Most weekend mornings, Jaz Brisack gets up around 5, wills her semiconscious body into a Toyota Prius and winds her way through Buffalo, to the Starbucks on Elmwood Avenue. After a supervisor unlocks the door, she clocks in, checks herself for Covid symptoms and helps get the store ready for customers.
“I’m almost always on bar if I open,” said Ms. Brisack, who has a thrift-store aesthetic and long reddish-brown hair that she parts down the middle. “I like steaming milk, pouring lattes.”
The Starbucks door is not the only one that has been opened for her. As a University of Mississippi senior in 2018, Ms. Brisack was one of 32 Americans who won Rhodes scholarships, which fund study in Oxford, England.
in public support for unions, which last year reached its highest point since the mid-1960s, and a growing consensus among center-left experts that rising union membership could move millions of workers into the middle class.
white-collar workers has coincided with a broader enthusiasm for the labor movement.
In talking with Ms. Brisack and her fellow Rhodes scholars, it became clear that the change had even reached that rarefied group. The American Rhodes scholars I encountered from a generation earlier typically said that, while at Oxford, they had been middle-of-the-road types who believed in a modest role for government. They did not spend much time thinking about unions as students, and what they did think was likely to be skeptical.
“I was a child of the 1980s and 1990s, steeped in the centrist politics of the era,” wrote Jake Sullivan, a 1998 Rhodes scholar who is President Biden’s national security adviser and was a top aide to Hillary Clinton.
By contrast, many of Ms. Brisack’s Rhodes classmates express reservations about the market-oriented policies of the ’80s and ’90s and strong support for unions. Several told me that they were enthusiastic about Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who made reviving the labor movement a priority of their 2020 presidential campaigns.
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Even more so than other indicators, such a shift could foretell a comeback for unions, whose membership in the United States stands at its lowest percentage in roughly a century. That’s because the kinds of people who win prestigious scholarships are the kinds who later hold positions of power — who make decisions about whether to fight unions or negotiate with them, about whether the law should make it easier or harder for workers to organize.
As the recent union campaigns at companies like Starbucks, Amazon and Apple show, the terms of the fight are still largely set by corporate leaders. If these people are increasingly sympathetic to labor, then some of the key obstacles to unions may be dissolving.
suggested in April. The company has identified Ms. Brisack as one of these interlopers, noting that she draws a salary from Workers United. (Mr. Bonadonna said she was the only Starbucks employee on the union’s payroll.)
point out flaws — understaffing, insufficient training, low seniority pay, all of which they want to improve — they embrace Starbucks and its distinctive culture.
They talk up their sense of camaraderie and community — many count regular customers among their friends — and delight in their coffee expertise. On mornings when Ms. Brisack’s store isn’t busy, employees often hold tastings.
A Starbucks spokesman said that Mr. Schultz believes employees don’t need a union if they have faith in him and his motives, and the company has said that seniority-based pay increases will take effect this summer.
onetime auto plant. The National Labor Relations Board was counting ballots for an election at a Starbucks in Mesa, Ariz. — the first real test of whether the campaign was taking root nationally, and not just in a union stronghold like New York. The room was tense as the first results trickled in.
“Can you feel my heart beating?” Ms. Moore asked her colleagues.
win in a rout — the final count was 25 to 3. Everyone turned slightly punchy, as if they had all suddenly entered a dream world where unions were far more popular than they had ever imagined. One of the lawyers let out an expletive before musing, “Whoever organized down there …”
union campaign he was involved with at a nearby Nissan plant. It did not go well. The union accused the company of running a racially divisive campaign, and Ms. Brisack was disillusioned by the loss.
“Nissan never paid a consequence for what it did,” she said.(In response to charges of “scare tactics,” the company said at the time that it had sought to provide information to workers and clear up misperceptions.)
Mr. Dolan noticed that she was becoming jaded about mainstream politics. “There were times between her sophomore and junior year when I’d steer her toward something and she’d say, ‘Oh, they’re way too conservative.’ I’d send her a New York Times article and she’d say, ‘Neoliberalism is dead.’”
In England, where she arrived during the fall of 2019 at age 22, Ms. Brisack was a regular at a “solidarity” film club that screened movies about labor struggles worldwide, and wore a sweatshirt that featured a head shot of Karl Marx. She liberally reinterpreted the term “black tie” at an annual Rhodes dinner, wearing a black dress-coat over a black antifa T-shirt.
climate technology start-up, lamented that workers had too little leverage. “Labor unions may be the most effective way of implementing change going forward for a lot of people, including myself,” he told me. “I might find myself in labor organizing work.”
This is not what talking to Rhodes scholars used to sound like. At least not in my experience.
I was a Rhodes scholar in 1998, when centrist politicians like Bill Clinton and Tony Blair were ascendant, and before “neoliberalism” became such a dirty word. Though we were dimly aware of a time, decades earlier, when radicalism and pro-labor views were more common among American elites — and when, not coincidentally, the U.S. labor movement was much more powerful — those views were far less in evidence by the time I got to Oxford.
Some of my classmates were interested in issues like race and poverty, as they reminded me in interviews for this article. A few had nuanced views of labor — they had worked a blue-collar job, or had parents who belonged to a union, or had studied their Marx. Still, most of my classmates would have regarded people who talked at length about unions and class the way they would have regarded religious fundamentalists: probably earnest but slightly preachy, and clearly stuck in the past.
Kris Abrams, one of the few U.S. Rhodes Scholars in our cohort who thought a lot about the working class and labor organizing, told me recently that she felt isolated at Oxford, at least among other Americans. “Honestly, I didn’t feel like there was much room for discussion,” Ms. Abrams said.
typically minor and long in coming.
has issued complaints finding merit in such accusations. Yet the union continues to win elections — over 80 percent of the more than 175 votes in which the board has declared a winner. (Starbucks denies that it has broken the law, and a federal judge recently rejected a request to reinstate pro-union workers whom the labor board said Starbucks had forced out illegally.)
Twitter was: “We appreciate TIME magazine’s coverage of our union campaign. TIME should make sure they’re giving the same union rights and protections that we’re fighting for to the amazing journalists, photographers, and staff who make this coverage possible!”
The tweet reminded me of a story that Mr. Dolan, her scholarship adviser, had told about a reception that the University of Mississippi held in her honor in 2018. Ms. Brisack had just won a Truman scholarship, another prestigious award. She took the opportunity to urge the university’s chancellor to remove a Confederate monument from campus. The chancellor looked pained, according to several attendees.
“My boss was like, ‘Wow, you couldn’t have talked her out of doing that?’” Mr. Dolan said. “I was like, ‘That’s what made her win. If she wasn’t that person, you all wouldn’t have a Truman now.’”
(Mr. Dolan’s boss at the time did not recall this conversation, and the former chancellor did not recall any drama at the event.)
The challenge for Ms. Brisack and her colleagues is that while younger people, even younger elites, are increasingly pro-union, the shift has not yet reached many of the country’s most powerful leaders. Or, more to the point, the shift has not yet reached Mr. Schultz, the 68-year-old now in his third tour as Starbucks’s chief executive.
She recently spoke at an Aspen Institute panel on workers’ rights. She has even mused about using her Rhodes connections to make a personal appeal to Mr. Schultz, something that Mr. Bensinger has pooh-poohed but that other organizers believe she just may pull off.
“Richard has been making fun of me for thinking of asking one of the Rhodes people to broker a meeting with Howard Schultz,” Ms. Brisack said in February.
“I’m sure if you met Howard Schultz, he’d be like, ‘She’s so nice,’” responded Ms. Moore, her co-worker. “He’d be like, ‘I get it. I would want to be in a union with you, too.’”
GENEVA, June 17 (Reuters) – The World Trade Organization agreed on the first change to global trading rules in years on Friday as well as a deal to boost the supply of COVID-19 vaccines in a series of pledges that were heavy on compromise.
