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.”

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Europe steps up support for Ukraine as Russia presses offensive

  • Ukraine EU candidacy signals major shift in European geopolitics
  • ‘Europe can create a new history of freedom’ Zelenskiy says
  • Battle for Sievierodonetsk grinds on
  • Ukraine claims strike on Russian tugboat

BRUSSELS/KYIV, Ukraine, June 17 (Reuters) – The European Union gave its blessing on Friday for Ukraine and its neighbour Moldova to become candidates to join, in the most dramatic geopolitical shift to result from Russia’s invasion.

Ukraine applied to join the EU just four days after Russian troops poured across its border in February. Four days later, so did Moldova and Georgia – smaller ex-Soviet states also contending with separatist regions occupied by Russian troops.

“Ukraine has clearly demonstrated the country’s aspiration and the country’s determination to live up to European values and standards,” the EU’s executive Commission head Ursula von der Leyen said in Brussels. She made the announcement wearing Ukrainian colours, a yellow blazer over a blue shirt.

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President Voloymyr Zelenskiy thanked von der Leyen and EU member states on Twitter for a decision he called “the first step on the EU membership path that’ll certainly bring our victory closer”.

Moldova’s President Maia Sandu hailed a “strong signal of support for Moldova & our citizens!” and said she counted on the support of EU member states.

“We’re committed to working hard,” she said on Twitter.

While recommending candidate status for Ukraine and Moldova, the Commission held off for Georgia, which it said must meet more conditions first.

Von der Leyen said Georgia has a strong application but had to come together politically. A senior diplomat close to the process cited setbacks in reforms there.

Leaders of EU countries are expected to endorse the decision at a summit next week. The leaders of the three biggest – Germany, France and Italy – had signalled their solidarity on Thursday by visiting Kyiv, along with the president of Romania.

“Ukraine belongs to the European family,” Germany’s Olaf Scholz said after meeting President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Ukraine and Moldova will still face a lengthy process to achieve the standards required for membership, and there are other candidates in the waiting room. Nor is membership guaranteed – talks have been stalled for years with Turkey, officially a candidate since 1999.

But launching the candidacy process, a move that would have seemed unthinkable just months ago, amounts to a shift on par with the decision in the 1990s to welcome the ex-Communist countries of Eastern Europe.

“Precisely because of the bravery of the Ukrainians, Europe can create a new history of freedom, and finally remove the grey zone in Eastern Europe between the EU and Russia,” Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address.

If admitted, Ukraine would be the EU’s largest country by area and its fifth most populous. All three hopefuls are far poorer than any existing EU members, with per capita output around half that of the poorest, Bulgaria.

All have recent histories of volatile politics, domestic unrest, entrenched organised crime, and unresolved conflicts with Russian-backed separatists proclaiming sovereignty over territory protected by Moscow’s troops.

PORT BLOCKADE

President Vladimir Putin ordered his “special military operation” officially to disarm and “denazify” Ukraine. One of his main objectives was to halt the expansion of Western institutions which he called a threat to Russia.

But the war, which has killed thousands of people, destroyed whole cities and set millions to flight, has had the opposite effect. Finland and Sweden have applied to join the NATO military alliance, and the EU has opened its arms to the east.

Within Ukraine, Russian forces were defeated in an attempt to storm the capital in March, but have since refocused on seizing more territory in the east.

The nearly four-month-old war has entered a punishing attritional phase, with Russian forces relying on their massive advantage in artillery firepower to blast their way into Ukrainian cities.

Ukrainian officials said their troops were still holding out in Sievierodonetsk, site of the worst fighting of recent weeks, on the east bank of the Siverskyi Donets river. It was impossible to evacuate more than 500 civilians who are trapped inside a chemical plant, the regional governor said.

In the surrounding Donbas region, which Moscow claims on behalf of its separatist proxies, Ukrainian forces are mainly defending the river’s opposite bank.

Near the frontline in the ruins of the small city of Marinka, Ukrainian police made their way into a cellar searching for anyone who wanted help to evacuate. A group of mainly elderly residents huddled on mattresses in candlelight.

