Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, made securing the 2020 U.S. election a top priority. He met regularly with an election team, which included more than 300 people from across his company, to prevent misinformation from spreading on the social network. He asked civil rights leaders for advice on upholding voter rights.
The core election team at Facebook, which was renamed Meta last year, has since been dispersed. Roughly 60 people are now focused primarily on elections, while others split their time on other projects. They meet with another executive, not Mr. Zuckerberg. And the chief executive has not talked recently with civil rights groups, even as some have asked him to pay more attention to the midterm elections in November.
Safeguarding elections is no longer Mr. Zuckerberg’s top concern, said four Meta employees with knowledge of the situation. Instead, he is focused on transforming his company into a provider of the immersive world of the metaverse, which he sees as the next frontier of growth, said the people, who were not authorized to speak publicly.
hearings on the Jan. 6 Capitol riot have underlined how precarious elections can be. And dozens of political candidates are running this November on the false premise that former President Donald J. Trump was robbed of the 2020 election, with social media platforms continuing to be a key way to reach American voters.
2000 Mules,” a film that falsely claims the 2020 election was stolen from Mr. Trump, was widely shared on Facebook and Instagram, garnering more than 430,000 interactions, according to an analysis by The New York Times. In posts about the film, commenters said they expected election fraud this year and warned against using mail-in voting and electronic voting machines.
$44 billion sale to Elon Musk, three employees with knowledge of the situation said. Mr. Musk has suggested that he wants fewer rules about what can and cannot be posted on the service.
barred Mr. Trump from its platforms after the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, has worked over the years to limit political falsehoods on its sites. Tom Reynolds, a Meta spokesman, said the company had “taken a comprehensive approach to how elections play out on our platforms since before the U.S. 2020 elections and through the dozens of global elections since then.”
recently raised doubts about the country’s electoral process. Latvia, Bosnia and Slovenia are also holding elections in October.
“People in the U.S. are almost certainly getting the Rolls-Royce treatment when it comes to any integrity on any platform, especially for U.S. elections,” said Sahar Massachi, the executive director of the think tank Integrity Institute and a former Facebook employee. “And so however bad it is here, think about how much worse it is everywhere else.”
Facebook’s role in potentially distorting elections became evident after 2016, when Russian operatives used the site to spread inflammatory content and divide American voters in the U.S. presidential election. In 2018, Mr. Zuckerberg testified before Congress that election security was his top priority.
banning QAnon conspiracy theory posts and groups in October 2020.
Around the same time, Mr. Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, donated $400 million to local governments to fund poll workers, pay for rental fees for polling places, provide personal protective equipment and cover other administrative costs.
The week before the November 2020 election, Meta also froze all political advertising to limit the spread of falsehoods.
But while there were successes — the company kept foreign election interference off the platform — it struggled with how to handle Mr. Trump, who used his Facebook account to amplify false claims of voter fraud. After the Jan. 6 riot, Facebook barred Mr. Trump from posting. He is eligible for reinstatement in January.
Frances Haugen, a Facebook employee turned whistle-blower, filed complaints with the Securities and Exchange Commission accusing the company of removing election safety features too soon after the 2020 election. Facebook made growth and engagement its priorities over security, she said.
fully realized digital world that exists beyond the one in which we live. It was coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel “Snow Crash,” and the concept was further explored by Ernest Cline in his novel “Ready Player One.”
The future. Many people in tech believe the metaverse will herald an era in which our virtual lives will play as important a role as our physical realities. Some experts warn that it could still turn out to be a fad or even dangerous.
Mr. Zuckerberg no longer meets weekly with those focused on election security, said the four employees, though he receives their reports. Instead, they meet with Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs.
Several civil right groups said they had noticed Meta’s shift in priorities. Mr. Zuckerberg isn’t involved in discussions with them as he once was, nor are other top Meta executives, they said.
“I’m concerned,” said Derrick Johnson, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who talked with Mr. Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, Meta’s chief operating officer, ahead of the 2020 election. “It appears to be out of sight, out of mind.” (Ms. Sandberg has announced that she will leave Meta this fall.)
wrote a letter to Mr. Zuckerberg and the chief executives of YouTube, Twitter, Snap and other platforms. They called for them to take down posts about the lie that Mr. Trump won the 2020 election and to slow the spread of election misinformation before the midterms.
Yosef Getachew, a director at the nonprofit public advocacy organization Common Cause, whose group studied 2020 election misinformation on social media, said the companies had not responded.
“The Big Lie is front and center in the midterms with so many candidates using it to pre-emptively declare that the 2022 election will be stolen,” he said, pointing to recent tweets from politicians in Michigan and Arizona who falsely said dead people cast votes for Democrats. “Now is not the time to stop enforcing against the Big Lie.”
WASHINGTON — Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said during a surprise trip to Ukraine on Tuesday that a veteran prosecutor known for investigating former Nazis would lead American efforts in tracking Russian war criminals.
Mr. Garland’s visit, part of scheduled stops in Poland and Paris this week, was intended to bolster U.S. and international support in helping Ukraine identify, apprehend and prosecute Russians involved in war crimes and other atrocities.
His overseas travel comes at a particularly tense moment in his tenure at the Justice Department, on a day of dramatic congressional testimony about the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol that prompted many Democrats to renew their call for him to prosecute former President Donald J. Trump and his allies.
Mr. Garland met for an hour with Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Iryna Venediktova, in the village of Krakovets, about a mile from the border with Poland, to discuss the technical, forensic and legal support that the United States could provide, department officials said.
“The United States is sending an unmistakable message” to those who have committed atrocities, Mr. Garland said: “There is no place to hide.”
“We will pursue every avenue available to make sure that those who are responsible for these atrocities are held accountable,” he added.
After the meeting, Mr. Garland said he was tapping Eli Rosenbaum, the former director of the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations, to create a war crimes accountability team that would work with Ukraine and international law enforcement groups.
Mr. Rosenbaum, 67, is best known for his work for the World Jewish Congress in the 1980s investigating the hidden history of Kurt Waldheim, a former United Nations secretary general whose army unit was implicated in war crimes against Jews and Yugoslavian partisans during World War II.
His work, during a 36-year career in the department, and in stints outside government, earned him the nickname “Nazi hunter” from historians, a sobriquet he dislikes.
In the department’s criminal division, Mr. Rosenbaum has also been instrumental in the prosecution and deportation of Nazis living in the United States and Jews who committed atrocities against their own people in concentration camps. In recent years, his portfolio has taken on a broader mission, as former Nazis die off, and now includes a wider array of human rights cases, at home and abroad.
The new team will include Justice Department staff members and outside experts. In addition to offering assistance to Ukrainian officials, the department said in a statement that Mr. Rosenbaum would investigate “potential war crimes over which the U.S. possesses jurisdiction, such as the killing and wounding of U.S. journalists covering the unprovoked Russian aggression in Ukraine.”
This line of work is, in a sense, part of Mr. Rosenbaum’s family business. His father, Irving, escaped Dresden in 1938, the year of the Kristallnacht attacks against Germany’s Jewish population, joined the U.S. Army, eventually served in an intelligence unit that interrogated German soldiers — and collected information at the Dachau concentration camp.