The deals were forged in the early hours of the sixth day of a conference of more than 100 trade ministers that was seen as a test of the ability of nations to strike multilateral trade deals amid geopolitical tensions heightened by the Ukraine war.
Delegates, who had expected a four-day conference, cheered after they passed seven agreements and declarations just before dawn on Friday.
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Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told them: “The package of agreements you have reached will make a difference to the lives of people around the world. The outcomes demonstrate that the WTO is in fact capable of responding to emergencies of our time.”
Earlier she had appealed to WTO members to consider the “delicate balance” required after nearly round-the-clock talks that have at times been charged with anger and accusations.
The package, which the WTO chief called “unprecedented”, included the two highest profile deals under consideration – on fisheries and on a partial waiver of intellectual property (IP) rights for COVID-19 vaccines.
The accord to curb fishing subsidies is only the second multilateral agreement on global trading rules struck in the WTO’s 27-year history and is far more ambitious than the first, which was designed to cut red tape.
At one stage, a series of demands from India, which sees itself as the champion of poor farmers and fishermen as well as developing countries, appeared set to paralyse talks but accommodations were found, trade sources said.
The WTO’s rules dictate that all decisions are taken by consensus, with any single member able to exercise a veto.
‘LOT OF BUMPS’
“It was not an easy process. There were a lot of bumps, just like I predicted. It was like a roller coaster, but in the end we got there,” an exhausted but elated Okonjo-Iweala told a final news conference.
World Trade Organization Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala delivers her speech during the closing session of a World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference at the WTO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland June 17, 2022. Fabrice Coffrini/Pool via REUTERS
The deal to ban subsidies for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing or fishing of an over-fished stock has the potential to reverse collapsing fish stocks. Though pared back significantly, it still drew approval.
“This is a turning point in addressing one of the key drivers of global over-fishing,” said Isabel Jarrett, manager of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ campaign to reduce harmful fisheries subsidies.
Okonjo-Iweala said it was the first step after 21 years of talks towards what she hoped would be a more comprehensive deal.
The deal on a partial IP waiver to allow developing countries to produce and export COVID-19 vaccines has divided the WTO for nearly two years, but finally passed. It has also drawn the fiercest criticism from campaign groups that say it barely expands on an existing exemption in WTO rules and is too narrow by not covering therapeutics and diagnostics.
“Put simply, it is a technocratic fudge aimed at saving reputations, not lives,” said Max Lawson, co-chair of the People’s Vaccine Alliance.
The pharmaceutical industry was also critical of the deal, saying that there is currently a surplus of shots which governments and other authorities haven’t figured out how to distribute and administer.
“Rather than focus on real issues affecting public health, like solving supply chain bottlenecks or reducing border tariffs on medicines, they approved an intellectual property waiver on COVID-19 vaccines that won’t help protect people against the virus,” Stephen Ubl, President of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), said in an emailed statement.
One agreement also reached was to maintain a moratorium on e-commerce tariffs, which business says is vital to allow the free flow of data worldwide. read more
Overall, many observers said the deals should boost the credibility of the WTO, which was weakened by former U.S. President Donald Trump’s crippling of its ability to intervene in trade disputes, and set it on a course for reform.
European Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis said the WTO meeting had clinched outcomes of global significance despite unprecedented challenges.
“The profound divergences here amply confirm that a deep reform of the organisation is urgently needed, across all its core functions,” he said, adding he would work to get it agreed at the next ministerial conference due in 2023.
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Writing by Emma Farge and Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Richard Pullin, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Toby Chopra
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Fierce street fighting for key eastern industrial city
Ukraine troops outnumbered, will not surrender-Zelenskiy
Eastern front under constant shelling
Efforts to evacuate thousands
KYIV/DRUZHKIVKA, Ukraine, June 7 (Reuters) – Ukrainian troops battled Russians street-to-street in the ruins of Sievierodonetsk on Tuesday, trying to hold onto gains from a surprise counter-offensive that had reversed momentum in one of the bloodiest land battles of the war.
The fight for the small industrial city has emerged as a pivotal battle in eastern Ukraine, with Russia focusing its offensive might there in the hope of achieving one of its stated war aims – to fully capture surrounding Luhansk province on behalf of separatist proxies.
After withdrawing from nearly all the city in the face of the Russian advance, Ukrainian forces staged a surprise counter-attack last week, driving the Russians from a swath of the city centre. Since then, the two armies have faced off across boulevards, both claiming to have inflicted huge casualties.
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“Our heroes are not giving up positions in Sievierodonetsk,” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in an overnight video address, describing fierce street fighting in the city. Earlier, he told reporters at a briefing the Ukrainians were outnumbered but still had “every chance” of fighting back.
Before Ukraine’s counter-offensive, Russia had seemed on the verge of encircling Ukraine’s garrison in Luhansk province, cutting off the main road to Sievierodonetsk and its twin city Lysychansk across the Siverskiy Donets river.
But following the counter-offensive, Zelenskiy made a surprise visit to Lysychansk on Sunday, personally demonstrating that Kyiv still had an open route to its troops’ redoubt.
Ukraine’s defence ministry said Russia was throwing troops and equipment into its drive to capture Sievierodonetsk. Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said on Monday the situation had worsened since the Ukrainian defenders had pushed back the Russians over the weekend.
Luhansk and neighbouring Donetsk province, together known as the Donbas, have become Russia’s main focus since its forces were defeated at the outskirts of Kyiv in March and pushed back from the second biggest city Kharkiv last month.
Russia has been pressing from three main directions – east, north and south – to try to encircle the Ukrainians in the Donbas. Russia has made progress, but only slowly, failing to deal a decisive blow or to encircle the Ukrainians.
In its nightly update, the Ukrainian military said two civilians were killed in Russian shelling in the Donbas and Russian forces had fired at more than 20 communities, using artillery and air strikes.
In Druzhkivka, in the Ukrainian-held pocket of Donetsk province, residents were picking through the wreckage of houses obliterated by the latest shelling.
“Please help, we need materials for the roof, for the house, there are people without shelter,” shouted Nelya, outside her home where the roof had been shredded. “My niece, she has two small children, she had to cover one of her children with her own body.”
A Ukrainian service member shoots from an automatic grenade launcher at a position on the front line, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, near Bakhmut, Donbas region, Ukraine June 5, 2022. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
Nearby, Nadezhda picked up a children’s pink photo album and kindergarten exercise book from the ruins of her house, and put them on a shelf somehow still standing in the rubble.
“I do not even know where to start. I am standing here looking but I have no idea what to do. I start crying, I calm down, then I cry again.”
Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, in what it calls a “special military operation” to stamp out what it sees as threats to its security. Ukraine and its Western allies call this a baseless pretext for a war to grab territory.
Britain’s defence ministry said on Tuesday that Russia was still trying to cut off Sievierodonetsk by advancing from the north near Izium and from the south near Popasna. It said Russia’s progress from Popasna had stalled over the last week, while reports of heavy shelling near Izium suggested Moscow was preparing a new offensive there.
“Russia will almost certainly need to achieve a breakthrough on at least one of these axes to translate tactical gains to operational level success and progress towards its political objective of controlling all of Donetsk Oblast,” it said.
The Donetsk regional governor, Pavlo Kyrylenko, told Ukrainian television there was constant shelling along the front line, with Russia attempting to push towards Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, the two biggest Ukrainian-held cities in Donetsk.
Kyrylenko said efforts were underway to evacuate people from several towns, some under attack day and night, including Sloviansk where about 24,000 residents, around a quarter of the population, still remains.
“People are now understanding, though it is late, that it is time to leave,” he said.
Ukraine is one of the world’s biggest exporters of grain, and Western countries accuse Russia of creating risk of global famine by shutting Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.
Zelenskiy said Kyiv was gradually receiving “specific anti-ship systems”, and that these would be the best way to break a Russian blockade of Ukrainian ports.
Moscow denies blame for the food crisis, which it says was caused by Western sanctions.
