The United Nations is coordinating talks among Ukraine, Russia and Turkey in the hopes of hammering out security guarantees that would allow Ukraine to export its grain and help ease a global food crisis that is being exacerbated by the war.
But the Ukrainian government’s negotiator expressed skepticism in a recent interview with The New York Times that Russia would abide by any guarantee unless Kyiv had the military power to enforce it.
The Ukrainian negotiator, Rustem Umerov, told the Times that the country was preparing for talks in Istanbul to discuss a way to end Russia’s de facto blockade of the Black Sea port of Odesa to allow the shipment of the 20 million metric tons of grain Ukraine has in storage silos.
But he said that only the delivery of powerful naval weapons committed by Western allies would be an effective security guarantee, and he accused Russia of seeking to use the issue to shore up its own position in the Black Sea.
“If we will open up the ports, it means that the northwestern Black Sea will open up to them,” he said. No international backer, he added, “whoever guarantees us,” could be relied on to strike back if Russia then attacked Ukrainian shipping.
“And they understand it,” he said. “That’s why they are pressurizing the world to squeeze Ukraine to open up the ports.”
Before the war began, Ukraine exported about six million metric tons of grain a month, Kate Newton, an emergency coordinator for the U.N. World Food Program in Ukraine, said at a news conference in Kyiv on Thursday. Now, the country is only able to to export about one million metric tons per month, she said.
“We are doing everything we can,” she said, “exporting grain by truck, rail and river.” But, she said, without use of the Black Sea ports, it would not be possible to raise export levels much.
Russian forces have also bombed grain storage centers and fields across Ukraine. When Ukraine started shipping grain from a port on the Danube River, the Russians bombed the primary bridge trucks could use to get there.
In previous negotiations, Moscow has insisted on the right to “inspect” all vessels carrying Ukrainian grain — a condition that Kyiv would not accept.
Ukraine’s military on Thursday said it had driven Russian forces from Snake Island, a strategically important outcrop whose loss could undermine Moscow’s control over Black Sea shipping lanes. But Russia’s de facto blockade showed no sign of easing.
Mr. Umerov and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba have accused Russia of sowing disinformation about who is to blame for the blockade. The grain issue, and even the prospect of famine, have become part an information war waged by Moscow, Mr. Umerov said.
“They are weaponizing the famine,” Mr. Umerov said. “They are addressing the African states, saying, ‘We are always ready to support you, it’s Ukrainians who are not opening the ports.’” African countries are heavily dependent on grain from Russia and Ukraine.
The Russian defense ministry cast its withdrawal from Snake Island as a humanitarian gesture and repeated that it was not to blame for the food crisis. But at a recent appearance, Margarita Simonyan, the editor in chief of the Kremlin mouthpiece RT, appeared to suggest that the crisis could be to Moscow’s political benefit.
“I’ve heard it several times in Moscow from many people: ‘All our hope is in the famine,’” she told the St. Petersburg Economic Forum on June 20, adding that those people’s expectation was that famine would drive countries to lift sanctions on Russia.
Kyiv has been working to counter that narrative. Last week, Mr. Kuleba spent an hour speaking to journalists from Africa, emphasizing Ukraine’s urgency to resume exporting.
“The only country that is not really under time pressure here is Russia,” he said in an interview. “Everyone else is running out of time, be it us as suppliers, African and Asian countries as recipients, or the United Nations, whose reputation is at stake.”
Stopping at the edge of a vast field of barley on his farm in Prundu, 30 miles outside Romania’s capital city of Bucharest, Catalin Corbea pinched off a spiky flowered head from a stalk, rolled it between his hands, and then popped a seed in his mouth and bit down.
“Another 10 days to two weeks,” he said, explaining how much time was needed before the crop was ready for harvest.
Mr. Corbea, a farmer for nearly three decades, has rarely been through a season like this one. The Russians’ bloody creep into Ukraine, a breadbasket for the world, has caused an upheaval in global grain markets. Coastal blockades have trapped millions of tons of wheat and corn inside Ukraine. With famine stalking Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere in Asia, a frenetic scramble for new suppliers and alternate shipping routes is underway.
barge that had sunk in World War II.
Rain was not as plentiful in Prundu as Mr. Corbea would have liked it to be, but the timing was opportune when it did come. He bent down and picked up a fistful of dark, moist soil and caressed it. “This is perfect land,” he said.
67.5 million tons of cargo, more than a third of it grain. Now, with Odesa’s port closed off, some Ukrainian exports are making their way through Constanta’s complex.
Railway cars, stamped “Cereale” on their sides, spilled Ukrainian corn onto underground conveyor belts, sending up billowing dust clouds last week at the terminal operated by the American food giant Cargill. At a quay operated by COFCO, the largest food and agricultural processor in China, grain was being loaded onto a cargo ship from one of the enormous silos that lined its docks. At COFCO’s entry gate, trucks that displayed Ukraine’s distinctive blue-and-yellow-striped flag on their license plates waited for their cargoes of grain to be inspected before unloading.
During a visit to Kyiv last week, Romania’s president, Klaus Iohannis, said that since the beginning of the invasion more than a million tons of Ukrainian grain had passed through Constanta to locations around the world.
But logistical problems prevent more grain from making the journey. Ukraine’s rail gauges are wider than those elsewhere in Europe. Shipments have to be transferred at the border to Romanian trains, or each railway car has to be lifted off a Ukrainian undercarriage and wheels to one that can be used on Romanian tracks.