“There’s space down here, you could join us,” joked one man as the officers came in. A woman named Nina sighed in the darkness: “There is nowhere. Nowhere. Nowhere to go. All the houses have been burnt out. Where can we go?”

In the south, Ukraine has mounted a counter-offensive, claiming to have made inroads into the biggest swath still held by Russia of the territory it seized in the invasion. There have been few reports from the frontline to confirm the situation in that area.

Ukraine claimed its forces had struck a Russian tugboat bringing soldiers, weapons and ammunition to Russian-occupied Snake Island, a strategic Black Sea outpost.

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Additional reporting by Abdelaziz Boumzar in Marinka and Reuters bureaux; Writing by Peter Graff, Editing by Angus MacSwan

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On Russia, Europe Weighs Competing Goals: Peace and Punishment

BRUSSELS — Losing ground to Russia’s brutal advance in the east, Ukraine on Monday demanded an arsenal of sophisticated Western weapons many times greater than what has been promised, or even discussed, underscoring the rising pressure on Western leaders to reconsider their approach to the war.

The tactics that served the Ukrainians well early in the war have not been nearly as effective as the fighting has shifted to the open ground of the Donbas region in the east, where Russians are relying on their immense advantage in long-range artillery. Russian forces are poised to take the blasted city of Sievierodonetsk, the easternmost Ukrainian outpost, and are closing in on the neighboring city of Lysychansk.

With the leaders of France, Germany and Italy planning their first visit to Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, since the war began, they and other Western leaders have to decide whether to double down on arming Ukraine or press harder for negotiations with Moscow to end the war.

running out of ammunition for their Soviet-era artillery, and Ukrainian officials contend that Russian artillery in the east is out-firing their own, 10 to 1.

Mykhailo Podolyak, the Zelensky adviser, said Ukraine needs 300 mobile multiple rocket-launch systems, 1,000 howitzers, 500 tanks, 2,000 armored vehicles and 1,000 drones to achieve parity with Russia in the Donbas region where fighting is concentrated — numbers many times beyond anything that has been publicly discussed in the West. The United States has promised four of the mobile rocket launchers and Britain a few more; Washington has sent a little more than 100 howitzers, and other nations a few dozen more.

faster than Ukrainians can be trained to use them — but Mr. Podolyak, Mr. Zelensky and others clearly mean to keep up the pressure on the West, complaining daily that the current arms flow is woefully inadequate.

mposed tough economic sanctions on Russia, supplied significant financial and military aid to Ukraine, and insisted publicly that it is up to Ukraine’s own, democratically elected leaders to decide how and when to negotiate with Russia.

But they also worry that a long war will bring in NATO countries and even cause President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to escalate what has been a brutal but conventional campaign. President Emmanuel Macron of France, in particular, has twice said it was important not to “humiliate Russia.”

European officials also worry about the damage being done to their own economies by inflation and high energy prices, and about the likely domestic political backlash. And many in Europe are eager to find a way, even if it’s a temporary cease-fire, to resume Ukrainian grain exports as global food prices soar and parts of the world face a threat of famine.

Such talk raises hackles in Kyiv and in the capitals of Central and Eastern Europe where Russia is most feared, and officials questioned how committed their friends to the west are to beating back Mr. Putin’s aggression. Leaders of several countries that were once part of the Soviet bloc believe this war is about more than Ukraine, and that the Kremlin’s ambitions to re-establish that sphere of influence and overthrow the European security order must be met with defeat, not a cease-fire.

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

Mr. Michta wrote for Politico.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit…David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

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

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

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

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

Credit…David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ukraine Live Updates: War’s Effects Widen as Russia Vows More Reprisals

BRUSSELS — Reverberations from the Ukraine war widened on Wednesday, jolting energy markets and spilling across borders, as Russia responded to the West’s escalating arms shipments and economic penalties by halting gas supplies to two European nations and threatening further unspecified retaliation.

The European Union’s top official described as “blackmail” the announcement that Russia was suspending shipments of natural gas to Poland and Bulgaria. Though the immediate impact was likely to be limited, the cutoff was the Kremlin’s toughest retaliation yet against a U.S.-led alliance that President Vladimir V. Putin has accused of waging a proxy war aimed at weakening Russia.