Russia’s U.N. envoy, Vassily Nebenzia, stormed out of a U.N. Security Council meeting on Monday as European Council President Charles Michel, addressing the 15-member body, accused Moscow of fueling the global food crisis with its invasion of Ukraine. read more
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would respond to Western deliveries of long-range weapons by pushing Ukrainian forces further back from Russia’s border.
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Reporting by Reuters; Writing by Peter Graff
Editing by Gareth Jones
Editing by Gareth Jones
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Army vehicles were so decrepit that repair crews were stationed roughly every 15 miles. Some officers were so out of shape that the military budgeted $1.5 million to re-size standard uniforms.
That was the Russian military more than a decade ago when the country invaded Georgia, according to the defense minister at the time. The shortcomings, big and small, were glaring enough that the Kremlin announced a complete overhaul of the military to build a leaner, more flexible, professional force.
But now, almost three months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it is clear the Kremlin fell woefully short of creating an effective fighting machine. Russian forces in Ukraine have underperformed to a degree that has surprised most Western analysts, raising the prospect that President Vladimir V. Putin’s military operation could end in failure.
By any measure, despite capturing territory in the south and east, the Russian military has suffered a major blow in Ukraine. It has been forced to abandon what it expected would be a blitzkrieg to seize the entire country in a few days. Its forces were driven from around Kyiv, the capital. The flagship of its Black Sea fleet, the Moskva, was sunk; it has never controlled the skies; and by some Western estimates, tens of thousands of Russians have died.
This war has exposed the fact that, to Russia’s detriment, much of the military culture and learned behavior of the Soviet era endures: inflexibility in command structure, corruption in military spending, and concealing casualty figures and repeating the mantra that everything is going according to plan.
The signs of trouble were hiding in plain sight. Just last summer, Russia held war games that the Ministry of Defense said showed its ability to coordinate a deployment of 200,000 men from different branches of the military in a mock effort to combat NATO. They would be among the largest military exercises ever, it said.
Lt. General Yunus-Bek Evkunov, the deputy defense minister, told reporters the exercises demonstrated Russia’s ability to rapidly deploy joint forces in a manner that would “make sober any enemy.’’
The whole exercise was scripted. There was no opposing force; the main units involved had practiced their choreography for months; and each exercise started and stopped at a fixed time. The number of troops participating was probably half the number advertised, military analysts said.
“It is the Soviet army, basically,” said Kamil Galeev, an independent Russian analyst and former fellow at The Wilson Center in Washington. “The reforms increased the efficiency of the army, but they only went halfway.”
When, after the Georgia conflict in 2008, Russia tried to revamp its military, the idea was to jettison the rigidly centralized, Soviet-era army that could supposedly muster four million troops in no time. Instead, field officers would get more responsibility, units would learn to synchronize their skills and the entire arsenal would be dragged into the computer age.
Many traditionalists resisted change, preferring the old model of a huge, concentrated force. But other factors also contributed to the military’s inability to transform. Birthrates plunged in the 1990s, leading to a shrinking pool of men that could be conscripted. That, and persistent low salaries, delayed recruitment targets. Endemic corruption handicapped the efforts.
But the basic problem was that the military culture of the Soviet Union endured, despite the lack of men and means to sustain it, analysts said.
“The Soviet military was built to generate millions of men to fill lots and lots of divisions that had endless stockpiles of equipment,” said Michael Kofman, the director of Russia studies at CNA, a research institute in Arlington, Va. “It was designed for World War III, the war with NATO that never came.”
Ultimately, the push for change stalled, leaving a hybrid version of the military somewhere between mass mobilization and a more flexible force, analysts said. It still favors substantial artillery over infantry troops who can take and hold land.
The scripted way the military practices warfare, on display in last summer’s exercises, is telling. “Nobody is being tested on their ability to think on the battlefield,” said William Alberque, the Berlin-based director of the arms control program at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Instead, officers are assessed on their ability to follow instructions, he said.
Russia would like the world to view its army as it appears during the annual Victory Day parade — a well-oiled instrument of fit soldiers in dashing uniforms marching in unison and bristling with menacing weapons.
“They use the military forces as a propaganda machine,” said Gleb Irisov, 31, a former air force lieutenant who left the military in 2020 after five years. He then worked as a military analyst for the official TASS news agency before quitting and leaving the country because he strongly opposed the invasion.
Senior military commanders argue that recent expeditionary forces, especially in Syria, provided real combat training, but analysts call that claim inflated.
Russian troops faced no real adversary in Syria; the war was mostly an air force operation where the pilots could hover over targets at will. Russia has not fought a large land war since World War II.
Yet Russia’s leaders exaggerated the country’s success. In 2017, Sergei K. Shoigu, Russia’s defense minister, bragged at a meeting of fellow ministers in the Philippines that Russia had “liberated’’ 503,223 square kilometers in Syria. The problem is that the area Mr. Shoigu claimed to have freed from militants is more than twice the size of the entire country, reported Proekt, an independent news outlet.
With about 900,000 people overall, a little over one third of them ground forces, the Russian military is not that large, considering that it must defend a vast country covering 11 time zones, analysts said. But the goal of recruiting 50,000 contract soldiers every year, first stated a decade ago, has not been met, so there is still a yearly draft of 18- to 27-year olds.
Mr. Putin has not resorted to a mass military draft that would muster all able-bodied adult males for the war. But even if he did, the infrastructure required to train civilians en masse no longer exists. The consensus is that the bulk of Russia’s available ground forces have already been deployed in Ukraine.
Rampant corruption has drained resources. “Each person steals as much of the allocated funds as is appropriate for their rank,” said retired Maj. Gen. Harri Ohra-Aho, the former Chief of Intelligence in Finland and still a Ministry of Defense adviser.
The corruption is so widespread that some cases inevitably land in court.
In January, Col. Evgeny Pustovoy, the former head of the procurement department for armored vehicles, was accused of helping to steal more than $13 million by faking contracts for batteries from 2018 to 2020, according to TASS.
In February, a Moscow military court stripped Maj. Gen. Alexander Ogloblin of his rank and sentenced him to 4.5 years in prison for what the charges called fraud on an “especially large scale.” The authorities accused him of embezzling about $25 million by vastly overstating the expenses in state contracts for satellite and other equipment, the business news website BFM.RU reported.
Huge contracts are not the only temptation. The combination of low salaries — a senior officer earns roughly $1,000 per month — and swelling budgets is a recipe for all sorts of theft, analysts said, leading to a chain reaction of problems.
Commanders disguise how few exercises they hold, pocketing the resources budgeted for them, said Mr. Irisov, the analyst. That exacerbates a lack of basic military skills like navigation and shooting, although the air force did maintain flight safety standards.
“It is impossible to imagine the scale of lies inside the military,” Mr. Irisov said. “The quality of military production is very low because of the race to steal money.”
One out of every five rubles spent on the armed forces was stolen, the chief military prosecutor, Sergey Fridinsky, told Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the official government newspaper, in 2011.
Mr. Irisov said he had encountered numerous examples of subpar equipment — the vaunted Pantsir air defense system unable to shoot down a small Israeli drone over Syria; Russian-made light bulbs on the wings of SU-35 warplanes melting at supersonic speeds; new trucks breaking down after two years.
In general, Russian weaponry lags behind its computerized Western counterparts, but it is serviceable, military analysts said. Still, some new production has been limited.
For example, the T-14 Armata, a “next generation” battle tank unveiled in 2015, has not been deployed in Ukraine because there are so few, they said.
Russia has poured hundreds of billions of dollars into its military, producing under the State Armament Program a stream of new airplanes, tanks, helicopters and other matériel. Military spending has not dipped below 3.5 percent of gross domestic product for much of the past decade, according to figures from the International Institute for Strategic Studies, at a time when most European nations struggled to invest 2 percent of G.D.P. And that is only the public portion of Russia’s military budget.