Truck traffic in Ukraine has been slowed by backups at border crossings — sometimes lasting days — along with gas shortages and damaged roadways. Russia has targeted export routes, according to Britain’s defense ministry.
Romania has its own transit issues. High-speed rail is rare, and the country lacks an extensive highway system. Constanta and the surrounding infrastructure, too, suffer from decades of underinvestment.
Over the past couple of months, the Romanian government has plowed money into clearing hundreds of rusted wagons from rail lines and refurbishing tracks that were abandoned when the Communist regime fell in 1989.
Still, trucks entering and exiting the port from the highway must share a single-lane roadway. An attendant mans the gate, which has to be lifted for each vehicle.
When the bulk of the Romanian harvest begins to arrive at the terminals in the next couple of weeks, the congestion will get significantly worse. Each day, 3,000 to 5,000 trucks will arrive, causing backups for miles on the highway that leads into Constanta, said Cristian Taranu, general manager at the terminals run by the Romanian port operator Umex.
Mr. Mircea’s farm is less than a 30-minute drive from Constanta. But “during the busiest periods, my trucks are waiting two, three days” just to enter the port’s complex so they can unload, he said through a translator.
That is one reason he is less sanguine than Mr. Corbea is about Romania’s ability to take advantage of farming and export opportunities.
“Port Constanta is not prepared for such an opportunity,” Mr. Mircea said. “They don’t have the infrastructure.”
LONDON — The Russian blockade that has stopped Ukraine from exporting its vast storehouses of grain and other goods, threatening starvation in distant corners of the globe, is a “war crime,” the European Union’s top foreign policy official declared Monday.
The remarks by the official, Josep Borrell Fontelles, were among the strongest language from a Western leader in describing the Kremlin’s tactics to subjugate Ukraine nearly four months after it invaded, and with no end to the conflict in sight.
Before Russian forces began pounding Ukraine in February, it was a major exporter of grain, cooking oil and fertilizer. But the Black Sea blockade — along with Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian farmland and its destruction of agricultural infrastructure — has brought exports to a near standstill. The latest blow came Monday, when, Ukrainian regional authorities said, a Russian missile razed a food warehouse in Odesa, Ukraine’s biggest Black Sea port.
arriving in Luxembourg for a meeting of E.U. foreign ministers. “Millions of tons of wheat remain blocked in Ukraine while in the rest of the world, people are suffering hunger. This is a real war crime, so I cannot imagine that this will last much longer.”
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine made the same point in a remote address to the African Union on Monday. Moscow has deep ties to many African countries, which have been reluctant to criticize the invasion.
similar announcement on Sunday by Germany, Europe’s biggest economy. Denmark said it was also activating a plan to deal with looming shortages of gas that had been supplied by Russia.
The developments came as Russia, far from feeling the pain of lost fuel sales, found a savior in China, which reported on Monday that it was now the biggest buyer of Russian oil.
considering a suspension of fuel taxes to ease the strain on consumers.
NBC News, Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, said that the two Americans, Alex Drueke, 39, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, were “soldiers of fortune” who had been engaged in shelling and firing on Russian forces and should be “held responsible for the crimes they have committed.”
The sanctions imposed on Russia also played a role on Monday in an escalating confrontation with Lithuania, a member of both the European Union and NATO.
The Russian authorities threatened Lithuania with retaliation if the Baltic country did not swiftly reverse its ban on the transportation of some goods to Kaliningrad, the Russian exclave between Lithuania and Poland. Citing instructions from the European Union, Lithuania’s railway on Friday said it was halting the movement of goods from Russia that have been sanctioned by the European bloc.
Mr. Peskov told reporters the situation was “more than serious.” He called the new restrictions “an element of a blockade” of the region and a “violation of everything.”
small town of Toshkivka in Luhansk Province, part of the eastern region known as Donbas. That is where Russian forces have concentrated much of their military power as part of a plan to seize the region after having failed to occupy other parts of the country, including Kyiv, the capital, and Kharkiv, the second-largest city, in northern Ukraine.
Reports over the weekend suggested that Russian forces had broken through the Ukrainian front line in Toshkivka, about 12 miles southeast of the metropolitan area of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk. Those are the last major cities in Luhansk not to have fallen into Russian hands. As of Monday, it remained unclear whether Russia had made any further advance there.
But Ukrainian officials said Russian forces had intensified shelling in and around Kharkiv, weeks after the Ukrainians had pushed them back, suggesting that Moscow still had territorial ambitions beyond Donbas.
“We de-occupied this region,” Mr. Zelensky said in an address to a conference of international policy experts in Italy. “And they want to do it again.”
Matthew Mpoke Bigg reported from London, Andrew Higgins from Warsaw, Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Druzhkivka, Ukraine, and Rick Gladstone from New York. Reporting was contributed by Valerie Hopkins and Oleksandr Chubko from Kyiv; Dan Bilefsky from Montreal; Monika Pronczuk from Brussels; Austin Ramzy from Hong Kong; Stanley Reed from London; and Zach Montague from Rehoboth Beach, Del.
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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One hundred days ago, before sunrise, Russia launched artillery strikes on Ukraine before sending troops racing toward major cities, beginning a war against a much smaller country and outnumbered military that seemed destined to quickly topple the government in Kyiv.
But the brutal invasion has ripped apart those predictions, reawakening old alliances, testing others and spreading death and destruction across the country. Both armies are now locked in fierce and bloody battles across a 600-mile-long front for control of Ukraine’s east and to gain the upper hand in the conflict.