Even as news of a U.S.-Russia prisoner exchange offered a glimmer of hope for diplomatic engagement, Mr. Putin warned that he would order more “counterstrikes” against any adversaries that “create threats of a strategic nature unacceptable to Russia.”

At the same time, a series of explosions across Ukraine’s borders stoked fears that the war, now in its third month, might spread. Blasts were reported in three Russian districts on Wednesday morning, and suspicion fell on Ukrainian forces, which are benefiting from increasingly sophisticated weapons and intelligence from the United States and its allies.

Those blasts came a day after explosions shook Transnistria, a pro-Russian breakaway region of Moldova, on Ukraine’s southwestern flank. Some analysts — and Ukrainian and Moldovan officials — said it was likely that Russia, which has thousands of troops in Transnistria, had orchestrated the explosions to create a pretext to invade Ukraine from that direction.

Taken together, the developments raised the risk of worse to come.

“What’s the ‘so what’ of this escalatory cycle? Further escalation becomes more likely as animosity builds,” said Cliff Kupchan, chairman of the Eurasia Group, a political risk consulting organization. “The chance that Russia hits a staging facility in Poland goes up. The risk that NATO supplies aircraft to Ukraine goes up. Ukraine could strike bigger targets in Russia. Moscow could cut gas to more European nations.”

Economists warned that Europe could face a sharp slowdown of growth if the cutoff of sales by Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned gas company, spreads — or if Europe imposes an embargo on Russian gas. European natural gas prices surged as much as 28 percent on Wednesday and the euro’s value fell below $1.06 for the first time in five years on rising concerns about energy security and a slowdown in European growth. The currency has fallen nearly 4 percent against the U.S. dollar in April alone.

Gazprom’s stated reason for halting gas deliveries was the refusal by Poland and Bulgaria to pay in rubles, a new requirement Russia announced last month, despite the fact that its foreign contracts generally call for payment in dollars or euros. Most European buyers have not complied, which would subvert European Union financial sanctions imposed on Russia after the Ukraine invasion and help prop up the battered ruble.

The European Union had been preparing for the possibility that Russia might halt natural gas deliveries, said Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president. Nonetheless, she told a news conference, the Russian move was an attempt “to use gas as an instrument of blackmail.”

Poland and Bulgaria will quickly receive gas supplies from neighboring E.U. countries to compensate for the loss of Russian gas, she said, declaring that “the era of Russian fossil fuels in Europe is coming to an end.”

Both Poland and Bulgaria said the Russian cutoff would have little impact. In Poland, where electricity is largely generated with coal, not gas, the government sought to assuage any public fears. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki assured Poles that gas storage tanks were three-quarters full — much higher than in other countries.

And if the Kremlin’s plan was to intimidate Poland and Bulgaria with a future of unheated homes and cold meals in the hope of fracturing Western unity to aid Ukraine, it may have miscalculated. On a sunny spring day in Warsaw, the Polish capital, many people reacted with shrugs to the news — mixed with disbelief that anyone would ever view Russia as a trustworthy supplier.

“We have nothing to worry about if the weather stays like this,” said Joanna Gres, a ballet dancer with a troupe attached to the Polish military.

Bulgaria, too, has sufficient gas supplies for the next month, Alexander Nikolov, the energy minister, told Bulgarian news media, vowing that the country would “not negotiate under pressure and with its head bowed. ”

A top German official said the flow of Russian gas to Germany, Russia’s biggest energy customer, remained steady, while adding that the country could live off existing reserves until at least next winter.

Russia announced the cutoff a day after 40 U.S.-led allies met at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany and pledged to provide Ukraine with long-term military aid, following a weekend visit to the country by top Biden administration officials who said they want to see Russia not only defeated but degraded militarily.

That toughened American message is viewed by Mr. Putin and his subordinates as validation of their argument that the Ukraine war is really about the American desire to weaken Russia, and they are indirectly at war with NATO.

