“People across Thailand, not just the young, recognize the argument of reforming the monarchy,” said Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, who was elected president of the Student Union at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. “It’s not marginal, it’s mainstream.”

Mr. Netiwit lost his position in February after the school administration determined that he was connected to an event involving activists who have called for monarchical reform.

Some Thais are more enthusiastic about the government espousing the longer name.

On a recent morning, Vichian Bunthawi, 88, a retired palace guard, sat cross-legged on a bench at the sleepy railway station in Bangkok Noi. The capital should be known around the world as Krung Thep Maha Nakhon, he said, remembering how his primary schoolteacher would write the full name on the chalkboard.

“Krung Thep Maha Nakhon is the name of the capital,” he said. “It is where the king lives.”

The first king of the Chakri Dynasty, Rama I, moved the capital in 1782, from the left bank of the Chao Phraya River, where the Bangkok Noi district is, to the east bank. On marshy ground, he and his successors built gilded, jeweled palaces. The full name of Krung Thep Maha Nakhon includes a paean to “an enormous royal palace resembling the heavenly abode in which the reincarnated god reigns.” In Thai tradition, the king is semi-divine.

In 1932, absolute monarchy was abolished, but the royal family still retains an enormous presence in Thai life. Giant posters of King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun and Queen Suthida Vajiralongkorn Na Ayudhya, the current king’s fourth wife, tower over public places.

The king, whose lavish lifestyle contrasts with the austerity forced upon many Thais by the pandemic, spends most of his time in Germany.

Whether as Krung Thep Maha Nakhon or Bangkok, the character of the capital has changed drastically over the decades. City planners filled in the canals that used to be the city’s transportation arteries. Rice paddies gave way to malls and condominiums.

In a back alley behind a Buddhist temple in Bangkok Noi, Chana Ratsami still plays a Thai xylophone. His wife’s family of palace attendants lived in Bangkok Noi for generations.

Now, he said, the lane’s residents are mostly migrants from upcountry.

“They don’t know the history of this place,” he said, describing how the traffic-choked road at the end of the lane used to be a canal with boats floating past, filled with flowers and fruit. “I miss the old city, no matter what it’s called.”

Muktita Suhartono contributed reporting.

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Live Ukraine Updates: Biden Moves to Suspend Normal Trade With Russia

As Russian troops massed near the border with Ukraine last month, the American ambassador to Israel received an appeal on behalf of Roman Abramovich, the most visible of the billionaires linked to President Vladimir V. Putin.

Leaders of cultural, educational and medical institutions, along with a chief rabbi, had sent a letter urging the United States not to impose sanctions on the Russian, a major donor, saying it would hurt Israel and the Jewish world. Days later, Mr. Abramovich and Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial, announced a partnership that a spokesman for the organization said included a pledge of at least $10 million.

The request to the diplomat reflects the extraordinary effort Mr. Abramovich, 55, has made over the last two decades to parlay his Russian fortune into elite standing in the West — buying London’s Chelsea soccer team, acquiring luxury homes in New York, London, Tel Aviv, St. Barts and Aspen, collecting modern masterworks and contributing to arts institutions around the world. With two superyachts, multiple Ferrari, Porsche and Aston Martin sports cars, and a private 787 Boeing Dreamliner jet, Mr. Abramovich wanted everyone to know that he had arrived.

But now the backlash against the Russian invasion of Ukraine is tarnishing the status that Mr. Abramovich and other oligarchs have spent so much to reach. On Thursday, British authorities added him to an ever-expanding list of Russians under sanctions for their close ties to Mr. Putin.

Mr. Abramovich, whose fortune is estimated at more than $13 billion, was barred from entering Britain or doing any business there — disrupting his plans to sell his soccer team and prohibiting it from selling tickets to matches, even blocking him from paying to keep the electricity on in his West London mansion.

Oligarchs like Mr. Abramovich “have used their ill-gotten gains to try to launder their reputations in the West,” said Thomas Graham, a Russia scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations. “But the message of these sanctions is, that is not going to protect you.”

On Friday, Canada announced sanctions of its own against Mr. Abramovich. The United States has not imposed sanctions on the billionaire — so far, at least. In a statement explaining its actions, the British government said that the businessman had profited from transactions with the Russian government and special tax breaks. The statement also suggested that a steel company Mr. Abramovich controlled could contribute to the war against Ukraine, “potentially” supplying steel for Russian tanks. The business, Evraz, said in a statement that it had not done so. A representative for Mr. Abramovich did not respond to a request for comment.

“The blood of the Ukrainian people is on their hands,” Liz Truss, the British foreign secretary, said of the oligarchs under sanctions. “They should hang their heads in shame.”

Credit…Victor Vasenin/Kommersant/Sipa USA, via Associated Press

Michael McFaul, an American ambassador to Moscow during the Obama administration, recalled that while Mr. Putin’s government claimed to despise the United States and its allies, his foreign ministry was constantly trying to help the oligarchs around him, including Mr. Abramovich, obtain visas so that they could ingratiate themselves with the Western elite.

“On our side, we have been playing right along,” he said, overlooking the oligarchs’ ties to Mr. Putin and welcoming them and their money.

Orphaned as a child in a town on the Volga River in northern Russia, Mr. Abramovich dropped out of college and emerged from the Red Army in the late 1980s just as the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was opening new opportunities for private enterprise. Mr. Abramovich plunged into trading anything he could, including dolls, chocolates, cigarettes, rubber ducks and car tires.

His big break came in the mid-1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when he and a partner persuaded the Russian government to sell them the state-run oil company Sibneft for about $200 million. In 2005, he sold his stake back to the government for $11.9 billion. Other deals followed, including the formation of a mammoth aluminum company. Many involved the Russian state, and some ended in bitter litigation.

After Mr. Putin was inaugurated president in 2000, he quickly moved to dominate the billionaire businessmen who had profited from privatization, sending a message by jailing the richest and most powerful oligarch. Mr. Abramovich is one of the few early elite who remain in his circle.

As Mr. Putin was consolidating power, Mr. Abramovich served as governor of a desolate northeastern province from 2001 until 2008.

Credit…Reuters

“I started business early, so maybe that’s why I’m bored with it,” he told The Wall Street Journal in 2001 about his interest in the region, saying he wanted to lead a “revolution toward civilized life.”

But like other oligarchs wary of the new president’s power to make or break them, Mr. Abramovich also began looking for footholds outside Russia.

Mr. Putin’s display of force “increased the incentive for the oligarchs to have acceptance in the West,” said Stephen Sestanovich, a professor of international relations at Columbia University and former ambassador at large to the former Soviet Union. “Who knows when you might fall out with Putin and need an alternative place to land?”

In spring 2003, Mr. Abramovich was in Manchester, England, to watch the legendary Brazilian forward Ronaldo score a game-winning hat trick for Real Madrid. The Russian had never shown much interest in soccer before, but that night he was smitten.

He soon began shopping for a team — looking in Spain and Italy before settling on England and finally on Chelsea. His $180 million takeover — completed in quick, stealthy talks with the British financier Keith Harris over a single weekend — transformed the club. In his first summer, he went on the largest single spending spree for players that English soccer had ever seen.

Within two years of his arrival, Chelsea was the English champion for the first time in a half-century, and the team has since won four more championships. A Russian flag has hung outside the stadium for years, emblazoned with the words “The Roman Empire,” alongside a stylized image of its owner’s face. (Britain on Friday said it would consider proposals to buy the soccer team under special conditions.)

Credit…Odd Andersen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

At a news conference when Russia won the right to host the 2018 soccer World Cup, Mr. Putin commended Mr. Abramovich for the development of Russian soccer, too, and suggested he might play a role in “a public-private partnership” to prepare for the tournament. “He has a lot of money in stocks,” Mr. Putin noted, smiling.

While looking after his London soccer team, Mr. Abramovich met and married his third wife, Dasha Zhukova, the daughter of a Russian oil magnate, who had grown up partly in Los Angeles; studied Russian literature at the University of California, Santa Barbara; and tried fashion design in London.

In 2011, he bought an elegant 15-bedroom mansion near Kensington Palace for a reported price over $140 million, which was expanded a few years later to include a huge underground swimming pool.

Then he turned heads in Manhattan in 2014, paying $78 million for three adjacent townhouses on East 75th Street, in a landmark district of the Upper East Side. He proposed combining the three homes of different styles into a single mega-mansion, with an elevator, a new glass-and-bronze rear facade and a pool in the lower level. The Historic Districts Council, an advocacy group, called the plan “a whole new level of egregious consumption.” But he ultimately managed to win city approval, in part by purchasing a fourth adjacent townhouse for nearly $29 million and revising his alteration plans.

Credit…Brendan Mcdermid/Reuters

Ms. Zhukova had developed a growing interest in art, and in 2008 she and Mr. Abramovich founded Garage, a seminal contemporary art center in Moscow. (Amy Winehouse performed at the opening, and early shows included works by Cindy Sherman and Jeff Koons.) He joined the board of the Bolshoi Theater. And Mr. Abramovich started to earn a reputation as one of the biggest spenders in the art world, known for buying pieces by blue-chip artists. He spent nearly $120 million at auctions in the same week, acquiring a Francis Bacon triptych and Lucian Freud’s “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping.”

It struck one figure in the New York art world as “a trophy approach to collecting.”“It’s like when you go to a hunter’s house,” said Todd Levin, an art adviser. “There’s the elephant on the wall, there’s the rhino, there’s the tiger and the lion.”

Although he rarely gave interviews, Mr. Abramovich was often photographed alongside the rich and famous at fashionable spots around the world, and his New Year’s Eve parties at his estate on the French island of St. Barts — reportedly a $90 million property covering 70 acres — have made tabloid headlines. One year, Paul McCartney joined the Killers to sing the Beatles classic “Helter Skelter.” Entertainment in other years included the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Prince.

Mr. Abramovich and Ms. Zhukova divorced by 2019, and he transferred to her the New York townhouses, plus two nearby apartments, for $92 million, according to public records. She lives in the city with their two children — he has seven in all. She serves as a board member of the Metropolitan Museum, one of the premier positions in New York philanthropy, and is a fixture in the city’s art and fashion scenes. Her network of friends includes Ivanka Trump, the daughter of former President Donald J. Trump; Jared Kushner, the former president’s son-in-law and adviser; Josh Kushner, Jared’s brother and an investor; and Josh’s wife, the model Karlie Kloss.

