BERLIN — Russia’s invasion of Ukraine seemed like an unexpected opportunity for environmentalists, who had struggled to focus the world’s attention on the kind of energy independence that renewable resources can offer. With the West trying to wean itself from Russian oil and gas, the argument for solar and wind power seemed stronger than ever.
But four months into the war, the scramble to replace Russian fossil fuels has triggered the exact opposite. As the heads of the Group of 7 industrialized nations gather in the Bavarian Alps for a meeting that was supposed to cement their commitment to the fight against climate change, fossil fuels are having a wartime resurgence, with the leaders more focused on bringing down the price of oil and gas than immediately reducing their emissions.
Nations are reversing plans to stop burning coal. They are scrambling for more oil and are committing billions to building terminals for liquefied natural gas, known as L.N.G.
coal plants that had been shuttered or were scheduled to be phased out.
as top economic officials in Ukraine, say it would serve two key purposes: increasing the global supply of oil to put downward pressure on oil and gasoline prices, while reducing Russia’s oil revenue.
Proponents say it is likely that Russia would continue to produce and sell oil even at a discount because it would be easier and more economical than capping wells to cut production. Simon Johnson, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, estimates that it could be in Russia’s economic interest to continue selling oil with a price cap as low as $10 a barrel.
Some proponents say it is possible that China and India would also insist on paying the discounted price, further driving down Russian revenues.
Critics charge that building all 12 terminals would produce an excess capacity. But even half that number would produce three-quarters of the carbon emissions Germany is allowed under international agreements, according to a recent report published by a German environmental watchdog. The terminals would be in use until 2043, far too long for Germany to become carbon neutral by 2045, as pledged by Mr. Scholz’s government.
And countries are not just investing in infrastructure at home.
Last month, Mr. Scholz was in Senegal, one of the developing countries invited to the Group of 7 summit, to discuss cooperating not just on renewables but also on gas extraction and L.N.G. production.
In promoting the Senegal gas project, analysts say, Berlin is violating its own Group of 7 commitment not to offer public financing guarantees for fossil fuel projects abroad.
These contradictions have not gone unnoticed by poorer nations, which are wondering how Group of 7 countries can push for commitments to climate targets while also investing in gas production and distribution.
One explanation is a level of lobbying among fossil fuel companies not seen for years, activists say.
“It looks to me like an attempt by the oil and gas industry to end-run the Paris Agreement,” said Bill Hare of Climate Analytics, an advisory group in Berlin, referring to the landmark 2015 international treaty on climate change. “And I’m very worried they might succeed.”
Ms. Morgan in the German Foreign Ministry shares some of these concerns. “They’re doing everything that they can to move it forward, also in Africa,” she said of the industry. “They want to lock it in. Not just gas, but oil and gas and coal.”
But she and others are still hopeful that the Group of 7 can become a platform for tying climate goals to energy security.
Environmental and foreign policy analysts argue that the Group of 7 could support investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency, while pledging funds for poorer nations hit with the brunt of climate disasters.
Above all, activists warn, rich countries need to resist the temptation to react to the short-term energy shortages by once again betting on fossil fuel infrastructure.
“All the arguments are on the table now,” said Ms. Neubauer, the Fridays for Future activist. “We know exactly what fossil fuels do to the climate. We also know very well that Putin is not the only autocrat in the world. We know that no democracy can be truly free and secure as long as it depends on fossil fuel imports.”
Katrin Bennhold Bennhold reported from Berlin, and Jim Tankersley from Telfs, Austria. Erika Solomon and Christopher F. Schuetze contributed reporting from Berlin.
Stopping at the edge of a vast field of barley on his farm in Prundu, 30 miles outside Romania’s capital city of Bucharest, Catalin Corbea pinched off a spiky flowered head from a stalk, rolled it between his hands, and then popped a seed in his mouth and bit down.
“Another 10 days to two weeks,” he said, explaining how much time was needed before the crop was ready for harvest.
Mr. Corbea, a farmer for nearly three decades, has rarely been through a season like this one. The Russians’ bloody creep into Ukraine, a breadbasket for the world, has caused an upheaval in global grain markets. Coastal blockades have trapped millions of tons of wheat and corn inside Ukraine. With famine stalking Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere in Asia, a frenetic scramble for new suppliers and alternate shipping routes is underway.
barge that had sunk in World War II.
Rain was not as plentiful in Prundu as Mr. Corbea would have liked it to be, but the timing was opportune when it did come. He bent down and picked up a fistful of dark, moist soil and caressed it. “This is perfect land,” he said.