The winner, if there is one, is not likely to emerge even in the next 100 days, analysts say. Some foresee an increasingly intractable struggle in eastern Ukraine and a growing confrontation between President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and the West.
New Western arms promised to Ukraine — such as long-range missiles announced by President Biden this week — could help it reclaim some towns, which would be significant for civilians in those areas, said Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, a political risk consulting organization. But they are unlikely to dramatically alter the course of the war, he said.
Squeezed by tightening Western sanctions, Russia, he said, was likely to retaliate with cyberattacks, espionage and disinformation campaigns. And a Russian naval blockade of Ukrainian grain is likely to worsen a food crisis in poor countries.
“What we’re looking at now is what the war in Ukraine is likely to look like in 100 days, not radically different,” Mr. Bremmer said. “But I think the confrontation with the West has the potential to be significantly worse.”
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said defiantly Friday that “victory will be ours,” and noted overnight that 50 foreign embassies had resumed “their full-fledged activities” in Kyiv, a sign of the fragile sense of normalcy returning to the capital.
Nevertheless, more than three months into a war that has radically altered Europe’s security calculus, killed thousands on both sides, displaced more than 12 million people and spurred a humanitarian crisis, Russian forces now control one-fifth of the country — an area greater than the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg combined.
Asked during a briefing with reporters what Russia had achieved in Ukraine after 100 days, Dmitri S. Peskov, the presidential spokesman, said that many populated areas had been “liberated” from the Ukrainian military, whom he described as “Nazi-minded,” doubling down on a false narrative the Kremlin has used to justify the invasion.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said Friday that the invasion had caused destruction that “defies comprehension,” adding, “It would be hard to exaggerate the toll that the international armed conflict in Ukraine has had on civilians over the last 100 days.”
More than 4,000 civilians have been killed since Feb. 24, according to U.N. estimates. Ukrainian officials place the death toll much higher.
The war has also set off the largest exodus of refugees in Europe since World War II. More than 8 million Ukrainians have been internally displaced, and more than 6.5 million have fled to other countries, according to the United Nations.
Half of Ukraine’s businesses have closed and 4.8 million jobs have been lost. The U.N. estimates the country’s economic output will fall by half this year. Ninety percent of the population risks falling near or below the poverty line. At least $100 billion in damage has been done to infrastructure.
“We may not have enough weapons, but we are resisting,” said Oleh Kubrianov, a Ukrainian soldier who lost his right leg fighting near the front line, speaking in a raspy voice as he lay in a hospital bed. He still had shrapnel lodged in his neck. “There are many more of us, and we are motivated, and convinced by our victory,” he said.
Indeed, a recent poll found that almost 80 percent of Ukrainians believe the country is “moving in the right direction.”
“The idea of Ukrainian identity expanded,” said Volodymyr Yermolenko, a Ukrainian writer, describing the national sentiment. “More people feel themselves Ukrainian, even those who were doubting their Ukrainian and European identity.”
Russia, too, is suffering from the invasion, geopolitically isolated and facing years of economic dislocation. Its banks have been cut off from Western finance, and with oil production already off by 15 percent, it is losing energy markets in Europe. Its industries are grappling with developing shortages of basic materials, spare parts and high-tech components.
The decisions by Finland and Sweden to abandon more than 70 years of neutrality and apply for membership in NATO have underscored the disastrous strategic costs of the invasion for Russia.
Major Western companies like McDonald’s, Starbucks and Nike have vanished, ostensibly to be replaced by Russian brands. The impact will be less noticeable outside major cities, but with nearly 1,000 foreign companies having left, some consumers have felt the difference as stocks ran low.
While existing stocks have kept much of the country ticking, Russia will soon have much more of a Soviet feel, reverting to an era when Western goods were nonexistent. Some importers will make a fortune bringing in everything from jeans to iPhones to spare engine parts, but the country will become much more self-contained.
“In Russia, the most important economic thing in the last 100 days is that Putin and the elite firmly settled on an autocratic, isolationist course, and the wider elite and public seem supportive,” said Konstantin Sonin, a Russian economist at the University of Chicago.
“It seems that the course is settled, and it will be hard to reverse even if the war ended miraculously quickly,” he added. The next step will likely be a return to more centralized economic planning, he predicted, with the government setting prices and taking over the allocation of certain scarce goods, particularly those needed for military production.
The war is reverberating globally as well. On Friday, Macky Sall, the president of Senegal and chairman of the African Union, appealed directly to Mr. Putin to release Ukraine’s grain as countries across Africa and the Middle East face alarming levels of hunger and starvation.
At a news conference with Mr. Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Mr. Sall also blamed Western sanctions on Russia for compounding Africa’s food crisis.
“Our countries, although they are far from the theater,” Mr. Sall said, “are victims of this crisis on an economic level.”
Tens of millions of people in Africa are on the brink of severe hunger and famine.
On Friday, Chad, a landlocked nation of 17 million people, declared a food emergency and the United Nations has warned that nearly a third of the country’s population would need humanitarian assistance this year.
For now, peace in Ukraine appears to be nowhere in sight.
On Friday, the skies around Sievierodonetsk, the last major city in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine still under Ukrainian control, were heavy with smoke as both armies traded blows in a fierce battle.
Ukrainian troops were moving heavy guns and howitzers along the roads toward the frontline, pouring men and armor into the fight. Russian rockets pummeled an area near Sievierodonetsk late Friday afternoon, landing with multiple heavy explosions that were audible from a nearby village. Missiles streaked through the sky from Ukrainian-held territory toward Russian positions.