Mr. Rosenbaum was set to retire before Mr. Garland asked him about a week ago to lead the new unit. He agreed immediately, according to a senior Justice Department official with knowledge of the exchange.
The department is also assigning additional personnel to expand its work with Ukraine and other partners to counter Russian use of illicit financial methods to evade international sanctions — detailing a Justice Department expert to advise Ukraine on fighting kleptocracy, corruption and money laundering, officials said.
“We will pursue every avenue available to make sure that those who are responsible for these atrocities are held accountable,” added Mr. Garland, whose own family immigrated to the United States after fleeing antisemitic pogroms in Eastern Europe in the early 1900s.
After stopping in Poland, Mr. Garland flew on to Paris, where he was scheduled to join the homeland security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, in a series of bilateral meetings with European counterparts to discuss efforts to combat terrorism and carry out a strategy of holding Russia accountable for its brutal invasion of Ukraine.
Mr. Garland and Ms. Venediktova last met in May in Washington.
In April, Mr. Garland and the F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, said they would work with investigators and prosecutors in Ukraine, a signal that the Biden administration intended to follow through on its public condemnation of atrocities committed by Russian forces that have been documented during the war.
His team has also been working with the State Department to provide logistical support and advice to Ms. Venediktova and the leaders of other ministries in Ukraine.
“We’ve seen and have determined that a number of war crimes have been committed by Russia’s forces,” Beth Van Schaack, the State Department’s ambassador at large for global criminal justice, said at a briefing in Washington last week.
“What we are seeing is not the results of a rogue unit,” she added, “but rather a pattern and practice across all the areas in which Russia’s forces are engaged.”
Most weekend mornings, Jaz Brisack gets up around 5, wills her semiconscious body into a Toyota Prius and winds her way through Buffalo, to the Starbucks on Elmwood Avenue. After a supervisor unlocks the door, she clocks in, checks herself for Covid symptoms and helps get the store ready for customers.
“I’m almost always on bar if I open,” said Ms. Brisack, who has a thrift-store aesthetic and long reddish-brown hair that she parts down the middle. “I like steaming milk, pouring lattes.”
The Starbucks door is not the only one that has been opened for her. As a University of Mississippi senior in 2018, Ms. Brisack was one of 32 Americans who won Rhodes scholarships, which fund study in Oxford, England.
in public support for unions, which last year reached its highest point since the mid-1960s, and a growing consensus among center-left experts that rising union membership could move millions of workers into the middle class.
white-collar workers has coincided with a broader enthusiasm for the labor movement.
In talking with Ms. Brisack and her fellow Rhodes scholars, it became clear that the change had even reached that rarefied group. The American Rhodes scholars I encountered from a generation earlier typically said that, while at Oxford, they had been middle-of-the-road types who believed in a modest role for government. They did not spend much time thinking about unions as students, and what they did think was likely to be skeptical.
“I was a child of the 1980s and 1990s, steeped in the centrist politics of the era,” wrote Jake Sullivan, a 1998 Rhodes scholar who is President Biden’s national security adviser and was a top aide to Hillary Clinton.
By contrast, many of Ms. Brisack’s Rhodes classmates express reservations about the market-oriented policies of the ’80s and ’90s and strong support for unions. Several told me that they were enthusiastic about Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who made reviving the labor movement a priority of their 2020 presidential campaigns.
Read More on Organized Labor in the U.S.
Even more so than other indicators, such a shift could foretell a comeback for unions, whose membership in the United States stands at its lowest percentage in roughly a century. That’s because the kinds of people who win prestigious scholarships are the kinds who later hold positions of power — who make decisions about whether to fight unions or negotiate with them, about whether the law should make it easier or harder for workers to organize.
As the recent union campaigns at companies like Starbucks, Amazon and Apple show, the terms of the fight are still largely set by corporate leaders. If these people are increasingly sympathetic to labor, then some of the key obstacles to unions may be dissolving.
suggested in April. The company has identified Ms. Brisack as one of these interlopers, noting that she draws a salary from Workers United. (Mr. Bonadonna said she was the only Starbucks employee on the union’s payroll.)
point out flaws — understaffing, insufficient training, low seniority pay, all of which they want to improve — they embrace Starbucks and its distinctive culture.
They talk up their sense of camaraderie and community — many count regular customers among their friends — and delight in their coffee expertise. On mornings when Ms. Brisack’s store isn’t busy, employees often hold tastings.
A Starbucks spokesman said that Mr. Schultz believes employees don’t need a union if they have faith in him and his motives, and the company has said that seniority-based pay increases will take effect this summer.
onetime auto plant. The National Labor Relations Board was counting ballots for an election at a Starbucks in Mesa, Ariz. — the first real test of whether the campaign was taking root nationally, and not just in a union stronghold like New York. The room was tense as the first results trickled in.
“Can you feel my heart beating?” Ms. Moore asked her colleagues.
win in a rout — the final count was 25 to 3. Everyone turned slightly punchy, as if they had all suddenly entered a dream world where unions were far more popular than they had ever imagined. One of the lawyers let out an expletive before musing, “Whoever organized down there …”
union campaign he was involved with at a nearby Nissan plant. It did not go well. The union accused the company of running a racially divisive campaign, and Ms. Brisack was disillusioned by the loss.
“Nissan never paid a consequence for what it did,” she said.(In response to charges of “scare tactics,” the company said at the time that it had sought to provide information to workers and clear up misperceptions.)
Mr. Dolan noticed that she was becoming jaded about mainstream politics. “There were times between her sophomore and junior year when I’d steer her toward something and she’d say, ‘Oh, they’re way too conservative.’ I’d send her a New York Times article and she’d say, ‘Neoliberalism is dead.’”
In England, where she arrived during the fall of 2019 at age 22, Ms. Brisack was a regular at a “solidarity” film club that screened movies about labor struggles worldwide, and wore a sweatshirt that featured a head shot of Karl Marx. She liberally reinterpreted the term “black tie” at an annual Rhodes dinner, wearing a black dress-coat over a black antifa T-shirt.
climate technology start-up, lamented that workers had too little leverage. “Labor unions may be the most effective way of implementing change going forward for a lot of people, including myself,” he told me. “I might find myself in labor organizing work.”
This is not what talking to Rhodes scholars used to sound like. At least not in my experience.
I was a Rhodes scholar in 1998, when centrist politicians like Bill Clinton and Tony Blair were ascendant, and before “neoliberalism” became such a dirty word. Though we were dimly aware of a time, decades earlier, when radicalism and pro-labor views were more common among American elites — and when, not coincidentally, the U.S. labor movement was much more powerful — those views were far less in evidence by the time I got to Oxford.
Some of my classmates were interested in issues like race and poverty, as they reminded me in interviews for this article. A few had nuanced views of labor — they had worked a blue-collar job, or had parents who belonged to a union, or had studied their Marx. Still, most of my classmates would have regarded people who talked at length about unions and class the way they would have regarded religious fundamentalists: probably earnest but slightly preachy, and clearly stuck in the past.