67.5 million tons of cargo, more than a third of it grain. Now, with Odesa’s port closed off, some Ukrainian exports are making their way through Constanta’s complex.
Railway cars, stamped “Cereale” on their sides, spilled Ukrainian corn onto underground conveyor belts, sending up billowing dust clouds last week at the terminal operated by the American food giant Cargill. At a quay operated by COFCO, the largest food and agricultural processor in China, grain was being loaded onto a cargo ship from one of the enormous silos that lined its docks. At COFCO’s entry gate, trucks that displayed Ukraine’s distinctive blue-and-yellow-striped flag on their license plates waited for their cargoes of grain to be inspected before unloading.
During a visit to Kyiv last week, Romania’s president, Klaus Iohannis, said that since the beginning of the invasion more than a million tons of Ukrainian grain had passed through Constanta to locations around the world.
But logistical problems prevent more grain from making the journey. Ukraine’s rail gauges are wider than those elsewhere in Europe. Shipments have to be transferred at the border to Romanian trains, or each railway car has to be lifted off a Ukrainian undercarriage and wheels to one that can be used on Romanian tracks.
Truck traffic in Ukraine has been slowed by backups at border crossings — sometimes lasting days — along with gas shortages and damaged roadways. Russia has targeted export routes, according to Britain’s defense ministry.
Romania has its own transit issues. High-speed rail is rare, and the country lacks an extensive highway system. Constanta and the surrounding infrastructure, too, suffer from decades of underinvestment.
Over the past couple of months, the Romanian government has plowed money into clearing hundreds of rusted wagons from rail lines and refurbishing tracks that were abandoned when the Communist regime fell in 1989.
Still, trucks entering and exiting the port from the highway must share a single-lane roadway. An attendant mans the gate, which has to be lifted for each vehicle.
When the bulk of the Romanian harvest begins to arrive at the terminals in the next couple of weeks, the congestion will get significantly worse. Each day, 3,000 to 5,000 trucks will arrive, causing backups for miles on the highway that leads into Constanta, said Cristian Taranu, general manager at the terminals run by the Romanian port operator Umex.
Mr. Mircea’s farm is less than a 30-minute drive from Constanta. But “during the busiest periods, my trucks are waiting two, three days” just to enter the port’s complex so they can unload, he said through a translator.
That is one reason he is less sanguine than Mr. Corbea is about Romania’s ability to take advantage of farming and export opportunities.
“Port Constanta is not prepared for such an opportunity,” Mr. Mircea said. “They don’t have the infrastructure.”
LONDON — The Russian blockade that has stopped Ukraine from exporting its vast storehouses of grain and other goods, threatening starvation in distant corners of the globe, is a “war crime,” the European Union’s top foreign policy official declared Monday.
The remarks by the official, Josep Borrell Fontelles, were among the strongest language from a Western leader in describing the Kremlin’s tactics to subjugate Ukraine nearly four months after it invaded, and with no end to the conflict in sight.
Before Russian forces began pounding Ukraine in February, it was a major exporter of grain, cooking oil and fertilizer. But the Black Sea blockade — along with Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian farmland and its destruction of agricultural infrastructure — has brought exports to a near standstill. The latest blow came Monday, when, Ukrainian regional authorities said, a Russian missile razed a food warehouse in Odesa, Ukraine’s biggest Black Sea port.
arriving in Luxembourg for a meeting of E.U. foreign ministers. “Millions of tons of wheat remain blocked in Ukraine while in the rest of the world, people are suffering hunger. This is a real war crime, so I cannot imagine that this will last much longer.”
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine made the same point in a remote address to the African Union on Monday. Moscow has deep ties to many African countries, which have been reluctant to criticize the invasion.
similar announcement on Sunday by Germany, Europe’s biggest economy. Denmark said it was also activating a plan to deal with looming shortages of gas that had been supplied by Russia.
The developments came as Russia, far from feeling the pain of lost fuel sales, found a savior in China, which reported on Monday that it was now the biggest buyer of Russian oil.
considering a suspension of fuel taxes to ease the strain on consumers.
NBC News, Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, said that the two Americans, Alex Drueke, 39, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, were “soldiers of fortune” who had been engaged in shelling and firing on Russian forces and should be “held responsible for the crimes they have committed.”
The sanctions imposed on Russia also played a role on Monday in an escalating confrontation with Lithuania, a member of both the European Union and NATO.