Credit…Team Boyko/Getty Images

On Thursday, Ms. Zhukova distanced herself from Mr. Abramovich. “Dasha has moved on with her life and is happily remarried,” a spokesman for Ms. Zhukova said in a statement. She issued a second, more personal statement denouncing the Russian invasion as “brutal,” “horrific” and “shameful.”

“As someone born in Russia, I unequivocally condemn these acts of war, and I stand in solidarity with the Ukrainian people,” Ms. Zhukova said.

Mr. Abramovich has struggled to escape the stigma of association with Mr. Putin. In 2018, after Russian spies fatally poisoned two people in Britain, the British authorities delayed renewing his business visa, reportedly seeking additional disclosures from him about his dealings.

He turned instead to Israel, where his status as a Jew allowed him citizenship. He now owns mansions in Tel Aviv and the seaside city of Herzliya, and Haaretz ranks him among the richest people in the country.

There, too, Mr. Abramovich’s big spending has set him apart. He donated $30 million to Tel Aviv University in 2015, and has since given tens of millions of dollars to the Sheba Medical Center near the city, according to a hospital official.

Credit…Orel Cohen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

He has also donated more than $100 million to an Israeli settler organization. An investigation last year by the BBC News Arabic service found that companies controlled by Mr. Abramovich had given that money to the City of David Foundation, which buys up Palestinian property and moves Jews in as part of an effort to bolster Israel’s claim to sovereignty.

Last November, President Isaac Herzog of Israel flew to London for the opening of a Holocaust exhibition Mr. Abramovich had funded at the Imperial War Museums. He called the Russian “a shining example of how sports and teams can be a force of good,” citing the “Just Say No to Antisemitism” banners that his Chelsea soccer team was hanging at its games.

When reports emerged of the recent appeal to the United States not to subject Mr. Abramovich to sanctions, Dani Dayan, the chairman of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and a former diplomat, initially defended the letter.

“I don’t see any reason to reject a gift by a Jew, an Israeli citizen, a person that for a decade is committed to very worthy causes,” he said. He was “not a judge” and was not aware of any wrongdoing by Mr. Abramovich, Mr. Dayan added.

But after Britain imposed sanctions against Mr. Abramovich, the Israeli Holocaust memorial said it was suspending its relationship with him. A spokesman declined to say whether the memorial had received any of the multimillion-dollar pledge. “In light of recent developments,” the organization said in a short statement, “Yad Vashem has decided to suspend the strategic partnership with Mr. Roman Abramovich.”

Reporting was contributed by Graham Bowley, Stephen Castle, Stefanos Chen, Michael Forsythe, Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura, Robin Pogrebin and Rebecca R. Ruiz.

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KB Home Announces the Grand Opening of Lotus at the Seasons, a New-home Community in Chino, California

CHINO, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–KB Home (NYSE: KBH) today announced the grand opening of Lotus, a new, single-family home community situated within the popular Seasons master plan, in Chino, California. The new community is located at Tanzanite Lane and Bickmore Avenue, just east of U.S. Highway 71 and north of U.S. Highway 91, providing access to major employment centers and attractions in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties as well as Ontario International Airport. Lotus at the Seasons is close to shopping, dining and entertainment at Chino Spectrum Towne Center and minutes away from Prado Regional Park, which features walking and biking trails, disc golf, archery, a dog park, picnic facilities and play equipment. Homeowners will enjoy the community’s proximity to outdoor recreation, including several golf courses and horseback riding, hiking, biking and camping at Chino Hills State Park.

The new homes at Lotus at the Seasons showcase desirable design characteristics like spacious kitchens overlooking large great rooms, expansive bedroom suites with walk-in closets, ample storage space and large backyards. The community’s floor plans feature up to five bedrooms and three baths, and range in size from approximately 1,800 to 2,300 square feet. The master plan offers stunning mountain views as well as several future amenities, including a pool, children’s play area and sports courts. Additionally, Lotus at the Seasons is zoned for the highly ranked Chino Valley Unified School District.

“Our new homes at Lotus are situated within a desirable master-planned community in Chino, California, and convenient to Highways 60 and 71. The community features family friendly amenities and is close to shopping, dining, entertainment and outdoor recreation,” said John Fenn, President of KB Home’s Inland Empire division. “As with other KB Home communities, Lotus at the Seasons will offer home shoppers the opportunity to purchase a new KB home that can be personalized to reflect their lifestyle and needs.”

KB Home stands out from other homebuilders as the company gives homebuyers exceptional choice and control. KB Home starts by offering a wide variety of homes at an affordable price. From there, the builder gives buyers the ability to personalize their homes from floor plans to exterior elevations, from design options to where they live in the community. The KB Home team works hand in hand with homeowners every step of the way so they have a real partner in the process.

Every KB home is designed to be ENERGY STAR® certified thanks to the quality construction techniques and materials utilized that ultimately deliver significant savings on utility bills compared to used homes. Additionally, all new KB homes are designed to deliver an enhanced indoor environment and include high performance ventilation systems, low- or zero-VOC products and other features guided by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Indoor airPLUS standards.

The Lotus at the Seasons sales office and model homes are open for private in-person tours by appointment, and walk-in visits are welcome. Homebuyers also have the flexibility to arrange a live video tour with a sales counselor. Pricing begins in the low $700,000s.

For more information on KB Home, call 888-KB-HOMES or visit kbhome.com.

About KB Home

KB Home is one of the largest and most recognized homebuilders in the United States and has built over 655,000 quality homes in our more than 65-year history. Today, KB Home operates in 47 markets from coast to coast. What sets KB Home apart is the exceptional personalization we offer our homebuyers—from those buying their first home to experienced buyers—allowing them to make their home uniquely their own, at a price that fits their budget. As the leader in energy-efficient homebuilding, KB Home was the first builder to make every home it builds ENERGY STAR® certified, a standard of energy performance achieved by fewer than 10% of new homes in America and has built more ENERGY STAR certified homes than any other builder. An energy-efficient KB home helps lower the cost of ownership and is designed to be healthier, more comfortable and better for the environment than new homes without certification. We build strong, personal relationships with our customers, so they have a real partner in the homebuying process. As a result, we have the distinction of being the #1 customer-ranked national homebuilder in third-party buyer satisfaction surveys. Learn more about how we build homes built on relationships by visiting kbhome.com.

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Ukraine Live Updates: First Key Southern City Falls, Ukrainian Officials Say

ODESSA, Ukraine—Sparks fly day and night at the rail yard of Odessa’s tram authority, where men in coveralls are slicing up old steel rails and welding them into barricades called “hedgehogs” to stop Russian tanks.

Not far away, the area around the city’s elegant baroque opera house looks like a set from a World War II movie, with chest-high stacks of sandbags and troops in green uniforms. And a food market downtown popular with hipsters has been turned into a warehouse for a range of provisions — food, clothing and medicine for the troops.

A major attack on Odessa, which as Ukraine’s biggest port city is crucial for the country’s economic survival, feels like an inevitability, officials and residents say.

Russian naval ships have gathered just outside Ukraine’s territorial waters in the Black Sea, and Russian troops are pushing ever closer from the east. On Wednesday, the city’s mayor, Gennady Trukhanov was inspecting a bomb shelter at an orphanage when he received a call that a Russian jet, likely having flown in from the Crimean Peninsula, had fired a rocket at a military installation just outside town.

“Do you have your diaper on?” the mayor asked the person he was speaking with, laughing. “Don’t be a hero, there will be time for that later,” he said.

“I think they’re testing our antiaircraft systems,” Mr. Trukhanov said when he hung up the phone. “He flies in, we open fire, he flies away and almost immediately they fire a rocket.”

Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

For the first several days of the invasion, Russia primarily concentrated its military forces on Kyiv, in the north, and Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, in the northeast. But a concerted and in many ways more successful campaign is being waged in Ukraine’s south, along the coasts of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, a small, important body of water where Russia seeks full control.

As of Wednesday, Russian forces had captured the strategically important city of Kherson at the mouth of the Dnieper River, the first major city to come under Russian control. The fate of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov, an inland body of water that Russia and Ukraine share, also hung in the balance as Russian naval forces gathered in an apparent effort to mount an amphibious attack.

The carnage in Kherson was particularly extreme: Volunteers had been dispatched to gather up bodies, many of them unidentifiable because of tank and artillery fire, and bury them in mass graves, the city’s mayor, Igor Kolykhaev, said in an interview on Wednesday.

“They’ve fully come into the city,” Mr. Kolykhaev said, adding that he met with the Russian commander, who said he intended to put in place a military administration.

Kherson, with a population of around 300,000, is just over 120 miles from Odessa, and Russian troops have already pushed beyond it to Mykolaiv, about 45 miles to the north, Ukrainian officials said.

Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

But it is Odessa that would be the real prize. Founded by Catherine the Great in the late 1700s, the city was a crown jewel of the Russian Empire and a critical commercial port for the Soviet Union. Though not as militarily significant as the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has spoken wistfully about the reconstitution of imperial-era New Russia, a region along the Black Sea centered on Odessa.

Like the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, Odessa was the site of a separatist uprising backed by Russia in 2014 that sought to create an independent state. But the effort was crushed after a series of pitched street battles pitting the separatists against Ukrainian nationalists and soccer hooligans, which culminated in the torching of a trade union building on the outskirts of Odessa. At least 40 pro-Russian activists were killed.

Days before the invasion started last week, Mr. Putin issued a threat against those who started the fire, suggesting that Odessa was on his mind.

“The criminals who committed this evil act have not been punished,” he said. “No one is looking for them, but we know them by name.”

Mr. Trukhanov, the Odessa mayor, backed by assessments from Ukraine’s military, said Russia’s goal was likely to surround Odessa with land and naval forces, cutting off Ukraine’s access to the Black Sea, which is the country’s primary link to the global economy.

Surrounding Odessa, he said, “will put an end to cargo shipments, an end to the economy and the end of development.”

He added, “But we’re not talking about that often, because the priority is survival.”