This kind of financial investment has helped Russia make what gains it has in Ukraine.
Johan Norberg, a Russia analyst at the Swedish Defense Research Agency, said Russia and its military are too sprawling to expect them to fix every problem, even in a decade. The war in Ukraine exposed the fact that the Russian military is “not 10 feet tall, but they are not two feet tall, either,” he said.
Alina Lobzina and Milana Mazaeva contributed reporting.
BRUSSELS — President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has said stopping NATO’s expansion helped drive him to invade Ukraine. But on Thursday, Finland declared its unequivocal intention to join, not only upending Mr. Putin’s plan but placing the alliance’s newest prospective member on Russia’s northern doorstep.
The declaration by Finland’s leaders that they will join NATO — with expectations that neighboring Sweden would soon do the same — could now reshape a strategic balance in Europe that has prevailed for decades. It is the latest example of how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine 11 weeks ago has backfired on Mr. Putin’s intentions.
Russia reacted angrily, with Mr. Putin’s chief spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, saying the addition of Finland and Sweden to NATO would not make Europe safer. Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Dmitry Polyanskiy, appeared to go further, saying in an interview with a British news site he posted on Twitter that as NATO members, the two Nordic countries “become part of the enemy and they bear all the risks.”
Finland, long known for such implacable nonalignment that “Finlandization” became synonymous with neutrality, had been signaling that Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine was giving the Finns a reason to join NATO. But Thursday was the first time Finland’s leaders said publicly they definitely intended to join, making it all but certain that Russia would share an 810-mile border with a NATO country.
The addition of Finland and Sweden to NATO carries significant risks of elevating prospects of war between Russia and the West, under the alliance’s underlying principle that an attack on one is an attack on all.
But the Finnish leaders, President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin, said that “NATO membership would strengthen Finland’s security,’’ adding that “as a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the entire defense alliance.”
Mr. Putin has offered a range of reasons for his full-scale invasion of Ukraine, but it was intended in part to block the eastern expansion of NATO and was premised on what he apparently had assumed would be a fractious European response. Instead, the invasion has united the West and helped to isolate Moscow.
With the likely redrawing of Europe’s security borders, Western officials also moved to reshape Europe’s economic infrastructure by taking steps to establish new transport routes from Ukraine, which is under a Russian naval embargo. Russia, meanwhile, found itself further ostracized from the global economy, as Siemens, the German electronics giant, became the latest company to pull out of Russia, exiting after 170 years of doing business there.
The European Union announced a set of measures on Thursday to facilitate Ukraine’s exports of blocked food products, mainly grain and oilseeds, in a bid to alleviate the war’s strain on the Ukrainian economy and avert a looming global food shortage.
The Russian navy has blocked exports by Ukraine — a major global supplier of wheat, corn and sunflower oil before the invasion — at the country’s Black Sea ports. The long-term goal of the European Commission, the bloc’s executive branch, is to establish new transport routes from Ukraine into Europe, circumventing the Russian blockade by using Polish ports — although creating new routes could take months, if not years.
On the ground in Ukraine, where the Russian invaders are still facing strong resistance from Western-armed Ukrainian forces and the prospect of a prolonged war, the Kremlin redeployed troops to strengthen its territorial gains in the Donbas, the eastern region where the fighting has been fiercest.
Ukrainian and Western officials say that Russia is withdrawing forces from around Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, where it has been losing territory — a pullback that Britain’s Defense Ministry on Thursday described as “a tacit recognition of Russia’s inability to capture key Ukrainian cities where they expected limited resistance from the population.”
By contrast in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, which together comprise the Donbas, the Russians now control about 80 percent of the territory. In Luhansk, where Russian shelling rarely relents, “the situation has deteriorated significantly” in recent days, according to the regional governor, Serhiy Haidai.
“The Russians are destroying everything in their path,” Mr. Haidai said on Thursday in a post on Telegram. “The vast majority of critical infrastructure will have to be rebuilt,” he said, adding that there is no electricity, water, gas or cellphone connection in the region, where most residents have fled.
Russia’s withdrawal from Kharkiv represents of one of the bigger setbacks Moscow has confronted since its retreat from areas near Kyiv, the capital — where the costs of Russian occupation became clearer on Thursday.
The bodies of more than 1,000 civilians have been recovered in areas north of Kyiv that were occupied by Russian forces, the United Nations human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, said on Thursday. They included several hundred who were summarily executed and others who were shot by snipers, Ms. Bachelet said.
“The figures will continue to increase,” Ms. Bachelet told a special session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, the second in two weeks, focusing on abuses uncovered by investigators in Bucha, Irpin and other suburbs of Kyiv that were seized by Russia’s forces in the invasion’s early stages. Russia has denied committing any atrocities in Ukraine.
The announcement by Finland’s leaders to apply for membership in NATO had been widely expected. Public opinion in Finland has shifted significantly in favor of joining the alliance, from 20 percent six months ago to nearly 80 percent now, especially if Sweden, Finland’s strategic partner and also militarily nonaligned, joins as well.
“Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay,” the Finnish leaders said in a statement. “We hope that the national steps still needed to make this decision will be taken rapidly within the next few days.”
A parliamentary debate and vote were expected on Monday.
The debate in Sweden is less advanced than in Finland, but Sweden, too, is moving toward applying to join NATO, perhaps as early as next week.
Mr. Putin has cited NATO’s spread eastward into Russia’s sphere of influence, including to former Soviet states on its borders, as a national threat. He has used Ukraine’s desire to join the alliance to help justify his invasion of that country, though Western officials have repeatedly said that the possibility of Ukrainian membership remains remote.
One reason is that NATO would be highly unlikely to offer membership to a country entangled in a war.
If Ukraine were to become a NATO member, the alliance would be obligated to defend it against Russia and other adversaries, in keeping with the application of NATO’s Article 5 that an attack on one member is an attack on the entire alliance.
Even without the geopolitical risks, Ukraine, a former Soviet republic that has struggled with endemic corruption since gaining independence, would find it difficult to meet several necessary requirements to join NATO, including the need to demonstrate a commitment to the rule of law.
Sweden and Finland, in contrast, have developed over decades into vibrant and healthy liberal democracies.
Still, NATO members would have to act if Finland and Sweden were attacked by Russia or others, raising the risks of a direct confrontation between nuclear powers.
Mr. Putin was likely to try to rally support for the Ukraine invasion by portraying the moves by Finland and Sweden as fresh evidence that NATO is growing increasingly hostile.
If Finland and Sweden apply, they are widely expected to be approved, although NATO officials are publicly discreet, saying only that the alliance has an open-door policy and any country that wishes to join can request an invitation. Still, even a speedy application process could take a year, raising concerns that the two countries would be vulnerable to Russia while outside the alliance.
Besides a long border, Finland shares a complicated, violent history with Russia.The Finns fended off a Soviet invasion in 1939-40 in what is known as “The Winter War.”
The Finns eventually lost, gave up some territory and agreed to remain formally neutral throughout the Cold War, but their ability to temporarily hold off the Soviet Union became a central point of Finnish pride.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Finland moved to join the European Union in 1992, becoming a member in 1995, while remaining militarily nonaligned and keeping working relations with Moscow.
Finland has maintained its military spending and sizable armed forces. Finland joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace program along with Sweden in 1994 and has become ever closer to the alliance without joining it.
Steven Erlanger reported from Brussels, and Norimitsu Onishi from Paris. Reporting was contributed by Cora Engelbrecht from London, Nick Cumming-Bruce from Geneva, Ivan Nechepurenko from Tbilisi, Georgia, Monika Pronczuk from Brussels, and Dan Bilefsky from Montreal.
Deciding how quickly to remove policy support is a fraught exercise. Central bankers are hoping to move decisively enough to arrest the pop in prices without curbing growth so aggressively that they tip the economy into a deep downturn.