The Russian authorities threatened Lithuania with retaliation if the Baltic country did not swiftly reverse its ban on the transportation of some goods to Kaliningrad, the Russian exclave between Lithuania and Poland. Citing instructions from the European Union, Lithuania’s railway on Friday said it was halting the movement of goods from Russia that have been sanctioned by the European bloc.
Mr. Peskov told reporters the situation was “more than serious.” He called the new restrictions “an element of a blockade” of the region and a “violation of everything.”
small town of Toshkivka in Luhansk Province, part of the eastern region known as Donbas. That is where Russian forces have concentrated much of their military power as part of a plan to seize the region after having failed to occupy other parts of the country, including Kyiv, the capital, and Kharkiv, the second-largest city, in northern Ukraine.
Reports over the weekend suggested that Russian forces had broken through the Ukrainian front line in Toshkivka, about 12 miles southeast of the metropolitan area of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk. Those are the last major cities in Luhansk not to have fallen into Russian hands. As of Monday, it remained unclear whether Russia had made any further advance there.
But Ukrainian officials said Russian forces had intensified shelling in and around Kharkiv, weeks after the Ukrainians had pushed them back, suggesting that Moscow still had territorial ambitions beyond Donbas.
“We de-occupied this region,” Mr. Zelensky said in an address to a conference of international policy experts in Italy. “And they want to do it again.”
Matthew Mpoke Bigg reported from London, Andrew Higgins from Warsaw, Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Druzhkivka, Ukraine, and Rick Gladstone from New York. Reporting was contributed by Valerie Hopkins and Oleksandr Chubko from Kyiv; Dan Bilefsky from Montreal; Monika Pronczuk from Brussels; Austin Ramzy from Hong Kong; Stanley Reed from London; and Zach Montague from Rehoboth Beach, Del.
The Dutch government said on Monday that Russia’s tightening of gas supplies to Europe had prompted it to declare an “early warning” stage of a natural gas crisis, a move that will allow more electric power to be generated by burning coal.
Russia’s actions in recent days — chiefly the reduction of flows by about 60 percent through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany — have markedly darkened the mood in Europe on energy. Governments and industry in Europe are now convinced that Moscow plans to use gas as a political weapon against the largest European economies in the coming months. This means that major European nations, not just a handful like Bulgaria and Poland, are likely to see gas supplies trimmed or cut completely and need to take steps to reduce their vulnerability.
Already gas flows have been cut not only to Germany but to other countries, including Italy and France, analysts and government officials say. The Dutch government said there were as yet “no acute gas shortages” in the Netherlands but that declining supplies “could have consequences.”
the German government took similar steps with regard to coal, and Austria said it would allow the conversion of a gas-fired power plant to coal.
Groningen gas field, a major provider in the north of the country that officials have scheduled to close because of earthquakes triggered by the extraction of the fuel. The government appears to be trying to keep its options open on Groningen, which is operated by a joint venture owned by Shell and Exxon Mobil.
The government said in its statement that it had decided not to shut “any wells definitively this year” because of what it called “uncertain geopolitical developments.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council via a video link in Moscow, Russia May 27, 2022. Sputnik/Mikhail Metzel/Kremlin via REUTERS
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ZURICH, May 27 (Reuters) – Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said Russian President Vladimir Putin told him on Friday that Moscow would meet its natural gas delivery commitments to Austria and was ready to discuss a prisoner swap with Ukraine.
Nehammer made the comments to reporters after the two leaders held a 45-minute telephone call that Nehammer described as a chance to confront Putin with the realities of the war in Ukraine and discuss prospects for humanitarian solutions.
Asked what Putin had told him about gas deliveries, the Austrian conservative said: “He also raised the subject (and said) that all deliveries would be completed in full.”
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In a separate statement, the Kremlin said Russia had reaffirmed its commitment to supply natural gas to Austria, which gets 80% of its gas from Russia.
Nehammer, who visited Russia last month for talks with Putin, said the Russian leader had expressed readiness to discuss a prisoner swap with Ukraine.
“Whether he is really ready to negotiate is a complex question,” he added.
Russia describes the three-month-old incursion as a special military operation to disarm its neighbour and remove dangerous nationalists from power. The Kyiv and its allies in the West say the charge is bogus and says the invasion of Ukraine is an unprovoked attack.
Nehammer said Putin had repeatedly defended Moscow’s actions and blamed Western sanctions for economic disruptions that ensued. He said he thought Putin was creating facts on the group to take into negotiations.
Putin was “entirely aware” of the issue of food security, Nehammer said of the conversation, adding Putin “gave signals” that he was ready to allow exports over seaports but had linked progress to the lifting of Western sanctions.