Odessa has undergone a profound and disturbing transformation since Russia invaded. Just over a week ago, the city was experiencing an unusual early warm snap that drove people outside, to the city’s cobblestone streets and beaches. Crowds flocked to the opera house, flamboyantly renovated with polished marble and 25 pounds of gold leaf, to see a performance of Madama Butterfly.

Now the entire, historic center around the opera is sealed off by sandbags, barbed wire and troops armed with automatic weapons.

“I can’t believe that a week ago I was a lawyer,” said Inga Kordynovska. She said he had been planning to compete in an international ballroom dancing competition, but was now coordinating the collection of food, clothing and medicine for Odessa’s territorial defense troops.

“One day, I had heels and makeup; I was going to ballroom dancing,” she said “And now everything has changed.”

Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

The entrance to the Odessa Food Market has been draped with a large Red Cross banner and fortified with sandbags. Before the war, people used to eat Chinese street food and sip craft IPAs; now men in beanie hats and neck tattoos are stacking bottles of water and sorting bags of clothing.

Though the mission is to gather supplies for the city’s defenders, none of the combatants are allowed to enter the hall, said Nikolai Viknianskyi, who owns a furniture company and is now volunteering at the site.

“We’ve banned people with weapons from coming here so as not to attract other people with weapons,” Mr. Viknianskyi. “We don’t want for our hipsters or our fashionable youth to be hurt. They’re not military people, they don’t know how to fight.”

The fight may come anyway. As if to underscore the threat, Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenksy, replaced the Odessa region’s civilian governor with a colonel from Ukraine’s armed forces. On Wednesday, Ukraine’s Navy accused Russian forces in the Black Sea of attempting to enter Ukraine’s territorial waters using civilian boats as a “human shield.”

Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Though Odessa has not experienced the intense shelling of other cities like Kyiv and Kharkiv, there have been sporadic rocket attacks. It was unclear if Wednesday’s hostilities caused any injuries, but one person was killed on Tuesday in an attack on a military radar installation, Mr. Trukhanov, the Odessa mayor, said.

Also on Tuesday, an explosion ripped through the small village of Dachne, north of Odessa just off the highway to Kyiv. Several houses along a potholed street were reduced to rubble, and power line poles and trees were snapped at their bases.

A 60-year-old resident named Yuri said workers had extracted an undetonated shell from his front yard, which destroyed a brand-new Volkswagen his children had given him for his birthday. It was not clear whether the shell was fired by Russian forces or if Ukrainian troops mistakenly hit the village.

All this has rattled the residents of Odessa. At an orphanage visited by Mr. Trukhanov on Wednesday, tiny jackets had been arranged on a table to be ready in case the children have to make a dash to the bomb shelter in the basement.

After lunch time, a group of the youngest was tucked into their beds for nap time, while their caretaker stood over them, playing a lullaby on her phone, and silently crying.

“God,” she said, addressing the mayor, “everything is going to be OK, right?”

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Ukraine Live Updates: U.S. and NATO See No Immediate Sign of a Russian Military Drawdown

michael barbaro

From The New York Times, I’m Michael Barbaro. This is The Daily.

[music]

Today: Russia is making preparations for what many fear may be a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, prompting warnings from the U.S. of serious consequences if it does. I spoke to my colleague, Moscow bureau chief Anton Troianovski, about what Vladimir Putin wants from Ukraine and just how far he may go to get it.

It’s Wednesday, December 8.

Anton, describe the scene right now on the border between Ukraine and Russia. What does it look like? What exactly is happening there?

anton troianovski

Well, what you’re seeing on the Russian side of the border within 100 to 200 miles away is that thousands of Russian troops are on the move.

archived recording 1

A top military official says intelligence shows nearly 100,000 Russian troops —

archived recording 2

Russian troops have massed on the border of Ukraine.

archived recording 3

— troops on the border with Ukraine. And that’s prompted fears of an invasion early next year.

anton troianovski

We’re seeing a lot of social media footage of tanks and other military equipment on the move, on trains, in some cases, heading west toward the Ukraine border area from as far away as Siberia.

archived recording

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have been building for some time in the wake of —

anton troianovski

These satellite images that we’re seeing show deployment areas around Ukraine that were empty as recently as June that are now full of military equipment-like tanks and armored personnel carriers.

archived recording

The U.S. called it unusual activity.

anton troianovski

And obviously, Russia moves its forces all the time. It does big military exercises, snap military exercises all the time, but what we’re being told is that these military movements are very unusual. Some of them are happening at night and, in other ways, seemingly designed to obfuscate where various units are going. And experts are saying we’re also seeing things like logistics and medical equipment being moved around, stuff that you really would see if there were real preparations being made for large-scale military action.

michael barbaro

So what’s happening in Russia is not just the movement of the troops that would perhaps carry out an invasion, but the kind of military personnel and equipment that would be required to deal with the repercussions of something like invading Ukraine?

anton troianovski

Yes. So American intelligence officials are seeing intelligence that shows Russia preparing for a military offensive involving an estimated 175,000 troops —

michael barbaro

Wow.

anton troianovski

— as soon as early next year.

michael barbaro

And Anton, is Ukraine preparing for what certainly looks, from what you just described, as a potential invasion?

anton troianovski

They’re in a really tough spot because no matter how much they prepare, their military would be utterly outgunned and outmatched. Ukraine doesn’t have the missile defense and air defense systems that could prevent a huge shock-and-awe campaign at the beginning of Russian military action.

They also don’t know, if and when an attack comes, which direction it might come from, because Russia could attack from any of three directions. So we’re not seeing a big mobilization in Ukraine right now, but our reporting on the ground there does show a grim and determined mood among the military. The soldiers on the border have made it clear that if it comes to it, they will be prepared to do what they can to make this as costly as possible for the other side.

michael barbaro

So I guess the question everyone has in this moment is why would Putin want to invade Ukraine right now and touch off what would no doubt be a major conflict, one in which, as you just said, Russia would have many advantages, but would nevertheless end up probably being a very deadly conflict?

anton troianovski

So obviously, we don’t yet know whether Putin has made the decision to invade. He’s clearly signaling he’s prepared to use military force. What we do know is that he has been extraordinarily fixated on the issue of Ukraine for years. But I think to really understand it, you have to look at three dates over the last 30 years that really show us why Ukraine matters so much to Putin.

michael barbaro

OK. So what’s the first date?

anton troianovski

The first one, 1991, almost exactly 30 years ago, the Soviet Union breaks up, and Ukraine becomes an independent country. For people of Putin’s generation, this was an incredibly shocking and even traumatic moment. Not only did they see and experience the collapse of an empire, of the country that they grew up in, that they worked in, that, in Putin’s case, the former K.G.B. officer that they served. But there was also a specific trauma of Ukraine breaking away. Ukraine, of all the former Soviet republics, was probably the one most valuable to Moscow.

It was a matter of history and identity with, in many ways, Russian statehood originating out of the medieval Kiev Rus civilization. There’s the matter of culture with so many Russian language writers like Gogol and Bulgakov coming from Ukraine. There was the matter of economics with Ukraine being an industrial and agricultural powerhouse during the Soviet Union, with many of the planes and missiles that the Soviets were most proud of coming from Ukraine.

michael barbaro

So there’s a sense that Ukraine is the cradle of Russian civilization, and to lose it is to lose a part of Russia itself.

anton troianovski

Yeah. And it’s a country of tens of millions of people that is also sandwiched between modern-day Russia and Western Europe. So the other issue is geopolitical, that Ukraine in that sort of Cold War security, East-versus-West mindset, Ukraine was a buffer between Moscow and the West. So 1991 was the year when that all fell apart.

And then by the time that Putin comes to power 10 years later, he’s already clearly thinking about how to reestablish Russian influence in that former Soviet space in Eastern Europe and in Ukraine in particular. We saw a lot of resources go in economically to try to bind Ukraine to Russia, whether it’s discounts on natural gas or other efforts by Russian companies, efforts to build ties to politicians and oligarchs in Ukraine. Really, a multipronged effort by Putin and the Kremlin to really gain as much influence as possible in that former Soviet space that they saw as being so key to Russia’s economic and security interests.

michael barbaro

Got it.

anton troianovski

And then fast forward to the second key date, 2014, which is the year it became clear that that strategy had failed.

archived recording

Now, to the growing unrest in Ukraine and the violent clashes between riot police and protesters.

michael barbaro

And why did that strategy fail in 2014?

anton troianovski

That was the year that Ukraine had its — what’s called its Maidan Revolution.

archived recording 1

The situation in Kiev has been very tense.

archived recording 2

Downtown Kiev has been turned into a charred battlefield following two straight nights of rioting.

anton troianovski

It’s a pro-Western revolution —

archived recording

They want nothing short of revolution, a new government and a new president.

anton troianovski

— that drove out a Russia-friendly president, that ushered in a pro-Western government, that made it its mission to reduce Ukraine’s ties with Russia and build its ties with the West.

archived recording

Ukrainians who want closer ties with the West are once again back in their thousands on Independence Square here in Kiev. They believe they —

michael barbaro

Hmm. And what was Putin’s response to that?

anton troianovski

Well, Putin didn’t even see it as a revolution. He saw it as a coup engineered by the C.I.A. and other Western intelligence agencies meant to drive Ukraine away from Russia. And —

archived recording

With stealth and mystery, Vladimir Putin made his move in Ukraine.

anton troianovski

— he used his military.

archived recording

At dawn, bands of armed men appeared at the two main airports in Crimea and seized control.

anton troianovski

He sent troops into Crimea, the Ukrainian Peninsula in the Black Sea that’s so dear to people across the former Soviet Union as kind of the warmest, most tropical place in a very cold part of the world.

archived recording

Tonight, Russian troops — hundreds, perhaps as many as 2,000, ferried in transport planes — have landed at the airports.

anton troianovski

He fomented a separatist war in Eastern Ukraine that by now has taken more than 10,000 lives and armed and backed pro-Russian separatists in that region. So that was the year 2014 when Russia’s earlier efforts to try to bind Ukraine to Moscow failed and when Russia started taking a much harder line.

michael barbaro

And this feels like a very pivotal moment because it shows Putin’s willingness to deploy the Russian military to strengthen the ties between Russia and Ukraine.

anton troianovski

Absolutely. Strengthened the ties or you can also say his efforts to enforce a Russian sphere of influence by military force. And it’s also the start of what we’ve been seeing ever since, which is Putin making it clear that he is willing to escalate, he is willing to raise the stakes and that he essentially cares more about the fate of Ukraine than the West does.