Despite fears of a broadened war, there was also a small measure of cooperation on Wednesday between Russia and the United States, which announced a prisoner swap.

They confirmed that Trevor R. Reed, a former Marine convicted on charges that his family said were bogus, had been freed, an unexpected diplomatic success. Mr. Reed, first detained in 2019, was released in exchange for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot sentenced to a lengthy term in the United States on cocaine-trafficking charges.

Credit…Tatyana Makeyeva/Reuters

Other Americans remain in detention in Russia, including Paul Whelan, who was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in prison on espionage charges during a trial that was closed to the public; and Brittney Griner, a basketball star arrested in mid-February on drug charges that could carry a sentence of up to 10 years.

Neither the American nor Russian sides gave any indication that the exchange signaled a broader diplomatic effort to de-escalate the Ukraine crisis.

Credit…David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

Ukraine appeared to have attempted to strike deeper into Russian territory overnight, although officials on both sides were vague about the details. Three local governors described drone flights and explosions as attacks.

Mykhailo Podolyak, a close adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, also described the explosions inside Russia as attacks on sites that Russia had used to launch the invasion, but he attributed them to “karma” — not the Ukrainian military.

As described by the three Russian governors and Russian media, an ammunition depot was set afire near Belgorod, a city less than 20 miles from the border, two explosions were reported in Voronezh, nearly 200 miles from the border, and a Ukrainian drone was shot down over Kursk, about 70 miles from the border. If Ukraine was responsible, the attacks in Kursk and Voronezh would be the deepest inside Russia since the Feb. 24 invasion.

In Moscow, Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary for Mr. Putin’s security council, urged Russian officials across a wide swath of the southwestern region near Ukraine to ensure emergency alerts and civil defense facilities were “working reliably.”

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry has generally declined to discuss reports of attacks on Russian soil. Ukrainian officials have, for example, declined to comment on Russia’s claim that two Ukrainian helicopters fired on an oil depot in Belgorod in early April. In more than two months of war, the fighting has largely been contained within Ukraine’s borders.

Over the past few weeks Russian forces have concentrated on a full-scale assault in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region, where analysts say Russia is making slow and measured advances on the ground as it confronts entrenched Ukrainian troops.

The pace of Russia’s ground assault appears more planned and deliberate than the initial invasion in February, which aimed at seizing more Ukrainian territory and depended on swift advances of tanks ­— a strategy that failed, at great cost to Russian forces.

Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Military analysts with the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington research group, said in their Tuesday assessment that Russian forces had “adopted a sounder pattern of operational movement in eastern Ukraine,” which is allowing them to “bring more combat power to bear” in their narrower goal of capturing just the eastern region.

Ukrainian troops have been defending positions in Donbas region since 2014, when secessionists there, backed by Russia, declared themselves the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic.

Matina Stevis-Gridneff reported from Brussels, Neil MacFarquhar from Istanbul, and Shashank Bengali and Megan Specia from London. Reporting was contributed by Andrew Higgins from Warsaw, Ivan Nechepurenko from Tbilisi, Georgia, Cora Engelbrechtfrom Krakow, Poland, Liz Aldermanfrom Paris, Jane Arraf from Lviv, Ukraine, Matthew Mpoke Bigg from London and Rick Gladstone from New York.

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Oil prices dip as Europe turns away from Russian oil, dollar soars, article with image

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Workers walk as oil pumps are seen in the background in the Uzen oil and gas field in the Mangistau Region of Kazakhstan November 13, 2021. REUTERS/Pavel Mikheyev

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  • U.S. crude stockpiles rise, fuel draws down last week – EIA
  • Russia cuts gas supplies to Bulgaria and Poland
  • Heating oil futures close at record high

NEW YORK, April 27 (Reuters) – Oil prices rose modestly on Wednesday due to ongoing concerns about tight worldwide supply, underscored by another drawdown in U.S. distillate and gasoline inventories.

The market rebounded late in the session after losing ground for most of the day, in part due to strength in the dollar and as China grapples with fresh coronavirus outbreaks that are sapping demand. However, Russia’s move to cut off gas shipments to two European nations added to overall worries about tight energy supply.