The Kremlin statement said Putin had discussed work to ensure the safety of navigation in the Azov and Black Seas, saying Ukraine should clear ports of mines to allow the free passage of blocked ships.
The United States and others accuse Russia of blockading Ukraine’s ports. read more
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Reporting by Michael Shields, editing by Thomas Escritt and Jon Boyle
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The Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC), which is operated by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons, is pictured in Brooklyn, New York, U.S., December 8, 2020. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo
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WASHINGTON, May 27 (Reuters) – An Israeli private investigator currently in U.S. custody used Indian hackers to conduct surveillance operations for ultra-wealthy Russians, a reporter said in a court filing late Wednesday.
Independent journalist Scott Stedman told a court in New York that jailed private detective Aviram Azari worked “on surveillance and cyber-intelligence operations at the behest of Russian oligarchs,” citing a mix of public reporting and confidential sources.
Stedman said in a declaration that one of the Russian oligarchs concerned was aluminum tycoon Oleg Deripaska, whom he said indirectly employed Azari in connection with a business dispute in Austria.
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Deripaska’s spokeswoman said in an email that the allegations were “blatantly untrue.” A lawyer for Azari, who last month pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit hacking and aggravated identity theft in a separate case, did not return messages.
Stedman made his declaration in support of his request to subpoena Azari for evidence to fight a U.K. libel suit filed against him by British-Israeli security consultant Walter Soriano in 2020.
In a series of articles for his publication, Forensic News, Stedman claimed, among other things, that Soriano was a middleman between wealthy Russians and surveillance firms.
Soriano denied the allegations and sued over the articles, accusing Stedman of mounting a campaign of defamation, invasion of privacy, and harassment.
Stedman’s lawyer told the New York court that “multiple confidential sources” told the reporter that Azari “worked closely with Soriano for years” and thus the jailed private eye’s testimony and documents could “corroborate the truth of Forensic News’ reporting.”
In an email to Reuters, Soriano’s lawyer Shlomo Rechtschaffen said that Stedman’s claims were “false and unfounded” and that the reporter “has no evidence” that his client and Azari worked together as alleged.
In a statement to Reuters, Stedman said he had “very strong reason to believe that Mr. Azari worked with Mr. Soriano on cyber-related projects for multiple Russian oligarchs and other billionaires” and that he was subpoenaing Azari as part of an effort “to defend my journalism and my business.”
Azari is currently being held in federal prison in Brooklyn awaiting sentencing in relation to a hacking campaign tied to the defunct German financial technology company Wirecard AG , his lawyer said last month. read more
Reuters reported last year that Azari was accused of hiring the Indian hacking firm BellTroX on behalf of powerful clients. BellTroX, which has also been accused of hacking by cybersecurity researchers at Facebook and elsewhere, could not be reached for comment. read more
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Reporting by Raphael Satter; Editing by Daniel Wallis
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LONDON — In the five weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine, the United States, the European Union and their allies began an economic counteroffensive that has cut off Russia’s access to hundreds of billions of dollars of its own money and halted a large chunk of its international commerce. More than 1,000 companies, organizations and individuals, including members of President Vladimir V. Putin’s inner circle, have been sanctioned and relegated to a financial limbo.
But Mr. Putin reminded the world this past week that he has economic weapons of his own that he could use to inflict some pain or fend off attacks.
Through a series of aggressive measures taken by the Russian government and its central bank, the ruble, which had lost nearly half of its value, clawed its way back to near where it was before the invasion.
And then there was the threat to stop the flow of gas from Russia to Europe — which was set off by Mr. Putin’s demand that 48 “unfriendly countries” violate their own sanctions and pay for natural gas in rubles. It sent leaders in the capitals of Germany, Italy and other allied nations scrambling and showcased in the most visible way since the war began how much they need Russian energy to power their economies.
Russian oil exports normally represent more than one of every 10 barrels the world consumes.
Europe’s ongoing energy purchases send as much as $850 million each day into Russia’s coffers, according to Bruegel, an economics institute in Brussels. That money helps Russia to fund its war efforts and blunts the impact of sanctions. Because of soaring energy prices, gas export revenues from Gazprom, the Russian energy giant, injected $9.3 billion into the country’s economy in March alone, according an estimate by Oxford Economics, a global advisory firm.
Ursula von der Leyen, said as much when she announced the new energy plan last month: “We simply cannot rely on a supplier who explicitly threatens us.”