Kris Abrams, one of the few U.S. Rhodes Scholars in our cohort who thought a lot about the working class and labor organizing, told me recently that she felt isolated at Oxford, at least among other Americans. “Honestly, I didn’t feel like there was much room for discussion,” Ms. Abrams said.
typically minor and long in coming.
has issued complaints finding merit in such accusations. Yet the union continues to win elections — over 80 percent of the more than 175 votes in which the board has declared a winner. (Starbucks denies that it has broken the law, and a federal judge recently rejected a request to reinstate pro-union workers whom the labor board said Starbucks had forced out illegally.)
Twitter was: “We appreciate TIME magazine’s coverage of our union campaign. TIME should make sure they’re giving the same union rights and protections that we’re fighting for to the amazing journalists, photographers, and staff who make this coverage possible!”
The tweet reminded me of a story that Mr. Dolan, her scholarship adviser, had told about a reception that the University of Mississippi held in her honor in 2018. Ms. Brisack had just won a Truman scholarship, another prestigious award. She took the opportunity to urge the university’s chancellor to remove a Confederate monument from campus. The chancellor looked pained, according to several attendees.
“My boss was like, ‘Wow, you couldn’t have talked her out of doing that?’” Mr. Dolan said. “I was like, ‘That’s what made her win. If she wasn’t that person, you all wouldn’t have a Truman now.’”
(Mr. Dolan’s boss at the time did not recall this conversation, and the former chancellor did not recall any drama at the event.)
The challenge for Ms. Brisack and her colleagues is that while younger people, even younger elites, are increasingly pro-union, the shift has not yet reached many of the country’s most powerful leaders. Or, more to the point, the shift has not yet reached Mr. Schultz, the 68-year-old now in his third tour as Starbucks’s chief executive.
She recently spoke at an Aspen Institute panel on workers’ rights. She has even mused about using her Rhodes connections to make a personal appeal to Mr. Schultz, something that Mr. Bensinger has pooh-poohed but that other organizers believe she just may pull off.
“Richard has been making fun of me for thinking of asking one of the Rhodes people to broker a meeting with Howard Schultz,” Ms. Brisack said in February.
“I’m sure if you met Howard Schultz, he’d be like, ‘She’s so nice,’” responded Ms. Moore, her co-worker. “He’d be like, ‘I get it. I would want to be in a union with you, too.’”
WASHINGTON — President Biden was at a private meeting discussing student debt forgiveness this year when, as happens uncomfortably often these days, the conversation came back to inflation.
“He said with everything he does, Republicans are going to attack him and use the word ‘inflation,’” said Representative Tony Cárdenas, Democrat of California, referring to Mr. Biden’s meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in April. Mr. Cárdenas said Mr. Biden was aware he would be attacked over rising prices “no matter what issue we’re talking about.”
The comment underscored how today’s rapid price increases, the fastest since the 1980s, pose a glaring political liability that looms over every major policy decision the White House makes — leaving Mr. Biden and his colleagues on the defensive as officials discover that there is no good way to talk to voters about inflation.
The administration has at times splintered internally over how to discuss price increases and has revised its inflation-related message several times as talking points fail to resonate and new data comes in. Some Democrats in Congress have urged the White House to strike a different — and more proactive — tone ahead of the November midterm elections.
increased by 8.3 percent in the year through April, and data this week is expected to show inflation at 8.2 percent in May. Inflation averaged 1.6 percent annual gains in the five years leading up to the pandemic, making today’s pace of increase painfully high by comparison. A gallon of gas, one of the most tangible household costs, hit an average of $4.92 this week. Consumer confidence has plummeted as families pay more for everyday purchases and as the Fed raises interest rates to cool the economy, which increases the risk of a recession.
a series of confidential memos sent to Mr. Biden last year by one of his lead pollsters, John Anzalone. Inflation has only continued to fuel frustration among voters, according to a separate memo compiled by Mr. Anzalone’s team last month, which showed the president’s low approval rating on the economy rivaling only his approach to immigration.
wrote in a tweet that went viral this weekend.
The White House knows it is in a tricky position, and the administration’s approach to explaining inflation has evolved over time. Officials spent the early stages of the current price burst largely describing price pressures as temporary.
When it became clear that rising costs were lasting, administration officials began to diverge internally on how to frame that phenomenon. While it was clear that much of the upward pressure on prices came from supply chain shortages exacerbated by continued waves of the coronavirus, some of it also tied back to strong consumer demand. That big spending had been enabled, in part, by the government’s stimulus packages, including direct checks to households, expanded unemployment insurance and other benefits.
Some economists in the White House have begun to emphasize that inflation was a trade-off: To the extent that Mr. Biden’s stimulus spending spurred more inflation, it also aided economic growth and a faster recovery.
have claimed credit for strong economic growth.
“Some have a curious obsession with exaggerating impact of the Rescue Plan while ignoring the degree high inflation is global,” Gene Sperling, a senior White House adviser overseeing the implementation of the stimulus package, wrote on Twitter last week, adding that the law “has had very marginal impact on inflation.”
Brian Deese, the director of the National Economic Council, acknowledged in an interview last week that there were some disagreements among White House economic officials when it came to how to talk about and respond to inflation, but he portrayed that as a positive — and as something that is not leading to any kind of dysfunction.
“If there wasn’t healthy disagreement, debate and people feeling comfortable bringing issues and ideas to the table, then I think we would be not serving the president and the public interest well,” he said.
He also pushed back on the idea that the administration was deeply divided on the March 2021 package’s aftereffects, saying in a separate emailed comment that “there is agreement across the administration that many factors contributed to inflation, and that inflation has been driven by elevated demand and constrained supply across the globe.”
How to portray the Biden administration’s stimulus spending is far from the only challenge the White House faces. As price increases last, Democrats have grappled with how to discuss their plans to combat them.
deficit reduction as a way to lower inflation and arguing that Republicans have a bad plan to deal with rising costs. Mr. Biden regularly acknowledges the pain that higher prices are causing and has emphasized that the problem of taming inflation rests largely with the Fed, an independent entity whose work he has promised not to interfere with.
The administration has also highlighted that inflation is widespread globally, and that the United States is better off than many other nations.
Student Loans: Key Things to Know
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Corinthian Colleges. In its largest student loan forgiveness action ever, the Education Department said that it would wipe out $5.8 billion owed by 560,000 students who attended Corinthian Colleges, one of the nation’s biggest for-profit college chains before it collapsed in 2015.
The renewed messaging comes as Mr. Biden and his top aides have grown increasingly concerned about the public’s negative views of the economy, according to an administration official. Economists within the administration are more sidelined when it comes to setting the tone on issues like inflation than in previous White Houses, another person familiar with the discussions said.
So far, the talking points have done little to change public perception or to mollify concerns on Capitol Hill, where some Democrats are pushing for the White House to find a more compelling story.
“There has to be more of a laser focus on the economy, a bolder message, a clearer story,” said Representative Ro Khanna, a California Democrat who wrote a New York Times opinion piece last week saying that Democrats need a more ambitious plan for fighting inflation. He added that “rhetoric about ‘Well, we’re doing really well’ does not capture the profound sense of anxiety that Americans feel.”
Part of the difficulty is that there is only so much politicians can do to fight price increases.
suspended a ban on summertime sales of higher-ethanol gasoline blends to try to temper price increases at the pump, spurring frustration among climate activists still angry over the collapse of the president’s climate and social-spending package.
