Consumer spending “will recover from the downward pressure, but because there are these negative factors, the question is how broad will that recovery be?” said Yoshiki Shinke, a senior economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.

Japan’s prime minister, Fumio Kishida, has tried to offset the effects of price increases with large government subsidies for fuel and cash handouts for families with children. But Japanese consumers, wary of the pandemic’s economic effects, have largely been putting rounds of stimulus money into savings.

Japan’s growth is facing diverse challenges, but ultimately its recovery will depend on Covid, analysts said, a common refrain over the last two years.

While Japan has high vaccination rates and has performed better than most other wealthy countries at keeping the pandemic in check, the virus’s protean nature has made it difficult to predict its path. And that has made experts hesitant to commit to any forecasts about its future impact on global economies.

“The big risk is that corona starts to spread again,” said Naoyuki Shiraishi, an economist at the Japan Research Institute. “If a new variant appears, there will be new restrictions on activity, and that will suppress consumption.”

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Fed Confronts Why It May Have Acted Too Slowly on Inflation

Some Federal Reserve officials have begun to acknowledge that they were too slow to respond to rapid inflation last year, a delay that is forcing them to constrain the economy more abruptly now — and one that could hold lessons for the policy path ahead.

Inflation began to accelerate last spring, but Fed policymakers and most private-sector forecasters initially thought price gains would quickly fade. It became clear in early fall that fast inflation was proving to be more lasting — but the Fed pivoted toward rapidly removing policy support only in late November and did not raise rates until March.

Several current and former Fed officials have suggested in recent days that, in hindsight, the central bank should have reacted more quickly and forcefully last fall, but that both profound uncertainty about the future and the Fed’s approach to setting policy slowed it down.

Officials had spent years dealing with tepid inflation, which made some hesitant to believe that rapidly rising prices would last. Even as they became more concerned, it took the Fed’s large group of policymakers time to come to an agreement on how to respond. Another complicating factor was that the Fed had made clear promises to markets about how it would remove support for the economy, which made adjusting quickly more difficult.

8.5 percent from a year earlier, the fastest rate since 1981. Consumer price increases are expected to remain rapid when fresh data are released Wednesday.

And as high prices have lingered, inflation expectations have been creeping up, threatening to change household and business behavior in ways that perpetuate the problem.

Because inflation is eating away at paychecks and making it more difficult for families to afford groceries and cars, it has emerged as a major political issue for President Biden, whose approval ratings have fallen over concerns about his handling of the economy. During remarks at the White House on Tuesday, Mr. Biden called inflation his “top domestic priority” and said his administration was taking steps to contain it. He also sought to push back on Republicans, who have spent months blaming him for stoking inflation, saying their policy ideas were “extreme” and would hurt working families.

biggest increase since 2000, while broadcasting that two more large adjustments could be coming. They are also going to start shrinking their $9 trillion balance sheet of bond holdings next month.

If the Fed continues to rapidly adjust policy this year as it tries to catch up, policymakers risk slamming the brakes on a speeding economy. Such hard stops can hurt, pushing up unemployment and possibly tipping off a recession. Officials typically prefer to apply their policy brakes gradually, increasing the chances that the economy can slow down painlessly.

Still, several Fed officials pointed out that it was easier to say what the Fed should have done in 2021 after the fact — that in the moment, it was difficult to know price increases would last. Inflation initially came mainly from a few big products that were in short supply amid supply chain snarls, like semiconductors and cars. Only later in the year did it become obvious that price pressures were broadening to food, rent and other areas.

“I try to give some grace, and say: In a very uncertain time, with an unprecedented setting, with no real models to guide us, people are going to do the best they can,” Raphael Bostic, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, said in an interview Monday. Mr. Bostic was an early voice suggesting that the Fed should stop buying bonds and think about raising interest rates.

Officials have said it was the acceleration in inflation data in September, followed by rising employment costs, that convinced them that price gains might last and that the central bank needed to act decisively. The Fed chair, Jerome H. Powell, pivoted on policy in late November as those data points added up.

a complicating factor: Mr. Powell was waiting to see if he would be reappointed by the Biden administration, which did not announce its decision to renominate him until mid-November.

“Banking With Interest” podcast episode last week, said reacting to the data was “hard to do until there was clarity as to what the leadership going forward of the Fed was going to be.”