Security concerns aren’t the only development that has undermined Russia’s standing as a long-term energy supplier. What seemed surprising to economists, lawyers and policymakers about Mr. Putin’s demand to be paid in rubles was that it would have violated sacrosanct negotiated contracts and revealed Russia’s willingness to be an unreliable business partner.
As he has tried to wield his energy clout externally, Mr. Putin has taken steps to insulate Russia’s economy from the impact of sanctions and to prop up the ruble. Few things can undermine a country as systemically as an abruptly weakened currency.
The Russia-Ukraine War and the Global Economy
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Shortages of essential metals. The price of palladium, used in automotive exhaust systems and mobile phones, has been soaring amid fears that Russia, the world’s largest exporter of the metal, could be cut off from global markets. The price of nickel, another key Russian export, has also been rising.
Financial turmoil. Global banks are bracing for the effects of sanctions intended to restrict Russia’s access to foreign capital and limit its ability to process payments in dollars, euros and other currencies crucial for trade. Banks are also on alert for retaliatory cyberattacks by Russia.
When the allies froze the assets of the Russian central bank and sent the ruble into a downward spiral, the bank increased the interest rate to 20 percent, while the government mandated that companies convert 80 percent of the dollars, euros and other foreign currencies they earn into rubles to increase demand and drive up the price.
S&P Global survey of purchasing managers at Russian manufacturing companies showed severe declines in production, employment and new orders in March, as well as sharp price increases.
500 foreign companies have pulled up stakes in Russia, scaled back operations and investment, or pledged to do so.
“Russia does not have the capabilities to replicate domestically the technology that it would otherwise have gained from overseas,” according to an analysis by Capital Economics, a research group based in London. That is not a good sign for increasing productivity, which even before the war, was only 35 to 40 percent of the United States’.
The result is that however the war in Ukraine ends, Russia will be more economically isolated than it has been in decades, diminishing whatever leverage it now has over the global economy as well as its own economic prospects.
ODESSA, Ukraine — Ukrainian forces carried out counter-offensives against Russian positions on Wednesday, seeking to inflict what one official called “maximum losses,” even as the invading Russian military stepped up its lethal attacks on cities.
In Mariupol, an airstrike destroyed a theater where about 1,000 people had taken shelter, according to city and regional administrators, and photos and videos posted online showed the burning wreckage of the building. Officials in Mariupol, the besieged southern city that has suffered the most intense bombardment, said they could not yet estimate the number of casualties among civilians, who might have been in a bomb shelter beneath the theater.
After falling back under a relentless pounding over the war’s first weeks, Ukrainian troops tried to regain some momentum with counterattacks on Russian positions outside of Kyiv and in the Russian-occupied city of Kherson, in Ukraine’s south, a senior Ukrainian military official said.
Rather than seek to regain lost territory, Ukrainian forces tried to cause as much destruction and death as possible, attacking Russian troops and equipment with tanks, fighter jets and artillery, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive military information.
“In the task of inflicting maximum losses, we’ve done excellently,” the official said.
While President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine pleaded with Congress for more aid and President Biden promised more weaponry, Russia’s President Vladimir V. Putin falsely accused Ukraine of seeking weapons of mass destruction and asserted that what he called an “economic blitzkrieg” by the West, aimed at destroying Russia, had failed.
Mr. Putin also sneered at Russians who oppose the war, saying the Russian people could distinguish “true patriots from the scum and the traitors, and just to spit them out like a midge that accidentally flew into their mouths.”
Ukrainian and Russian negotiators held a third consecutive day of talks on a possible settlement to the conflict, and in typical fashion, the Kremlin left a muddy picture of its intentions. Mr. Putin’s bellicose, often false statements, larded with World War II references, clashed with more conciliatory comments from his underlings.
But little appeared to have changed on the battlefield. The war in Ukraine, about to enter its fourth week, has become a grinding daily slog with little evidence of significant gains for either side.
Details of the Ukrainian offensive could not be fully established independently, though several top Ukrainian officials, including key aides to Mr. Zelensky, confirmed that the counterattacks were underway.
In Kyiv, missile strikes and heavy artillery sounded overnight and in the early morning on Wednesday in exchanges in the outlying suburbs that were notably heavier and louder than in previous days. Two people were wounded and a residential building was damaged in a strike that landed near the city zoo, the second time in two days that shells have landed close to the city center.
Satellite pictures from Tuesday showed heavy black smoke above the Kherson airport, where the senior military official said Ukrainian forces had targeted parked Russian military aircraft.