Bruno Tertrais, deputy director of the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research, said both sides could become bogged down for months or years in a war of “positions,” rather than movement.
“This is not a bad scenario for Russia, which would maintain its country in a state of war and would wait for fatigue to win over the Westerners,” Mr. Tertrais wrote in a paper for the Institut Montaigne. Russia would already win to some degree, “by putting the occupied regions under its thumb for a long time.”
Nevertheless, Mr. Tertrais believes a progressive material and moral collapse of the Russian effort remains more probable, given Russian troops’ low morale and Ukraine’s general mobilization.
Amin Awad, the United Nations’ crisis coordinator for Ukraine, said that regardless of who wins the conflict, the toll has been “unacceptable.”
“This war has and will have no winner,” Mr. Awad said in a statement. “Rather, we have witnessed for 100 days what is lost: lives, homes, jobs and prospects.”
Reporting was contributed by Carlotta Gall, Dan Bilefsky, Matthew Mpoke Bigg, Cassandra Vinograd, Elian Peltier and Kevin Granville.
DAVOS, Switzerland — Fears of a global food crisis are swelling as Russian attacks on Ukraine’s ability to produce and export grain have choked off one of the world’s breadbaskets, fueling charges that President Vladimir V. Putin is using food as a powerful new weapon in his three-month-old war.
World leaders called on Tuesday for international action to deliver 20 million tons of grain now trapped in Ukraine, predicting that the alternative could be hunger in some countries and political unrest in others, in what could be the gravest global repercussion yet of Russia’s assault on its neighbor. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where worries about the war’s consequences have eclipsed almost every other issue, speakers reached for apocalyptic language to describe the threat.
“It’s a perfect storm within a perfect storm,” said David Beasley, the executive director of the World Food Program, a United Nations agency. Calling the situation “absolutely critical,” he warned, “We will have famines around the world.”
The world’s food distribution network was already strained by pandemic-related disruptions, and exports from Ukraine, ordinarily among the world’s biggest suppliers, have plummeted because of the war. Russia has seized some the country’s Black Sea ports and blockaded the rest, trapping cargo vessels laden with corn, wheat, sunflower seeds, barley and oats.
Russian forces have taken control of some of Ukraine’s most productive farmland, destroyed Ukrainian infrastructure that is vital to raising and shipping grain, and littered farm fields with explosives. Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Union’s executive branch, told the political and business leaders gathered in Davos that Russia — an even bigger exporter — had confiscated Ukrainian grain stocks and agricultural machinery.
“On top of this,” she said, “Russia is now hoarding its own food exports as a form of blackmail, holding back supplies to increase global prices, or trading wheat in exchange for political support.”
The fighting in Ukraine is increasingly concentrated in a small pocket of the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, where Russia’s battered forces are making slow, bloody progress as they try to encircle the strategically important city of Sievierodonetsk, the easternmost Ukrainian stronghold.
Within the city, once an industrial hub, the devastation from Russian artillery is evident on every street in the form of shattered buildings, burned-out vehicles and cratered pavement. Russian pincers approaching the city from the north and south are separated by just 16 miles, but face “strong Ukrainian resistance,” the British Defense Ministry said on Tuesday.
Three months into the war, the United States and its allies have shown remarkable solidarity so far in supporting Ukraine with weapons and other aid, and in punishing Russia with economic sanctions, but the limits of that unity are being tested. Finland and Sweden have signaled that they want to abandon their long-held neutrality to join NATO, but that plan is being held up by one member country, Turkey. At the same time, Hungary is blocking an E.U. plan to embargo imports of Russian oil.
Within both blocs, officials have offered assurances, without specifics, that the roadblocks will soon be overcome. Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary general, said Tuesday that he was confident Sweden and Finland would join the alliance, though “I cannot tell you exactly how and when.” Diplomats from the two Nordic countries traveled to Turkey for talks on the issue.
The European Union, heavily dependent on Russian fuels, has already agreed to a phased embargo on natural gas from Russia, and the head of the International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol, warned that Europe could face gas rationing next winter.
“I’m advising several European governments to prepare a contingency plan,” Mr. Birol said at Davos. He added that “Europe is paying for its over-dependence on Russian energy.”
Ukraine has applied to join the European Union, and on Tuesday its government rejected a French proposal for something short of full membership. Russia has vehemently opposed any expansion of NATO and E.U. membership for Ukraine, but its aggression has backfired, making those associations more attractive to its neighbors.
Increasingly isolated, the Kremlin has looked to Beijing for support, and Russia held joint military maneuvers on Tuesday with China, their first since the war in Ukraine began. The show of force included bomber flights over the Sea of Japan, while President Biden was not far away, in Tokyo, for meetings with world leaders.
But the food crisis took center stage at Davos, where President Andrzej Duda of Poland warned that famine in Africa and elsewhere would prompt a flood of migration to Europe, where searing memories are fresh of the 2015-2016 migration wave that strained E.U. unity and empowered xenophobic nationalist movements.
Ukraine and Russia ordinarily account for about one-quarter of the grain traded internationally; in recent years, Ukraine had exported an average of about 3.5 million tons of per month. In March, only 300,000 tons were shipped out, though exports rebounded somewhat to more than a million tons in April and could reach 1.5 million tons in May, said Roman Slaston, the chief of Ukraine’s agricultural industry group.