Plus, the Fed had promised to withdraw policy in a certain way, which prevented a rapid reorientation once officials began to fret that inflation might last. Policymakers had pledged to keep interest rates at rock bottom and continue to buy huge sums of bonds until the job market had healed substantially. They had also clearly laid out how they would remove support when the time came: Bond purchases would slow first, then stop, and only then would rates rise.

The point was to convince investors that the Fed would not stop helping the economy too early and to avoid roiling markets, but that so-called forward guidance meant that pulling back support was a drawn-out process.

“Forward guidance, like everything in economics, has benefits and costs,” Richard H. Clarida, who was vice chair of the Fed in 2021 and recently left the central bank, said at a conference last week. “If there’s guidance that the committee feels bound to honor,” he added, it can be complicated for the Fed to move through a sequence of policy moves.

Christopher Waller, a governor at the Fed, noted the central bank wasn’t just sitting still. Markets began to adjust as the Fed sped up its plans to remove policy support throughout the fall, which is making money more expensive to borrow and starting to slow down economic conditions. Mortgage rates, one window into how Fed policy is playing out into the economy, began to move up notably in January 2021 and are now at the highest level since the 2008 housing crisis.

Mr. Waller also pointed out that it was hard to get the Fed’s large policy-setting committee into agreement rapidly.

“Policy is set by a large committee of up to 12 voting members and a total of 19 participants in our discussions,” he said during a speech last week. “This process may lead to more gradual changes in policy as members have to compromise in order to reach a consensus.”

Loretta Mester, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, said in an interview on Tuesday that different people on the committee “looked at the same data with different lenses, and that’s just the nature of the beast.”

But the Fed seems to be learning lessons from its 2021 experience.

Policymakers are avoiding giving clear guidance about what will come next for policy: Officials have said they want to quickly get rates up to the point that they start to weigh on the economy, then go from there. While Mr. Powell said the Fed was thinking about half-point increases at its next two meetings, he gave no clear guidance about what would follow.

“It’s a very difficult environment to try to give forward guidance, 60, 90 days in advance — there are just so many things that can happen in the economy and around the world,” Mr. Powell said at a news conference last week. “So we’re leaving ourselves room to look at the data and make a decision as we get there.”

The war in Ukraine is the latest surprise that is changing the outlook for the economy and inflation in ways that are hard to predict, Mr. Bostic from Atlanta said.

“I have been humbled, chastened — whatever — to think that I know the range of possible things that can happen in the future,” he said. “I’ve really tried to back off of leaning into one kind of story or path.”

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Live Updates: Russian Pullback Seen Near Kharkiv, Despite Victory Day Push for Gains

SLOVIANSK, Ukraine — Russia’s push to give its president a showcase victory in Ukraine appeared to face a new setback on Saturday, as Ukrainian defenders pushed the invaders back toward the northeast border and away from the city of Kharkiv, with the Russians blowing up bridges behind them.

With less than 48 hours before President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia aimed to lead his country in Victory Day celebrations commemorating the Soviet triumph over Nazi Germany, the apparent Russian pullback from the area around Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, contradicted the Russian narrative and illustrated the complicated picture along the 300-mile front in eastern Ukraine.

The Russians have been trying to advance in eastern Ukraine for the past few weeks and have been pushing especially hard as Victory Day approaches, but Ukrainian forces — armed with new weapons supplied by the United States and other Western nations — have been pushing back in a counteroffensive.

The destruction of three bridges by Russian forces, about 12 miles northeast of Kharkiv, reported by the Ukrainian military, suggested that the Russians not only were trying to prevent the Ukrainians from pursuing them, but had no immediate plans to return.

A senior Ukrainian official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the fighting, said Russian forces were destroying bridges not to retreat but because “we are pushing them out.”

Credit…Serhii Nuzhnenko/Reuters

He said the fight for Kharkiv was not over, and that although “at the moment we are dominating,” Russian forces were trying to regroup and go on the offensive.

Some military analysts said the Russian actions were similar to what Russia’s military had done last month in a retreat from the city of Chernihiv north of Kyiv.

Frederick W. Kagan, a military historian and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based public policy research group, said Russia’s strategy near Kharkiv could be an indicator that “the order to retreat to somewhere had been given and they were trying to set up a defensive line.”

Ukrainian forces have retaken a constellation of towns and villages in the outskirts of Kharkiv this past week, putting them in position to unseat Russian forces from the region and reclaim total control of the city “in a matter of days,” according to a recent analysis by the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based research group.