Kherson was the first (and so far, only) major city to be fully taken over by Russian forces, which have turned it into a forward military base from which they have launched attacks on surrounding cities and villages, according to Ukrainian officials. On Tuesday, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that it had taken control of the entire Kherson region, giving Russian forces a significant foothold in southern Ukraine that Ukraine’s military will have difficulty dislodging.
Even so, neither side can be said to have made much progress militarily. The Institute for the Study of War, which has been tracking developments closely, noted in a Tuesday evening assessment that, for nearly two weeks, Russian forces have not been conducting extensive simultaneous attacks that would allow them to seize control of multiple areas at once in Ukraine. And they are unlikely to do so in the next week, it said.
In the absence of significant military gains, Russian forces on Wednesday continued a campaign of terror against Ukrainian civilians.
At least 10 people were killed when a Russian strike hit a bread line in Chernihiv, a city north of Kyiv that has been subject to intense shelling by Russian troops seeking to move on the capital. Ukraine’s prosecutor general’s office said in a statement that the attack occurred at about 10 a.m. as people were lined up at a grocery store. Photos released by the prosecutor’s office showed several bodies scattered around a dirt yard.
Using heavy artillery, cruise missiles and fighter jets, Russian forces have systematically targeted civilian areas with no military presence, striking apartment buildings, schools and hospitals in cities and villages all over a broad front in the north, east and south of Ukraine. The attacks may have killed thousands of civilians, though reaching a precise count of the dead has been impossible.
Saying it was “profoundly concerned” by Russia’s use of force, the International Court of Justice ordered Russia on Wednesday to suspend its military operations immediately, pending its full review of a case submitted by Ukraine last month. However, the order was not expected to lead to any immediate cessation in the onslaught.
According to the United Nations, at least 726 civilians have been killed, including 64 children, since the invasion began on Feb. 24, though its figures do not include areas where fighting has been heaviest, like Kharkiv and Mariupol. In Mariupol alone, which has been turned into a hellscape of burning and decimated buildings, local authorities say at least 2,400 have been killed, and probably far more.
In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, the municipal emergency services agency first reported on Wednesday that 500 civilians had been killed since the war began, but then revised that number to 100 later in the day. In any case, the agency said in statement on Facebook, the true number of deaths could be much higher, noting that emergency workers were continuing to scour the rubble of residential neighborhoods for more bodies, often under fire.
Western defense and intelligence agencies estimate that each side has suffered thousands of combatants killed.
Mr. Zelensky’s appeal to Congress on Wednesday was in part a desperate effort to obtain the weaponry and defenses capable of fending off such attacks. Central to this appeal was a call for a no-fly zone to be imposed over Ukraine, aimed at preventing Russian fighter jets, which cause some of the most severe death and destruction, from operating over Ukrainian territory. “Close the sky” has become a rallying cry for Ukrainian officials and regular citizens.
“Russia has turned the Ukrainian sky into a source of death for thousands of people,” Mr. Zelensky said.
Knowing that the request had little chance of being approved, given that it would thrust American pilots into direct confrontation with the Russians, Mr. Zelensky quickly pivoted to something to which Republicans and Democrats have been far more receptive: asking for more weapons to enable his people to keep up the fight themselves.
Mr. Biden announced $800 million in new military aid to Ukraine, including antiaircraft and antitank missiles, body armor, vehicles, drones and small arms, bringing to $2 billion the amount delivered or pledged since early last year. But as expected, he did not offer to deliver warplanes or enforce a no-fly zone.
The United States and its allies have relied primarily on financial sanctions that are already devastating the Russian economy.
Mr. Putin, in a televised videoconference with top officials, once again falsely described the government in Kyiv, led by a Jewish president and prime minister, as being “pro-Nazi” and on its way to acquiring nuclear weapons. “Their aim, of course, would have been Russia,” he said.
And then he went deeper into unreality, accusing the government in Kyiv of disregard for the suffering of the Ukrainian people that his own forces were bombing every day.
“The fact that people are dying, that hundreds of thousands, millions have become refugees, that there is a real humanitarian catastrophe in cities held by neo-Nazis and armed criminals,” he said. “They’re indifferent.”
Russian officials closer to the talks said Wednesday there had been signs of progress, though even there, the picture was unclear. They said the idea of a neutral Ukraine, with a status like that of Sweden or Austria, was on the table, which their Ukrainian counterparts disputed.
Sergei V. Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, told a Russian television network that the status of the Russian language and Russian news outlets in Ukraine were under discussion, and that “there are concrete formulas that are close to being agreed on.”
