Additional reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, Calif., writing by Ismail Shakil; Editing by Ross Colvin and Himani Sarkar
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, made securing the 2020 U.S. election a top priority. He met regularly with an election team, which included more than 300 people from across his company, to prevent misinformation from spreading on the social network. He asked civil rights leaders for advice on upholding voter rights.
The core election team at Facebook, which was renamed Meta last year, has since been dispersed. Roughly 60 people are now focused primarily on elections, while others split their time on other projects. They meet with another executive, not Mr. Zuckerberg. And the chief executive has not talked recently with civil rights groups, even as some have asked him to pay more attention to the midterm elections in November.
Safeguarding elections is no longer Mr. Zuckerberg’s top concern, said four Meta employees with knowledge of the situation. Instead, he is focused on transforming his company into a provider of the immersive world of the metaverse, which he sees as the next frontier of growth, said the people, who were not authorized to speak publicly.
hearings on the Jan. 6 Capitol riot have underlined how precarious elections can be. And dozens of political candidates are running this November on the false premise that former President Donald J. Trump was robbed of the 2020 election, with social media platforms continuing to be a key way to reach American voters.
2000 Mules,” a film that falsely claims the 2020 election was stolen from Mr. Trump, was widely shared on Facebook and Instagram, garnering more than 430,000 interactions, according to an analysis by The New York Times. In posts about the film, commenters said they expected election fraud this year and warned against using mail-in voting and electronic voting machines.
$44 billion sale to Elon Musk, three employees with knowledge of the situation said. Mr. Musk has suggested that he wants fewer rules about what can and cannot be posted on the service.
barred Mr. Trump from its platforms after the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, has worked over the years to limit political falsehoods on its sites. Tom Reynolds, a Meta spokesman, said the company had “taken a comprehensive approach to how elections play out on our platforms since before the U.S. 2020 elections and through the dozens of global elections since then.”
recently raised doubts about the country’s electoral process. Latvia, Bosnia and Slovenia are also holding elections in October.
“People in the U.S. are almost certainly getting the Rolls-Royce treatment when it comes to any integrity on any platform, especially for U.S. elections,” said Sahar Massachi, the executive director of the think tank Integrity Institute and a former Facebook employee. “And so however bad it is here, think about how much worse it is everywhere else.”
Facebook’s role in potentially distorting elections became evident after 2016, when Russian operatives used the site to spread inflammatory content and divide American voters in the U.S. presidential election. In 2018, Mr. Zuckerberg testified before Congress that election security was his top priority.
banning QAnon conspiracy theory posts and groups in October 2020.
Around the same time, Mr. Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, donated $400 million to local governments to fund poll workers, pay for rental fees for polling places, provide personal protective equipment and cover other administrative costs.
The week before the November 2020 election, Meta also froze all political advertising to limit the spread of falsehoods.
But while there were successes — the company kept foreign election interference off the platform — it struggled with how to handle Mr. Trump, who used his Facebook account to amplify false claims of voter fraud. After the Jan. 6 riot, Facebook barred Mr. Trump from posting. He is eligible for reinstatement in January.
Frances Haugen, a Facebook employee turned whistle-blower, filed complaints with the Securities and Exchange Commission accusing the company of removing election safety features too soon after the 2020 election. Facebook made growth and engagement its priorities over security, she said.
fully realized digital world that exists beyond the one in which we live. It was coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel “Snow Crash,” and the concept was further explored by Ernest Cline in his novel “Ready Player One.”
The future. Many people in tech believe the metaverse will herald an era in which our virtual lives will play as important a role as our physical realities. Some experts warn that it could still turn out to be a fad or even dangerous.
Mr. Zuckerberg no longer meets weekly with those focused on election security, said the four employees, though he receives their reports. Instead, they meet with Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs.
Several civil right groups said they had noticed Meta’s shift in priorities. Mr. Zuckerberg isn’t involved in discussions with them as he once was, nor are other top Meta executives, they said.
“I’m concerned,” said Derrick Johnson, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who talked with Mr. Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, Meta’s chief operating officer, ahead of the 2020 election. “It appears to be out of sight, out of mind.” (Ms. Sandberg has announced that she will leave Meta this fall.)
wrote a letter to Mr. Zuckerberg and the chief executives of YouTube, Twitter, Snap and other platforms. They called for them to take down posts about the lie that Mr. Trump won the 2020 election and to slow the spread of election misinformation before the midterms.
Yosef Getachew, a director at the nonprofit public advocacy organization Common Cause, whose group studied 2020 election misinformation on social media, said the companies had not responded.
“The Big Lie is front and center in the midterms with so many candidates using it to pre-emptively declare that the 2022 election will be stolen,” he said, pointing to recent tweets from politicians in Michigan and Arizona who falsely said dead people cast votes for Democrats. “Now is not the time to stop enforcing against the Big Lie.”
SCOTTSDALE, Arizona (USA)–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Walton Global, ein Unternehmen für Immobilieninvestitionen und Grundstücksverwaltung mit einem verwalteten Vermögen von 3,6 Milliarden US-Dolla, hat heute die Gründung eines Joint Ventures mit Rockpoint, einem Private-Equity-Unternehmen für Immobilien mit Sitz in Boston, bekannt gegeben, um die wachsende Nachfrage nach Einfamilienhäusern für Mieter in den Vereinigten Staaten zu decken. Rockpoint plant, bis zu 300 Millionen USD an Eigenkapital in den BTR-Geschäftszweig (Build-to-Rent) von Walton zu investieren, der ein Immobilienvermögen von bis zu 1 Mrd. USD umfassen soll.
Rockpoint verfügt über umfangreiche Erfahrungen auf dem Markt für Einfamilien-Mietimmobilien, einschließlich Build-to-Rent-Projekte und Aufkauf von bestehenden Immobilien, wobei der Schwerpunkt auf qualitativ hochwertigen, gut gelegenen Immobilien in ausgewählten Wachstumsmärkten in den Vereinigten Staaten liegt.
Die BTR-Plattform von Walton wurde 2021 mit dem Ziel ins Leben gerufen, neue Wohnlösungen in Wohn- und Mietmärkten mit hoher Nachfrage anzubieten. Das Joint Venture konzentriert sich zunächst auf Ziele innerhalb der bestehenden Bebauungspläne und des mehr als 81.000 Acres (ca. 32.780 ha) umfassenden Grundstücksportfolios von Walton in den Vereinigten Staaten.
„Die Erfahrung von Walton mit Grundstücken und unser großes Netzwerk von Top-Bauunternehmen in Verbindung mit dem institutionellen Wissen, das Rockpoint in den BTR-Bereich einbringt, bringt dieses Joint Venture in eine strategische Position, um im ganzen Land benötigten Wohnraum für Menschen zu schaffen, die sich für Miete statt Eigentum entscheiden“, sagte Bill Doherty, CEO von Walton Global.
Walton hat eine erste Pipeline von etwa 3500 Einheiten in expandierenden Ballungsgebieten wie Atlanta, Austin und Jacksonville, die Teil des Joint Ventures werden sollen. Zur Umsetzung der BTR-Strategie geht das Joint Venture Partnerschaften mit erstklassigen nationalen und regionalen Bauunternehmen ein, um die Siedlungen zu entwickeln.