Talks over whether to roll back Trump-era tariffs on Chinese goods have also gotten caught in the inflation maw. Ms. Yellen has said she supports relaxing tariffs to help ease prices, but other Democrats are wary that removing them would make Mr. Biden look weak on China.
Inflation is also influencing conversations about whether to forgive student loan debt, one of Mr. Biden’s key campaign promises. Economists in the administration think that loan forgiveness would, at most, push inflation up a little bit by giving people with outstanding student debt more financial wiggle room. But some economists in the administration’s orbit have expressed concern about the possibility of doing something that could stimulate demand — even slightly — at a moment when it is already hot.
To help mute the inflationary effect, forgiveness would most likely be accompanied by a resumption of interest payments on all student loans that have been paused since the pandemic.
For now, the administration is considering forgiving at least $10,000 for borrowers in a certain income range, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. Cárdenas said that Mr. Biden knew he would be attacked over inflation but that he did not think the issue would prevent the president from canceling at least $10,000 worth of debt.
“Will it affect him going beyond that? It may,” he said.
WASHINGTON/MEXICO CITY, June 6 (Reuters) – The White House on Monday excluded Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua from the U.S.-hosted Summit of the Americas this week, prompting Mexico’s president to make good on a threat to skip the event because all countries in the Western Hemisphere were not invited.
The boycott by Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and some other leaders could diminish the relevance of the summit in Los Angeles, where the United States aims to address regional migration and economic challenges. President Joe Biden, a Democrat, hopes to repair Latin America relations damaged under his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, reassert U.S. influence and counter China’s inroads.
The decision to cut out Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua followed weeks of intense deliberations and was due to concerns about human rights and a lack of democracy in the three nations, a senior U.S. official said.
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U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the Biden administration “understands” Mexico’s position, but “one of the key elements of this summit is democratic governance, and these countries are not exemplars, to put it mildly.”
Biden aides have been mindful of pressure from Republicans and some fellow Democrats against appearing soft on America’s three main leftist antagonists in Latin America. Miami’s large Cuban-American community, which favored Trump’s harsh policies toward Cuba and Venezuela, is seen as an important voting bloc in Florida in the November elections that will decide control of the U.S. Congress, which is now in the hands of the Democrats.
Lopez Obrador told reporters that his foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, would attend the summit in his place. The Mexican president said he would meet with Biden in Washington next month, which the White House confirmed. read more
“There can’t be a Summit of the Americas if not all countries of the American continent are taking part,” Lopez Obrador said.
Lopez Obrador’s absence from the gathering, which Biden is due to open on Wednesday, raises questions about summit discussions focused on curbing migration at the U.S. southern border, a priority for Biden, and could be a diplomatic embarrassment for the United States.
A caravan of several thousand migrants, many from Venezuela, set off from southern Mexico early Monday aiming to reach the United States. read more
But a senior administration official insisted Lopez Obrador’s no-show would not hinder Biden’s rollout of a regional migration initiative. The White House expects at least 23 heads of state and government, which the official said would be in line with past summits.
U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat and chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, criticized the Mexican president, saying his “decision to stand with dictators and despots” would hurt U.S.-Mexico relations.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro shakes hands with his Cuban counterpart Miguel Diaz-Canel during the ALBA group meeting in Havana, Cuba, May 27, 2022. Miraflores Palace/Handout via REUTERS
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a right-wing populist and Trump admirer who leads Latin America’s most populous country, will attend after initially flirting with staying away. read more
The exclusion of Venezuela and Nicaragua had been flagged in recent weeks. President Miguel Diaz-Canel of Communist-ruled Cuba said last month he would not go even if invited, accusing the United States of “brutal pressure” to make the summit non-inclusive.
On Monday, Cuba called the decision “discriminatory and unacceptable” and said the United States underestimated support in the region for the island nation.
The United States invited some Cuban civil society activists to attend, but several said on social media that Cuban state security had blocked them from travel to Los Angeles. read more
Having ruled out Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the Biden administration expects representatives for opposition leader Juan Guaido will attend, Price said. He declined to say whether their participation would be in person or virtually.
The senior administration official, asked whether Biden might have a call with Guaido during the summit, said there was a good chance of an “engagement,” but declined to elaborate.
Washington recognizes Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate president, having condemned Maduro’s 2018 re-election as a sham. But some countries in the region have stuck with Maduro.
Also barred from the summit is Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, a former Marxist guerrilla who won a fourth consecutive term in November after jailing rivals.
Most leaders have signaled they will attend, but the pushback by leftist-led governments suggests many in Latin America are no longer willing to follow Washington’s lead as in past times.
Faced with low expectations for summit achievements, U.S. officials began previewing Biden’s coming initiatives. Those include an “Americas partnership” for pandemic recovery, which would entail investments and supply-chain strengthening, reform of the Inter-American Development Bank, and a $300 million commitment for regional food security.
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Reporting By Matt Spetalnick in Washington and Dave Graham in Mexico City; Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Eric Beech and Patricia Zengerle in Washington, Kylie Madry and Lizbeth Diaz in Mexico City, Jose Torres in Tapachula and Dave Sherwood in Havana; Writing by Ted Hesson; Editing by Grant McCool, Alistair Bell and Leslie Adler
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
HOUSTON — When President Biden meets Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia, he will be following in the footsteps of presidents like Jimmy Carter, who flew to Tehran in 1977 to exchange toasts with the shah of Iran on New Year’s Eve.
Like the prince, the shah was an unelected monarch with a tarnished human rights record. But Mr. Carter was obliged to celebrate with him for a cause that was of great concern to people back home: cheaper gasoline and secure oil supplies.
As Mr. Carter and other presidents learned, Mr. Biden has precious few tools to bring down costs at the pump, especially when Russia, one of the world’s largest energy producers, has started an unprovoked war against a smaller neighbor. In Mr. Carter’s time, oil supplies that Western countries needed were threatened by revolutions in the Middle East.
During the 2020 campaign, Mr. Biden pledged to turn Saudi Arabia into a “pariah” for the assassination of a prominent dissident, Jamal Khashoggi. But officials said last week that he planned to visit the kingdom this summer. It was just the latest sign that oil has again regained its centrality in geopolitics.
oil prices fell below zero at the start of the pandemic. Big companies like Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP and Shell have largely stuck to the investment budgets they set last year before Russia invaded Ukraine.
The Russia-Ukraine War and the Global Economy
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A far-reaching conflict. Russia’s invasion on Ukraine has had a ripple effect across the globe, adding to the stock market’s woes. The conflict has caused dizzying spikes in gas prices and product shortages, and is pushing Europe to reconsider its reliance on Russian energy sources.
Global growth slows. The fallout from the war has hobbled efforts by major economies to recover from the pandemic, injecting new uncertainty and undermining economic confidence around the world. In the United States, gross domestic product, adjusted for inflation, fell 0.4 percent in the first quarter of 2022.
Russia’s economy faces slowdown. Though pro-Ukraine countries continue to adopt sanctions against the Kremlin in response to its aggression, the Russian economy has avoided a crippling collapse for now thanks to capital controls and interest rate increases. But Russia’s central bank chief warned that the country is likely to face a steep economic downturn as its inventory of imported goods and parts runs low.