Mr. Zelensky indicated that he was willing to compromise on one of Russia’s central demands. In his daily video message, he said Ukraine “must recognize” that it would not join NATO. He added that negotiations had become more “realistic.” But one of his negotiators, Mykhailo Podolyak, said Ukraine needed “absolute security guarantees,” including military support from its allies.
Michael Schwirtz reported from Odessa, Ukraine; Valerie Hopkins from Lviv, Ukraine; and Carlotta Gall from Kyiv. Reporting was contributed by Anton Troianovski and Ivan Nechepurenko from Istanbul, and Richard Pérez-Peña from New York.
KABUL, Afghanistan — Amena, 7 months old, lay silently in her hospital crib amid the mewling of desperately ill infants in the malnutrition ward.
Her mother, Balqisa, had brought the child to Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, the night before. “Her body was so hot,” she said, stroking her daughter’s emaciated leg.
The baby had a high fever, convulsions and sepsis, said Dr. Mohammad Iqbal Sadiq, a pediatrician, glancing at her chart.
“Her chances are not good,” the doctor said. “We got her too late.”
At the Indira Gandhi hospital, and in faltering hospitals across Afghanistan, famished children arrive by car and taxi and ambulance every day and night. Acute malnutrition is just one of a cascade of maladies that threaten to topple the country’s fragile health system.
acute poverty, with 4.7 million Afghans likely to suffer severe malnutrition this year, according to the United Nations. Last month, the organization made its biggest appeal ever for a single country, asking international donors to give more than $5 billion to fend off a humanitarian disaster.
doubled since August, with 40 children dying in December on their way to receive medical care.
Jonas Gahr Store, the prime minister of Norway, whose country hosted meetings between Taliban representatives and Afghan civil society groups last week, spoke to the Security Council about the urgency to expedite aid.
“We need new agreements and commitments in place to be able to assist and help an extremely vulnerable civil population, and most vulnerable among them, the children who face hunger and suffering,” he said.
Before the U.S.-backed Afghan government disintegrated in August as the Taliban overran the country, the health system relied on international aid to survive. But much of that funding has been frozen to comply with sanctions imposed on the Taliban.
As a result, the International Rescue Committee recently predicted that 90 percent of Afghanistan’s health clinics were likely to shut down in the coming months. The World Health Organization has said that outbreaks of diarrhea, measles, dengue fever, malaria and Covid-19 threaten to overwhelm overburdened hospitals.
including $308 million in relief authorized by the United States, they have not been enough to cover 1,200 health facilities and 11,000 health workers.
Though the drastic decline in war-related casualties has relieved the burden of such patients on many hospitals, the suspension of operations by private facilities and the ability to safely travel Afghanistan’s roads has left other hospitals overrun with people.
On a recent morning, the corridors of Indira Gandhi hospital were crammed with beds as patients’ family members squatted on floors amid parcels of food bought at the local bazaar.
Patients’ meals consist of an egg, two apples, a milk packet, rice and juice, so many families supplement them with outside food. Some buy medicine at local pharmacies because the hospital can provide only about 70 percent of required medication, Dr. Sadiq said.
has now claimed more than 900,000 lives across the country, and the Covid death rates remain alarmingly high. The number of new infections, however, has fallen by more than half since mid-January, and hospitalizations are also declining.
Boosters. New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that booster doses are most beneficial to older adults. For younger Americans, vaccination decreased the risk of hospitalization and death so sharply that the additional shot did not seem to add much benefit.
Around the world. Several countries are easing their pandemic protocols, though public health leaders at the World Health Organization continued to urge caution about relaxing restrictions. In Austria, a sweeping Covid vaccine mandate is set to become law.
Few Afghans wear masks — even at the Ministry of Public Health in Kabul. There, officials clustered in groups on a recent weekday, greeting visitors with hugs and kisses, and ignoring faded signs saying masks were required throughout the building.
At the Afghan-Japan Communicable Disease Hospital in Kabul, the only remaining Covid-19 facility in the capital, few staff members or patients complied with worn stickers on the floors that proclaimed: “Let’s Beat Coronavirus — Please keep at least 2 meters from people around you.”
“When I try to talk to people about Covid-19, they say we have no food, no water, no electricity — why should we care about this virus?” said Dr. Tariq Ahmad Akbari, the hospital’s medical director.
Dr. Akbari suspected that the Omicron variant had entered the country, but the hospital lacked the medical equipment to test for variants. He and his staff had not been paid for five months, he said, and the hospital was critically low on oxygen supplies and health care workers.