Über Walton Global
Walton Global ist ein führendes privates Unternehmen im Bereich Grundstücksverwaltung und weltweiten Immobilieninvestitionen, das sich auf die Erforschung, den Erwerb, die Verwaltung, die Planung und die Entwicklung von Grundstücken konzentriert. Mit mehr als 43 Jahren Erfahrung kann Walton eine nachgewiesene Erfolgsbilanz bei der Abwicklung von Grundstücksinvestitionsprojekten in den wachstumsstärksten Metropolregionen Nordamerikas vorweisen. Das Unternehmen verwaltet Vermögenswerte in Höhe von 3,6 Milliarden USD im Auftrag seiner globalen Investoren in 73 Ländern sowie von Bauherren, Entwicklern und Industriepartnern. Walton besitzt und verwaltet mehr als 97.000 Acres (ca. 39.255 ha) Land in den Vereinigten Staaten und Kanada. Die Geschäftsbereiche reichen von Grundstücksinvestitionen vor der Erschließung über die Finanzierung von Bauträgergrundstücken bis hin zu Build-to-Rent. Weitere Informationen finden Sie unter walton.com.
Rockpoint ist ein Private-Equity-Unternehmen für Immobilien mit Hauptsitz in Boston und weiteren Niederlassungen in San Francisco und Dallas. Rockpoint verfolgt bei seinen Investitionen einen Ansatz der Fundamentalwertanalyse und konzentriert sich auf ausgewählte Produkttypen in den wichtigsten Märkten in den Vereinigten Staaten. Rockpoint verfolgt mit seinen opportunistischen sowie Wachstums- und Ertragsinvestitionsprogrammen eine konsistente Strategie mit ausgeprägten Renditeprofilen. Rockpoint konzentriert sich auf Vermögenswerte mit einem langfristigen intrinsischen Wert zu attraktiven Preisen im Verhältnis zu den stabilisierten Cashflows und unter besonderer Berücksichtigung von Wertsteigerungsmöglichkeiten und komplexen Situationen. Seit 1994 haben die Mitbegründer von Rockpoint zusammen mit weiteren Beteiligten 19 Investmentvehikel und damit zusammenhängende Co-Investmentvehikel über Rockpoint und ein Vorgängerunternehmen gesponsert und Kapitalzusagen in Höhe von rund 29 Milliarden USD erhalten. Bis zum 31. März 2022 hat das Investmentteam von Rockpoint zusammen mit weiteren Beteiligten in 483 Transaktionen mit einer Gesamt-Spitzenkapitalisierung von ca. 76 Mrd. USD (einschließlich des Eigenkapitals der Fonds, des Eigenkapitals der Co-Investoren und des Fremdkapitals) investiert bzw. sich zu Investitionen verpflichtet. Weitere Informationen über Rockpoint finden Sie unter www.rockpoint.com.
Die Ausgangssprache, in der der Originaltext veröffentlicht wird, ist die offizielle und autorisierte Version. Übersetzungen werden zur besseren Verständigung mitgeliefert. Nur die Sprachversion, die im Original veröffentlicht wurde, ist rechtsgültig. Gleichen Sie deshalb Übersetzungen mit der originalen Sprachversion der Veröffentlichung ab.
Tesla’s chief executive, Elon Musk, plans to cut 10 percent of the electric carmaker’s salaried work force, he told staff in an email on Friday.
The job cuts will not apply to employees who build cars or batteries or who install solar panels, and the number of hourly employees will increase, Mr. Musk said in the email, a copy of which was reviewed by The New York Times. “Tesla will be reducing salaried head count by 10 percent, as we have become over staffed in many areas,” he said.
Reuters reported the news earlier, citing a different email that Mr. Musk sent only to Tesla executives. The automaker’s share price closed on Friday down about 9 percent after that article was published.
Tesla’s staff has grown substantially as sales have surged and it has built new factories, including two that opened this year near Berlin and Austin, Texas. The company employed more than 99,000 workers at the end of last year. Just two years earlier, Tesla had 48,000.
2017 and 2018.
In recent weeks, investors have begun questioning the company’s sky-high stock price. The market values the company at more than $728 billion, more than several other large automakers combined. Tesla’s shares are down about 40 percent from their high at the end of last year, bringing attention to the risks the company faces from growing competition, accusations of racial discrimination and production problems at its factory in Shanghai.
buy Twitter for roughly $44 billion. Here’s how the deal unfolded:
The initial offer. Mr. Musk made an unsolicited bid worth more than $40 billion for the influential social network, saying that he wanted to make Twitter a private company and that he wanted people to be able to speak more freely on the service.
“From a corporate good-governance perspective, Tesla has a lot of red flags,” Andrew Poreda, a senior analyst who specializes in socially responsible investing at Sage Advisory Services, an investment firm in Austin, told The Times last month. “There are almost no checks and balances.”
Mr. Musk’s management style and success — he is listed as the world’s richest man by Bloomberg and Forbes — have earned him admirers but have made him a lightning rod. Tesla has lost a number of top executives in recent years, many of whom have gone on to top jobs at other automakers, tech companies and battery makers.
Recently, Mr. Musk praised the work ethic in China, where labor conditions can be harsh or even abusive, suggesting that workers in the United States were lazy. “They won’t just be burning the midnight oil. They’ll be burning the 3 a.m. oil,” he said about Chinese workers in an interview with The Financial Times. “So they won’t even leave the factory type of thing. Whereas in America, people are trying to avoid going to work at all.”
Still, some analysts remain bullish about Tesla’s prospects. “In our view, Tesla likely does not need to hire any more employees to maintain its growth, and we think the plan to reduce the work force likely shows that Tesla over hired last year,” Seth Goldstein, a senior equity analyst at Morningstar, said in a note on Friday.
WASHINGTON — Three months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, America and its allies are quietly debating the inevitable question: How does this end?
In recent days, presidents and prime ministers as well as the Democratic and Republican Party leaders in the United States have called for victory in Ukraine. But just beneath the surface are real divisions about what that would look like — and whether “victory” has the same definition in the United States, in Europe and, perhaps most importantly, in Ukraine.
In the past few days alone there has been an Italian proposal for a cease-fire, a vow from Ukraine’s leadership to push Russia back to the borders that existed before the invasion was launched on Feb. 24, and renewed discussion by administration officials about a “strategic defeat” for President Vladimir V. Putin — one that would assure that he is incapable of mounting a similar attack again.
After three months of remarkable unity in response to the Russian invasion — resulting in a flow of lethal weapons into Ukrainian hands and a broad array of financial sanctions that almost no one expected, least of all Mr. Putin — the emerging fissures about what to do next are notable.
At their heart lies a fundamental debate about whether the three-decade-long project to integrate Russia should end. At a moment when the U.S. refers to Russia as a pariah state that needs to be cut off from the world economy, others, largely in Europe, are warning of the dangers of isolating and humiliating Mr. Putin.