Brent crude futures settled up 33 cents to $105.32 a barrel, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude settled up 32 cents to $102.02 a barrel.

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The U.S. Energy Information Administration said crude stocks rose by just 692,000 barrels last week, short of expectations, while distillate inventories, which include diesel and jet fuel, fell to their lowest since May 2008.

The drop in distillate stocks helped boost U.S. heating oil futures to an all-time closing record at more than $4.67 a gallon. Refiners process crude into diesel, jet fuel and other products, and U.S. refiners have been running at high rates to meet demand, particularly in Europe, a big user of diesel fuel.

Energy markets worldwide are dealing with massive disruptions to supply following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and subsequent sanctions slapped on Moscow by the United States and its allies.

U.K. major Shell said it would no longer accept refined oil blended with Russian products, according to trading documents, while Exxon Mobil said it had declared force majeure on its Sakhalin-1 operations in the far eastern part of Russia. read more

This week, Moscow escalated its use of energy as a cudgel against countries opposed to the invasion. Russian energy giant Gazprom (GAZP.MM) said on Wednesday it halted gas supplies to Bulgaria and Poland. read more

“Russia wants the payments in roubles for gas, and the fear is that before long they may want to do the same with oil,” said Claudio Galimberti, senior vice president of analysis at Rystad.

European Commission Chief Ursula von der Leyen said Russia was using fossil fuels to blackmail the EU but added the era of Russian fossil fuels in Europe was coming to an end.

The market earlier in the day had been pressured by a rally in the dollar, which hit a five-year high. Since most oil trade is conducted in dollars, a rising greenback makes oil purchases more expensive for holders of other currencies.

China’s central bank said it would step up monetary policy support as Beijing races to stamp out a nascent COVID-19 outbreak in the capital and avert the same type of debilitating city-wide lockdown Shanghai has been under for a month. read more

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Additional reporting by Florence Tan in Singapore; editing by David Evans, Marguerita Choy and David Gregorio

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Rouble strengthens in Moscow as Russia halts gas supplies to Bulgaria, Poland, article with image

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A Russian one rouble coin is seen in this picture illustration taken April 5, 2022. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/Illustration/File Photo

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April 27 (Reuters) – The rouble soared to a more than two-year high against the euro in Moscow trade on Wednesday, supported by existing capital controls and upcoming income tax payments, after Russia upped the ante in a gas dispute with Europe.

Russia halted gas supplies to Bulgaria and Poland for rejecting its demand for payment in roubles, taking direct aim at European economies in its toughest retaliation so far against international sanctions over Moscow’s actions in Ukraine. read more

By 1418 GMT, the rouble had gained 1.8% to trade at 75.43 versus the euro , its strongest since early March 2020.

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It was 1.1% stronger against the dollar at 72.75 .

The suspension of gas supplies to a number of European countries could exacerbate geopolitical tensions and further worsen relations with Europe, negatively impacting sentiment, Veles Capital said in a note.

However, Promsvyazbank analysts said corporate income taxes due on Thursday could deter the greenback from strengthening significantly against the rouble.

The market is also looking ahead to Friday’s rate decision. The central bank is widely expected to cut its key interest rate by 200 basis points to 15% as it tries to stimulate more lending in the economy in the face of high inflation, a Reuters poll showed.

Lower rates support the economy through cheaper lending but can also fan inflation and make the rouble more vulnerable to external shocks.

Trading activity remains subdued and somewhat erratic compared with levels seen before Feb. 24, when Moscow sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine. On the interbank market, the rouble was weaker: banks offered to buy dollars for 74.15 roubles and were selling them for 74.57 .

Movements in the rouble are artificially limited by capital controls imposed by the central bank, and the economy faces soaring inflation, capital flight and the risk of a possible debt default after the West imposed tough sanctions.

President Vladimir Putin said Russia had withstood the impact of sanctions, but an economy ministry document seen by Reuters on Wednesday showed it expects gross domestic product to shrink by 12.4% in its most conservative scenario, suggesting that sanctions pressure is taking its toll. read more

Russian stock indexes were climbing.