Trade barriers go up. The invasion of Ukraine has also unleashed a wave of protectionism as governments, desperate to secure goods for their citizens amid shortages and rising prices, erect new barriers to stop exports. But the restrictions are making the products more expensive and even harder to come by.
Prices of essential metals soar. 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.
Energy traders have become so convinced that the supply will remain limited that the prices of the U.S. and global oil benchmarks climbed after news broke that Mr. Biden was planning to travel to Saudi Arabia. Oil prices rose to about $120 a barrel on Friday, and the national average price for a gallon of regular gasoline was $4.85 on Sunday, according to AAA, more than 20 cents higher than a week earlier and $1.80 above a year ago.
Another Biden administration effort that has appeared to fall flat is a decision to release a million barrels of oil daily from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Analysts said it was hard to discern any impact from those releases.
The Biden team has also been in talks with Venezuela and Iran, but progress has been halting.
The administration recently renewed a license that partly exempts Chevron from U.S. sanctions aimed at crippling the oil industry in Venezuela. In March, three administration officials traveled to Caracas to draw President Nicolás Maduro into negotiations with the political opposition.
In another softening of sanctions, Repsol of Spain and Eni of Italy could begin shipping small amounts of oil from Venezuela to Europe in a few weeks, Reuters reported on Sunday.
Venezuela, once a major exporter to the United States, has the world’s largest petroleum reserves. But its oil industry has been so crippled that it could take months or even years for the country to substantially increase exports.
With Iran, Mr. Biden is seeking to revive a 2015 nuclear accord that President Donald J. Trump pulled out of. A deal could free Iran to export more than 500,000 barrels of oil a day, easing the global supply crunch and making up for some of the barrels that Russia is not selling. Iran also has roughly 100 million barrels in storage, which could potentially be released quickly.
But the nuclear talks appear to be mired in disagreements and are not expected to bear fruit soon.
Of course, any deals with either Venezuela or Iran could themselves become political liabilities for Mr. Biden because most Republicans and even some Democrats oppose compromises with the leaders of those countries.
“No president wants to remove the Revolutionary Guards of Iran from the terrorist list,” Ben Cahill, an energy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said about one of the sticking points in the talks with Iran. “Presidents are wary of any moves that look like they are making political sacrifices and handing a win to America’s adversaries.”
Foreign-policy experts say that while energy crises during war are inevitable, they always seem to surprise administrations, which are generally unprepared for the next crisis. Mr. Bordoff, the Obama adviser, suggested that the country invest more in electric cars and trucks and encourage more efficiency and conservation to lower energy demand.
“The history of oil crises shows that when there is a crisis, politicians run around like chickens with their heads cut off, trying to figure out what they can do to provide immediate relief to consumers,” Mr. Bordoff said. U.S. leaders, he added, need to better prepare the country for “the next time there is an inevitable oil crisis.”
As the war in Ukraine approaches its 100th day, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Thursday that Russian forces now control one-fifth of the country, a blunt acknowledgment of the slow but substantial gains that Moscow has made in recent weeks.
Though battered, depleted and repulsed from their initial drive to capture the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, Russian troops have used their superior artillery power to grind closer to their goal of taking over the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, known collectively as the Donbas, where Kremlin-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian troops since 2014.
Mr. Zelensky said Russia had expanded its control of Ukrainian territory from an area roughly the size of the Netherlands before the invasion began to an area now greater than the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg combined. Seizing that swath of land could give President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia huge leverage in any future talks to end the war, as well as a base of operations to launch further attacks inside Ukraine.
Yet momentum in the war can shift quickly and unpredictably. As Russia has pounded targets in the east, Ukrainian forces have regained control of 20 small towns and villages in a counteroffensive in the south of the country, a regional official, Hennadiy Lahuta, said on national television.
Fighting was raging, Mr. Zelensky said, along a roughly 620-mile-long, crescent-shaped front that stretches from around the northeastern city of Kharkiv to the outskirts of Mykolaiv, near the Black Sea, in the south.
“If you look at the entire front line, and it is, of course, not straight, this line is more than a thousand kilometers,” Mr. Zelensky said in a video address to the Parliament of Luxembourg. “Just imagine! Constant fighting, which stretched along the front line for more than a thousand kilometers.”
Amid intense battles and heavy losses suffered by both the Russian and Ukrainian armies, the arrival of more sophisticated and powerful weapons from Western nations could alter the dynamic on the battlefield.
President Biden this week promised to send Ukraine advanced rocket systems that can target enemy positions from nearly 50 miles away, and Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany pledged to ship a sophisticated air defense system and a tracking radar capable of pinpointing Russian artillery.
For now, Moscow’s main military target is Sievierodonetsk, the last major city in the Luhansk region that is not in Russian hands. Russian forces have shelled the area for weeks, reducing much of the city to depopulated rubble.
Russia controls about 70 percent of the city, although a regional official said on Thursday that Ukrainian troops had forced Russian soldiers back from several streets amid fierce urban combat.
Russian forces have renewed assaults to the west of the city in an effort to sever a Ukrainian supply line along a highway and side roads that the Ukrainians have called the “road of life,” the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington research group, said in an assessment.
“The Russian army is trying to break through the defenses of the armed forces of Ukraine,” Serhiy Haidai, the military governor of the Ukrainian-controlled portions of the Luhansk region, wrote on Telegram.
“Now, the main goal for them is Sievierodonetsk, but they had no success overnight,” he wrote.
Military analysts have viewed the Ukrainian army’s decision to hold out in the city as a risky maneuver. It allows the Ukrainians to inflict casualties on Russian troops but could also result in heavy losses for Ukrainian soldiers, who have been besieged by relentless artillery fire.
Mr. Zelensky said that more than 14,000 Ukrainian civilians and service members had been killed in conflict with Russia since 2014, when it seized Crimea. More than 8 million Ukrainians have been internally displaced since Russia’s invasion in February, and more than 6.5 million have fled to other countries as refugees, according to the United Nations.
In his nightly address to the nation Thursday, Mr. Zelensky said that more than 200,000 children had been deported since the invasion began. He called the deportations “one of Russia’s most heinous war crimes.”
“These are orphans from orphanages. Children with parents. Children separated from their families,” Mr. Zelensky said. “The Russian state disperses these people on its territory, settles our citizens, in particular, in remote regions. The purpose of this criminal policy is not just to steal people, but to make deportees forget about Ukraine and not be able to return.”
Russia has denied that people are being forced to leave Ukraine, saying that the 1.5 million Ukrainians now in Russia were evacuated for their own safety. On Thursday, the Russian Defense Ministry said that over the past 24 hours, 18,886 people had been evacuated from eastern Ukraine, including 2,663 children.
American officials have rejected Russia’s claims that it has been offering Ukrainians humanitarian relief by moving them to Kremlin-controlled territory.
“As many eyewitness accounts have described in detail, Russia is subjecting many of these civilians to brutal interrogations in so-called filtration camps,” Michael Carpenter, the United States ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said in a speech this month in Vienna.
Raising the issue again this week, he said: “Local residents who try to escape Russia’s reign of fear and brutality risk abduction and forced deportation to Russia or Russia-held areas.”