That argument is playing out as American ambitions expand. What began as an effort to make sure Russia did not have an easy victory over Ukraine shifted as soon as the Russian military began to make error after error, failing to take Kyiv. The administration now sees a chance to punish Russian aggression, weaken Mr. Putin, shore up NATO and the trans-Atlantic alliance and send a message to China, too. Along the way, it wants to prove that aggression is not rewarded with territorial gains.
The differences over war aims broke into the open at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, as Henry Kissinger, the 99-year old former secretary of state, suggested that Ukraine would likely have to give up some territory in a negotiated settlement, though he added that “ideally the dividing line should be a return to the status quo” before the invasion, which included the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the seizure of parts of the Donbas.
“Pursuing the war beyond that point would not be about the freedom of Ukraine, but a new war against Russia itself,’’ Mr. Kissinger concluded.
Almost immediately, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine accused Mr. Kissinger of appeasement, retorting angrily that “I get the sense that instead of the year 2022, Mr. Kissinger has 1938 on his calendar.’’ He was referring to the year Hitler began his sweep across Europe — the event that caused Mr. Kissinger, then a teenager, to flee with his family to New York. “Nobody heard from him then that it was necessary to adapt to the Nazis instead of fleeing them or fighting them.”
But Mr. Zelensky has at various moments voiced contradictory views on what it would take to end the war, even offering to commit his country to “neutrality” rather than aspiring to join NATO.
Differing objectives, of course, make it all the more difficult to define what victory — or even a muddled peace — would look like. And they foreshadow a coming debate about what position Mr. Zelensky and his Western allies would take if negotiations to end the conflict finally get going. If Mr. Zelensky agreed to some concessions, would the United States and its allies lift many of their crushing sanctions, including the export controls that have forced Russia to shutter some of its factories for building tanks? Or would doing that doom their hopes of crippling Russia’s future capabilities?
In the end, American officials say, the hard choices will have to be made by Mr. Zelensky and his government. But they are acutely aware that if Mr. Putin gets his land bridge to Crimea, or sanctions are partially lifted, Mr. Biden will be accused by Republican critics — and perhaps some Democrats — of essentially rewarding Mr. Putin for his effort to redraw the map of Europe by force.
The debate is breaking out just as the shape of the war is changing, once again.
Three months ago, Mr. Putin’s own strategic objective was to take all of Ukraine — a task he thought he could accomplish in mere days. When that failed in spectacular fashion, he retreated to Plan B, withdrawing his forces to Ukraine’s east and south. It then became clear that he could not take key cities like Kharkiv and Odesa. Now the battle has come down to the Donbas, the bleak, industrial heartland of Ukraine, a relatively small area where he has already made gains, including the brutal takeover of Mariupol and a land bridge to Crimea. His greatest leverage is his naval blockade of the ports Ukraine needs to export wheat and other farm products, a linchpin of the Ukrainian economy and a major source of food for the world.
So far, with Russia gaining ground, there is no evidence yet that Mr. Putin is willing to enter negotiations. But pressure will build as sanctions bite deeper into his energy exports, and the cutoff of key components hampers weapons production for his depleted military.
“Putin, whether we like it or not, will have to bring home some bacon, and Mariupol is a small slice, but a slice,” Dov S. Zakheim, a former senior official in the Defense Department, said in a recent interview. “And the cost to Ukraine of life and matériel will continue to increase. So it’s a difficult political decision for Ukraine.”
From Biden, a Drive to Cripple Russia
For the first two months of the war, President Biden and his top aides largely spoke about providing Ukraine with whatever help it needed to defend itself — and about punishing Russia with sanctions on an unprecedented scale.
Every once in a while, there were hints of broader goals that went beyond pushing Russia back to its own borders. Even before the invasion, Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, warned that if Russia attempted to take Ukraine by force, “its long-term power and influence will be diminished.”
But on April 25, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, speaking with a bluntness that took his colleagues by surprise, acknowledged that Washington wanted more than a Russian retreat. It wanted its military permanently damaged.
“We want to see Russia weakened to the degree it cannot do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine,” Mr. Austin said.
Mr. Austin’s candor prompted the White House to insist he wasn’t changing policy — just giving voice to the reality of what the sanctions and export controls were intended to do. But over time administration officials have gradually shifted in tone, talking more openly and optimistically about the possibility of Ukrainian victory in the Donbas.
Last week in Warsaw, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, Julianne Smith, a former national security aide to Mr. Biden, said: “We want to see a strategic defeat of Russia.”
Now, in meetings with Europeans and in public statements, administration officials are articulating more specific goals. The first is that Ukraine must emerge as a vibrant, democratic state — exactly what Mr. Putin was seeking to crush.
The second is Mr. Biden’s oft-repeated goal of avoiding direct conflict with Russia. “That’s called World War III,” Mr. Biden has said repeatedly.
Then come various versions of the goal Mr. Austin articulated: that Russia must emerge as a weakened state. In testimony earlier this month, Avril D. Haines, the director of national intelligence, explained Washington’s concern. “We assess President Putin is preparing for prolonged conflict in Ukraine, during which he still intends to achieve goals beyond the Donbas,” she said.
And increasingly, American officials talk about using the crisis to strengthen international security, winning over nations that were on the fence between allying with the West or with an emerging China-Russia axis.
As the United States hones its message, no one wants to get ahead of Mr. Zelensky, after months of administration proclamations that there will be “nothing decided about Ukraine without Ukraine.”
“President Zelensky is the democratically elected president of a sovereign nation, and only he can decide what victory is going to look like and how he wants to achieve it,” John F. Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said on April 29.
In Europe, Unity Begins to Fracture
NATO and the European Union have been surprisingly united so far in supporting Ukraine, both with painful economic sanctions aimed at Russia and in supplying an increasing quantity of weapons to Ukraine, though not jet fighters or advanced tanks.
But that unity is under strain. Hungary, which has supported five earlier sanctions packages, has balked at an embargo on Russian oil, on which it depends. And the Europeans are not even trying, at least for now, to cut off their imports of Russian gas.
The divisions are visible in war aims, too.
Leaders in central and eastern Europe, with its long experience of Soviet domination, have strong views about defeating Russia — even rejecting the idea of speaking to Mr. Putin. Estonia’s prime minister, Kaja Kallas, and Poland’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, speak of him as a war criminal, as Mr. Biden did.
“All these events should wake us from our geopolitical slumber and cause us to cast off our delusions, our old delusions, but is that enough?” Mr. Morawiecki said last week. “I hear there are attempts to allow Putin to somehow save face in the international arena. But how can you save something that has been utterly disfigured?” he asked.
But France, Italy and Germany, the biggest and richest countries of the bloc, are anxious about a long war or one that ends frozen in a stalemate, and nervous of the possible damage to their own economies.
Those countries also think of Russia as an inescapable neighbor that cannot be isolated forever. Following his re-election, Emmanuel Macron of France began hedging his bets, declaring that a future peace in Eastern Europe must not include an unnecessary humiliation of Russia, and could include territorial concessions to Moscow.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi called this month for a cease-fire in Ukraine “as soon as possible” to enable a negotiated end to the war. Mr. Draghi, who has taken a hard line against Russia in traditionally Moscow-friendly Italy, said economic pressure was important “because we have to bring Moscow to the negotiating table.”