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What is inflation? Inflation is a loss of purchasing power over time, meaning your dollar will not go as far tomorrow as it did today. It is typically expressed as the annual change in prices for everyday goods and services such as food, furniture, apparel, transportation and toys.
What causes inflation? It can be the result of rising consumer demand. But inflation can also rise and fall based on developments that have little to do with economic conditions, such as limited oil production and supply chain problems.
Is inflation bad? It depends on the circumstances. Fast price increases spell trouble, but moderate price gains can lead to higher wages and job growth.
Can inflation affect the stock market? Rapid inflation typically spells trouble for stocks. Financial assets in general have historically fared badly during inflation booms, while tangible assets like houses have held their value better.
Mr. Powell nodded to that balancing act, saying, “I do expect that this will be very challenging — it’s not going to be easy.” But he said the economy had a good chance “to have a soft, or soft-ish, landing.”
He later elaborated that it could be possible to “restore price stability without a recession, without a severe downturn, and without materially higher unemployment.”
The balance sheet plan the Fed released on Wednesday matched what analysts had expected, which probably also contributed to the sense of market calm. The Fed will begin shrinking its nearly $9 trillion in asset holdings in June by allowing Treasury and mortgage-backed debt to mature without reinvestment. It will ultimately let up to $60 billion in Treasury debt expire each month, along with $35 billion in mortgage-backed debt, and the plan will have phased in fully as of September.
By reducing its bond holdings, the Fed is likely to take steam out of financial markets — bond prices will fall, causing yields to rise, and riskier investments like stocks will become less attractive. It also could help to cool the housing market by pushing up longer-term borrowing costs, which follow bond yields, reinforcing the effect of the central bank’s interest rate increases.
In fact, mortgage rates have already begun to push higher, climbing nearly two percentage points since the start of the year. The rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 5.1 percent for the week that ended last Thursday, according to Freddie Mac, touching its highest level in more than a decade.
The Fed’s moves “will quickly make financing big-ticket purchases more challenging.” Jonathan Smoke, chief economist at Cox Automotive, wrote in a research note after the meeting. “This is exactly what the Fed wants to see. As demand for homes, cars and other durables declines in response to declining affordability, the rate of price increases should slow as well.”
Russia is calling in troops based in its far east to join the battle in Ukraine, the Ukrainian military high command said on Saturday, as Moscow seeks to reinforce its war-fighting force amid heavy losses and signs that its drive to seize eastern Ukraine has stalled.
Adding to the sense that both sides appeared to be girding for a war of attrition, Ukrainians on Saturday lined up at gas stations across the country as the government struggled to deal with a fuel shortage caused by Russian attacks on oil infrastructure.
“Queues and rising prices at gas stations are seen in many regions of our country,” President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said Friday in his nightly address. “The occupiers are deliberately destroying the infrastructure for the production, supply and storage of fuel.”
He said a Russian blockade of Ukrainian seaports meant that replacement stocks could not come in by tanker. The war has also paralyzed grain harvests in Ukraine, known as Europe’s breadbasket, disrupting global food supplies and worsening a food crisis in East Africa.
As Western allies have poured more heavy weapons into Ukraine, Slovakia and Poland, both NATO countries, reached an agreement that could presage the transfer of MIG-29 warplanes to Ukraine. Slovakia said that Polish F-16 jets would patrol its skies, freeing up a Slovak fleet of the Soviet-made MIGs.
After a meeting between the two countries’ defense ministers on Friday, Poland said its air force would begin patrols over Slovakia as part of their joint efforts to help Ukraine.
Slovakia did not say explicitly that it would send its MIGs to Ukraine, but it has raised the possibility of doing so — provided that it can find an alternative way to protect its airspace, which the agreement with Poland would seem to achieve.
Poland last month declined to provide its own fleet of MIG-29s to Ukraine directly, instead offering to fly the planes to a United States military base in Germany, where they could then be flown to Ukraine. Washington, worried about provoking Russia, declined the offer.
Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, contended that the United States and the European Union, by supplying more powerful weapons to Ukraine, were waging a proxy battle against Russia, regardless of the cost in civilian lives.
The flow of weapons from the West, Mr. Lavrov said, had nothing to do with supporting Ukraine’s sovereignty, but rather would enable the United States and the European Union to battle Russia “to the last Ukrainian.”
The fuel shortages in Ukraine followed Russian attacks this week on Ukraine’s main producer of fuel products and other large refineries. Russia said it had also hit storage facilities for petroleum products used by the Ukrainian military.
A senior Pentagon official said these types of attacks were intended to undercut the Ukrainian military’s ability to “replenish their own stores and to reinforce themselves.”
In response, officials in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, urged residents to use public transportation rather than private vehicles to save fuel. “We need to keep in mind the needs of the military and our defenders,” the city’s administration said.
The Kremlin’s deployment of troops from eastern Russia to the battle front in Ukraine suggested that Moscow could be trying to regain momentum in what the Pentagon has described as a “plodding” offensive in eastern Ukraine.
The Ukrainian military said that the additional Russian forces were being sent first to a Russian city near the Ukrainian border and then to the northeastern Ukrainian city of Izium, where the Russians have met fierce resistance. It did not say how many troops were being deployed.
Western analysts have said Russia’s offensive in the east has slowed as it struggles to overcome many of the same logistical problems involving shipments of food, fuel, weapons and ammunition that hampered the initial phase of its invasion more than two months ago.
On Saturday, the British Defense Ministry said Russia was trying to fix issues that had constrained its invasion by geographically concentrating combat power, shortening supply lines and simplifying command and control.
But Russia “still faces considerable challenges,” the ministry said in its latest intelligence update on the war. “It has been forced to merge and redeploy depleted and disparate units from the failed advances in northeast Ukraine. Many of these units are likely suffering from weakened morale.”
The fighting in eastern Ukraine has exacted an increasingly heavy toll on both militaries. The Russian Defense Ministry said on Saturday that its forces had fired on 389 targets across Ukraine, including facilities housing soldiers, killing 120 Ukrainians.
Ukraine said its Special Forces struck a command center near Izium, destroying dozens of tanks and armored vehicles.
In a measure of the rising toll on civilians, the Ukrainian authorities said the police had received more than 7,000 reports of missing people since the start of the invasion on Feb. 24, with half of the cases still unsolved.
Ukrainian officials called the number “unprecedented in modern history,” and they appealed to allies to send forensic experts and specialists in managing missing-persons registries.
In a long-awaited but frequently frustrated development in Mariupol, the ruined southern Ukrainian port occupied by Russian forces, about 20 women and children were evacuated from the Azovstal steel plant where the city’s last Ukrainian fighters have been holed up along with hundreds of increasingly desperate civilians.
The news, from Capt. Svyatoslav Palamar, the deputy commander of the Azov regiment, came amid United Nations-backed efforts to broker a cease-fire to allow the trapped civilians and Ukrainian fighters to escape the plant.
Captain Palamar said in a video posted to Telegram that an evacuation column had arrived in the evening to bring the civilians to a safe place, adding that he hoped wounded soldiers would be given safe passage as well.
He did not provide further details, though Russia’s TASS news agency said one of its correspondents on the scene reported that 25 people — including six children — had walked out of the plant. It was not immediately clear whether they were free to seek safety in Ukraine or were being held by Russian forces.
Nearly a million Ukrainians have been moved from Ukraine to Russia, Mr. Lavrov said in an interview published by Chinese state news media on Saturday. He described the moves as voluntary “evacuations,” a claim that contradicted witnesses, Ukrainian officials and Western observers who have said that many Ukrainians have been forcibly deported.
Mr. Lavrov’s claim echoed the false assertions in Russian propaganda that its forces are liberating ethnic Russians and others in Ukraine from what President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia calls the “openly neo-Nazi” Ukrainian government.
Ukraine has argued that Russia is carrying out the forcible migration of its citizens, which is a war crime, to be used as leverage in any peace talks.
Ukraine has also accused Russian forces of stealing cultural artifacts from occupied cities.