Ukraine’s agriculture ministry says that the Black Sea blockade has prevented 14 million tons of corn, 7 million tons of wheat and 3 million tons of sunflower seeds from reaching world markets. Ukrainian officials have accused Moscow of stealing Ukraine’s produce and then selling it abroad as Russian.
Western officials are circulating proposals for getting grain out of Ukraine, such as having multiple countries send warships to escort cargo ships from Ukrainian ports and run the blockade, but that runs the danger of a shooting confrontation with Russian vessels. Sending ships from NATO countries is considered particularly risky — like the rejected idea of having NATO members enforce a no-fly zone to keep Russian warplanes away from Ukraine — so much of the talk has been about countries outside the alliance taking part.
But Mr. Stoltenberg, the NATO chief, warned that breaking the Black Sea blockade would be very hard.
“Is it possible to get it out on ships? That is a difficult task. It’s not an easy way forward,” he said.
Ukraine has continued to ship grain overland through Europe, and work is underway to expand such routes, Ms. von der Leyen and Mr. Slaston said — but doing so on a scale great enough to replace seagoing shipment would be very difficult. The railways in Eastern Europe use different gauges, which means switching equipment when going long distances, and many of Ukraine’s railroads, highways and bridges have been damaged by Russian attacks.
One farmer said he lost 50 rail cars full of grain when his cargo got stranded between Russian airstrikes in front of and behind the train.
But the problem is not limited to shipping — farming, itself, has been greatly diminished by the war. In some places, fighting has simply made the work too dangerous. In others, Russian strikes on fuel depots have left farmers unable to power their tractors.
Farmers accuse Russian forces of regularly targeting their grain silos and seizing their grain stores, particularly in the south.
And perhaps most frightening are the countless mines left by retreating Russian forces, especially in the north. The Ukrainian Deminers Association, a group that locates and removes explosives, says nearly 45 percent of the fields it has inspected in the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions were mined.
Gordie Siebring, a farmer based near the Belarusian border, said Ukrainian military authorities warned him he could not sow the fields closest to the frontier because of the mine threat, meaning he has been unable to plant 8 to 10 percent of his field. Neighboring farmers have it much worse, he said, because Russian mines have made over two-thirds of their fields too dangerous to use.
“If they are as close as 10 to 15 kilometers away, they can launch mines with artillery,” he said. “These mines have small parachutes and land in the fields and have sensors that cause detonation later. Those are really causing havoc.”
Another threat to global supplies, experts say, is that countries will hoard their own food stocks. Robert Habeck, the vice chancellor and minister of economic affairs of Germany, said countries should curb their use of grain to make biofuel and to feed livestock.
“Markets have to stay open,” Mr. Habeck said in an interview. “The worst thing that can happen now is that every country cares for its own supply, saves all the wheat, saves all the food, and does not give it to the market, because then we have no chance of securing the food supply.”
Before the war, droughts in North America and the Horn of Africa, poor harvests in China and France, and the pandemic were already squeezing food supplies, leaving the world uncommonly vulnerable. By December, global wheat prices had risen about 80 percent in a little over a year, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Even before Russian tanks rolled across Ukraine’s border, experts were warning of “a massive surge in food insecurity and the threat of famine,” said Adam Tooze, director of the European Institute at Columbia University.
The war, he said, is “impacting an incredibly fragile food system.”
At the same time, the spike in oil and gas prices caused by the war has triggered an even sharper increase in the cost of fertilizers made in part from those fuels.
Ms. von der Leyen said E.U. countries were increasing their own grain production and working with the World Food Program to ship available stocks to vulnerable countries at affordable prices.
“Global cooperation is the antidote to Russia’s blackmail,” she said.
Mark Landler, Matina Stevis-Gridneff and Patricia Cohen reported from Davos, Switzerland, and Erika Solomon from Lviv, Ukraine. Reporting was contributed by Carlotta Gall from Sievierodonetsk, Ukraine; Edward Wong from Washington; Matthew Mpoke Bigg from Krakow, Poland; and Monika Pronczuk from Brussels.
KRAKOW, Poland — Fresh from its triumph over the last armed Ukrainian resistance in the devastated city of Mariupol, Russia appeared to be laying the groundwork Thursday for annexing swaths of southeast Ukraine, described by a high-ranking Kremlin official as having a “worthy place in our Russian family.’’
The official, Marat Khusnullin, Russia’s deputy prime minister for infrastructure, toured the region this week and outlined plans to take full control of vital infrastructure, including Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, as Russia fortified its defensive positions there and exerted its authority over the local population.
“I came here to provide maximum opportunities for integration,” Mr. Khusnullin was quoted by Russian news media as saying.
In a further sign that Moscow was preparing to push for the Russification of the region — the way it has in Crimea since seizing it from Ukraine in 2014 — Russian officials have already moved to introduce the ruble currency, install proxy politicians in local governments, impose new school curriculums, reroute internet servers through Russia and cut the population off from Ukrainian broadcasts.
Mr. Khusnullin said Russia even intended to charge Ukraine for electricity generated by the Ukrainian nuclear plant that Russian forces commandeered in the early weeks of the invasion — a plan that Ukraine described as extortion.
Russia’s moves came as the United States sought to further escalate pressure on the Kremlin. President Biden vowed to help gain speedy approval of applications to join NATO by formerly neutral Finland and Sweden, as he welcomed the leaders of those countries to the White House and as U.S. officials expressed confidence that they could satisfy Turkey’s objections to Finnish and Swedish membership. And the Senate overwhelmingly approved a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine that Mr. Biden was set to sign into law.