Zelensky’s Choice: Territorial Integrity or Grinding War
Mr. Zelensky has been careful not to expand his aims toward a larger degradation of Mr. Putin’s regime. He has said repeatedly that he wants the Russians pushed back to where they were on Feb. 23, before the large-scale invasion started.
Only then, he has said, would Ukraine be prepared to negotiate seriously again with Russia about a cease-fire and a settlement. He said again this week that the war will have to end with a diplomatic solution, not a sweeping military victory.
But even those aims are considered by some European officials and military experts to be ambitious. To get there, Ukraine would have to take back Kherson and the ravaged city of Mariupol. It would have to push Russia out of its land bridge to Crimea and stop Russia from annexing large parts of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Many experts fear that is beyond Ukraine’s capability.
While Ukraine did remarkably well in the first phase of the war, Donbas is very different. To go on the offensive normally requires a manpower advantage of 3 to 1, weaponry aside, which Ukraine does not now possess. The Russians are making slow but incremental gains, if at a high cost in casualties. (While Washington and London are happy to provide estimates of Russian casualties, sometimes rather high, according to some military experts, they say little about Ukrainian casualties. Ukraine is treating those figures as state secrets.)
“What is victory for Ukraine?” asked Daniel Fried, a former U.S. ambassador to Poland and longtime senior U.S. diplomat. “The Biden Administration’s comfort zone is not a bad place to be — that it’s up to the Ukrainians to decide,” Mr. Fried said. “I agree, because there’s no way a detailed conversation now on what is a just settlement will do any good, because it comes down to what territories Ukraine should surrender.”
David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt reported from Washington. Steven Erlanger reported from Brussels. Julian Barnes and Helene Cooper contributed reporting from Washington.
KRAKOW, Poland — President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia faced fresh setbacks Friday over the Ukraine invasion, as Sweden became the second neutral country in two days to move toward joining NATO and the West devised ways to reroute Ukrainian grain past a Russian naval blockade.
New signs of a Russian military retreat near Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, also added to Mr. Putin’s challenges, appearing to subvert or at least delay the Kremlin’s goal of encircling Ukrainian forces concentrated in eastern Ukraine.
But for Mr. Putin, the biggest vexation may have been the most personal: Britain slapped sanctions on his ex-wife, Lyudmila Ocheretnaya,on a former Olympic gymnast long rumored to be his girlfriend, Alina Kabaeva, and on three cousins: Igor, Mikhail and Roman Putin.
“We are exposing and targeting the shady network propping up Putin’s luxury lifestyle and tightening the vise on his inner circle,” Britain’s foreign secretary, Liz Truss, said.
The West faced challenges of its own. Even as Sweden signaled that it would benefit from joining NATO — one day after Finland said it was ready to join — the president of Turkey signaled his objections to an expansion of the alliance, a possible complication that could work in Russia’s favor. Foreign ministers of the alliance were meeting Saturday in Germany, and invited counterparts from Sweden and Finland to join them.
In a sign that not all diplomatic channels have been cut off, the American secretary of defense, Lloyd J. Austin III, spoke on Friday with Sergei K. Shoigu, Russia’s defense minister, for the first time since Feb. 18 — six days before the invasion of Ukraine.Mr. Austin pushed for an immediate cease-fire in Ukraine and emphasized the importance of maintaining lines of communication, according to John F. Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman.
The Russian Defense Ministry said the call had been held “at the initiative of the American side,” which two senior U.S. officials confirmed.
Top Pentagon officials, including Mr. Austin, had repeatedly tried to contact their Russian counterparts in the aftermath of the invasion. Until Friday, those efforts had been unsuccessful.
“What motivated them to change their mind and be open to it, I don’t think we know for sure,” one senior Pentagon official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe a confidential call. He said the hourlong conversation was “professional” but broke no new ground. Mr. Austin nevertheless hoped it would “serve as a springboard for future conversations,” the official said.
It was the highest-level contact between U.S. and Russian leaders since Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, spoke with Gen. Nikolay Patrushev, secretary of the Russian Security Council, on March 16, to reiterate the United States’ strong opposition to the invasion.
Russia has taken roughly 80 percent of the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, where its latest offensive has been concentrated. If Moscow can hold that territory, it would gain significant leverage in any future talks. Yet it has been struggling to gain more ground against Ukrainian forces wielding heavy weapons supplied by the West.
On Friday, Russian forces bombarded largely abandoned and devastated towns in Donbas while Ukrainian forces drove Russian troops further away from Kharkiv in the northeast. The Ukrainian counteroffensive there was beginning to rival the one that pushed Russian troops away from Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, last month, the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington research group, said.
The British Defense Ministry said that satellite imagery confirmed that Ukrainian forces had also decimated a Russian battalion as it tried to cross pontoon bridges over a river in northeast Ukraine earlier this week. While it was not clear how many soldiers were killed, the scattering of burned-out and destroyed vehicles along the riverside suggested that Russia had suffered heavy losses.
In moving closer to joining NATO, Sweden contended in a report that Russian aggression in Ukraine had fundamentally altered Europe’s security and that Swedish membership in the alliance would “have a deterrent effect in northern Europe.”
“Through NATO membership, Sweden would not only strengthen its own security, but also contribute to the security of like-minded countries,” the report stated.
If Sweden joins, it would end more than 200 years of neutrality and military nonalignment and deliver another rebuke to Mr. Putin, who had invoked NATO expansion as a rationale for the invasion.
But the addition of Sweden and Finland could be complicated by Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who suggested on Friday that his country, which has one of the largest armies among NATO members, would be reluctant to welcome them into the alliance.
“Right now, we are following developments regarding Sweden and Finland, but don’t have positive views,” Mr. Erdogan told reporters after attending Friday Prayer at a mosque in Istanbul.
Turkey has generally supported Western responses to the invasion, agreeing to block Russian warships from passing through the Turkish Straits.
But Sweden and Finland would need unanimous support from NATO’s 30 members to join. Mr. Erdogan could be withholding Turkey’s approval for leverage on issues he cares about, such as Turkey’s longstanding concerns about a guerrilla group known as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., which launched a violent separatist movement in Turkey in the early 1980s.
“Sadly, Scandinavian countries are almost like guesthouses for terrorist organizations,” Mr. Erdogan said, naming the P.K.K.
Karen Donfried, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told reporters in Washington on Friday that the United States was “working to clarify Turkey’s position.” She said U.S. officials do not assume that Turkey opposes NATO membership for Finland and Sweden.
“We respect the political processes that are underway in both Finland and Sweden,” she said.
In Germany, agricultural ministers from the Group of 7, representing the world’s wealthiest democracies, discussed ways to circumvent Russian warships that have blocked Ukrainian grain from reaching global markets through the Black Sea. Ukraine is the world’s fourth largest grain exporter, and the blockade has threatened to worsen a global food crisis.