Russia has not released casualty figures for its troops since late March, when it said 1,351 soldiers had died. Mr. Zelensky said Ukrainian officials believe that at least 30,000 Russian troops have been killed. In late March, NATO estimated that 7,000 to 15,000 Russian troops had been killed.
In an effort to isolate and punish Mr. Putin and his allies for having launched the invasion, the Biden administration on Thursday announced a new set of sanctions aimed at freezing the shadowy network of international assets that Mr. Putin and members of his inner circle use to hide their wealth.
Among the targets were four yachts linked to the Russian leader: the Shellest, the Nega, the Graceful and the Olympia. Mr. Putin has used some of the vessels for ocean excursions, including one outing last year on the Black Sea with Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, the strongman leader of Belarus, who has supported the invasion of Ukraine, the administration said.
The sanctions also targeted several prominent members of the Russian elite, including Sergei Roldugin, a cellist, conductor and artistic director of the St. Petersburg Music House, whom the administration called a close Putin associate, godfather to one of Mr. Putin’s daughters and custodian of the Russian president’s offshore wealth.
Mr. Roldugin was added to the European Union’s sanctions list in late February, days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He has been described as “Putin’s wallet.”
Following a drop in Russian oil exports caused in part by Western sanctions, a group of oil-producing nations known as OPEC Plus agreed on Thursday to raise production levels in July and August. The agreement followed months of lobbying by the White House, but analysts said it was too slight to ease high gas prices that have posed a political challenge for Democrats in the midterm elections.
OPEC Plus, which includes Russia, Saudi Arabia and other major oil producers, announced the plan to increase production just days after the European Union agreed to ban most imports of Russian oil, imposing a harsh penalty on Moscow that also threatened to drive European energy costs higher.
As E.U. negotiators finalized the details of the oil embargo and other sanctions against Russia, they made a change at the insistence of Hungary, removing from the sanctions list Patriarch Kirill I, the leader of the Moscow-based Russian Orthodox Church, who has been accused of offering spiritual cover for the invasion of Ukraine.
Reporting was contributed by Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Julian E. Barnes, Michael Forsythe, Stanley Reed and Andrew E. Kramer.
WASHINGTON — Three months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, America and its allies are quietly debating the inevitable question: How does this end?
In recent days, presidents and prime ministers as well as the Democratic and Republican Party leaders in the United States have called for victory in Ukraine. But just beneath the surface are real divisions about what that would look like — and whether “victory” has the same definition in the United States, in Europe and, perhaps most importantly, in Ukraine.
In the past few days alone there has been an Italian proposal for a cease-fire, a vow from Ukraine’s leadership to push Russia back to the borders that existed before the invasion was launched on Feb. 24, and renewed discussion by administration officials about a “strategic defeat” for President Vladimir V. Putin — one that would assure that he is incapable of mounting a similar attack again.
After three months of remarkable unity in response to the Russian invasion — resulting in a flow of lethal weapons into Ukrainian hands and a broad array of financial sanctions that almost no one expected, least of all Mr. Putin — the emerging fissures about what to do next are notable.
At their heart lies a fundamental debate about whether the three-decade-long project to integrate Russia should end. At a moment when the U.S. refers to Russia as a pariah state that needs to be cut off from the world economy, others, largely in Europe, are warning of the dangers of isolating and humiliating Mr. Putin.
That argument is playing out as American ambitions expand. What began as an effort to make sure Russia did not have an easy victory over Ukraine shifted as soon as the Russian military began to make error after error, failing to take Kyiv. The administration now sees a chance to punish Russian aggression, weaken Mr. Putin, shore up NATO and the trans-Atlantic alliance and send a message to China, too. Along the way, it wants to prove that aggression is not rewarded with territorial gains.
The differences over war aims broke into the open at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, as Henry Kissinger, the 99-year old former secretary of state, suggested that Ukraine would likely have to give up some territory in a negotiated settlement, though he added that “ideally the dividing line should be a return to the status quo” before the invasion, which included the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the seizure of parts of the Donbas.
“Pursuing the war beyond that point would not be about the freedom of Ukraine, but a new war against Russia itself,’’ Mr. Kissinger concluded.
Almost immediately, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine accused Mr. Kissinger of appeasement, retorting angrily that “I get the sense that instead of the year 2022, Mr. Kissinger has 1938 on his calendar.’’ He was referring to the year Hitler began his sweep across Europe — the event that caused Mr. Kissinger, then a teenager, to flee with his family to New York. “Nobody heard from him then that it was necessary to adapt to the Nazis instead of fleeing them or fighting them.”
But Mr. Zelensky has at various moments voiced contradictory views on what it would take to end the war, even offering to commit his country to “neutrality” rather than aspiring to join NATO.
Differing objectives, of course, make it all the more difficult to define what victory — or even a muddled peace — would look like. And they foreshadow a coming debate about what position Mr. Zelensky and his Western allies would take if negotiations to end the conflict finally get going. If Mr. Zelensky agreed to some concessions, would the United States and its allies lift many of their crushing sanctions, including the export controls that have forced Russia to shutter some of its factories for building tanks? Or would doing that doom their hopes of crippling Russia’s future capabilities?
In the end, American officials say, the hard choices will have to be made by Mr. Zelensky and his government. But they are acutely aware that if Mr. Putin gets his land bridge to Crimea, or sanctions are partially lifted, Mr. Biden will be accused by Republican critics — and perhaps some Democrats — of essentially rewarding Mr. Putin for his effort to redraw the map of Europe by force.
The debate is breaking out just as the shape of the war is changing, once again.
Three months ago, Mr. Putin’s own strategic objective was to take all of Ukraine — a task he thought he could accomplish in mere days. When that failed in spectacular fashion, he retreated to Plan B, withdrawing his forces to Ukraine’s east and south. It then became clear that he could not take key cities like Kharkiv and Odesa. Now the battle has come down to the Donbas, the bleak, industrial heartland of Ukraine, a relatively small area where he has already made gains, including the brutal takeover of Mariupol and a land bridge to Crimea. His greatest leverage is his naval blockade of the ports Ukraine needs to export wheat and other farm products, a linchpin of the Ukrainian economy and a major source of food for the world.
So far, with Russia gaining ground, there is no evidence yet that Mr. Putin is willing to enter negotiations. But pressure will build as sanctions bite deeper into his energy exports, and the cutoff of key components hampers weapons production for his depleted military.
“Putin, whether we like it or not, will have to bring home some bacon, and Mariupol is a small slice, but a slice,” Dov S. Zakheim, a former senior official in the Defense Department, said in a recent interview. “And the cost to Ukraine of life and matériel will continue to increase. So it’s a difficult political decision for Ukraine.”
From Biden, a Drive to Cripple Russia
For the first two months of the war, President Biden and his top aides largely spoke about providing Ukraine with whatever help it needed to defend itself — and about punishing Russia with sanctions on an unprecedented scale.
Every once in a while, there were hints of broader goals that went beyond pushing Russia back to its own borders. Even before the invasion, Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, warned that if Russia attempted to take Ukraine by force, “its long-term power and influence will be diminished.”
But on April 25, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, speaking with a bluntness that took his colleagues by surprise, acknowledged that Washington wanted more than a Russian retreat. It wanted its military permanently damaged.