The dollar-denominated RTS index (.IRTS) was up 2.7% to 1,027.0 points. The rouble-based MOEX Russian index (.IMOEX) was 2.3% higher at 2,371.3 points.

Nasdaq-listed Yandex’s Moscow shares outperformed, jumping around 8.5% on the day after the company reported a strong year-on-year increase in quarterly revenues but flagged an adverse impact of “geopolitical developments” on some operations since Feb. 24. read more

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Reporting by Reuters, Editing by William Maclean

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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U.S. shale gas, LNG firms meet with European countries over supply crisis, article with image

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3D printed Natural Gas Pipes are placed on displayed U.S. and Russian flags in this illustration taken, January 31, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

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April 6 (Reuters) – At least a dozen U.S. shale gas executives on Wednesday held discussions with European energy officials on increasing U.S. fuel supplies to Europe as part of efforts to replace Russian imports.

At the meetings in Houston, foreign affairs, economic ministers and commercial buyers discussed how to lower their imports of Russian oil, coal and liquefied natural gas following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, trade group officials said. The European Union plans to cut its reliance on Russian gas by two-thirds this year. read more

Delegations from Latvia and Estonia, diplomats from Bulgaria, Estonia, France, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, and the United Kingdom toured the Golden Pass LNG export project in Sabine Pass, Texas, and later met in Houston with shale gas producers, Fred Hutchison, chief executive of trade group LNG Allies, said.

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Group discussions included top executives from Chesapeake Energy (CHK.O), Coterra Energy (CTRA.N), EOG Resources (EOG.N) and EQT Corp (EQT.N), he said. Individual meetings are planned between U.S. executives and Latvian, Estonian and Slovak commercial representatives.

“The situation in Europe is so precarious. All these countries that are dependent on Russian gas are committed to giving it up, in some cases completely,” said Hutchison.

Building LNG capacity takes years and ample new supplies will not be available until mid-decade. “The capacity challenges in 2022 are great but the opportunities in a few years are really terrific,” he said.

The meeting, coordinated by the American Exploration and Production Council (AXPC) along with LNG Allies, focused on ways to move Europe off Russian gas, including the need for more infrastructure in the United States and Europe, AXPC CEO Anne Bradbury said.

The need for new LNG plants was highlighted at a congressional hearing earlier on Wednesday by Pioneer Natural Resources Chief Executive Scott Sheffield. He urged Congress to embrace the construction of new U.S. plants.

“We need to build LNG facilities in the northeast,” Sheffield said.

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Reporting by Liz Hampton in Denver; Edited by Gary McWilliams, Richard Pullin and Barbara Lewis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Live Updates: Biden Says He Stands by His Putin Comments

Nokia said this month that it would stop its sales in Russia and denounced the invasion of Ukraine. But the Finnish company didn’t mention what it was leaving behind: equipment and software connecting the government’s most powerful tool for digital surveillance to the nation’s largest telecommunications network.

The tool was used to track supporters of the Russian opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny. Investigators said it had intercepted the phone calls of a Kremlin foe who was later assassinated. Called the System for Operative Investigative Activities, or SORM, it is also most likely being employed at this moment as President Vladimir V. Putin culls and silences antiwar voices inside Russia.

For more than five years, Nokia provided equipment and services to link SORM to Russia’s largest telecom service provider, MTS, according to company documents obtained by The New York Times. While Nokia does not make the tech that intercepts communications, the documents lay out how it worked with state-linked Russian companies to plan, streamline and troubleshoot the SORM system’s connection to the MTS network. Russia’s main intelligence service, the F.S.B., uses SORM to listen in on phone conversations, intercept emails and text messages, and track other internet communications.

Credit…The New York Times

The documents, spanning 2008 to 2017, show in previously unreported detail that Nokia knew it was enabling a Russian surveillance system. The work was essential for Nokia to do business in Russia, where it had become a top supplier of equipment and services to various telecommunications customers to help their networks function. The business yielded hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue, even as Mr. Putin became more belligerent abroad and more controlling at home.