Cem Özdemir, the German agricultural minister, said the G7 would seek routes to transport Ukrainian grain by road and rail, as well as via the Danube River. He called the blockade “part of Russia’s perfidious strategy to not only take out a competitor, which they’re not going to be able to do, but it’s also economic war that Russia is waging.”
In Kyiv, Ukrainian judicial authorities began hearing a case against a Russian soldier accused of shooting a civilian, the first trial involving a suspected war crime by a Russian service member since the invasion began.
Prosecutors said the soldier, Sgt. Vadim Shysimarin, fatally shot a 62-year-old man on a bicycle in a village in the Sumy region, about 200 miles east of Kyiv, on Feb. 28, to stop the man from reporting him and his fellow soldiers to the Ukrainians.
Sargeant Shysimarin, who is 21 and faces 10 to 15 years in prison, was brought into the courtroom in handcuffs and seated in a locked glass box. Head bowed, he ignored journalists who asked him how he was feeling.
“For me, it is just work,” Viktor Ovsyannikov, a Ukrainian court-appointed lawyer, said when asked about defending Sargeant Shysimarin. “It is very important to make sure my client’s human rights are protected, to show that we are a country different to the one he is from.”
In the Russian town of Khimki, near Moscow, a court extended the pretrial detention of the American basketball star Brittney Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, until June 18, her lawyer said.
Ms. Griner has been in Russian custody since mid-February on drug charges that can carry up to 10 years in prison. The charge is based on allegations that she had vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage when she was stopped at an airport near Moscow in February.
“She is OK,” Ms. Griner’s lawyer, Aleksandr Boikov, said in an interview, adding that the court had denied his motion to have Ms. Griner transferred to house arrest. He said he expected the trial to begin in about two months.
The State Department said this month that Ms. Griner had been “wrongfully detained,” signaling that it may become more actively involved in trying to secure her release.
Marc Santora reported from Krakow, Mark Landler from London and Michael Levenson from New York. Reporting was contributed by Eric Schmitt and Edward Wong from Washington, Ivan Nechepurenko from Tbilisi, Georgia, Valerie Hopkins from Kyiv, Ukraine, Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Cassandra Vinograd from London, Dan Bilefsky from Montreal and Steven Erlanger from Tallinn, Estonia.
WASHINGTON — When President Biden signed a modern-day Lend-Lease Act on Monday, 81 years after the original version helped lead the way into World War II, he effectively thrust the United States even deeper into another war in Europe that has increasingly become an epic struggle with Russia despite his efforts to define its limits.
Recent days have underscored just how engaged the United States has become in the conflict in Ukraine. In addition to the new lending program, which will waive time-consuming requirements to speed arms to Ukraine, Mr. Biden has proposed $33 billion more in military and humanitarian aid, a package that congressional Democrats plan to increase by another $7 billion. He sent the first lady for a secret visit to the war zone. And he provided intelligence helping Ukraine to kill a dozen generals and sink Russia’s flagship.
But even after two and a half months, Mr. Biden is still anxious about looking like the United States is fighting the proxy war that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia says it is. While Mr. Biden publicly sends aid and signed the lend-lease bill on camera, off camera he was livid over leaks about the American intelligence assistance to Ukraine that led to the deaths of Russian generals and the sinking of the cruiser Moskva out of concern that it would provoke Mr. Putin into the escalation Mr. Biden has strenuously sought to avoid.
After reports in The New York Times and NBC News about the intelligence, Mr. Biden called Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III; Avril D. Haines, the director of national intelligence; and William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, to chastise them, according to a senior administration official. That seemed to be where Mr. Biden was drawing a line — providing Ukraine with guns to shoot Russian soldiers was OK, providing Ukraine with specific information to help them shoot Russians was best left secret and undisclosed to the public.
“There’s this constant balancing act the administration has been trying to strike between supporting Ukraine and making sure it can defend itself militarily and at the same time being very concerned about escalation,” said Alina Polyakova, the president of the Center for European Policy Analysis and a specialist on Russia policy.
“It’s increasingly untenable to maintain this kind of hand-wringing,” she added. “It’s probably more effective to say this is what our policy is and we will deal and manage the potential escalation responses we see from the Kremlin.”
From the start of the war, the administration sought to parse its response, deciding which weapons could be called defensive and therefore were acceptable to send to Ukraine and which ones could be called offensive and therefore should not be delivered.
But the line has shifted in recent weeks with the administration shipping ever more sophisticated military equipment and expressing more openly its ambitions not just to help the Ukrainians but to defeat and even enfeeble Russia. After a visit to the war-torn capital, Kyiv, two weeks ago, Mr. Austin declared that “we want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things” it has done in Ukraine again, while Speaker Nancy Pelosi said during her own subsequent trip to Kyiv that America “will stand with Ukraine until victory is won.”
Some veteran government officials said Mr. Biden was right to be cautious about too overtly poking Mr. Putin because the consequences of an escalation with a nuclear-armed Russia are too devastating to take chances with.
“Putin wants us to make it a proxy war,” said Fiona Hill, a former Russia adviser to two presidents now at the Brookings Institution. “Putin is still telling people outside Europe this is just a repeat of the Cold War, nothing to look at here. This isn’t a proxy war. It’s a colonial land grab.”
Michael A. McFaul, a former ambassador to Russia now at Stanford University, said there was a difference between clandestinely helping Ukrainian forces target Russian forces and flaunting it. “Yes, Putin knows that we are providing intelligence to Ukraine,” he said. “But saying it out loud helps his public narrative that Russia is fighting the U.S. and NATO in Ukraine, not just the Ukrainians. That doesn’t serve our interests.”
Angela Stent, a former national intelligence officer on Russia and the author of a book on American relations with Mr. Putin, said being too open about what the United States was doing in Ukraine could undermine efforts to turn China, India and other countries against Russia. “For global public opinion, it’s not a good idea,” she said. “They should do whatever they do, but not talk about it.”
Mr. McFaul said he also believed it undermined Ukrainians, making it look like they were dependent on the Americans, a concern that Mr. Biden was said to share in his phone calls with his security officials, which were first reported by the Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman.
But others said the administration has been too cautious in letting Russia set the rules of the conflict — or rather Washington’s guesswork about what would push Russia into escalation. No one in Washington really knows the line that should not be crossed with Mr. Putin, and instead the United States has simply been making assumptions. “Are we having a conversation about red lines with ourselves?” asked Frederick W. Kagan, a military scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “Because I rather think we are.”
The consequence, he added, is being too slow to provide what Ukraine really needs. “They’ve done amazingly well at making stuff happen in a relatively timely fashion,” Mr. Kagan said of the Biden administration. “But there does seem to be a certain brake on the timeliness of our support driven by this kind of parsing and self-negotiation that is a problem.”
The legislation that Mr. Biden signed on Monday reflected the historical echoes and reversals of the current war. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the original Lend-Lease Act in 1941 to help the British fend off Nazi aggressors in World War II, and it was later expanded to help other allies — including the Soviet Union.
Now, Moscow will be on the other side of the arms channel as the modern-day version, called the Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act, will direct weapons and equipment not to Russian soldiers but to those fighting them.