“We want to see Russia weakened to the degree it cannot do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine,” Mr. Austin said.
Mr. Austin’s candor prompted the White House to insist he wasn’t changing policy — just giving voice to the reality of what the sanctions and export controls were intended to do. But over time administration officials have gradually shifted in tone, talking more openly and optimistically about the possibility of Ukrainian victory in the Donbas.
Last week in Warsaw, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, Julianne Smith, a former national security aide to Mr. Biden, said: “We want to see a strategic defeat of Russia.”
Now, in meetings with Europeans and in public statements, administration officials are articulating more specific goals. The first is that Ukraine must emerge as a vibrant, democratic state — exactly what Mr. Putin was seeking to crush.
The second is Mr. Biden’s oft-repeated goal of avoiding direct conflict with Russia. “That’s called World War III,” Mr. Biden has said repeatedly.
Then come various versions of the goal Mr. Austin articulated: that Russia must emerge as a weakened state. In testimony earlier this month, Avril D. Haines, the director of national intelligence, explained Washington’s concern. “We assess President Putin is preparing for prolonged conflict in Ukraine, during which he still intends to achieve goals beyond the Donbas,” she said.
And increasingly, American officials talk about using the crisis to strengthen international security, winning over nations that were on the fence between allying with the West or with an emerging China-Russia axis.
As the United States hones its message, no one wants to get ahead of Mr. Zelensky, after months of administration proclamations that there will be “nothing decided about Ukraine without Ukraine.”
“President Zelensky is the democratically elected president of a sovereign nation, and only he can decide what victory is going to look like and how he wants to achieve it,” John F. Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said on April 29.
In Europe, Unity Begins to Fracture
NATO and the European Union have been surprisingly united so far in supporting Ukraine, both with painful economic sanctions aimed at Russia and in supplying an increasing quantity of weapons to Ukraine, though not jet fighters or advanced tanks.
But that unity is under strain. Hungary, which has supported five earlier sanctions packages, has balked at an embargo on Russian oil, on which it depends. And the Europeans are not even trying, at least for now, to cut off their imports of Russian gas.
The divisions are visible in war aims, too.
Leaders in central and eastern Europe, with its long experience of Soviet domination, have strong views about defeating Russia — even rejecting the idea of speaking to Mr. Putin. Estonia’s prime minister, Kaja Kallas, and Poland’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, speak of him as a war criminal, as Mr. Biden did.
“All these events should wake us from our geopolitical slumber and cause us to cast off our delusions, our old delusions, but is that enough?” Mr. Morawiecki said last week. “I hear there are attempts to allow Putin to somehow save face in the international arena. But how can you save something that has been utterly disfigured?” he asked.
But France, Italy and Germany, the biggest and richest countries of the bloc, are anxious about a long war or one that ends frozen in a stalemate, and nervous of the possible damage to their own economies.
Those countries also think of Russia as an inescapable neighbor that cannot be isolated forever. Following his re-election, Emmanuel Macron of France began hedging his bets, declaring that a future peace in Eastern Europe must not include an unnecessary humiliation of Russia, and could include territorial concessions to Moscow.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi called this month for a cease-fire in Ukraine “as soon as possible” to enable a negotiated end to the war. Mr. Draghi, who has taken a hard line against Russia in traditionally Moscow-friendly Italy, said economic pressure was important “because we have to bring Moscow to the negotiating table.”
Zelensky’s Choice: Territorial Integrity or Grinding War
Mr. Zelensky has been careful not to expand his aims toward a larger degradation of Mr. Putin’s regime. He has said repeatedly that he wants the Russians pushed back to where they were on Feb. 23, before the large-scale invasion started.
Only then, he has said, would Ukraine be prepared to negotiate seriously again with Russia about a cease-fire and a settlement. He said again this week that the war will have to end with a diplomatic solution, not a sweeping military victory.
But even those aims are considered by some European officials and military experts to be ambitious. To get there, Ukraine would have to take back Kherson and the ravaged city of Mariupol. It would have to push Russia out of its land bridge to Crimea and stop Russia from annexing large parts of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Many experts fear that is beyond Ukraine’s capability.
While Ukraine did remarkably well in the first phase of the war, Donbas is very different. To go on the offensive normally requires a manpower advantage of 3 to 1, weaponry aside, which Ukraine does not now possess. The Russians are making slow but incremental gains, if at a high cost in casualties. (While Washington and London are happy to provide estimates of Russian casualties, sometimes rather high, according to some military experts, they say little about Ukrainian casualties. Ukraine is treating those figures as state secrets.)
“What is victory for Ukraine?” asked Daniel Fried, a former U.S. ambassador to Poland and longtime senior U.S. diplomat. “The Biden Administration’s comfort zone is not a bad place to be — that it’s up to the Ukrainians to decide,” Mr. Fried said. “I agree, because there’s no way a detailed conversation now on what is a just settlement will do any good, because it comes down to what territories Ukraine should surrender.”
David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt reported from Washington. Steven Erlanger reported from Brussels. Julian Barnes and Helene Cooper contributed reporting from Washington.
WASHINGTON — When President Biden signed a modern-day Lend-Lease Act on Monday, 81 years after the original version helped lead the way into World War II, he effectively thrust the United States even deeper into another war in Europe that has increasingly become an epic struggle with Russia despite his efforts to define its limits.
Recent days have underscored just how engaged the United States has become in the conflict in Ukraine. In addition to the new lending program, which will waive time-consuming requirements to speed arms to Ukraine, Mr. Biden has proposed $33 billion more in military and humanitarian aid, a package that congressional Democrats plan to increase by another $7 billion. He sent the first lady for a secret visit to the war zone. And he provided intelligence helping Ukraine to kill a dozen generals and sink Russia’s flagship.
But even after two and a half months, Mr. Biden is still anxious about looking like the United States is fighting the proxy war that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia says it is. While Mr. Biden publicly sends aid and signed the lend-lease bill on camera, off camera he was livid over leaks about the American intelligence assistance to Ukraine that led to the deaths of Russian generals and the sinking of the cruiser Moskva out of concern that it would provoke Mr. Putin into the escalation Mr. Biden has strenuously sought to avoid.
After reports in The New York Times and NBC News about the intelligence, Mr. Biden called Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III; Avril D. Haines, the director of national intelligence; and William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, to chastise them, according to a senior administration official. That seemed to be where Mr. Biden was drawing a line — providing Ukraine with guns to shoot Russian soldiers was OK, providing Ukraine with specific information to help them shoot Russians was best left secret and undisclosed to the public.
“There’s this constant balancing act the administration has been trying to strike between supporting Ukraine and making sure it can defend itself militarily and at the same time being very concerned about escalation,” said Alina Polyakova, the president of the Center for European Policy Analysis and a specialist on Russia policy.
“It’s increasingly untenable to maintain this kind of hand-wringing,” she added. “It’s probably more effective to say this is what our policy is and we will deal and manage the potential escalation responses we see from the Kremlin.”
From the start of the war, the administration sought to parse its response, deciding which weapons could be called defensive and therefore were acceptable to send to Ukraine and which ones could be called offensive and therefore should not be delivered.