The setback is now forcing the Russian military to choose whether to send reinforcements intended for elsewhere in eastern Ukraine to help defend the positions on the outskirts of Kharkiv, the institute said.

The back-and-forth around Kharkiv is part of a more complex battlefield in eastern Ukraine that has left an increasing number of towns and cities trapped in a “gray zone,” stuck between Russian and Ukrainian forces, where they are subject to frequent, sometimes indiscriminate, shelling.

Credit…Jorge Silva/Reuters

“The Russian occupiers continue to destroy the civilian infrastructure of the Kharkiv region,” the region’s governor, Oleh Sinegubov, said in a Telegram post on Saturday, adding that shelling and artillery attacks overnight had targeted several districts, destroying a national museum in the village of Skovorodynivka.

For Russia, perhaps the best example of anything resembling a victory was the long-besieged southeastern port city of Mariupol. Although much of the city has been destroyed by Russian bombardments, there were growing indications on Saturday that Russia’s control of the city was nearly complete.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense’s intelligence directorate said in a Saturday statement that Russian officers were being moved from combat positions and sent to protect a Russian military parade being planned in Mariupol.

Petro Andrushchenko, an adviser to the city council, posted a series of photos to Telegram on Friday that appeared to show how Russian forces were restoring “monuments of the Soviet period” across the city.

Credit…Ricardo Moraes/Reuters

One image appeared to show a Russian flag flying above an intensive care hospital. Another image, posted on Thursday, showed municipal workers replacing Ukrainian road signs with signs in Russian script. The images could not be verified.

On Friday, 50 people were evacuated from the city’s Azovstal steel plant, the final holdout of Ukrainian forces and a group of civilians in the city. Three Ukrainian soldiers were killed on Friday during an attempt to evacuate civilians from the plant, said Mikhailo Vershinin, the chief of the city’s patrol police.

Mr. Vershinin, who was at the plant, said via a messaging app on Saturday that a rocket and a grenade were to blame. “Six were wounded, some seriously,” he said, and in the factory’s makeshift hospital, “there is no medicine, no anesthesia, no antibiotics and they may die.”

Both Ukrainian and Russian officials said Saturday that all civilian evacuations from the Mariupol factory had been completed.

There was no immediate confirmation from the Red Cross or United Nations, which have been helping to coordinate recent evacuations from the factory. A spokeswoman for the Red Cross said earlier on Saturday that efforts to evacuate the remaining civilians were “ongoing.”

Credit…Alessandro Guerra/EPA, via Shutterstock

Elsewhere, Russia launched six missile strikes on Saturday aimed at Odesa, Ukraine’s Black Sea port, according to the city council. Four hit a furniture company and destroyed two high-rise buildings in the blast, and two missiles were fired on the city’s airport, which already had been rendered inoperable by a Russian missile that knocked out its runway last week.

The goal of Russian forces — for now at least — appears to be seizing as much of the eastern Ukrainian region known as the Donbas as possible, by expelling Ukrainian forces that have been fighting Russian-backed separatists for years in the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk. Since Russia’s invasion began on Feb. 24, about 80 percent of those two provinces have fallen under the Kremlin’s control.

The regional governor of Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, Serhiy Haidai, said on Facebook on Saturday that a Russian bomb hit a school in the village of Bilogorivka where about 90 people had taken shelter. About 30 people have been rescued so far, he said. The bodies of at least two people were recovered from the rubble, according to Ukraine’s State Emergency Service. Rescue operations were suspended on Saturday night and were to resume on Sunday, officials said.

Russian forces are trying to break through Ukrainian lines and encircle troops defending the area around the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk but are for now being held in check, Mr. Haidai said on Saturday.

“It is a war, so anything can happen, but for now the situation is difficult but under control,” Mr. Haidai said in a telephone interview. “They have broken through in some places and these areas are being reinforced.”

The Russians seemed “unlikely to successfully surround the town,” according to the latest update from the Institute for the Study of War.

Credit…Yasuyoshi Chiba/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The apparent aim of Russia’s military is to seize Sievierodonetsk or cut it off from the bulk of Ukrainian forces fighting in the east, and continue a push south to the major industrial city of Kramatorsk.

Mr. Haidai said Russia’s military had deployed units with better training and more combat experience than the Russian soldiers who were initially thrown into the invasion.