“Every day, Ukrainians pay with their lives,” Mr. Biden said in the Oval Office as he approved the legislation. “And the atrocities that the Russians are engaging in are just beyond the pale. And the cost of the fight is not cheap, but caving to aggression is even more costly. That’s why we’re staying in this.”
Mr. Biden signed the law on the same day that Russia celebrated Victory Day, the 77th anniversary of the allied defeat of Nazi Germany, a feat facilitated in part by the original Lend-Lease Act.
“This day is supposed to be about celebrating peace and unity in Europe and the defeat of Nazis in World War II,” said Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary. “And instead, Putin is perverting history, changing history, or attempting to change it, I should say, to justify his unprovoked and unjustified war.”
The lending program came as congressional Democrats moved quickly to consider the $33 billion aid package proposed by Mr. Biden and indicated they would increase it substantially. With Republicans pushing to add more military spending, Democrats insisted on an equal boost for humanitarian aid, nudging the price tag to $39.8 billion, according to two people familiar with the proposal who previewed it on the condition of anonymity.
Ms. Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic majority leader, spoke by telephone with Mr. Biden on Monday as they finalized the details of the proposal, one of the people said. House leaders want to bring up the measure as early as Tuesday.
The increase reflects a striking consensus in both parties to pour vast amounts of money into the war against Russia, even as lawmakers remain deeply divided on domestic spending. In March, Congress approved $13.6 billion in emergency aid for Ukraine, and Mr. Biden has warned that those resources would run out soon without new legislation.
It was not clear, however, whether Republicans, whose support would be needed in the Senate, had agreed on the specifics of the proposal. A spokeswoman for Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee said that a deal had not been reached, but that discussions were continuing.
Democrats plan to advance the package separately from the administration’s emergency coronavirus aid measure, which has become snarled in an election-year dispute over immigration restrictions.
“We cannot afford delay in this vital war effort,” Mr. Biden said in a statement. “Hence, I am prepared to accept that these two measures move separately, so that the Ukrainian aid bill can get to my desk right away.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — The United States marshaled 40 allies on Tuesday to furnish Ukraine with long-term military aid in what could become a protracted battle against the Russian invasion, and Germany said it would send dozens of armored antiaircraft vehicles. It was a major policy shift for a country that had wavered over fear of provoking Russia.
The announcement by Germany, Europe’s biggest economy and one of Russia’s most important Western trading partners, was among many signals on Tuesday pointing to further escalation in the war and disappointment for diplomacy.
Germany’s shift on weapons also was seen as a strong affirmation of a toughened message by the Biden administration, which has said it wants to see Russia not only defeated in Ukraine but seriously weakened from the conflict that President Vladimir V. Putin began two months ago.
The increasing flow of Western weapons into Ukraine — including howitzers, armed drones, tanks and ammunition — also amounted to another sign that a war Mr. Putin had expected would divide his Western adversaries had instead drawn them much closer together.
“Putin never imagined that the world would rally behind Ukraine so swiftly and surely,” the American defense secretary, Lloyd J. Austin III, said on Tuesday to uniformed and civilian officials at the U.S. air base in Ramstein, Germany, where he convened defense officials from 40 allied countries.
“Nobody is fooled” by Mr. Putin’s “phony claims on Donbas,” Mr. Austin said, referring to the eastern region of Ukraine, where Russia recently refocused its assaults. “Russia’s invasion is indefensible and so are Russian atrocities,” he said.
Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said on Tuesday that the influx of heavy weapons from Western countries was effectively pushing Ukraine to sabotage peace talks with Moscow, which have shown no concrete signs of progress.
“They will continue that line by filling Ukraine with weapons,” Mr. Lavrov said after meeting in Moscow with the United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, who was undertaking his most active effort yet at diplomacy to halt the war. “If that continues, negotiations won’t yield any result.”
On Monday, Mr. Lavrov resurrected the specter of nuclear war, as Mr. Putin has done at least twice before. Mr. Lavrov said that while such a possibility would be “unacceptable” to Russia, the risks had increased because NATO had “engaged in a war with Russia through a proxy and arming that proxy.”
“The risks are quite considerable,” he said in an interview with Channel One, Russia’s state-run TV network.
“I don’t want them to be blown out of proportion,” he said. But “the danger is serious, real — it must not be underestimated.”
Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, called Mr. Lavrov’s remarks a sign that “Moscow senses defeat in Ukraine.” John F. Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, called them “obviously unhelpful, not constructive.”
“A nuclear war cannot be won and it shouldn’t be fought,” he said. “There’s no reason for the current conflict in Ukraine to get to that level at all.”
Mr. Austin said the defense officials who had gathered at Ramstein Air Base — from Australia, Belgium, Britain, Italy, Israel and other countries — had agreed to form what he called the Ukraine Contact Group and to meet monthly to ensure they “strengthen Ukraine’s military for the long haul.”
“We are going to keep moving heaven and earth,” to bolster the Ukrainian military, Mr. Austin said.
Germany’s defense minister, Christine Lambrecht, announced at the meeting that Berlin would send Ukraine up to 50 armed vehicles, called Flakpanzer Gepard, designed to shoot down aircraft but also fire at targets on the ground.
Although no longer used by Germany, they have been acquired by Jordan, Qatar, Romania and Brazil, where they have been deployed to defend soccer stadiums from potential drone attacks during international tournaments, according to the manufacturer, Krauss-Maffei Wegmann.
The German government had previously cited a range of reasons to avoid shipping such heavy arms to Ukraine, including that none were readily available, that training Ukrainian soldiers to operate them was time-consuming and that Russia could be provoked into a wider conflict.
But German officials changed course under growing pressure from the conservative opposition in Berlin, and from members of the governing coalition. Germany has also supplied Ukraine with shoulder-launched antitank rockets and surface-to-air defensive missiles, some from old East German stockpiles.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, who traveled with Mr. Austin to Ukraine this past weekend, affirmed on Tuesday that the United States would support the Ukrainian military in pushing Russian forces out of eastern Ukraine if that is what President Volodymyr Zelensky aims to do.
“If that is how they define their objectives as a sovereign, democratic, independent country, that’s what we’ll support,” Mr. Blinken said at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
After meeting with Mr. Putin in the Kremlin, Mr. Guterres said he had secured an agreement “in principle” to allow the United Nations and the Red Cross to evacuate civilians from a sprawling steel plant besieged by Russia in the southern Ukrainian port of Mariupol, where they have been holed up for days with Ukrainian fighters. But there was no evidence that the meeting had produced any advances in diplomacy to end the war.
Before the meeting, Mr. Putin asserted that Mr. Guterres had been “misled” about the situation in Mariupol, and he insisted that Russia had been operating workable humanitarian corridors out of the city — an assertion denied by Ukrainian officials, who say their attempts to ferry civilians out of the city have collapsed in the face of threats by Russian forces.
Mr. Putin told Mr. Guterres that he hoped continuing peace talks with Ukraine would bring “some positive result,” according to the Kremlin. But Mr. Putin said Russia would not sign a security guarantee agreement with Ukraine without a resolution to the territorial questions in Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, and in Donbas, where Russia has recognized two separatist regions as independent.