But the line has shifted in recent weeks with the administration shipping ever more sophisticated military equipment and expressing more openly its ambitions not just to help the Ukrainians but to defeat and even enfeeble Russia. After a visit to the war-torn capital, Kyiv, two weeks ago, Mr. Austin declared that “we want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things” it has done in Ukraine again, while Speaker Nancy Pelosi said during her own subsequent trip to Kyiv that America “will stand with Ukraine until victory is won.”
Some veteran government officials said Mr. Biden was right to be cautious about too overtly poking Mr. Putin because the consequences of an escalation with a nuclear-armed Russia are too devastating to take chances with.
“Putin wants us to make it a proxy war,” said Fiona Hill, a former Russia adviser to two presidents now at the Brookings Institution. “Putin is still telling people outside Europe this is just a repeat of the Cold War, nothing to look at here. This isn’t a proxy war. It’s a colonial land grab.”
Michael A. McFaul, a former ambassador to Russia now at Stanford University, said there was a difference between clandestinely helping Ukrainian forces target Russian forces and flaunting it. “Yes, Putin knows that we are providing intelligence to Ukraine,” he said. “But saying it out loud helps his public narrative that Russia is fighting the U.S. and NATO in Ukraine, not just the Ukrainians. That doesn’t serve our interests.”
Angela Stent, a former national intelligence officer on Russia and the author of a book on American relations with Mr. Putin, said being too open about what the United States was doing in Ukraine could undermine efforts to turn China, India and other countries against Russia. “For global public opinion, it’s not a good idea,” she said. “They should do whatever they do, but not talk about it.”
Mr. McFaul said he also believed it undermined Ukrainians, making it look like they were dependent on the Americans, a concern that Mr. Biden was said to share in his phone calls with his security officials, which were first reported by the Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman.
But others said the administration has been too cautious in letting Russia set the rules of the conflict — or rather Washington’s guesswork about what would push Russia into escalation. No one in Washington really knows the line that should not be crossed with Mr. Putin, and instead the United States has simply been making assumptions. “Are we having a conversation about red lines with ourselves?” asked Frederick W. Kagan, a military scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “Because I rather think we are.”
The consequence, he added, is being too slow to provide what Ukraine really needs. “They’ve done amazingly well at making stuff happen in a relatively timely fashion,” Mr. Kagan said of the Biden administration. “But there does seem to be a certain brake on the timeliness of our support driven by this kind of parsing and self-negotiation that is a problem.”
The legislation that Mr. Biden signed on Monday reflected the historical echoes and reversals of the current war. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the original Lend-Lease Act in 1941 to help the British fend off Nazi aggressors in World War II, and it was later expanded to help other allies — including the Soviet Union.
Now, Moscow will be on the other side of the arms channel as the modern-day version, called the Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act, will direct weapons and equipment not to Russian soldiers but to those fighting them.
“Every day, Ukrainians pay with their lives,” Mr. Biden said in the Oval Office as he approved the legislation. “And the atrocities that the Russians are engaging in are just beyond the pale. And the cost of the fight is not cheap, but caving to aggression is even more costly. That’s why we’re staying in this.”
Mr. Biden signed the law on the same day that Russia celebrated Victory Day, the 77th anniversary of the allied defeat of Nazi Germany, a feat facilitated in part by the original Lend-Lease Act.
“This day is supposed to be about celebrating peace and unity in Europe and the defeat of Nazis in World War II,” said Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary. “And instead, Putin is perverting history, changing history, or attempting to change it, I should say, to justify his unprovoked and unjustified war.”
The lending program came as congressional Democrats moved quickly to consider the $33 billion aid package proposed by Mr. Biden and indicated they would increase it substantially. With Republicans pushing to add more military spending, Democrats insisted on an equal boost for humanitarian aid, nudging the price tag to $39.8 billion, according to two people familiar with the proposal who previewed it on the condition of anonymity.
Ms. Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic majority leader, spoke by telephone with Mr. Biden on Monday as they finalized the details of the proposal, one of the people said. House leaders want to bring up the measure as early as Tuesday.
The increase reflects a striking consensus in both parties to pour vast amounts of money into the war against Russia, even as lawmakers remain deeply divided on domestic spending. In March, Congress approved $13.6 billion in emergency aid for Ukraine, and Mr. Biden has warned that those resources would run out soon without new legislation.
It was not clear, however, whether Republicans, whose support would be needed in the Senate, had agreed on the specifics of the proposal. A spokeswoman for Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee said that a deal had not been reached, but that discussions were continuing.
Democrats plan to advance the package separately from the administration’s emergency coronavirus aid measure, which has become snarled in an election-year dispute over immigration restrictions.
“We cannot afford delay in this vital war effort,” Mr. Biden said in a statement. “Hence, I am prepared to accept that these two measures move separately, so that the Ukrainian aid bill can get to my desk right away.”
HONG KONG, May 8 (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s leader-in-waiting, John Lee, was endorsed for the city’s top job on Sunday by a committee stacked with pro-Beijing loyalists, as the financial hub attempts to relaunch itself after several years of political upheaval.
Lee, the sole candidate, received the votes of 1,416 members of a pro-Beijing election committee on Sunday morning, granting him the majority required to anoint him as Hong Kong’s next leader. Eight voted to “not support” him.
Speaking afterwards, Lee said it was his “historic mission” to lead a new chapter for Hong Kong, while pledging to unite the city and preserve Hong Kong’s international status as an open, and more competitive financial hub bridging China and the world.
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Few of the city’s 7.4 million people have any say in choosing their leader, despite China’s promises to one day grant full democracy to the former British colony, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Security was tight around the venue, with police preventing a small group of protesters from approaching.
“We believe we represent many Hong Kong people in expressing opposition to this China-style, single-candidate election,” said Chan Po-ying, a protester with the League of Social Democrats, holding up a banner demanding full democracy.
John Lee waves on stage after being elected as Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, in Hong Kong, China, May 8, 2022. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
Lee, a former Hong Kong secretary for security, has forcefully implemented China’s harsher regime under a national security law that has been used to arrest scores of democrats, disband civil society groups and shutter liberal media outlets, such as Apple Daily and Stand News.
Western governments, including the United States, say that freedoms and the rule of law have been undermined by the security legislation that was imposed by Beijing in 2020. read more
Lee, however, reiterated Beijing’s view that the law is necessary to restore stability after protracted pro-democracy protests in 2019, sidestepping questions on whether he would seek reconciliation with opposition democratic advocates and those who have been jailed.
“Safeguarding our country’s sovereignty, national security and development interests, and protecting Hong Kong from internal and external threats, and ensuring its stability will continue to be of paramount importance,” Lee told reporters.
Some critics say Lee’s attempts to relaunch Hong Kong internationally could be affected by sanctions imposed on him by the United States in 2020 over what Washington said was his role in “being involved in coercing, arresting, detaining, or imprisoning individuals” under the security law.
YouTube owner Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O) has said it took down the Lee campaign’s YouTube account to comply with U.S. sanction laws.
Lee said his priority would be to boost housing supply in one of the world’s most expensive housing markets, and to bolster policy effectiveness with a “results orientated approach” in tackling this entrenched issue.
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Reporting by James Pomfret and Hong Kong bureau; Editing by William Mallard and Michael Perry
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