“In the beginning, they sent in newly mobilized soldiers from occupied territory,” he said. “But they can’t fight. They aren’t dressed in flack jackets. And so they just died by the dozen or the hundred. But they’re running out of these.”

Mr. Haidai said he had urged anyone who could to evacuate, but that about 15,000 people remained in Sievierodonetsk. Some, he said, are older and “want to die in the place where they were born.”

By contrast in the capital, Kyiv, and much of the country’s west, the atmosphere seemed worlds away from the constant bombardment of the war — despite the occasional and unpredictable Russian missile strikes. Cars have returned to Kyiv’s streets and people living there have resumed some semblance of their normal routines.

In an apparent concern over complacency, President Volodymyr Zelensky reminded residents to heed local curfews and take air raid sirens seriously.

“Please, this is your life, the life of your children,” he implored Ukrainians in an overnight address.

Residents of towns and villages in the country’s east have often been shaken awake with bomb attacks, typically between 4 and 5 a.m.

On Saturday morning, the small village of Malotaranivka became a target. A bomb struck at about 4:15 a.m., blasting apart homes and a small bakery, leaving a crater at least 15 feet deep and a wide radius of destruction. While no one was killed, residents expressed fury at the Russians.

Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

“What kind of military target is this?” said Tatyana Ostakhova, 38, speaking through the gaping hole in her goddaughter’s apartment where she was helping to clean up. “A store that bakes bread so people don’t die of hunger?”

Such strikes have occurred with more frequency in the prelude to Victory Day in Russia, which Mr. Putin was expected to use as a platform for some kind of announcement about what he has called the “special military operation” in Ukraine.

“It’s like we’re in a dream,” said Svetlana Golochenko, 43, who was cleaning up the remnants of her son’s house. “It’s hard to imagine that this is happening to us.”

Malotaranivka is a small village of single-family homes and wood-framed apartment buildings about eight miles from Kramatorsk. Residents said that aside from a few checkpoints there was no military presence in the area, making the bombings by Russians even more incomprehensible.

“Who knows what they have in their empty heads,” said Artur Serdyuk, 38, who was covered in dust and smoking a cigarette after spending the morning cleaning up what was left of his home.

Mr. Serdyuk said he had just returned to bed after going out for a middle-of-the-night cigarette when the explosion hit. The blast blew the roof off his home and incinerated his outhouse, leaving nothing but a roll of toilet paper sitting in a pile of dust near the hole for the latrine.

His neighbor’s home was opened like a dollhouse, allowing a reporter to peer into the remains of the kitchen decorated with wallpaper featuring green peacocks.

Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Michael Schwirtz reported from Sloviansk, and Cora Engelbrecht and Megan Specia reported from London. Ivan Nechepurenko contributed reporting from Tblisi, Georgia.

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Fed Raises Interest Rate Half a Percentage Point, Largest Increase Since 2000

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.

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.”

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Ukraine Live Updates: U.S. Says It Wants Russian Military Weakened

Smoke hung over the gray streets that day in Kyiv, where protesters had piled tires, furniture and barbed wire to barricade themselves from security forces. Torn blue and yellow Ukrainian flags whipped in the wind, and candles left on sidewalks marked where people had been gunned down. A drawing of a reviled president depicted as a pig was tacked to a lamp post.

And yet there was a feeling of hope in Kyiv in March 2014, as Secretary of State John F. Kerry met with survivors of a violent crackdown on demonstrations. He commended the Ukrainians for their bravery in confronting a Kremlin-backed leader and promised that the United States would support the new government.

But Russian forces had moved into Crimea, Ukraine’s peninsula on the Black Sea, and Mr. Kerry warned: “It is clear that Russia has been working hard to create a pretext for being able to invade further.”

Eight years later, with Russian troops obliterating Ukrainian cities and towns, Mr. Kerry’s words seem eerily prescient.

Through the administrations of three American presidents, the United States has sent mixed signals about its commitment to Ukraine. All the while, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia watched Washington’s moves, biding his time.

“We’ve been all over the place on Ukraine,” said Fiona Hill, a Russia and Eurasia expert who advised the three administrations before President Biden. “Our own frames have shifted over time, and our own policies have shifted.”

“I think we need to re-articulate why Ukraine matters,” she said.

Credit…Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

Now, two months into Mr. Putin’s war, the United States is at the center of an extraordinary campaign to foil him, casting the military conflict as a broader battle between democratic values and authoritarian might.