And that brings us to the third date I wanted to talk about, which is early this year, 2021, when we saw the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, really start taking a more aggressive anti-Russian and pro-Western tack. He cracked down on a pro-Russian oligarch and pro-Russian media. He continued with military exercises with American soldiers and with other Western forces.

He kept talking up the idea of Ukraine joining NATO. That’s the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Western military alliance. And in a sense, this is what Putin seems to fear the most, the idea of NATO becoming more entrenched in this region. So Putin made it clear that this was starting to cross what he describes as Russia’s red lines and that Russia was willing to take action to stop this.

michael barbaro

So to put this all together and understand why Putin is doing what he’s doing when it comes to Ukraine, we have as a backdrop here this fixation with Ukraine for historic, political, economic and cultural reasons. And what’s new and urgent here for Putin is his belief that Ukraine is on the verge of a major break with Russia and toward the West — in particular, a military alliance, NATO — and that he cannot tolerate. And so that brings us up to now and this very imminent and scary threat of a Russian invasion.

anton troianovski

That’s right, Michael. I spoke to a former advisor of Putin’s recently who described Ukraine as a trauma within a trauma for the Kremlin — so the trauma of the breakup of the Soviet Union plus the trauma of losing Ukraine specifically for all those reasons you mentioned. And the thing is it’s true.

Russia is losing Ukraine. I think objectively, though, you have to say it’s losing Ukraine in large part because of Putin’s policies, because of the aggressive actions he’s taken. And if you look at the polls before 2014, something like 12 percent of Ukrainians wanted to join NATO. Now, it’s more than half.

michael barbaro

Wow.

anton troianovski

So you put all that together, Ukraine is indeed drifting toward the West. It does seem like Putin feels like he’s running out of time to stop this and that he’s willing to escalate, he’s willing to raise the stakes, to keep Ukraine out of the West. And what we’re seeing right now on the border is all that playing out.

[music]
michael barbaro

We’ll be right back.

So Anton, the question right now is will President Putin actually carry out an invasion of Ukraine? And how should we be thinking about that?

anton troianovski

Well, it’s quite perilous, of course, to try to get inside Putin’s head, but here’s the case for invading now. Number one: NATO and the United States have made it clear that they are not going to come to Ukraine’s defense, because Ukraine is not a member of the NATO alliance, and NATO’s mutual defense pact only extends to full-fledged members. And of course, I think, politically, Putin believes that neither in the U.S., nor in Western Europe, is there the will to see soldiers from those countries die fighting for Ukraine.

michael barbaro

Right. And President Biden has just very publicly pulled the United States out of the war in Afghanistan and more or less communicated that unless American national security interests are at play, he will not be dispatching troops anywhere.

anton troianovski

Exactly. So Putin saw that, and he sees that potentially things could change. If the West does have more of a military presence in Ukraine in the future, let alone if Ukraine were to become a member of NATO at some point — it’s not going to happen in the next few years, but perhaps at some point — then attacking Ukraine becomes a much more costly proposition. So it’s a matter of war now could be less costly to Russia than war later.

michael barbaro

Right. The geopolitics of this moment may work in favor of him doing it in a way that it might not in a year or two or three.

anton troianovski

Absolutely. And then there’s a couple of other reasons. There’s the fact that if we look at everything Putin has said and written over the last year, he really seems convinced that the West is pulling Ukraine away from Russia against the will of much of the Ukrainian people. Polling doesn’t really bear that out, but Putin really seems to be convinced of that. And so it seems like he may also be thinking that Ukrainians would welcome Russian forces as liberators from some kind of Western occupation.

And then third, there’s the economy. The West has already threatened severe sanctions against Russia were it to go ahead with military action, but Russia has been essentially sanctions-proofing its economy since at least 2014, which is when it took control of Crimea and was hit by all these sanctions from the U.S. and from the E.U. So Russia’s economy is still tied to the West.

It imports a lot of stuff from the West. But in many key areas, whether it’s technology or energy extraction or agriculture, Russia is becoming more self-sufficient. And it is building ties to other parts of the world — like China, India, et cetera — that could allow it to diversify and have basically an economic base even if an invasion leads to a major crisis in its financial and economic relationship with the West.

michael barbaro

Right. So this is the argument that Putin can live with the costs of the world reacting very negatively to this invasion?

anton troianovski

Exactly.

michael barbaro

OK. And what are the reasons why an invasion of Ukraine might not happen? What would be the case against it, if you were Vladimir Putin?

anton troianovski

Well, I mean, I have to say, talking to analysts, especially here in Russia, people are very skeptical that Putin would go ahead with an invasion. They point out that he is a careful tactician and that he doesn’t like making moves that are irreversible or that could have unpredictable consequences.

So if we even look at the military action he’s taken recently, the annexation of Crimea, there wasn’t a single shot fired in that. That was a very quick special-forces-type operation. What we’re talking about here, an invasion of Ukraine, would be just a massive escalation from anything Putin has done so far. We are talking about the biggest land war in Europe since World War II, most likely. And it would have all kinds of unpredictable consequences.

There’s also the domestic situation to keep in mind. Putin does still have approval ratings above 60 percent, but things are a bit shaky here, especially with Covid. And some analysts say that Putin wouldn’t want to usher in the kind of domestic unpredictability that could start with a major war with young men coming back in body bags.

And then finally, looking at Putin’s strategy and everything that he’s said, for all we know, he doesn’t really want to annex Ukraine. He wants influence over Ukraine. And the way he thinks he can do that is through negotiations with the United States.

And that’s where the last key point here comes in, which is Putin’s real conviction that it’s the U.S. pulling the strings here and that he can accomplish his goals by getting President Biden to sit down with him and hammering out a deal about the structure of security in Eastern Europe.

So in that sense, this whole troop build-up might not be about an impending invasion at all. It might just be about coercive diplomacy, getting the U.S. to the table, and getting them to hammer out an agreement that would somehow pledge to keep Ukraine out of NATO and pledge to keep Western military infrastructure out of Ukraine and parts of the Black Sea.

michael barbaro

Well in that sense, Anton, Putin may be getting what he wants, right? Because as we speak, President Putin and President Biden have just wrapped up a very closely watched phone call about all of this. So is it possible that that call produces a breakthrough and perhaps a breakthrough that goes Putin’s way?

anton troianovski

Well, that’s very hard to imagine. And that’s really what makes this situation so volatile and so dangerous, which is that what Putin wants, the West and President Biden can’t really give.

michael barbaro

Why not?

anton troianovski

Well, for instance, pledging to keep Ukraine out of NATO would violate the Western concept that every country should have the right to decide for itself what its alliances are. President Biden obviously has spent years, going back to when he was vice president, really speaking in favor of Ukrainian sovereignty and self-determination and trying to help Ukraine take a more Western path. So Biden suddenly turning on all of that and giving Putin what he wants here is hard to imagine.

michael barbaro

Right, because that would create a very slippery slope when it comes to any country that Russia wants to have influence over. It would then know that the right playbook would be to mass troops on the border and wait for negotiation with the U.S. and hope that the U.S. would basically sell those countries out. That’s probably not something you’re saying that President Biden would willingly do.

anton troianovski

Right. And then, of course, the other question is, well, if Russia doesn’t get what it wants, if Putin doesn’t get what he wants, then what does he do?

michael barbaro

So Anton, it’s tempting to think that this could all be what you just described as a coercive diplomatic bluff by Putin to extract what he wants from President Biden and from the West. But it feels like history has taught us that Putin is willing to invade Ukraine. He did it in 2014.

History has also taught us that he’s obsessed with Ukraine, dating back to 1991 and the end of the Soviet Union. And it feels like one of the ultimate lessons of history is that we have to judge leaders based on their actions. And his actions right now are putting 175,000 troops near the border with Ukraine. And so shouldn’t we conclude that it very much looks like Putin might carry out this invasion?

anton troianovski

Yes, that’s right. And of course, there are steps that Putin could take that would be short of a full-fledged invasion that could still be really destabilizing and damaging. Here in Moscow, I’ve heard analysts speculate about maybe pinpoint airstrikes against the Ukrainian targets, or a limited invasion perhaps just specifically in that area where Russian-backed separatists are fighting.

But even such steps could have really grave consequences. And that’s why if you combine what we’re seeing on the ground in Russia, near the border, and what we’ve been hearing from President Putin and other officials here in Moscow, that all tells us that the stakes here are really high.

michael barbaro

Well, Anton, thank you very much. We appreciate your time.

anton troianovski

Thanks for having me.

michael barbaro

On Tuesday afternoon, both the White House and the Kremlin released details about the call between Putin and Biden. The White House said that Biden warned Putin of severe economic sanctions if Russia invaded Ukraine. The Kremlin said that Putin repeated his demands that Ukraine not be allowed to join NATO and that Western weapons systems not be placed inside Ukraine. But Putin made no promises to remove Russian forces from the border.

[music]

We’ll be right back.

Here’s what else you need to know today. On Tuesday night, top Democrats and Republicans said they had reached a deal to raise the country’s debt ceiling and avert the U.S. defaulting on its debt for the first time. The deal relies on a complicated one-time legislative maneuver that allows Democrats in the Senate to raise the debt ceiling without support from Republicans, since Republicans oppose raising the debt ceiling under President Biden. Without congressional action, the Treasury Department says it can no longer pay its bills after December 15.

Today’s episode was produced by Eric Krupke, Rachelle Bonja and Luke Vander Ploeg. It was edited by Michael Benoist, contains original music by Dan Powell and Marion Lozano, and was engineered by Chris Wood. Our theme music is by Jim Brunberg and Ben Landsverk of Wonderly.

That’s it for The Daily. I’m Michael Barbaro. See you tomorrow.

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Ukraine Live Updates: Russia Holds Large Military Drills Amid No Sign of Diplomatic Progress

michael barbaro

From The New York Times, I’m Michael Barbaro. This is The Daily.

[music]

Today: Russia is making preparations for what many fear may be a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, prompting warnings from the U.S. of serious consequences if it does. I spoke to my colleague, Moscow bureau chief Anton Troianovski, about what Vladimir Putin wants from Ukraine and just how far he may go to get it.