In Mariupol, city officials said Russian forces had taken more than 2,000 items — including icons, medals and works by Russian painters — from the city’s museums to Donetsk, the capital of an eastern region controlled by Moscow-backed separatists.
In the southern Ukrainian city of Melitopol, local officials said that a mysterious man in a white lab coat had used long tweezers and gloves to extract scores of gold artifacts more than 2,300 years old from cardboard boxes in a local museum, as a squad of Russian soldiers stood behind him with guns, watching eagerly. The items were from the Scythian empire and dated back to the fourth century B.C.
“The orcs have taken hold of our Scythian gold,” declared Melitopol’s mayor, Ivan Fyodorov, using a derogatory term many Ukrainians reserve for Russian soldiers. “This is one of the largest and most expensive collections in Ukraine, and today we don’t know where they took it.”
A series of explosions inside Russia in recent weeks have also increased concerns about the war spilling beyond Ukraine’s borders and set off the first air-raid siren on Russian soil since World War II.
The incidents include a Russian fuel depot that burst into flames moments after surveillance video captured bright streaks of rockets fired from low-flying helicopters, and a fire that broke out at a military research institute near Moscow.
Russia has accused Ukraine of carrying out the helicopter strike, while military analysts have suggested that Ukrainian sabotage was probably responsible for other fires. Ukraine has responded with deliberate ambiguity.
“We don’t confirm, and we don’t deny,” Oleksei Arestovych, an adviser to Mr. Zelensky’s chief of staff, said in an interview.
Mr. Arestovych described the policy as a strategic stance, and he compared it with Israel’s longstanding policy of ambiguity on nuclear arms, another issue of extraordinary geopolitical sensitivity.
“After what has been happening,” he said, “officially we don’t say yes and we don’t say no, just like Israel.”
Reporting was contributed by Steven Erlanger, Andrew Higgins, Maria Varenikova, John Ismay, Dave Philipps, Valeriya Safronova, Lauren McCarthy, Victoria Kim, Christiaan Triebert, Aleksandra Koroleva, Andrew E. Kramer, Jeffrey Gettleman, Michael Schwirtz and Christine Hauser.
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said on Tuesday that peace talks with Ukraine had reached a “dead end” and he falsely called the evidence of Russian atrocities in a Kyiv suburb “fake,” using his first extended remarks about the war in nearly a month to insist that Russia would persist in its invasion.
Speaking at a news conference at a newly built spaceport in Russia’s Far East, Mr. Putin said that Ukraine’s negotiating position at the talks, last held in Istanbul two weeks ago, was unacceptable. He pledged that Russia’s “military operation will continue until its full completion.”
But the operation’s goals, he said, centered on the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russia separatists have been fighting since 2014. It was the first time that Mr. Putin himself had effectively defined a more limited aim for the war, focusing on control of the Donbas — and not all of Ukraine, which Mr. Putin and his subordinates have said should not even be an independent country.
“We will act rhythmically and calmly, according to the plan that was initially proposed by the general staff,” Mr. Putin said. “Our goal is to help the people who live in the Donbas, who feel their unbreakable bond with Russia.”
Just over a month ago, by contrast, Mr. Putin warned that Ukraine’s leaders risked “the future of Ukrainian statehood” by resisting the Russian invasion, which Kremlin military planners appeared to have mistakenly thought could be achieved with relative ease.
Still, Mr. Putin’s assertion of Russia’s more limited war aims in Ukraine cannot necessarily be taken at face value, and he may yet harbor an ultimate goal of taking control of the former Soviet republic. For months leading up to the Feb. 24 invasion, as Russian forces massed on Ukraine’s border, Russian officials insisted there were no plans to invade and that the buildup was merely a military exercise.
Ukrainian and Western officials have said they expect that Russia, having failed to seize the capital Kyiv and most other key cities in an invasion hampered by poor logistics, would soon mount an intense offensive in the Donbas, where the Russian military has been pouring in troops.
But almost seven weeks into the war, the Russians have yet to conquer Mariupol, the strategically important southern Donbas port that has come to symbolize the death and destruction wrought by the invaders so far. Western officials said they were evaluating unverified accounts that Russian forces may have dropped chemical weapons on a Mariupol steel mill that has become a bastion of Ukrainian army resistance. The use of chemical weapons is a war crime.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, referring to the unverified accounts from Mariupol, said he took them “as seriously as possible.”
“Even during the Second World War, the Donbas did not see such cruelty in such a short period of time,” Mr. Zelensky said in a video released early Wednesday. “And from who? From Russian troops.”
Russian forces also have repeatedly fired missiles and artillery indiscriminately at civilian targets they have little or no hope of taking, including those in and around the eastern city of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest. On Tuesday, New York Times journalists witnessed the aftermath of a Russian cluster munitions attack on a Kharkiv suburb that left a trail of casualties, craters and punctured roofs.
And the outside pressure on Mr. Putin continued to rise. On Tuesday evening, Ukraine’s security service said it had detained Viktor Medvedchuk, a pro-Russian oligarch and politician who is Mr. Putin’s closest ally in Ukraine, releasing a photo of him handcuffed and disheveled. President Biden took a new swipe at Mr. Putin, calling him a “dictator” who has committed “genocide,” and a U.S. official said the White House would soon announce new military assistance for Ukraine worth $750 million.
Mr. Putin’s appearance on Tuesday — coming after several weeks in which the public glimpsed the Russian leader mainly in Kremlin footage showing him holding meetings by videoconference — appeared intended to shore up domestic support for a war with no clear end in sight.
Marking Cosmonauts’ Day — the anniversary of the Soviet Cold War triumph in which Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space — Mr. Putin used the new spaceport, the Vostochny Cosmodrome, as his stage.
He was accompanied to the spaceport by President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus, Mr. Putin’s closest ally, an apparent reminder to Russians that they were not completely isolated in the war.
Mr. Putin parried a question from a Russian journalist about the atrocities in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha by retreating into his familiar arguments about Western “double standards.” He claimed that the world had been silent when the United States bombed Syria in the campaign against the Islamic State, and that Mr. Lukashenko had provided evidence that the scenes in Bucha were an orchestrated, British “provocation.”
“We discussed in detail this psychological special operation that the English carried out,” Mr. Lukashenko said in a news conference alongside Mr. Putin, referring to Bucha.
In fact, independent investigators, including journalists for The New York Times, have documented evidence of numerous execution-style killings, rapes and acts of torture against civilians in Bucha that had been carried out by Russian occupation troops before they retreated last month.
But inside Russia, Mr. Putin’s pronouncements are going increasingly unchallenged, with access to Facebook and Instagram and many independent news websites blocked, and a draconian wartime censorship law punishing any deviation from the Kremlin line with as much as 15 years in prison. While prices are rising and layoffs loom as Western companies pull out of Russia, there has been no sign yet of widespread public discontent, and pollsters see significant public support for the war.
It was the alliance of Western countries, Mr. Putin insisted, that would soon feel the political backlash from the economic pain wrought by the sanctions, as evidenced by rising prices for food and fuel. European countries, in particular, had shown yet again that they were collectively acting as a “poodle” of the United States, he said.
“They always miscalculate, not understanding that in difficult conditions, the Russian people always unite,” Mr. Putin said.
Ever since he appeared before tens of thousands at a Moscow stadium on March 18, Mr. Putin’s public appearances have been limited to brief clips showing him meeting with government officials, mostly by video link, in which he does not comment on the peace talks or the war. Instead, he lets his Defense Ministry and other officials do the talking.
Mr. Putin emerged from his cocoon on Monday for an off-camera meeting at his residence outside Moscow with Chancellor Karl Nehammer of Austria, the first Western leader to visit with him since the Feb. 24 invasion. Mr. Nehammer said the session left him convinced that Mr. Putin was planning a large and violent military assault on the Donbas.