“It’s nothing less than a direct challenge to the rule-based international order established since the end of World War II,” Mr. Biden said in Warsaw last month. “And it threatens to return to decades of war that ravaged Europe before the international rule-based order was put in place. We cannot go back to that.”

The United States has rushed weapons and humanitarian aid to Ukraine and imposed sanctions intended to cut off Russia from global markets. This past weekend, Mr. Biden sent Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III to Ukraine as affirmation of Washington’s support.

After a secret train ride from Poland, the two spoke with President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv on Sunday about military aid. Mr. Austin said the Pentagon would expand training for Ukrainians on weapons systems; Mr. Blinken said Mr. Biden was nominating Bridget Brink, currently the ambassador to Slovakia, as his ambassador to Ukraine, the State Department said in a readout. The department is sending American diplomats back to Ukraine this week.

In many ways, officials said, Mr. Biden is trying to make up for the years of U.S. indecisiveness toward Kyiv. Those who wavered earlier include top Biden aides who had worked in the Obama administration as well as officials in the administration of Donald J. Trump, who undermined U.S. policy on Ukraine for personal political gain, according to current and former officials and a review of records.

The Roots of War

Since the earliest days of Ukraine’s independence, in 1991, American officials have recognized the country’s strategic value as Russia struggled to find its footing after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

“Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be an empire,” Zbigniew Brzezinski, who had been the national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, wrote in a March 1994 essay. “But with Ukraine suborned and then subordinated, Russia automatically becomes an empire.”

Two months earlier, under pressure from the United States, Ukraine had reached an agreement to destroy its nuclear arsenal. President Bill Clinton heralded the pact as “a hopeful and historic breakthrough” to improve global security. But Ukraine’s leader, President Leonid Kuchma, warned that it would make his fledgling country more vulnerable.

“If tomorrow, Russia goes into Crimea, no one will raise an eyebrow,” he said that year.

At the time, Moscow was already goading a separatist movement in Crimea, even as Mr. Clinton predicted that Ukraine would become a major European power.

Yet over the next decade, experts said, NATO left out Ukraine to avoid angering Russia, which some members saw as an important economic partner and energy supplier and hoped would evolve into a more democratic and less threatening power.

The Baltic States joined NATO in 2004, and four years later, President George W. Bush publicly backed Ukraine’s ambition to follow. But Western European nations were reluctant. Today, Ukraine is neither a NATO member nor a part of the European Union, and officials cautioned as recently as this month that its inclusion in either was far from likely.

Years after Mr. Bush’s show of support, a new Ukrainian president, Viktor F. Yanukovych, tried to move the country closer to Russia, sparking mass protests in November 2013 when he refused to sign a long-planned agreement to strengthen ties with the European Union.

That led to the crackdown in Kyiv’s streets in 2014.

Security forces opened fire on protesters in central Kyiv in February that year, killing dozens. Protesters held their ground, attracting public support in Europe and the United States. Mr. Yanukovych fled to Russia.

“In the hearts of Ukrainians and the eyes of the world, there is nothing strong about what Russia is doing,” Mr. Kerry said during his visit to Kyiv.

Within days, Mr. Putin ordered the invasion of Crimea, and he soon formally recognized it as a “sovereign and independent state.”

A slow-burn war in eastern Ukraine followed, with Kyiv battling a separatist movement supported by Russian weapons and troops. An estimated 13,000 people were killed over the next eight years.

Credit…James Hill for The New York Times

Mr. Putin’s swift actions caught President Barack Obama off guard.

Mr. Obama vowed the United States would never recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea and imposed economic sanctions, but his aides said in later accounts that he was skeptical of Ukraine’s corruption-ridden government.

And Mr. Obama said in a 2016 interview that a showdown with Mr. Putin over Ukraine would have been futile.

His administration gave more than $1.3 billion in assistance to Ukraine between 2014 and 2016, but Mr. Obama said no when his national security team, including Mr. Biden and Mr. Kerry, recommended sending weapons to Kyiv.

Among Mr. Obama’s defenders was Mr. Blinken, then the deputy secretary of state and now America’s top diplomat.

By sending military aid to Ukraine, “you’re playing to Russia’s strength, because Russia is right next door,” Mr. Blinken, then the deputy secretary of state, said in early 2015.