It’s Wednesday, December 8.

Anton, describe the scene right now on the border between Ukraine and Russia. What does it look like? What exactly is happening there?

anton troianovski

Well, what you’re seeing on the Russian side of the border within 100 to 200 miles away is that thousands of Russian troops are on the move.

archived recording 1

A top military official says intelligence shows nearly 100,000 Russian troops —

archived recording 2

Russian troops have massed on the border of Ukraine.

archived recording 3

— troops on the border with Ukraine. And that’s prompted fears of an invasion early next year.

anton troianovski

We’re seeing a lot of social media footage of tanks and other military equipment on the move, on trains, in some cases, heading west toward the Ukraine border area from as far away as Siberia.

archived recording

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have been building for some time in the wake of —

anton troianovski

These satellite images that we’re seeing show deployment areas around Ukraine that were empty as recently as June that are now full of military equipment-like tanks and armored personnel carriers.

archived recording

The U.S. called it unusual activity.

anton troianovski

And obviously, Russia moves its forces all the time. It does big military exercises, snap military exercises all the time, but what we’re being told is that these military movements are very unusual. Some of them are happening at night and, in other ways, seemingly designed to obfuscate where various units are going. And experts are saying we’re also seeing things like logistics and medical equipment being moved around, stuff that you really would see if there were real preparations being made for large-scale military action.

michael barbaro

So what’s happening in Russia is not just the movement of the troops that would perhaps carry out an invasion, but the kind of military personnel and equipment that would be required to deal with the repercussions of something like invading Ukraine?

anton troianovski

Yes. So American intelligence officials are seeing intelligence that shows Russia preparing for a military offensive involving an estimated 175,000 troops —

michael barbaro

Wow.

anton troianovski

— as soon as early next year.

michael barbaro

And Anton, is Ukraine preparing for what certainly looks, from what you just described, as a potential invasion?

anton troianovski

They’re in a really tough spot because no matter how much they prepare, their military would be utterly outgunned and outmatched. Ukraine doesn’t have the missile defense and air defense systems that could prevent a huge shock-and-awe campaign at the beginning of Russian military action.

They also don’t know, if and when an attack comes, which direction it might come from, because Russia could attack from any of three directions. So we’re not seeing a big mobilization in Ukraine right now, but our reporting on the ground there does show a grim and determined mood among the military. The soldiers on the border have made it clear that if it comes to it, they will be prepared to do what they can to make this as costly as possible for the other side.

michael barbaro

So I guess the question everyone has in this moment is why would Putin want to invade Ukraine right now and touch off what would no doubt be a major conflict, one in which, as you just said, Russia would have many advantages, but would nevertheless end up probably being a very deadly conflict?

anton troianovski

So obviously, we don’t yet know whether Putin has made the decision to invade. He’s clearly signaling he’s prepared to use military force. What we do know is that he has been extraordinarily fixated on the issue of Ukraine for years. But I think to really understand it, you have to look at three dates over the last 30 years that really show us why Ukraine matters so much to Putin.

michael barbaro

OK. So what’s the first date?

anton troianovski

The first one, 1991, almost exactly 30 years ago, the Soviet Union breaks up, and Ukraine becomes an independent country. For people of Putin’s generation, this was an incredibly shocking and even traumatic moment. Not only did they see and experience the collapse of an empire, of the country that they grew up in, that they worked in, that, in Putin’s case, the former K.G.B. officer that they served. But there was also a specific trauma of Ukraine breaking away. Ukraine, of all the former Soviet republics, was probably the one most valuable to Moscow.

It was a matter of history and identity with, in many ways, Russian statehood originating out of the medieval Kiev Rus civilization. There’s the matter of culture with so many Russian language writers like Gogol and Bulgakov coming from Ukraine. There was the matter of economics with Ukraine being an industrial and agricultural powerhouse during the Soviet Union, with many of the planes and missiles that the Soviets were most proud of coming from Ukraine.

michael barbaro

So there’s a sense that Ukraine is the cradle of Russian civilization, and to lose it is to lose a part of Russia itself.

anton troianovski

Yeah. And it’s a country of tens of millions of people that is also sandwiched between modern-day Russia and Western Europe. So the other issue is geopolitical, that Ukraine in that sort of Cold War security, East-versus-West mindset, Ukraine was a buffer between Moscow and the West. So 1991 was the year when that all fell apart.

And then by the time that Putin comes to power 10 years later, he’s already clearly thinking about how to reestablish Russian influence in that former Soviet space in Eastern Europe and in Ukraine in particular. We saw a lot of resources go in economically to try to bind Ukraine to Russia, whether it’s discounts on natural gas or other efforts by Russian companies, efforts to build ties to politicians and oligarchs in Ukraine. Really, a multipronged effort by Putin and the Kremlin to really gain as much influence as possible in that former Soviet space that they saw as being so key to Russia’s economic and security interests.

michael barbaro

Got it.

anton troianovski

And then fast forward to the second key date, 2014, which is the year it became clear that that strategy had failed.

archived recording

Now, to the growing unrest in Ukraine and the violent clashes between riot police and protesters.

michael barbaro

And why did that strategy fail in 2014?

anton troianovski

That was the year that Ukraine had its — what’s called its Maidan Revolution.

archived recording 1

The situation in Kiev has been very tense.

archived recording 2

Downtown Kiev has been turned into a charred battlefield following two straight nights of rioting.

anton troianovski

It’s a pro-Western revolution —

archived recording

They want nothing short of revolution, a new government and a new president.

anton troianovski

— that drove out a Russia-friendly president, that ushered in a pro-Western government, that made it its mission to reduce Ukraine’s ties with Russia and build its ties with the West.

archived recording

Ukrainians who want closer ties with the West are once again back in their thousands on Independence Square here in Kiev. They believe they —

michael barbaro

Hmm. And what was Putin’s response to that?

anton troianovski

Well, Putin didn’t even see it as a revolution. He saw it as a coup engineered by the C.I.A. and other Western intelligence agencies meant to drive Ukraine away from Russia. And —

archived recording

With stealth and mystery, Vladimir Putin made his move in Ukraine.

anton troianovski

— he used his military.

archived recording

At dawn, bands of armed men appeared at the two main airports in Crimea and seized control.

anton troianovski

He sent troops into Crimea, the Ukrainian Peninsula in the Black Sea that’s so dear to people across the former Soviet Union as kind of the warmest, most tropical place in a very cold part of the world.

archived recording

Tonight, Russian troops — hundreds, perhaps as many as 2,000, ferried in transport planes — have landed at the airports.

anton troianovski

He fomented a separatist war in Eastern Ukraine that by now has taken more than 10,000 lives and armed and backed pro-Russian separatists in that region. So that was the year 2014 when Russia’s earlier efforts to try to bind Ukraine to Moscow failed and when Russia started taking a much harder line.

michael barbaro

And this feels like a very pivotal moment because it shows Putin’s willingness to deploy the Russian military to strengthen the ties between Russia and Ukraine.

anton troianovski

Absolutely. Strengthened the ties or you can also say his efforts to enforce a Russian sphere of influence by military force. And it’s also the start of what we’ve been seeing ever since, which is Putin making it clear that he is willing to escalate, he is willing to raise the stakes and that he essentially cares more about the fate of Ukraine than the West does.

And that brings us to the third date I wanted to talk about, which is early this year, 2021, when we saw the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, really start taking a more aggressive anti-Russian and pro-Western tack. He cracked down on a pro-Russian oligarch and pro-Russian media. He continued with military exercises with American soldiers and with other Western forces.

He kept talking up the idea of Ukraine joining NATO. That’s the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Western military alliance. And in a sense, this is what Putin seems to fear the most, the idea of NATO becoming more entrenched in this region. So Putin made it clear that this was starting to cross what he describes as Russia’s red lines and that Russia was willing to take action to stop this.

michael barbaro

So to put this all together and understand why Putin is doing what he’s doing when it comes to Ukraine, we have as a backdrop here this fixation with Ukraine for historic, political, economic and cultural reasons. And what’s new and urgent here for Putin is his belief that Ukraine is on the verge of a major break with Russia and toward the West — in particular, a military alliance, NATO — and that he cannot tolerate. And so that brings us up to now and this very imminent and scary threat of a Russian invasion.

anton troianovski

That’s right, Michael. I spoke to a former advisor of Putin’s recently who described Ukraine as a trauma within a trauma for the Kremlin — so the trauma of the breakup of the Soviet Union plus the trauma of losing Ukraine specifically for all those reasons you mentioned. And the thing is it’s true.

Russia is losing Ukraine. I think objectively, though, you have to say it’s losing Ukraine in large part because of Putin’s policies, because of the aggressive actions he’s taken. And if you look at the polls before 2014, something like 12 percent of Ukrainians wanted to join NATO. Now, it’s more than half.

michael barbaro

Wow.

anton troianovski

So you put all that together, Ukraine is indeed drifting toward the West. It does seem like Putin feels like he’s running out of time to stop this and that he’s willing to escalate, he’s willing to raise the stakes, to keep Ukraine out of the West. And what we’re seeing right now on the border is all that playing out.

[music]
michael barbaro

We’ll be right back.

So Anton, the question right now is will President Putin actually carry out an invasion of Ukraine? And how should we be thinking about that?

anton troianovski

Well, it’s quite perilous, of course, to try to get inside Putin’s head, but here’s the case for invading now. Number one: NATO and the United States have made it clear that they are not going to come to Ukraine’s defense, because Ukraine is not a member of the NATO alliance, and NATO’s mutual defense pact only extends to full-fledged members. And of course, I think, politically, Putin believes that neither in the U.S., nor in Western Europe, is there the will to see soldiers from those countries die fighting for Ukraine.

michael barbaro

Right. And President Biden has just very publicly pulled the United States out of the war in Afghanistan and more or less communicated that unless American national security interests are at play, he will not be dispatching troops anywhere.

anton troianovski

Exactly. So Putin saw that, and he sees that potentially things could change. If the West does have more of a military presence in Ukraine in the future, let alone if Ukraine were to become a member of NATO at some point — it’s not going to happen in the next few years, but perhaps at some point — then attacking Ukraine becomes a much more costly proposition. So it’s a matter of war now could be less costly to Russia than war later.

michael barbaro

Right. The geopolitics of this moment may work in favor of him doing it in a way that it might not in a year or two or three.

anton troianovski

Absolutely. And then there’s a couple of other reasons. There’s the fact that if we look at everything Putin has said and written over the last year, he really seems convinced that the West is pulling Ukraine away from Russia against the will of much of the Ukrainian people. Polling doesn’t really bear that out, but Putin really seems to be convinced of that. And so it seems like he may also be thinking that Ukrainians would welcome Russian forces as liberators from some kind of Western occupation.