Even as the Russian authorities projected control over a Ukrainian region that is culturally close to Russia, President Vladimir V. Putin appeared to be punishing military subordinates for blunders in the three-month-old invasion.
A report by Britain’s defense intelligence agency suggested the Kremlin was conducting a purge of senior commanders deemed responsible for the failures of Russia’s initial strategy to seize much more Ukraine territory, including the capital, Kyiv, and second-largest city, Kharkiv. The report raised the question of whether Mr. Putin retained faith in his chief of the general staff, Valery Gerasimov.
The Russians have said nothing about any changes in the military leadership.
Russia’s new, narrower strategy of focusing on Ukraine’s east has proved more successful than its initially greater aims, even as its forces have retreated in the northeast and struggled to gain ground in the eastern Donbas region.
Following the longest battle of the war, Russian soldiers completed their capture of Mariupol on Tuesday after having seized control of the sprawling Azovstal steel plant, the last redoubt of Ukrainian defenders. More than 700 fighters from the Azov battalion, die-hards who had made a final stand against the Russians from the plant, surrendered between Wednesday and Thursday, according to the Russian Defense Ministry, bringing the total number of captives to 1,730.
The Kremlin has been using the mass surrender for propaganda purposes, describing its captives as terrorists and Nazi war criminals, and framing the conquest of Mariupol as a turning point in the conflict.
Although much of Mariupol is ruined, the capture of the port city is expected to bring Russia concrete benefits. It will complete a long-sought land bridge between the Russian-controlled Crimean peninsula to the south and the adjoining region known as Donbas, where pro-Russian separatists have battled Ukrainian forces since the Crimea annexation.
With Mariupol captured, Russian troops are now freed to help entrench Russia’s authority over the rest of the eastern region — well short of Moscow’s initial push to control all of Ukraine, but strong leverage in any future peace negotiations.
The fighting has settled into a stalemate along most of the front.
Stiff Ukrainian resistance is forcing Russian troops to fight in smaller formations and seek more limited objectives elsewhere in the Donbas region, a senior Pentagon official said on Thursday.
“They’re going after smaller objectives,” the senior official said of the Russian goals, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss operational details of American defense intelligence work. “And sometimes those objectives are only maintained for a short period of time before the Ukrainians take them back. They’re just being more modest in what they’re trying to go after.”
The shift in Russian tactics reflects not only the resilient Ukrainian defense, but also the nagging command, logistics and morale problems that continued to bedevil Russian commanders, especially in the hotly contested Donbas, the official said.
The southern region under Russian control covers a vast expanse that includes Ukraine’s agricultural heartland and several key ports. Along with Russia’s naval dominion in the Black Sea, annexation would tighten Moscow’s stranglehold on the Ukrainian economy and solidify its blockade of Ukraine’s southern coast.
In another possible sign of steps to entrench Russia’s control, its troops closed checkpoints on Thursday for civilians crossing between Russian-occupied zones and Ukrainian controlled areas in two regions, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, according to the Ukrainian military and local authorities.
At one checkpoint, near the town of Vasilyevka, a line of cars transporting mostly women and children seeking to evacuate Russian-held areas stretched through farm fields. Ukrainian officials estimated more than 1,000 cars waited at the crossing, said Zlata Nekrasova, the deputy governor of the Ukrainian regional government in Zaporizhzhia.
The Ukrainians have accused Russia of forcibly deporting thousands to Russia and witnesses have described increasingly repressive efforts to enforce Russian rule.
The Kremlin has sought to portray its actions as reflecting popular will. Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, appeared to play down the significance of Mr. Khusnullin’s statements signaling annexation, saying only locals could decide.
But in a move that some analysts regarded as reflecting confusion within the Russian leadership about how to secure Ukrainian areas seized by Russia, a group of lawmakers on Thursday submitted a bill to the State Duma that would allow Mr. Putin to establish “temporary administrations on territories where Russia’s army conducts military operations.”
Mr. Khusnullin said that Russia would soon begin charging Ukraine for electricity from the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which Russia has controlled since early March. When fully operational, the plant can produce enough energy for four million homes.
Ukraine’s energy provider, NPC Ukrenergo, which called Mr. Khusnullin’s statement nuclear blackmail, said the real aim was to give Russia electricity leverage over Ukraine and the rest of Europe. It noted that the plant was part of the Ukrainian power grid and unequipped to deliver power to Russia.
Moscow’s announcements were also part of a propaganda campaign aimed at conveying control over areas where its grip is less solid. Military analysts have said Russia’s forces could still face Ukrainian uprisings and counteroffensives.
Russia’s invasion in February, spearheaded by a rapid advance of tanks and helicopters, ultimately led to many Russian casualties, including some senior generals on the battlefield. The finger-pointing has started, Britain’s defense intelligence agency said in its Thursday report.
It said the commander of the elite 1st Guards Tank Army, Lt. Gen. Serhiy Kisel, had been suspended for failure to capture Kharkiv, where Ukrainian forces have not only counterattacked but driven the invaders back toward the Russian border 40 miles away.
The British agency also reported that the commander of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, Vice Adm. Igor Osipov, had likely been suspended following the April sinking of the fleet’s flagship, the cruiser Moskva. Asked about the report, a senior Pentagon went further, saying the commander had been dismissed.
General Gerasimov, Russia’s highest ranking uniformed officer, “likely remains in post but it is unclear whether he retains the confidence” of Mr. Putin, the British report said.