In an escalation of the East-West economic conflict from the war, Poland’s state-owned gas company said on Tuesday that Russia’s state gas company had announced the “complete suspension” of natural gas deliveries to Poland through a major pipeline.
Poland, a NATO member and key conduit for Western arms into Ukraine, gets more than 45 percent of its natural gas from Russia, and cutting off that supply could impair its ability to heat homes and run businesses.
In addition to spreading suffering and death across Ukraine, the invasion has set off the largest exodus of European refugees since World War II.
More than five million people, 90 percent of them women and children, have already left Ukraine since Russia invaded on Feb. 24, according to the United Nations. A further 7.7 million have been driven from their homes by the conflict, but remain in the country.
On Tuesday, the United Nations projected that the number of refugees could rise to 8.3 million by year’s end, and it asked donors for an additional $1.25 billion to finance soaring humanitarian needs in Ukraine.
In another worrisome sign of possible spillover from the war, explosions rattled Transnistria, a small Moscow-backed breakaway republic in Ukraine’s southwest neighbor, Moldova, for the second consecutive day.
It remained unclear who was behind the explosions. The authorities in Transnistria blamed Ukraine, while Ukraine accused Russia of having orchestrated the blasts.
Moldova’s president, Maia Sandu, told reporters that there were “tensions between different forces within the regions, interested in destabilizing the situation.”
At least 12,000 Russian troops are stationed in Transnistria, just 25 miles from Ukraine’s major port, Odesa. Western officials have expressed concerns that Mr. Putin might create a pretext to order more troops into the territory, just as he did before Russian forces moved into Crimea and Donbas.
John Ismay reported from Ramstein Air Base, Christopher F. Schuetze from Berlin and Michael Levenson from New York. Reporting was contributed by Ivan Nechepurenko from Tblisi, Georgia, Michael Schwirtz from Orikhiv, Ukraine, Nick Cumming-Bruce from Geneva, Michael Crowley and Edward Wong from Washington, Matthew Mpoke Bigg from London and Cora Engelbrecht from Krakow, Poland.
Smoke hung over the gray streets that day in Kyiv, where protesters had piled tires, furniture and barbed wire to barricade themselves from security forces. Torn blue and yellow Ukrainian flags whipped in the wind, and candles left on sidewalks marked where people had been gunned down. A drawing of a reviled president depicted as a pig was tacked to a lamp post.
And yet there was a feeling of hope in Kyiv in March 2014, as Secretary of State John F. Kerry met with survivors of a violent crackdown on demonstrations. He commended the Ukrainians for their bravery in confronting a Kremlin-backed leader and promised that the United States would support the new government.
But Russian forces had moved into Crimea, Ukraine’s peninsula on the Black Sea, and Mr. Kerry warned: “It is clear that Russia has been working hard to create a pretext for being able to invade further.”
Eight years later, with Russian troops obliterating Ukrainian cities and towns, Mr. Kerry’s words seem eerily prescient.
Through the administrations of three American presidents, the United States has sent mixed signals about its commitment to Ukraine. All the while, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia watched Washington’s moves, biding his time.
“We’ve been all over the place on Ukraine,” said Fiona Hill, a Russia and Eurasia expert who advised the three administrations before President Biden. “Our own frames have shifted over time, and our own policies have shifted.”
“I think we need to re-articulate why Ukraine matters,” she said.
Now, two months into Mr. Putin’s war, the United States is at the center of an extraordinary campaign to foil him, casting the military conflict as a broader battle between democratic values and authoritarian might.
“It’s nothing less than a direct challenge to the rule-based international order established since the end of World War II,” Mr. Biden said in Warsaw last month. “And it threatens to return to decades of war that ravaged Europe before the international rule-based order was put in place. We cannot go back to that.”
The United States has rushed weapons and humanitarian aid to Ukraine and imposed sanctions intended to cut off Russia from global markets. This past weekend, Mr. Biden sent Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III to Ukraine as affirmation of Washington’s support.
After a secret train ride from Poland, the two spoke with President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv on Sunday about military aid. Mr. Austin said the Pentagon would expand training for Ukrainians on weapons systems; Mr. Blinken said Mr. Biden was nominating Bridget Brink, currently the ambassador to Slovakia, as his ambassador to Ukraine, the State Department said in a readout. The department is sending American diplomats back to Ukraine this week.
In many ways, officials said, Mr. Biden is trying to make up for the years of U.S. indecisiveness toward Kyiv. Those who wavered earlier include top Biden aides who had worked in the Obama administration as well as officials in the administration of Donald J. Trump, who undermined U.S. policy on Ukraine for personal political gain, according to current and former officialsand a review of records.
The Roots of War
Since the earliest days of Ukraine’s independence, in 1991, American officials have recognized the country’s strategic value as Russia struggled to find its footing after the breakup of the Soviet Union.
“Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be an empire,” Zbigniew Brzezinski, who had been the national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, wrote in a March 1994 essay. “But with Ukraine suborned and then subordinated, Russia automatically becomes an empire.”
Two months earlier, under pressure from the United States, Ukraine had reached an agreement to destroy its nuclear arsenal. President Bill Clinton heralded the pact as “a hopeful and historic breakthrough” to improve global security. But Ukraine’s leader, President Leonid Kuchma, warned that it would make his fledgling country more vulnerable.
“If tomorrow, Russia goes into Crimea, no one will raise an eyebrow,” he said that year.
At the time, Moscow was already goading a separatist movement in Crimea, even as Mr. Clinton predicted that Ukraine would become a major European power.
Yet over the next decade, experts said, NATO left out Ukraine to avoid angering Russia, which some members saw as an important economic partner and energy supplier and hoped would evolve into a more democratic and less threatening power.
The Baltic States joined NATO in 2004, and four years later, President George W. Bush publicly backed Ukraine’s ambition to follow. But Western European nations were reluctant. Today, Ukraine is neither a NATO member nor a part of the European Union, and officials cautioned as recently as this month that its inclusion in either was far from likely.
Years after Mr. Bush’s show of support, a new Ukrainian president, Viktor F. Yanukovych, tried to move the country closer to Russia, sparking mass protests in November 2013 when he refused to sign a long-planned agreement to strengthen ties with the European Union.
That led to the crackdownin Kyiv’s streets in 2014.
Security forces opened fire on protesters in central Kyiv in February that year, killing dozens. Protesters held their ground, attracting public support in Europe and the United States. Mr. Yanukovych fled to Russia.
“In the hearts of Ukrainians and the eyes of the world, there is nothing strong about what Russia is doing,” Mr. Kerry said during his visit to Kyiv.
Within days, Mr. Putin ordered the invasion of Crimea, and he soon formally recognized it as a “sovereign and independent state.”
A slow-burn war in eastern Ukraine followed, with Kyiv battling a separatist movement supported by Russian weapons and troops. An estimated 13,000 people were killed over the next eight years.
Mr. Putin’s swift actions caught President Barack Obama off guard.
Mr. Obama vowed the United States would never recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea and imposed economic sanctions, but his aides said in later accounts that he was skeptical of Ukraine’s corruption-ridden government.