And then third, there’s the economy. The West has already threatened severe sanctions against Russia were it to go ahead with military action, but Russia has been essentially sanctions-proofing its economy since at least 2014, which is when it took control of Crimea and was hit by all these sanctions from the U.S. and from the E.U. So Russia’s economy is still tied to the West.

It imports a lot of stuff from the West. But in many key areas, whether it’s technology or energy extraction or agriculture, Russia is becoming more self-sufficient. And it is building ties to other parts of the world — like China, India, et cetera — that could allow it to diversify and have basically an economic base even if an invasion leads to a major crisis in its financial and economic relationship with the West.

michael barbaro

Right. So this is the argument that Putin can live with the costs of the world reacting very negatively to this invasion?

anton troianovski

Exactly.

michael barbaro

OK. And what are the reasons why an invasion of Ukraine might not happen? What would be the case against it, if you were Vladimir Putin?

anton troianovski

Well, I mean, I have to say, talking to analysts, especially here in Russia, people are very skeptical that Putin would go ahead with an invasion. They point out that he is a careful tactician and that he doesn’t like making moves that are irreversible or that could have unpredictable consequences.

So if we even look at the military action he’s taken recently, the annexation of Crimea, there wasn’t a single shot fired in that. That was a very quick special-forces-type operation. What we’re talking about here, an invasion of Ukraine, would be just a massive escalation from anything Putin has done so far. We are talking about the biggest land war in Europe since World War II, most likely. And it would have all kinds of unpredictable consequences.

There’s also the domestic situation to keep in mind. Putin does still have approval ratings above 60 percent, but things are a bit shaky here, especially with Covid. And some analysts say that Putin wouldn’t want to usher in the kind of domestic unpredictability that could start with a major war with young men coming back in body bags.

And then finally, looking at Putin’s strategy and everything that he’s said, for all we know, he doesn’t really want to annex Ukraine. He wants influence over Ukraine. And the way he thinks he can do that is through negotiations with the United States.

And that’s where the last key point here comes in, which is Putin’s real conviction that it’s the U.S. pulling the strings here and that he can accomplish his goals by getting President Biden to sit down with him and hammering out a deal about the structure of security in Eastern Europe.

So in that sense, this whole troop build-up might not be about an impending invasion at all. It might just be about coercive diplomacy, getting the U.S. to the table, and getting them to hammer out an agreement that would somehow pledge to keep Ukraine out of NATO and pledge to keep Western military infrastructure out of Ukraine and parts of the Black Sea.

michael barbaro

Well in that sense, Anton, Putin may be getting what he wants, right? Because as we speak, President Putin and President Biden have just wrapped up a very closely watched phone call about all of this. So is it possible that that call produces a breakthrough and perhaps a breakthrough that goes Putin’s way?

anton troianovski

Well, that’s very hard to imagine. And that’s really what makes this situation so volatile and so dangerous, which is that what Putin wants, the West and President Biden can’t really give.

michael barbaro

Why not?

anton troianovski

Well, for instance, pledging to keep Ukraine out of NATO would violate the Western concept that every country should have the right to decide for itself what its alliances are. President Biden obviously has spent years, going back to when he was vice president, really speaking in favor of Ukrainian sovereignty and self-determination and trying to help Ukraine take a more Western path. So Biden suddenly turning on all of that and giving Putin what he wants here is hard to imagine.

michael barbaro

Right, because that would create a very slippery slope when it comes to any country that Russia wants to have influence over. It would then know that the right playbook would be to mass troops on the border and wait for negotiation with the U.S. and hope that the U.S. would basically sell those countries out. That’s probably not something you’re saying that President Biden would willingly do.

anton troianovski

Right. And then, of course, the other question is, well, if Russia doesn’t get what it wants, if Putin doesn’t get what he wants, then what does he do?

michael barbaro

So Anton, it’s tempting to think that this could all be what you just described as a coercive diplomatic bluff by Putin to extract what he wants from President Biden and from the West. But it feels like history has taught us that Putin is willing to invade Ukraine. He did it in 2014.

History has also taught us that he’s obsessed with Ukraine, dating back to 1991 and the end of the Soviet Union. And it feels like one of the ultimate lessons of history is that we have to judge leaders based on their actions. And his actions right now are putting 175,000 troops near the border with Ukraine. And so shouldn’t we conclude that it very much looks like Putin might carry out this invasion?

anton troianovski

Yes, that’s right. And of course, there are steps that Putin could take that would be short of a full-fledged invasion that could still be really destabilizing and damaging. Here in Moscow, I’ve heard analysts speculate about maybe pinpoint airstrikes against the Ukrainian targets, or a limited invasion perhaps just specifically in that area where Russian-backed separatists are fighting.

But even such steps could have really grave consequences. And that’s why if you combine what we’re seeing on the ground in Russia, near the border, and what we’ve been hearing from President Putin and other officials here in Moscow, that all tells us that the stakes here are really high.

michael barbaro

Well, Anton, thank you very much. We appreciate your time.

anton troianovski

Thanks for having me.

michael barbaro

On Tuesday afternoon, both the White House and the Kremlin released details about the call between Putin and Biden. The White House said that Biden warned Putin of severe economic sanctions if Russia invaded Ukraine. The Kremlin said that Putin repeated his demands that Ukraine not be allowed to join NATO and that Western weapons systems not be placed inside Ukraine. But Putin made no promises to remove Russian forces from the border.

[music]

We’ll be right back.

Here’s what else you need to know today. On Tuesday night, top Democrats and Republicans said they had reached a deal to raise the country’s debt ceiling and avert the U.S. defaulting on its debt for the first time. The deal relies on a complicated one-time legislative maneuver that allows Democrats in the Senate to raise the debt ceiling without support from Republicans, since Republicans oppose raising the debt ceiling under President Biden. Without congressional action, the Treasury Department says it can no longer pay its bills after December 15.

Today’s episode was produced by Eric Krupke, Rachelle Bonja and Luke Vander Ploeg. It was edited by Michael Benoist, contains original music by Dan Powell and Marion Lozano, and was engineered by Chris Wood. Our theme music is by Jim Brunberg and Ben Landsverk of Wonderly.

That’s it for The Daily. I’m Michael Barbaro. See you tomorrow.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Live Updates: Blinken and Lavrov Pledge to Keep Talking as Military Buildup Continues Around Ukraine

michael barbaro

From The New York Times, I’m Michael Barbaro. This is The Daily.

[music]

Today: Russia is making preparations for what many fear may be a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, prompting warnings from the U.S. of serious consequences if it does. I spoke to my colleague, Moscow bureau chief Anton Troianovski, about what Vladimir Putin wants from Ukraine and just how far he may go to get it.

It’s Wednesday, December 8.

Anton, describe the scene right now on the border between Ukraine and Russia. What does it look like? What exactly is happening there?

anton troianovski

Well, what you’re seeing on the Russian side of the border within 100 to 200 miles away is that thousands of Russian troops are on the move.

archived recording 1

A top military official says intelligence shows nearly 100,000 Russian troops —

archived recording 2

Russian troops have massed on the border of Ukraine.

archived recording 3

— troops on the border with Ukraine. And that’s prompted fears of an invasion early next year.

anton troianovski

We’re seeing a lot of social media footage of tanks and other military equipment on the move, on trains, in some cases, heading west toward the Ukraine border area from as far away as Siberia.

archived recording

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have been building for some time in the wake of —

anton troianovski

These satellite images that we’re seeing show deployment areas around Ukraine that were empty as recently as June that are now full of military equipment-like tanks and armored personnel carriers.

archived recording

The U.S. called it unusual activity.

anton troianovski

And obviously, Russia moves its forces all the time. It does big military exercises, snap military exercises all the time, but what we’re being told is that these military movements are very unusual. Some of them are happening at night and, in other ways, seemingly designed to obfuscate where various units are going. And experts are saying we’re also seeing things like logistics and medical equipment being moved around, stuff that you really would see if there were real preparations being made for large-scale military action.

michael barbaro

So what’s happening in Russia is not just the movement of the troops that would perhaps carry out an invasion, but the kind of military personnel and equipment that would be required to deal with the repercussions of something like invading Ukraine?

anton troianovski

Yes. So American intelligence officials are seeing intelligence that shows Russia preparing for a military offensive involving an estimated 175,000 troops —

michael barbaro

Wow.

anton troianovski

— as soon as early next year.

michael barbaro

And Anton, is Ukraine preparing for what certainly looks, from what you just described, as a potential invasion?

anton troianovski

They’re in a really tough spot because no matter how much they prepare, their military would be utterly outgunned and outmatched. Ukraine doesn’t have the missile defense and air defense systems that could prevent a huge shock-and-awe campaign at the beginning of Russian military action.

They also don’t know, if and when an attack comes, which direction it might come from, because Russia could attack from any of three directions. So we’re not seeing a big mobilization in Ukraine right now, but our reporting on the ground there does show a grim and determined mood among the military. The soldiers on the border have made it clear that if it comes to it, they will be prepared to do what they can to make this as costly as possible for the other side.

michael barbaro

So I guess the question everyone has in this moment is why would Putin want to invade Ukraine right now and touch off what would no doubt be a major conflict, one in which, as you just said, Russia would have many advantages, but would nevertheless end up probably being a very deadly conflict?

anton troianovski

So obviously, we don’t yet know whether Putin has made the decision to invade. He’s clearly signaling he’s prepared to use military force. What we do know is that he has been extraordinarily fixated on the issue of Ukraine for years. But I think to really understand it, you have to look at three dates over the last 30 years that really show us why Ukraine matters so much to Putin.

michael barbaro

OK. So what’s the first date?

anton troianovski

The first one, 1991, almost exactly 30 years ago, the Soviet Union breaks up, and Ukraine becomes an independent country. For people of Putin’s generation, this was an incredibly shocking and even traumatic moment. Not only did they see and experience the collapse of an empire, of the country that they grew up in, that they worked in, that, in Putin’s case, the former K.G.B. officer that they served. But there was also a specific trauma of Ukraine breaking away. Ukraine, of all the former Soviet republics, was probably the one most valuable to Moscow.