On Tuesday, Mr. Putin arrived in the Amur Region of Russia’s Far East and was shown in video released by the Kremlin chatting informally with workers at the Vostochny Cosmodrome, a sprawling facility that has been plagued by construction delays and remains unfinished.
While a key initial thrust of Russia’s invasion ended in a retreat, Mr. Putin insisted on Tuesday — as he did in the first weeks of the war — that the plan for what he calls the “special military operation” had not been altered. And he argued that what he called the West’s economic “blitzkrieg” to humble Russia had failed, pointing back to Soviet achievements in the space race as evidence that Russians could thrive despite sanctions.
Mr. Putin said Russia would move ahead with its lunar program, which includes a moon lander scheduled to be launched this year. And in a nod to Belarus’s status as Russia’s key ally in the war, Mr. Putin promised to send a Belarusian cosmonaut into space as early as next year.
“We are not going to isolate ourselves, and it is generally impossible to isolate anyone in the modern world, and most certainly not as huge a country as Russia,” Mr. Putin said.
Western countries have promised to continue to strengthen sanctions against Russia, with Europe increasingly discussing limits on Russian energy imports and more international businesses quitting Russia entirely. On Tuesday, Nokia, the Finnish telecommunications giant, joined its Swedish rival Ericsson in leaving Russia, portending new problems for the country’s internal communications.
Mr. Putin offered no hint on Tuesday that he was prepared to make peace before assaulting Ukrainian troops in the Donbas, which Western officials fear could be the most violent phase of the war so far. He insisted, as he has before, that Russia had no choice but to invade, alleging that the West was turning the country into an “anti-Russian bridgehead.”
“What is happening in Ukraine is a tragedy,” Mr. Putin said. “They just didn’t leave us a choice. There was no choice.”
Reporting was contributed by Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Natalia Yermak from Babai, Ukraine; Ivan Nechepurenko from Istanbul; Marc Santora from Warsaw; and Shashank Bengali and Megan Specia from London.
BELGRADE, Serbia — Mindful of the angry and still-unhealed wounds left by NATO’s bombing of Serbia more than 20 years ago, Ukraine’s ambassador appeared on Serbian television after Russia invaded and bombed his country in the hope of rousing sympathy.
Instead of getting time to explain Ukraine’s misery, however, the ambassador, Oleksandr Aleksandrovych, had to sit through rants by pro-Russian Serbian commentators, and long videos of Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, denouncing Ukraine as a nest of Nazis. The show, broadcast by the pro-government Happy TV, lasted three hours, more than half of which featured Mr. Putin.
Angry at the on-air ambush, the ambassador complained to the producer about the pro-Kremlin propaganda exercise, but was told not to take it personally and that Mr. Putin “is good for our ratings.”
That Russia’s leader, viewed by many in the West, including President Biden, as a war criminal, serves in Serbia as a lure for viewers is a reminder that the Kremlin still has admirers in Europe.
While Germany, Poland and several other E.U. countries display solidarity with Ukraine by flying its flag outside their Belgrade embassies, a nearby street pays tribute to Mr. Putin. A mural painted on the wall features an image of the Russian leader alongside the Serbian word for “brother.”
Part of Mr. Putin’s allure lies in his image as a strongman, an appealing model for President Aleksandr Vucic, the increasingly authoritarian leader of Serbia, and Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the belligerently illiberal leader of Hungary. Facing elections on Sunday, the Serbian and Hungarian leaders also look to Russia as a reliable source of energy to keep their voters happy. Opinion polls suggest both will win.
Then there is history, or at least a mythologized version of the past, that, in the case of Serbia, presents Russia, a fellow Slavic and Orthodox Christian nation, as an unwavering friend and protector down the centuries.
But perhaps most important is Mr. Putin’s role as a lodestar for nations that, no matter what their past crimes, see themselves as sufferers, not aggressors, and whose politics and psyche revolve around cults of victimhood nurtured by resentment and grievance against the West.
Arijan Djan, a Belgrade-based psychotherapist, said she had been shocked by the lack of empathy among many Serbs for the suffering of Ukrainians but realized that many still bore the scars of past trauma that obliterated all feeling for the pain of others.
“Individuals who suffer traumas that they have never dealt with cannot feel empathy,” she said. Societies, like trauma-scarred individuals, she added, “just repeat the same stories of their own suffering over and over again,” a broken record that “deletes all responsibility” for what they have done to others.
A sense of victimhood runs deep in Serbia, viewing crimes committed by ethnic kin during the Balkan wars of the 1990s as a defensive response to suffering visited on Serbs, just as Mr. Putin presents his bloody invasion of Ukraine as a righteous effort to protect persecuted ethnic Russians who belong in “Russky mir,” or the “Russian world.”
“Putin’s ‘Russian world’ is an exact copy of and what our nationalists call Greater Serbia,” said Bosko Jaksic, a pro-Western newspaper columnist. Both, he added, feed on partially remembered histories of past injustice and erased memories of their own sins.
The victim narrative is so strong among some in Serbia that Informer, a raucous tabloid newspaper that often reflects the thinking of Mr. Vucic, the president, last month reported Russia’s preparations for its invasion of Ukraine with a front-page headline recasting Moscow as a blameless innocent: “Ukraine attacks Russia!” it screamed.
The Serbian government, wary of burning bridges with the West but sensitive to widespread public sympathy for Russia as a fellow wronged victim, has since pushed news outlets to take a more neutral stand, said Zoran Gavrilovic, the executive director of Birodi, an independent media monitoring group in Serbia. Russia is almost never criticized, he said, but abuse of Ukraine has subsided.
Mr. Aleksandrovych, the Ukrainian ambassador to Serbia, said he welcomed the change of tone but that he still struggled to get Serbians to look beyond their own suffering at NATO’s hands in 1999. “Because of the trauma of what happened 23 years ago, whatever bad happens in the world is seen as America’s fault,” he said.
Hungary, allied with the losing side in two world wars, also nurses an oversize victim complex, rooted in the loss of large chunks of its territory. Mr. Orban has stoked those resentments eagerly for years, often siding with Russia over Ukraine, which controls a slice of former Hungarian land and has featured prominently in his efforts to present himself as a defender of ethnic Hungarians living beyond the country’s border.
In neighboring Serbia, Mr. Vucic, anxious to avoid alienating pro-Russia voters ahead of Sunday’s election, has balked at imposing sanctions on Russia and at suspending flights between Belgrade and Moscow. But Serbia did vote in favor of a United Nations resolution on March 2 condemning Russia’s invasion.
That was enough to win praise for Mr. Vucic from Victoria Nuland, an American under secretary of state, who thanked Serbia “for its support for Ukraine.” But it did not stop Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, from on Monday suggesting Belgrade as a good place to hold peace talks between Moscow and Kyiv.
Serbs who want their country to join the European Union and stop dancing between East and West accuse Mr. Vucic of playing a double game. “There are tectonic changes taking place and we are trying to sleep through them,” said Vladimir Medjak, vice president of European Movement Serbia, a lobbying group pushing for E.U. membership.
Serbia, he said, is “not so much pro-Russian as NATO-hating.”
Instead of moving toward Europe, he added: “We are still talking about what happened in the 1990s. It is an endless loop. We are stuck talking about the same things over and over.”
More than two decades after the fighting ended in the Balkans, many Serbs still dismiss war crimes in Srebrenica, where Serb soldiers massacred more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims in 1995, and in Kosovo, where brutal Serb persecution of ethnic Albanians prompted NATO’s 1999 bombing campaign, as the flip side of suffering inflicted on ethnic Serbs.
Asked whether she approved of the war unleashed by Mr. Putin as she walked by the Belgrade mural in his honor, Milica Zuric, a 25-year-old bank worker, responded by asking why Western media focused on Ukraine’s agonies when “you had no interest in Serbian pain” caused by NATO warplanes in 1999. “Nobody cried over what happened to us,” she said.