Seven of the hospital’s eight female doctors fled after the Taliban takeover in August, part of a hollowing out that reduced the staff from 350 to 190 the past five months. Four of the five staff microbiologists quit. And only five of the country’s 34 Covid-19 centers were still operating, Dr. Akbari said.
Several staff members lived in the hospital in Kabul because, without salaries, they cannot afford rent, he said.
The hospital was recently buoyed by a two-month stopgap grant of $800,000 from an affiliate of Johns Hopkins Hospital, Dr. Akbari said. And Afghanistan’s relative isolation following the Taliban takeover had likely helped contain the spread of Covid-19, he said.
Up to 20 patients died per day during the previous wave, but just one or two a day now. And the hospital tests about 150 patients a day now, down from 600 to 700 daily tests during the second wave, Dr. Akbari said.
He speculated that Afghans are so overwhelmed by other survival issues that they are less likely to seek treatment for Covid-19.
Before the Taliban takeover, the Ministry of Public Health published detailed daily charts showing the number of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths — and the positivity rate for testing. But now the poorly funded ministry struggles to keep tabs on the pandemic.
Of the more than 856,000 tests conducted since the first wave of Covid-19 in early 2020 — of an estimated population of nearly 40 million — roughly 163,000 were positive, a health ministry spokesman said. More than 7,400 Covid-19 deaths had been confirmed since 2020, he said.
But because testing is extremely limited and the cause of death is not recorded in many instances, particularly in rural areas of Afghanistan, no one knows the pandemic’s true scale.
Dr. Akbari shook his head in frustration as he described how little was known about the virus in Afghanistan.
Looking defeated, he said, “If we have a surge like we had during the second and third wave, we would not be equipped to handle it.”
BRUSSELS — After long indulging him, leaders in the European Union now widely consider one of their own, Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary, an existential threat to a bloc that holds itself up as a model of human rights and the rule of law.
Mr. Orban has spent the past decade steadily building his “illiberal state,” as he proudly calls Hungary, with the help of lavish E.U. funding. Even as his project widened fissures in the bloc, his fellow national leaders mostly looked the other way, committed to staying out of one another’s affairs.
But now Mr. Orban’s defiance and intransigence has had an important, if unintended, effect: serving as a catalyst for an often-sluggish European Union system to act to safeguard the democratic principles that are the foundation of the bloc.
Early this year, the European Court of Justice will issue a landmark decision on whether the union has the authority to make its funds to member states conditional on meeting the bloc’s core values. Doing so would allow Brussels to deny billions of euros to countries that violate those values.
a new media law that curbed press freedom. It overhauled the country’s justice system, removed the head of its Supreme Court and created an office to oversee the courts led by the wife of a prominent member of the governing party, Fidesz. Election laws were changed to favor the party.
External factors strengthened Mr. Orban as well, including in 2015 when a record number of migrants made their way to Europe and when the right-wing Law and Justice party of Jaroslaw Kaczynski came to power in Poland. He suddenly had an ally there, and his tough stance against migrants won him support elsewhere, too.
Mr. Orban quit the conservative alliance when it became clear that it was going to oust his party.
Mr. Weber still regrets the loss of Fidesz. “On one level, it is a relief,” he said. “But Orban leaving is not a victory, but a defeat” in the effort to hold the center-right together as “a broad people’s party.”
It has helped Mr. Orban that the European Union has few and ineffective instruments for punishing a backsliding nation. Even the Lisbon Treaty, which gave enhanced powers to the European Parliament, has essentially one unusable tool: Article 7, which can remove a country’s voting rights, but only if passed by unanimity.
according to studies by R. Daniel Kelemen of Rutgers University and Tommaso Pavone of the University of Oslo, the commission sharply reduced infringement cases after the addition of new member states in 2004. José Manuel Barroso, a former commission president, “bought into this to work more cooperatively with governments and not just sue them,” Mr. Kelemen said. Mr. Barroso declined to comment.
Attitudes have shifted. With taxpayer money at stake, the next seven-year budget in the balance and the disregard for shared values shown by Mr. Orban and Mr. Kaczynski on leaders’ minds, Brussels may have finally found a useful tool to affect domestic politics, with a mix of lawsuits charging infringement of European treaties combined with severe financial consequences.
A marker has finally been laid down, Mr. Reynders said.
The big moment comes this month, when the European Court of Justice issues its ruling.
If Hungary and Poland lose the case, as expected, it is unclear what will happen if both countries simply refuse to comply. The European Union will be thrust deeper into unknown territory.