It was a matter of history and identity with, in many ways, Russian statehood originating out of the medieval Kiev Rus civilization. There’s the matter of culture with so many Russian language writers like Gogol and Bulgakov coming from Ukraine. There was the matter of economics with Ukraine being an industrial and agricultural powerhouse during the Soviet Union, with many of the planes and missiles that the Soviets were most proud of coming from Ukraine.

michael barbaro

So there’s a sense that Ukraine is the cradle of Russian civilization, and to lose it is to lose a part of Russia itself.

anton troianovski

Yeah. And it’s a country of tens of millions of people that is also sandwiched between modern-day Russia and Western Europe. So the other issue is geopolitical, that Ukraine in that sort of Cold War security, East-versus-West mindset, Ukraine was a buffer between Moscow and the West. So 1991 was the year when that all fell apart.

And then by the time that Putin comes to power 10 years later, he’s already clearly thinking about how to reestablish Russian influence in that former Soviet space in Eastern Europe and in Ukraine in particular. We saw a lot of resources go in economically to try to bind Ukraine to Russia, whether it’s discounts on natural gas or other efforts by Russian companies, efforts to build ties to politicians and oligarchs in Ukraine. Really, a multipronged effort by Putin and the Kremlin to really gain as much influence as possible in that former Soviet space that they saw as being so key to Russia’s economic and security interests.

michael barbaro

Got it.

anton troianovski

And then fast forward to the second key date, 2014, which is the year it became clear that that strategy had failed.

archived recording

Now, to the growing unrest in Ukraine and the violent clashes between riot police and protesters.

michael barbaro

And why did that strategy fail in 2014?

anton troianovski

That was the year that Ukraine had its — what’s called its Maidan Revolution.

archived recording 1

The situation in Kiev has been very tense.

archived recording 2

Downtown Kiev has been turned into a charred battlefield following two straight nights of rioting.

anton troianovski

It’s a pro-Western revolution —

archived recording

They want nothing short of revolution, a new government and a new president.

anton troianovski

— that drove out a Russia-friendly president, that ushered in a pro-Western government, that made it its mission to reduce Ukraine’s ties with Russia and build its ties with the West.

archived recording

Ukrainians who want closer ties with the West are once again back in their thousands on Independence Square here in Kiev. They believe they —

michael barbaro

Hmm. And what was Putin’s response to that?

anton troianovski

Well, Putin didn’t even see it as a revolution. He saw it as a coup engineered by the C.I.A. and other Western intelligence agencies meant to drive Ukraine away from Russia. And —

archived recording

With stealth and mystery, Vladimir Putin made his move in Ukraine.

anton troianovski

— he used his military.

archived recording

At dawn, bands of armed men appeared at the two main airports in Crimea and seized control.

anton troianovski

He sent troops into Crimea, the Ukrainian Peninsula in the Black Sea that’s so dear to people across the former Soviet Union as kind of the warmest, most tropical place in a very cold part of the world.

archived recording

Tonight, Russian troops — hundreds, perhaps as many as 2,000, ferried in transport planes — have landed at the airports.

anton troianovski

He fomented a separatist war in Eastern Ukraine that by now has taken more than 10,000 lives and armed and backed pro-Russian separatists in that region. So that was the year 2014 when Russia’s earlier efforts to try to bind Ukraine to Moscow failed and when Russia started taking a much harder line.

michael barbaro

And this feels like a very pivotal moment because it shows Putin’s willingness to deploy the Russian military to strengthen the ties between Russia and Ukraine.

anton troianovski

Absolutely. Strengthened the ties or you can also say his efforts to enforce a Russian sphere of influence by military force. And it’s also the start of what we’ve been seeing ever since, which is Putin making it clear that he is willing to escalate, he is willing to raise the stakes and that he essentially cares more about the fate of Ukraine than the West does.

And that brings us to the third date I wanted to talk about, which is early this year, 2021, when we saw the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, really start taking a more aggressive anti-Russian and pro-Western tack. He cracked down on a pro-Russian oligarch and pro-Russian media. He continued with military exercises with American soldiers and with other Western forces.

He kept talking up the idea of Ukraine joining NATO. That’s the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Western military alliance. And in a sense, this is what Putin seems to fear the most, the idea of NATO becoming more entrenched in this region. So Putin made it clear that this was starting to cross what he describes as Russia’s red lines and that Russia was willing to take action to stop this.

michael barbaro

So to put this all together and understand why Putin is doing what he’s doing when it comes to Ukraine, we have as a backdrop here this fixation with Ukraine for historic, political, economic and cultural reasons. And what’s new and urgent here for Putin is his belief that Ukraine is on the verge of a major break with Russia and toward the West — in particular, a military alliance, NATO — and that he cannot tolerate. And so that brings us up to now and this very imminent and scary threat of a Russian invasion.

anton troianovski

That’s right, Michael. I spoke to a former advisor of Putin’s recently who described Ukraine as a trauma within a trauma for the Kremlin — so the trauma of the breakup of the Soviet Union plus the trauma of losing Ukraine specifically for all those reasons you mentioned. And the thing is it’s true.

Russia is losing Ukraine. I think objectively, though, you have to say it’s losing Ukraine in large part because of Putin’s policies, because of the aggressive actions he’s taken. And if you look at the polls before 2014, something like 12 percent of Ukrainians wanted to join NATO. Now, it’s more than half.

michael barbaro

Wow.

anton troianovski

So you put all that together, Ukraine is indeed drifting toward the West. It does seem like Putin feels like he’s running out of time to stop this and that he’s willing to escalate, he’s willing to raise the stakes, to keep Ukraine out of the West. And what we’re seeing right now on the border is all that playing out.

[music]
michael barbaro

We’ll be right back.

So Anton, the question right now is will President Putin actually carry out an invasion of Ukraine? And how should we be thinking about that?

anton troianovski

Well, it’s quite perilous, of course, to try to get inside Putin’s head, but here’s the case for invading now. Number one: NATO and the United States have made it clear that they are not going to come to Ukraine’s defense, because Ukraine is not a member of the NATO alliance, and NATO’s mutual defense pact only extends to full-fledged members. And of course, I think, politically, Putin believes that neither in the U.S., nor in Western Europe, is there the will to see soldiers from those countries die fighting for Ukraine.

michael barbaro

Right. And President Biden has just very publicly pulled the United States out of the war in Afghanistan and more or less communicated that unless American national security interests are at play, he will not be dispatching troops anywhere.

anton troianovski

Exactly. So Putin saw that, and he sees that potentially things could change. If the West does have more of a military presence in Ukraine in the future, let alone if Ukraine were to become a member of NATO at some point — it’s not going to happen in the next few years, but perhaps at some point — then attacking Ukraine becomes a much more costly proposition. So it’s a matter of war now could be less costly to Russia than war later.

michael barbaro

Right. The geopolitics of this moment may work in favor of him doing it in a way that it might not in a year or two or three.

anton troianovski

Absolutely. And then there’s a couple of other reasons. There’s the fact that if we look at everything Putin has said and written over the last year, he really seems convinced that the West is pulling Ukraine away from Russia against the will of much of the Ukrainian people. Polling doesn’t really bear that out, but Putin really seems to be convinced of that. And so it seems like he may also be thinking that Ukrainians would welcome Russian forces as liberators from some kind of Western occupation.

And then third, there’s the economy. The West has already threatened severe sanctions against Russia were it to go ahead with military action, but Russia has been essentially sanctions-proofing its economy since at least 2014, which is when it took control of Crimea and was hit by all these sanctions from the U.S. and from the E.U. So Russia’s economy is still tied to the West.

It imports a lot of stuff from the West. But in many key areas, whether it’s technology or energy extraction or agriculture, Russia is becoming more self-sufficient. And it is building ties to other parts of the world — like China, India, et cetera — that could allow it to diversify and have basically an economic base even if an invasion leads to a major crisis in its financial and economic relationship with the West.

michael barbaro

Right. So this is the argument that Putin can live with the costs of the world reacting very negatively to this invasion?

anton troianovski

Exactly.

michael barbaro

OK. And what are the reasons why an invasion of Ukraine might not happen? What would be the case against it, if you were Vladimir Putin?

anton troianovski

Well, I mean, I have to say, talking to analysts, especially here in Russia, people are very skeptical that Putin would go ahead with an invasion. They point out that he is a careful tactician and that he doesn’t like making moves that are irreversible or that could have unpredictable consequences.

So if we even look at the military action he’s taken recently, the annexation of Crimea, there wasn’t a single shot fired in that. That was a very quick special-forces-type operation. What we’re talking about here, an invasion of Ukraine, would be just a massive escalation from anything Putin has done so far. We are talking about the biggest land war in Europe since World War II, most likely. And it would have all kinds of unpredictable consequences.

There’s also the domestic situation to keep in mind. Putin does still have approval ratings above 60 percent, but things are a bit shaky here, especially with Covid. And some analysts say that Putin wouldn’t want to usher in the kind of domestic unpredictability that could start with a major war with young men coming back in body bags.

And then finally, looking at Putin’s strategy and everything that he’s said, for all we know, he doesn’t really want to annex Ukraine. He wants influence over Ukraine. And the way he thinks he can do that is through negotiations with the United States.

And that’s where the last key point here comes in, which is Putin’s real conviction that it’s the U.S. pulling the strings here and that he can accomplish his goals by getting President Biden to sit down with him and hammering out a deal about the structure of security in Eastern Europe.