For years, multinational companies capitalized on surging Russian demand for new technologies. Now global outrage over the largest war on European soil since World War II is forcing them to re-examine their roles.

The conflict in Ukraine has upended the idea that products and services are agnostic. In the past, tech companies argued it was better to remain in authoritarian markets, even if that meant complying with laws written by autocrats. Facebook, Google and Twitter have struggled to find a balance when pressured to censor, be it in Vietnam or in Russia, while Apple works with a state-owned partner to store customer data in China that the authorities can access. Intel and Nvidia sell chips through resellers in China, allowing the authorities to buy them for computers powering surveillance.

The lessons that companies draw from what’s happening in Russia could have consequences in other authoritarian countries where advanced technologies are sold. A rule giving the U.S. Commerce Department the power to block companies, including telecom equipment suppliers, from selling technology in such places was part of a bill, called the America Competes Act, passed by the House of Representatives in February.

“We should treat sophisticated surveillance technology in the same way we treat sophisticated missile or drone technology,” said Representative Tom Malinowski, a New Jersey Democrat who was an assistant secretary of state for human rights in the Obama administration. “We need appropriate controls on the proliferation of this stuff just as we do on other sensitive national security items.”

Andrei Soldatov, an expert on Russian intelligence and digital surveillance who reviewed some of the Nokia documents at the request of The Times, said that without the company’s involvement in SORM, “it would have been impossible to make such a system.”

“They had to have known how their devices would be used,” said Mr. Soldatov, who is now a fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis.

Credit…The New York Times

Nokia, which did not dispute the authenticity of the documents, said that under Russian law, it was required to make products that would allow a Russian telecom operator to connect to the SORM system. Other countries make similar demands, the company said, and it must decide between helping make the internet work or leaving altogether. Nokia also said that it did not manufacture, install or service SORM equipment.

The company said it follows international standards, used by many suppliers of core network equipment, that cover government surveillance. It called on governments to set clearer export rules about where technology could be sold and said it “unequivocally condemns” Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Nokia does not have an ability to control, access or interfere with any lawful intercept capability in the networks which our customers own and operate,” it said in a statement.

MTS did not respond to requests for comment.

The documents that The Times reviewed were part of almost two terabytes of internal Nokia emails, network schematics, contracts, license agreements and photos. The cybersecurity firm UpGuard and TechCrunch, a news website, previously reported on some of the documents linking Nokia to the state surveillance system. Following those reports, Nokia played down the extent of its involvement.

But The Times obtained a larger cache showing Nokia’s depth of knowledge about the program. The documents include correspondence on Nokia’s sending engineers to examine SORM, details of the company’s work at more than a dozen Russian sites, photos of the MTS network linked to SORM, floor plans of network centers and installation instructions from a Russian firm that made the surveillance equipment.

After 2017, which is when the documents end, Nokia continued to work with MTS and other Russian telecoms, according to public announcements.

SORM, which dates to at least the 1990s, is akin to the systems used by law enforcement around the world to wiretap and surveil criminal targets. Telecom equipment makers like Nokia are often required to ensure that such systems, known as lawful intercept, function smoothly within communications networks.

In democracies, the police are generally required to obtain a court order before seeking data from telecom service providers. In Russia, the SORM system sidesteps that process, working like a surveillance black box that can take whatever data the F.S.B. wants without any oversight.

In 2018, Russia strengthened a law to require internet and telecom companies to disclose communications data to the authorities even without a court order. The authorities also mandated that companies store phone conversations, text messages and electronic correspondence for up to six months, and internet traffic history for 30 days. SORM works in parallel with a separate censorship system that Russia has developed to block access to websites.

Civil society groups, lawyers and activists have criticized the Russian government for using SORM to spy on Mr. Putin’s rivals and critics. The system, they said, is almost certainly being used now to crack down on dissent against the war. This month, Mr. Putin vowed to remove pro-Western Russians, whom he called “scum and traitors,” from society, and his government has cut off foreign internet services like Facebook and Instagram.