But in a signal that General Gerasimov remained in good standing, he spoke on Thursday by phone with Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Pentagon said. It was their first call since the invasion.
In the port city of Kherson, in the south near the border with Crimea, Mr. Khusnullin inspected infrastructure, including the port, a cargo railway station and a factory.
“We will live and work together,” he said, adding that Russia had already allocated funds to restore the city’s roads.
“We will now eat tomatoes and tomato paste more often in Russia thanks to the work of Kherson’s agricultural producers,” Mr. Khusnullin said, alluding to Kherson’s longtime role as a breadbasket and a global exporter.
But even as he spoke, Ukrainian officials said a convoy of civilian cars trying to flee the region came under fire from Russian soldiers. Roughly half of the million people who once lived in the region have fled, with witnesses who escaped offering harrowing stories of Russian repression.
In Kyiv, a committee in Ukraine’s Parliament accused Russia of having robbed Kherson of 400,000 tons of grain, sending it to Russia and creating conditions that “may lead to famine in the occupied territories.”
A Russian naval blockade of Ukraine’s ports is preventing Ukraine from exporting millions more tons, putting tens of millions of people worldwide at risk of hunger and famine, the U.N. secretary general, António Guterres, said Thursday at a U.N. conference on food security.
Marc Santora reported from Krakow, Poland, Ivan Nechepurenko from Tbilisi, Georgia, and Norimitsu Onishi from Paris. Reporting was contributed by Matthew Mpoke Bigg from Krakow, Eric Schmitt, Helene Cooper and David E. Sanger from Washington, Valerie Hopkins and Andrew E. Kramer from Kyiv, Shashank Bengali from London, Anton Troianovski from Brussels and Rick Gladstone from New York.
After the city locked down its 25 million residents and grounded most delivery services in early April, many people encountered problems sourcing food, regardless of their socioeconomic status. Some set alarms for the different restocking times of grocery delivery apps that start as early as 6 a.m.
In the past few days, a hot topic in WeChat groups has been whether sprouted potatoes were safe to eat, a few Shanghai residents told me. Neighbors resorted to a barter system to exchange, say, a cabbage for a bottle of soy sauce. Coca-Cola is hard currency.
After nearly two weeks under lockdown, Dai Xin, a restaurant owner, is running out of food to provide for her household of four. Now she slices ginger paper thin, pickles vegetables so they won’t spoil and eats two meals a day instead of three.
Even the moneyed class is facing food supply shortages. The head of a big retailer told me last week that she got many requests from Shanghai-based chief executives. But there was little she could do under lockdown rules, the executive said, who spoke on the condition of anonymity given the political sensitivities.
Wang Lixiong, the author of the apocalyptic novel “China Tidal Wave,” which ended with a great famine in the aftermath of a nuclear winter, believes that a man-made crisis like the one in Shanghai is inevitable under China’s authoritarian system. In recent years, he said in an interview, the risk increased after Beijing clamped down on nearly every aspect of civil society.
After moving into a friend’s vacant apartment in Shanghai last winter, he stocked up on rice, noodles, canned food and whiskey to sustain him for a few months in case of a crisis.
But many residents in the luxury apartment complex, with units valued at more than $3 million, weren’t as prepared when the lockdown started. He saw his neighbors, who dashed around in designer suits a month ago, venture into the complex’s lush garden to dig up bamboo shoots for a meal.
Even if you didn’t experience the famine personally you must have been deeply aware of it and affected by it.
A thousand percent. First of all, you have to remember we come from massive families. My mom has 24 siblings. And you grow up very much aware of it. I grew up in a country where fuel was rationed, where food, sugar, toilet paper was rationed no matter who you are. It didn’t matter if you lived in Addis or outside of Addis. When toilet paper shortages happened during Covid and everybody was running to stock up, I was like, “I don’t know why you’re stocking up. I have like 80 rolls of toilet paper.”
People were like, “Why do you have 80 rolls of toilet paper?” And I was like, “Is that not how one lives in life? In fear that things might run out?” But it is how we were raised, very much aware that you can’t take anything for granted, that anything can disappear. We had neighbors that disappeared.
How did you wind up coming to the United States for college?
I studied really, really hard. I wanted to get out. My parents sacrificed absolutely everything to send us to the best school in the country, and I knew every day that my obligation to them was to do well, because they gave up most of their income to make sure we went to that school.
Also, my dad was born in an Italian prison. My grandfather orchestrated the plot to kill General Graziani when Mussolini tried to colonize Ethiopia, and it ended up costing his life. They assassinated my grandfather when my grandmother was pregnant with my dad, and they took her as a prisoner of war to Italy, and she gave birth to my dad in an Italian prison. So I was raised in a pretty strong family, in that fighting for survival kind of way, and I just felt like I owed it to my family to do well in life.
When you joined Morgan Stanleydid you figure you wanted to be in finance for the rest of your life, or were you saying, “I got to get out of here as fast as I can”?
I decided that the only job I would take in finance would be to work in commodities. It was the only section of finance that I felt was connected to the real world and all the things I cared about. One day I got up and I decided I was ready to trade. So I went to my boss and said, “Hey, you’re going to hire me to trade natural gas.” He was like, “I’m not hiring.” And I was like, “No, no, you’re going to hire me.” And he did, so I started trading gas, and then he got promoted, and I took over that business.
The glowing image of China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, greets visitors to museum exhibitions celebrating the country’s decades of growth. Communist Party biographers have worshipfully chronicled his rise, though he has given no hint of retiring. The party’s newest official history devotes over a quarter of its 531 pages to his nine years in power.