With much of the world’s media focused last week on Russia’s destruction of Mariupol, the Ukrainian port city, Serbia commemorated the start of NATO’s bombing campaign. Front pages were plastered with photos of buildings and railway lines destroyed by NATO. “We cannot forget. We know what it is to live under bombardment,” read the headline of Kurir, a pro-government tabloid.
A small group of protesters gathered outside the United States Embassy and then joined a much bigger pro-Russia demonstration, with protesters waving Russian flags and banners adorned with the letter Z, which has become an emblem of support for Russia’s invasion.
Damnjan Knezevic, the leader of People’s Patrol, a far-right group that organized the gathering, said he felt solidarity with Russia because it had been portrayed as an aggressor in the West, just as Serbia was in the 1990s, when, he believes, “Serbia was in reality the biggest victim.” Russia had a duty to protect ethnic kin in Ukraine just as Serbia did in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo, Mr. Knezevic said.
Bosko Obradovic, the leader of Dveri, a conservative party, said he lamented civilian casualties in Ukraine but insisted that “NATO has a huge responsibility” for their fate.
Mr. Obradovic on Sunday gathered cheering supporters for a pre-election rally in a Belgrade movie house. A stall outside the entrance sold Serbian paratrooper berets, military caps and big Russian flags.
Predrag Markovic, director for the Institute of Contemporary History in Belgrade, said that history served as the bedrock of nationhood but, distorted by political agendas, “always offers the wrong lessons.” The only case of a country in Europe fully acknowledging its past crimes, he added, was Germany after World War II.
“Everyone else has a story of victimization.” Mr. Markovic said.
Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, took an unusual step last week: It suspended some of the quality controls that ensure that posts from users in Russia, Ukraine and other Eastern European countries meet its rules.
Under the change, Meta temporarily stopped tracking whether its workers who monitor Facebook and Instagram posts from those areas were accurately enforcing its content guidelines, six people with knowledge of the situation said. That’s because the workers could not keep up with shifting rules about what kinds of posts were allowed about the war in Ukraine, they said.
Meta has made more than half a dozen content policy revisions since Russia invaded Ukraine last month. The company has permitted posts about the conflict that it would normally have taken down — including some calling for the death of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and violence against Russian soldiers — before changing its mind or drawing up new guidelines, the people said.
The result has been internal confusion, especially among the content moderators who patrol Facebook and Instagram for text and images with gore, hate speech and incitements to violence. Meta has sometimes shifted its rules on a daily basis, causing whiplash, said the people, who were not authorized to speak publicly.
contended with pressure from Russian and Ukrainian authorities over the information battle about the conflict. And internally, it has dealt with discontent about its decisions, including from Russian employees concerned for their safety and Ukrainian workers who want the company to be tougher on Kremlin-affiliated organizations online, three people said.
Meta has weathered international strife before — including the genocide of a Muslim minority in Myanmar last decade and skirmishes between India and Pakistan — with varying degrees of success. Now the largest conflict on the European continent since World War II has become a litmus test of whether the company has learned to police its platforms during major global crises — and so far, it appears to remain a work in progress.
“All the ingredients of the Russia-Ukraine conflict have been around for a long time: the calls for violence, the disinformation, the propaganda from state media,” said David Kaye, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, and a former special rapporteur to the United Nations. “What I find mystifying was that they didn’t have a game plan to deal with it.”
Dani Lever, a Meta spokeswoman, declined to directly address how the company was handling content decisions and employee concerns during the war.
After Russia invaded Ukraine, Meta said it established a round-the-clock special operations team staffed by employees who are native Russian and Ukrainian speakers. It also updated its products to aid civilians in the war, including features that direct Ukrainians toward reliable, verified information to locate housing and refugee assistance.
Mark Zuckerberg, Meta’s chief executive, and Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer, have been directly involved in the response to the war, said two people with knowledge of the efforts. But as Mr. Zuckerberg focuses on transforming Meta into a company that will lead the digital worlds of the so-called metaverse, many responsibilities around the conflict have fallen — at least publicly — to Nick Clegg, the president for global affairs.
announced that Meta would restrict access within the European Union to the pages of Russia Today and Sputnik, which are Russian state-controlled media, following requests by Ukraine and other European governments. Russia retaliated by cutting off access to Facebook inside the country, claiming the company discriminated against Russian media, and then blocking Instagram.
This month, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine praised Meta for moving quickly to limit Russian war propaganda on its platforms. Meta also acted rapidly to remove an edited “deepfake” video from its platforms that falsely featured Mr. Zelensky yielding to Russian forces.
a group called the Ukrainian Legion to run ads on its platforms this month to recruit “foreigners” for the Ukrainian army, a violation of international laws. It later removed the ads — which were shown to people in the United States, Ireland, Germany and elsewhere — because the group may have misrepresented ties to the Ukrainian government, according to Meta.
Internally, Meta had also started changing its content policies to deal with the fast-moving nature of posts about the war. The company has long forbidden posts that might incite violence. But on Feb. 26, two days after Russia invaded Ukraine, Meta informed its content moderators — who are typically contractors — that it would allow calls for the death of Mr. Putin and “calls for violence against Russians and Russian soldiers in the context of the Ukraine invasion,” according to the policy changes, which were reviewed by The New York Times.
Reuters reported on Meta’s shifts with a headline that suggested that posts calling for violence against all Russians would be tolerated. In response, Russian authorities labeled Meta’s activities as “extremist.”
Shortly thereafter, Meta reversed course and said it would not let its users call for the deaths of heads of state.
“Circumstances in Ukraine are fast moving,” Mr. Clegg wrote in an internal memo that was reviewed by The Times and first reported by Bloomberg. “We try to think through all the consequences, and we keep our guidance under constant review because the context is always evolving.”
Meta amended other policies. This month, it made a temporary exception to its hate speech guidelines so users could post about the “removal of Russians” and “explicit exclusion against Russians” in 12 Eastern European countries, according to internal documents. But within a week, Meta tweaked the rule to note that it should be applied only to users in Ukraine.
The constant adjustments left moderators who oversee users in Central and Eastern European countries confused, the six people with knowledge of the situation said.
Russia-Ukraine War: Key Developments
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Putin’s advisers. U.S. intelligence suggests that President Vladimir V. Putin has been misinformed by his advisers about the Russian military’s struggles in Ukraine. The intelligence shows what appears to be growing tension between Mr. Putin and the Ministry of Defense, U.S. officials said.
The policy changes were onerous because moderators were generally given less than 90 seconds to decide on whether images of dead bodies, videos of limbs being blown off, or outright calls to violence violated Meta’s rules, they said. In some instances, they added, moderators were shown posts about the war in Chechen, Kazakh or Kyrgyz, despite not knowing those languages.
Ms. Lever declined to comment on whether Meta had hired content moderators who specialize in those languages.
take action against Russia Today and Sputnik, said two people who attended. Russian state activity was at the center of Facebook’s failure to protect the 2016 U.S. presidential election, they said, and it didn’t make sense that those outlets had continued to operate on Meta’s platforms.
While Meta has no employees in Russia, the company held a separate meeting this month for workers with Russian connections. Those employees said they were concerned that Moscow’s actions against the company would affect them, according to an internal document.
In discussions on Meta’s internal forums, which were viewed by The Times, some Russian employees said they had erased their place of work from their online profiles. Others wondered what would happen if they worked in the company’s offices in places with extradition treaties to Russia and “what kind of risks will be associated with working at Meta not just for us but our families.”
Ms. Lever said Meta’s “hearts go out to all of our employees who are affected by the war in Ukraine, and our teams are working to make sure they and their families have the support they need.”
At a separate company meeting this month, some employees voiced unhappiness with the changes to the speech policies during the war, according to an internal poll. Some asked if the new rules were necessary, calling the changes “a slippery slope” that were “being used as proof that Westerners hate Russians.”
Others asked about the effect on Meta’s business. “Will Russian ban affect our revenue for the quarter? Future quarters?” read one question. “What’s our recovery strategy?”