And Mr. Obama said in a 2016 interview that a showdown with Mr. Putin over Ukraine would have been futile.
His administration gave more than $1.3 billion in assistance to Ukraine between 2014 and 2016, but Mr. Obama said no when his national security team, including Mr. Biden and Mr. Kerry, recommended sending weapons to Kyiv.
Among Mr. Obama’s defenders was Mr. Blinken, then the deputy secretary of state and now America’s top diplomat.
By sending military aid to Ukraine, “you’re playing to Russia’s strength, because Russia is right next door,” Mr. Blinken, then the deputy secretary of state, said in early 2015.
Any aid, he added, “is likely to be matched and then doubled and tripled and quadrupled by Russia.”
Neither the Obama administration nor its key European allies believed Ukraine was ready to join NATO. But tensions in the alliance were growing as Europeans sought to maintain trade ties and energy deals with Russia.
The division was captured in a phone call in which a senior State Department official profanely criticized European leaders’ approach to helping Ukraine. A leaked recording of the call was posted on YouTube in February 2014 in what was widely believed to be an attempt by Russia to stir up discord between the United States and Europe.
Yet as much as anything else, Ukraine was a costly distraction to Mr. Obama’s broader agenda.
“It was hard to reconcile the time and energy required to lead the diplomacy on Ukraine with the demands on the United States elsewhere around the world, especially after ISIS took over much of Iraq and Syria in the summer of 2014,” Derek H. Chollet, a senior Pentagon official at the time, wrote in a book about Mr. Obama’s foreign policy.
Mr. Chollet is now a senior counselor to Mr. Blinken at the State Department.
‘Do Us a Favor’
Volodymyr Zelensky, a former comedian, won a landslide victory in Ukraine’s presidential elections in April 2019 after campaigning on an anti-corruption pledge.
Once in office, he turned to ending the war in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine through negotiations with Mr. Putin.
The new Ukrainian president “knew he needed the backing of the United States and the American president,” said William B. Taylor Jr., who started his second tour as ambassador to Ukraine that June after his predecessor, Marie L. Yovanovitch, was pushed out on Mr. Trump’s orders.
Mr. Zelensky tried to arrange a meeting with Mr. Trump at the White House. But Mr. Trump had negative views of Ukraine even before he took office, influenced partly by his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who had made more than $60 million consulting for a Ukrainian political party backed by Russia.
Mr. Trump’s opinions were reinforced in meetings with Mr. Putin, whom he publicly admired, and Viktor Orban, the autocratic prime minister of Hungary.
And close associates of Mr. Trump, in particular Rudolph W. Giuliani, then his personal lawyer, were urging the president to get Mr. Zelensky to open two investigations: one into Mr. Biden, Mr. Trump’s main political opponent, for actions in Ukraine related to his son Hunter Biden’s business dealings; the other based in part on a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 election, to help Hillary Clinton. Mr. Trump embraced the theory because it undermined the finding of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia had interfered to help him.
But U.S. policy had been on a notably different track. Earlier, in December 2017, under pressure from his national security aides and Congress, Mr. Trump agreed to do what Mr. Obama would not: approve the sale of Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine.
But in mid-2019, the White House froze $391 million in military aid to Ukraine, including the Javelins, to build leverage for Mr. Trump’s demands, congressional investigators later found. The move hobbled Ukraine’s war effort against Russia-backed separatists.
“For it to be held up, they couldn’t understand that,” Mr. Taylor said.
That set the stage for a fateful July 25 call between Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky. “I would like you to do us a favor,” Mr. Trump said. He requested the two investigations.
Mr. Zelensky and his aides were confused. “The rest of the U.S. government was very supportive of Ukraine,” Mr. Taylor said. “But from the top, the president had a different message and set of conditions.”
Mr. Zelensky scheduled a CNN interview for September to announce one or both of the investigations that Mr. Trump had requested to satisfy the American president. But the interview never happened because journalists had begun reporting on the hold on military aid, and lawmakers sympathetic to Ukraine had persisted in asking the White House about the suspended aid. On Sept. 9, three House committees announced investigations into the pressure campaign after reviewing a whistle-blower complaint citing the July call.
The Trump administration released the aid on Sept. 11.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Mr. Zelensky in Kyiv on Jan. 31, 2020, the first cabinet official to do so since the announcement of an impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump the previous September. The Senate trial was underway.
Just days earlier, Mr. Pompeo had blown up at an NPR reporter in an interview, asking her to identify Ukraine on an unmarked map and yelling, “Do you think Americans care” about Ukraine? — using anexpletive before “Ukraine.”
Yet in Kyiv, Mr. Pompeo stood next to Mr. Zelensky in the presidential palace and said the U.S. commitment to support Ukraine “will not waver.”
But the damage had been done, and Mr. Zelensky was unconvinced that the United States was a trusted ally, Ms. Yovanovitch said in an interview last month.
“Trying to use our national security policy in order to further President Trump’s personal and political agenda was not just wrong, but it was really detrimental to the bilateral relationship,” she said. “It colored how Zelensky handled foreign policy.”
With all the disruption, former U.S. officials said, Mr. Putin no doubt saw weakness in Washington.
Biden vs. Putin
Consumed by the pandemic and the economy, Mr. Biden did not prioritize Ukraine at first. But Mr. Blinken visited Kyiv in May 2021 with a message of support.
During a steady rain, Mr. Blinken joined Dmytro Kuleba, the Ukrainian foreign minister, on a walk to the Wall of National Remembrance, where photos of soldiers who had been killed in combat with Russia in the Donbas were displayed outside St. Michael’s monastery.
But he also went to Kyiv with some tough love, determined to press Ukraine to make political and economic changes — a core issue for Mr. Biden when he oversaw relations with the country as vice president.
Just before the visit, Mr. Zelensky’s government had replaced the chief executive of the largest state-owned energy company, whom Western officials had praised for his transparency. The State Department had chastised the move as “just the latest example” of Ukrainian leaders violating practices of good governance. In Kyiv, Mr. Blinken told reporters that he was urging Ukraine to strengthen itself by “building institutions, advancing reforms, combating corruption.”
Such concerns paled in the face of Russia’s growing military threat, which Washington was watching “very, very closely,” Mr. Blinken said. Mr. Putin had begun amassing troops along Ukraine’s borders. By fall, the number approached 100,000.
This past January, Mr. Blinken rushed back to Kyiv for more consultations before a hastily arranged meeting in Geneva with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, in a last-ditch attempt to avert war.
But Russia would not be deterred, and high-level contacts between Washington and Moscow have been severely limited ever since.
By contrast, Mr. Blinken speaks frequently to Mr. Kuleba to convey American support that, at least in terms of aid, has been greater than at any time in the three decades since Ukraine declared independence.
“The world is with you,” Mr. Blinken told him on March 5, stepping into Ukraine just a few feet beyond Poland’s border.
“We’re in it with Ukraine — one way or another, short run, the medium run, the long run,” he said.
Mr. Kuleba referred to an “unprecedented, swift reaction” to Russia’s invasion and thanked Mr. Blinken for the support.