No Chinese leader in recent times has been more fixated than Mr. Xi on history and his place in it, and as he approaches a crucial juncture in his rule, that preoccupation with the past is now central to his political agenda. A high-level meeting opening in Beijing on Monday will issue a “resolution” officially reassessing the party’s 100-year history that is likely to cement his status as an epoch-making leader alongside Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.
While ostensibly about historical issues, the Central Committee’s resolution — practically holy writ for officials — will shape China’s politics and society for decades to come.
The touchstone document on the party’s past, only the third of its kind, is sure to become the focus of an intense indoctrination campaign. It will dictate how the authorities teach China’s modern history in textbooks, films, television shows and classrooms. It will embolden censors and police officers applying sharpened laws against any who mock, or even question, the communist cause and its “martyrs.” Even in China, where the party’s power is all but absolute, it will remind officials and citizens that Mr. Xi is defining their times, and demanding their loyalty.
Geremie R. Barmé, a historian of China based in New Zealand. “It is not really a resolution about past history, but a resolution about future leadership.”
Mr. Xi, the decision will fortify his authority before a party congress late next year, at which he is very likely to win another five-year term as leader. The orchestrated acclaim around the history document, which could be published days after the Central Committee meeting ends on Thursday, will help deter any questioning of Mr. Xi’s record.
Mr. Xi, 68, is China’s most powerful leader in decades, and he has won widespread public support for attacking corruption, reducing poverty and projecting Chinese strength to the world. Still, party insiders seeking to blunt Mr. Xi’s dominance before the congress could take aim at the early mishandling of the Covid pandemic or damaging tensions with the United States.
Especially after the resolution, such criticisms may amount to heresy. In the buildup to this week’s meeting, articles in People’s Daily, the party’s main newspaper, have praised Mr. Xi as the “core” leader defeating the pandemic and other crises. Commentaries have exalted him as the unyielding leader needed for such perilous times, when China’s ascent could be threatened by domestic economic risks or hostility from the United States and other Western powers.
article from Xinhua, the official news agency, about the forthcoming resolution.
The resolution is likely to offer a sweeping account of modern China that will help to justify Mr. Xi’s policies by giving them the gravitas of historical destiny.
common prosperity,” lessening China’s reliance on imported technology, and continuing to modernize its military to prepare for potential conflict.
Mr. Xi’s conception of history offers “an ideological framework which justifies greater and greater levels of party intervention in politics, the economy and foreign policy,” said Kevin Rudd, a former Australian prime minister who speaks Chinese and has had long meetings with Mr. Xi.
For Mr. Xi, defending the Chinese Communist Party’s revolutionary heritage also appears to be a personal quest. He has repeatedly voiced fears that as China becomes increasingly distant from its revolutionary roots, officials and citizens are at growing risk of losing faith in the party.
Mr. Xi has said, quoting a Confucian scholar from the 19th century.
Mr. Xi’s father, Xi Zhongxun, served as a senior official under Mao and Deng, and the family suffered years of persecution after Mao turned against the elder Mr. Xi. Instead of becoming disillusioned with the revolution like quite a few contemporaries, the younger Mr. Xi remained loyal to the party and has argued that defending its “red” heritage is essential for its survival.
Mr. Xi has also often cited the Soviet Union as a warning for China, arguing that it collapsed in part because its leaders failed to eradicate “historical nihilism” — critical accounts of purges, political persecution and missteps that corroded faith in the communist cause.
The new resolution will reflect that defensive pride in the party. While the titles of the two previous history resolutions said they were about “problems” or “issues,” Mr. Xi’s will be about the party’s “major achievements and historical experiences,” according to a preparatory meeting last month.
The resolution will present the party’s 100-year history as a story of heroic sacrifice and success, a drumroll of preliminary articles in party media indicates. Traumatic times like famine and purges will fall further into a soft-focus background — acknowledged but not elaborated.
Joseph Torigian, an assistant professor at American University who has studied Mr. Xi and his father. “He’s also someone who sees that competing narratives of history are dangerous.”
1.4 billion visits to revolutionary “red” tour museums and memorials, and Mr. Xi makes a point of going to such places during his travels. A village where Mr. Xi labored for seven years has become a site for organized political pilgrimages.
“Instruction in revolutionary traditions must start with toddlers,” Mr. Xi said in 2016, according to a recently released compendium of his comments on the theme. “Infuse red genes into the bloodstream and immerse our hearts in them.”
In creating a history resolution, Mr. Xi is emulating his two most powerful and officially revered predecessors. Mao oversaw a resolution in 1945 that stamped his authority on the party. Deng oversaw one in 1981 that acknowledged the destruction of Mao’s later decades while defending his revered status as the founder of the People’s Republic. And both resolutions put a cap on political strife and uncertainty.
“They were creating a common framework, a common vision, of past and future among the party elite,” said Daniel Leese, a historian at the University of Freiburg in Germany who studies modern China. “If you don’t unify the thinking of people in the circles of power about the past, it’s very difficult to be on the same page about the future.”
531-page “brief” history of the party.
Susanne Weigelin-Schwiedrzik, a retired professor at the University of Vienna who studies the party’s use of history.
“He is like a sponge that can take all the positive things from the past — what he thinks is positive about Mao and Deng — and he can bring them all together,” she said of the party’s depiction of Mr. Xi. In that telling, she said, “he is China’s own end of history. He has reached a level that cannot be surpassed.”