Credit…Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg

Nokia is best known as a pioneer of mobile phones, a business it sold in 2013 after Apple and Samsung began dominating the market. It now makes the bulk of its $24 billion in annual sales providing telecom equipment and services so phone networks can function. Roughly $480 million of Nokia’s annual sales come from Russia and Ukraine, or less than 2 percent of its overall revenue, according to the market research firm Dell’Oro.

Last decade, the Kremlin had grown serious about cyberspying, and telecom equipment providers were legally required to provide a gateway for spying. If Nokia did not comply, competitors such as the Chinese telecom giant Huawei were assumed to be willing to do so.

By 2012, Nokia was providing hardware and services to the MTS network, according to the documents. Project documentation signed by Nokia personnel included a schematic of the network that depicted how data and phone traffic should flow to SORM. Annotated photos showed a cable labeled SORM plugging into networking equipment, apparently documenting work by Nokia engineers.

Credit…The New York Times

Flow charts showed how data would be transmitted to Moscow and F.S.B. field offices across Russia, where agents could use a computer system to search people’s communications without their knowledge.

Specifics of how the program is used have largely been kept secret. “You will never know that surveillance was carried out at all,” said Sarkis Darbinyan, a Russian lawyer who co-founded Roskomsvoboda, a digital rights group.

But some information about SORM has leaked out from court cases, civil society groups and journalists.

In 2011, embarrassing phone calls made by the Russian opposition leader Boris Y. Nemtsov were leaked to the media. Mr. Soldatov, who covered the incident as an investigative reporter, said the phone recordings had come from SORM surveillance. Mr. Nemtsov was murdered near the Kremlin in 2015.

In 2013, a court case involving Mr. Navalny included details about his communications that were believed to have been intercepted by SORM. In 2018, some communications by Mr. Navalny’s supporters were tracked by SORM, said Damir Gainutdinov, a Russian lawyer who represented the activists. He said phone numbers, email addresses and internet protocol addresses had been merged with information that the authorities collected from VK, Russia’s largest social network, which is also required to provide access to user data through SORM.

Credit…The New York Times

“These tools are used not just to prosecute somebody but to fill out a dossier and collect data about somebody’s activities, about their friends, partners and so on,” said Mr. Gainutdinov, who now lives in Bulgaria. “Officers of the federal security service, due to the design of this system, have unlimited access to all communication.”

By 2015, SORM was attracting international attention. That year, the European Court of Human Rights called the program a “system of secret surveillance” that was deployed arbitrarily without sufficient protection against abuse. The court ultimately ruled, in a case brought by a Russian journalist, that the tools violated European human rights laws.

In 2016, MTS tapped Nokia to help upgrade its network across large swaths of Russia. MTS set out an ambitious plan to install new hardware and software between June 2016 and March 2017, according to one document.

Nokia performed SORM-related work at facilities in at least 12 cities in Russia, according to the documents, which show how the network linked the surveillance system. In February 2017, a Nokia employee was sent to three cities south of Moscow to examine SORM, according to letters from a Nokia executive informing MTS employees of the trip.

Nokia worked with Malvin, a Russian firm that manufactured the SORM hardware the F.S.B. used. One Malvin document instructed Malvin’s partners to ensure that they had entered the correct parameters for operating SORM on switching hardware. It also reminded them to notify Malvin technicians of passwords, user names and IP addresses.

Malvin is one of several Russian companies that won lucrative contracts to make equipment to analyze and sort through telecommunications data. Some of those companies, including Malvin, were owned by a Russian holding company, Citadel, which was controlled by Alisher Usmanov. Mr. Usmanov, an oligarch with ties to Mr. Putin, is now the subject of sanctions in the United States, the European Union, Britain and Switzerland.

Malvin and Citadel did not respond to requests for comment.

Other Nokia documents specified which cables, routers and ports to use to connect to the surveillance system. Network maps showed how gear from other companies, including Cisco, plugged into the SORM boxes. Cisco declined to comment.

For Nokia engineers in Russia, the work related to SORM was often mundane. In 2017, a Nokia technician received an assignment to Orel, a city about 225 miles south of Moscow.

“Carry out work on the examination of SORM,” he was told.

Michael Schwirtz contributed reporting.

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