So in that sense, this whole troop build-up might not be about an impending invasion at all. It might just be about coercive diplomacy, getting the U.S. to the table, and getting them to hammer out an agreement that would somehow pledge to keep Ukraine out of NATO and pledge to keep Western military infrastructure out of Ukraine and parts of the Black Sea.

michael barbaro

Well in that sense, Anton, Putin may be getting what he wants, right? Because as we speak, President Putin and President Biden have just wrapped up a very closely watched phone call about all of this. So is it possible that that call produces a breakthrough and perhaps a breakthrough that goes Putin’s way?

anton troianovski

Well, that’s very hard to imagine. And that’s really what makes this situation so volatile and so dangerous, which is that what Putin wants, the West and President Biden can’t really give.

michael barbaro

Why not?

anton troianovski

Well, for instance, pledging to keep Ukraine out of NATO would violate the Western concept that every country should have the right to decide for itself what its alliances are. President Biden obviously has spent years, going back to when he was vice president, really speaking in favor of Ukrainian sovereignty and self-determination and trying to help Ukraine take a more Western path. So Biden suddenly turning on all of that and giving Putin what he wants here is hard to imagine.

michael barbaro

Right, because that would create a very slippery slope when it comes to any country that Russia wants to have influence over. It would then know that the right playbook would be to mass troops on the border and wait for negotiation with the U.S. and hope that the U.S. would basically sell those countries out. That’s probably not something you’re saying that President Biden would willingly do.

anton troianovski

Right. And then, of course, the other question is, well, if Russia doesn’t get what it wants, if Putin doesn’t get what he wants, then what does he do?

michael barbaro

So Anton, it’s tempting to think that this could all be what you just described as a coercive diplomatic bluff by Putin to extract what he wants from President Biden and from the West. But it feels like history has taught us that Putin is willing to invade Ukraine. He did it in 2014.

History has also taught us that he’s obsessed with Ukraine, dating back to 1991 and the end of the Soviet Union. And it feels like one of the ultimate lessons of history is that we have to judge leaders based on their actions. And his actions right now are putting 175,000 troops near the border with Ukraine. And so shouldn’t we conclude that it very much looks like Putin might carry out this invasion?

anton troianovski

Yes, that’s right. And of course, there are steps that Putin could take that would be short of a full-fledged invasion that could still be really destabilizing and damaging. Here in Moscow, I’ve heard analysts speculate about maybe pinpoint airstrikes against the Ukrainian targets, or a limited invasion perhaps just specifically in that area where Russian-backed separatists are fighting.

But even such steps could have really grave consequences. And that’s why if you combine what we’re seeing on the ground in Russia, near the border, and what we’ve been hearing from President Putin and other officials here in Moscow, that all tells us that the stakes here are really high.

michael barbaro

Well, Anton, thank you very much. We appreciate your time.

anton troianovski

Thanks for having me.

michael barbaro

On Tuesday afternoon, both the White House and the Kremlin released details about the call between Putin and Biden. The White House said that Biden warned Putin of severe economic sanctions if Russia invaded Ukraine. The Kremlin said that Putin repeated his demands that Ukraine not be allowed to join NATO and that Western weapons systems not be placed inside Ukraine. But Putin made no promises to remove Russian forces from the border.

[music]

We’ll be right back.

Here’s what else you need to know today. On Tuesday night, top Democrats and Republicans said they had reached a deal to raise the country’s debt ceiling and avert the U.S. defaulting on its debt for the first time. The deal relies on a complicated one-time legislative maneuver that allows Democrats in the Senate to raise the debt ceiling without support from Republicans, since Republicans oppose raising the debt ceiling under President Biden. Without congressional action, the Treasury Department says it can no longer pay its bills after December 15.

Today’s episode was produced by Eric Krupke, Rachelle Bonja and Luke Vander Ploeg. It was edited by Michael Benoist, contains original music by Dan Powell and Marion Lozano, and was engineered by Chris Wood. Our theme music is by Jim Brunberg and Ben Landsverk of Wonderly.

That’s it for The Daily. I’m Michael Barbaro. See you tomorrow.

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Silvio Berlusconi Angles for Italy’s Presidency, Bunga Bunga and All

ROME — Early this month, Silvio Berlusconi sat at a dining room table in his mansion with his girlfriend, more than a half-century younger, and an old political ally. As they feasted on a pumpkin souffle and truffle tagliatelle, the 85-year-old Italian former prime minister and billionaire made hours of phone calls, working his way down a list of disaffected lawmakers he hoped to persuade to elect him president of Italy next week.

“‘We are forming the Bunga Bunga party and we want you with us,’” Christian Romaniello, a lawmaker formerly with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, recounted Mr. Berlusconi as saying, referring to the sex-fueled bacchanals that Mr. Berlusconi has deemed merely “elegant dinners.” According to Mr. Romaniello, Mr. Berlusconi then added, “‘But I’ll bring the ladies.’”

The Italian presidency, the country’s head of state, is a seven-year position usually filled by a figure of unimpeachable integrity and sobriety whose influence flows from moral authority. The current holder, Sergio Mattarella, is a quiet statesman whose brother was murdered by the mob. Another contender is Mario Draghi, the prime minister and a titan of European politics who has led the country to a period of unusual stability.

Then there is Mr. Berlusconi, who despite his recent bad health, waxen appearance and weakened political standing, is making an unabashed push to win a career-culminating position that he hopes will wash away decades of stains — his allies say unjustly thrown mud — and rewrite his legacy.

mob links and bribing lawmakers; the tax fraud conviction; the ban from office; the sentence to perform community service in a nursing home; his use of his media empire for political gain; his use of the government to protect his media empire; the wiretapped conversations of his libertine party guests regaling the Caligulan extent of his bunga bunga debaucheries; his close relationship with the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, who gifted Mr. Berlusconi a large bed; his appraisal of Barack Obama as “young, handsome and sun tanned”; his comparing a German lawmaker to a concentration camp guard; his second wife’s divorcing him for apparently dating an 18-year-old.

It’s an unorthodox résumé.

Mr. Berlusconi’s conflicts of interest, judicial problems and past behavior made him less than an excellent candidate, said Emma Bonino, a veteran Italian politician and civil rights activist who once ran for the office herself. “I don’t think he would give a good image of our country in the world,” she said.

Mr. Berlusconi declined to comment for this article. But he and his team of longtime advisers are selling him as a moderate, pro-European champion of democracy and can-do capitalism. “I think Silvio Berlusconi can be useful to the country,” Mr. Berlusconi, speaking of himself in the third person, said in October.

In usual fashion, he is using all the levers at his disposal to reach the requisite majority of 505 votes in the secret balloting for the presidency among lawmakers that starts on Monday.

read the headline) and published an insert on his qualities (“hero of liberty”). Weeks ago, lawmakers opening their mailboxes found a photograph of Mr. Berlusconi, arms up and bathing in adoration, on the cover of an anthology of his speeches.

the great-grandfather has remained the father figure of the center-right, which now has — if united — the largest bloc of lawmaker electors in Parliament and a strong desire to choose the next president.

But Mr. Berlusconi’s insistence has caused a major headache for Matteo Salvini, the leader of the nationalist League party, both at work and at home. Mr. Salvini’s girlfriend is the daughter of Denis Verdini, one of Mr. Berlusconi’s closest advisers, who is publicly applying pressure — from house arrest after his conviction in a bankruptcy fraud case — to elect Mr. Berlusconi.

After years of promising Mr. Berlusconi that he would back his candidacy for president, Mr. Salvini sent a stinging message to Mr. Berlusconi this week, saying that, “We must verify if Berlusconi has the numbers before the start of voting next week.” Mr. Salvini indicated that he had somebody else in mind.

Giorgia Meloni, the hard-right leader of Brothers of Italy, the third party in the center-right alliance, spoke on Tuesday of the possibility of Mr. Berlusconi’s stepping aside, prompting speculation that he might drop out.

the cover of Espresso magazine.

For all Mr. Berlusconi’s seeming unsuitability to fill the role of head of state, his allies argue that Italians elected him multiple times, that political considerations motivated the magistrates who hounded him for decades and that he was a self-made and brilliant businessman who built an empire.

But his outsize appetites and self-interested use of power fueled a backlash that seeded and grew the enormous anti-establishment Five Star Movement, co-founded by the comedian Beppe Grillo, who once derided Mr. Berlusconi as a “psychotic dwarf.”

Five Star took power in 2018 as Italy’s leading party, and Mr. Berlusconi’s support dwindled. He took a back seat to the rising nationalists, first Mr. Salvini and then Ms. Meloni, and railed against Five Star as incompetent good-for-nothings and a threat to democracy. He mocked their trademark universal welfare plan as a joke. He called their power structure communist.

Five Star has since imploded and scattered members into a mixed group of lawmakers desperate to avoid new elections that would almost certainly cost them their jobs and pensions. Mr. Berlusconi has explicitly promised to keep the legislature going as president, has called the universal income plan good for the poor and showered gifts on former rivals.

Luigi Di Maio, the Five Star leader who once refused to join any government with Mr. Berlusconi, this Christmas accepted a centuries-old oil painting of Venice from the mogul’s collection, according to a person close to Mr. Di Maio, who declined to comment.

As Mr. Berlusconi worked the phones alongside his girlfriend, who is also a member of Parliament in his political party, he sat next to Vittorio Sgarbi, one of his former ministers and a lawmaker and television personality who is well liked by many Five Star members.

When Mr. Sgarbi called Mr. Romaniello, the former Five Star lawmaker, who was interrupted while making Carnevale masks with his two small children, he jokingly introduced Mr. Berlusconi as “a Grillo-following friend.”

In an interview, Mr. Romaniello said that he was flattered by the call and added that friends contacted by Mr. Berlusconi also respected the former prime minister’s phone banking and “positive charisma.” But Mr. Romaniello said that he still considered himself, politically, “an adversary,” adding that Five Star had been born “as the antithesis of Berlusconi.” A phone call, he said, would not win his vote.

By Tuesday, even Mr. Sgarbi had bailed on Mr. Berlusconi and was urging him to be a kingmaker.

“I don’t think he can do it,” he said in an interview, saying that the duo had only persuaded about 15 lawmakers to back him, far short, even if he had a base of about 450 conservative supporters, to win the election. “It’s useless to try if you don’t have the numbers.”

On Wednesday, as Mr. Berlusconi’s lawyers in Milan successfully argued for a delay in a bribery trial related to his bunga bunga tribulations until after the presidential vote, his team snapped back and vowed that he would persist and, as always, speak for himself.

“I will not disappoint those who have trusted me,” Mr. Berlusconi said.

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