Any aid, he added, “is likely to be matched and then doubled and tripled and quadrupled by Russia.”

Neither the Obama administration nor its key European allies believed Ukraine was ready to join NATO. But tensions in the alliance were growing as Europeans sought to maintain trade ties and energy deals with Russia.

The division was captured in a phone call in which a senior State Department official profanely criticized European leaders’ approach to helping Ukraine. A leaked recording of the call was posted on YouTube in February 2014 in what was widely believed to be an attempt by Russia to stir up discord between the United States and Europe.

Yet as much as anything else, Ukraine was a costly distraction to Mr. Obama’s broader agenda.

“It was hard to reconcile the time and energy required to lead the diplomacy on Ukraine with the demands on the United States elsewhere around the world, especially after ISIS took over much of Iraq and Syria in the summer of 2014,” Derek H. Chollet, a senior Pentagon official at the time, wrote in a book about Mr. Obama’s foreign policy.

Mr. Chollet is now a senior counselor to Mr. Blinken at the State Department.

‘Do Us a Favor’

Volodymyr Zelensky, a former comedian, won a landslide victory in Ukraine’s presidential elections in April 2019 after campaigning on an anti-corruption pledge.

Once in office, he turned to ending the war in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine through negotiations with Mr. Putin.

The new Ukrainian president “knew he needed the backing of the United States and the American president,” said William B. Taylor Jr., who started his second tour as ambassador to Ukraine that June after his predecessor, Marie L. Yovanovitch, was pushed out on Mr. Trump’s orders.

Mr. Zelensky tried to arrange a meeting with Mr. Trump at the White House. But Mr. Trump had negative views of Ukraine even before he took office, influenced partly by his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who had made more than $60 million consulting for a Ukrainian political party backed by Russia.

Mr. Trump’s opinions were reinforced in meetings with Mr. Putin, whom he publicly admired, and Viktor Orban, the autocratic prime minister of Hungary.

And close associates of Mr. Trump, in particular Rudolph W. Giuliani, then his personal lawyer, were urging the president to get Mr. Zelensky to open two investigations: one into Mr. Biden, Mr. Trump’s main political opponent, for actions in Ukraine related to his son Hunter Biden’s business dealings; the other based in part on a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 election, to help Hillary Clinton. Mr. Trump embraced the theory because it undermined the finding of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia had interfered to help him.

But U.S. policy had been on a notably different track. Earlier, in December 2017, under pressure from his national security aides and Congress, Mr. Trump agreed to do what Mr. Obama would not: approve the sale of Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine.

But in mid-2019, the White House froze $391 million in military aid to Ukraine, including the Javelins, to build leverage for Mr. Trump’s demands, congressional investigators later found. The move hobbled Ukraine’s war effort against Russia-backed separatists.

“For it to be held up, they couldn’t understand that,” Mr. Taylor said.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

That set the stage for a fateful July 25 call between Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky. “I would like you to do us a favor,” Mr. Trump said. He requested the two investigations.

Mr. Zelensky and his aides were confused. “The rest of the U.S. government was very supportive of Ukraine,” Mr. Taylor said. “But from the top, the president had a different message and set of conditions.”

Mr. Zelensky scheduled a CNN interview for September to announce one or both of the investigations that Mr. Trump had requested to satisfy the American president. But the interview never happened because journalists had begun reporting on the hold on military aid, and lawmakers sympathetic to Ukraine had persisted in asking the White House about the suspended aid. On Sept. 9, three House committees announced investigations into the pressure campaign after reviewing a whistle-blower complaint citing the July call.

The Trump administration released the aid on Sept. 11.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Mr. Zelensky in Kyiv on Jan. 31, 2020, the first cabinet official to do so since the announcement of an impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump the previous September. The Senate trial was underway.

Just days earlier, Mr. Pompeo had blown up at an NPR reporter in an interview, asking her to identify Ukraine on an unmarked map and yelling, “Do you think Americans care” about Ukraine? — using an expletive before “Ukraine.”

Yet in Kyiv, Mr. Pompeo stood next to Mr. Zelensky in the presidential palace and said the U.S. commitment to support Ukraine “will not waver.”

But the damage had been done, and Mr. Zelensky was unconvinced that the United States was a trusted ally, Ms. Yovanovitch said in an interview last month.

“Trying to use our national security policy in order to further President Trump’s personal and political agenda was not just wrong, but it was really detrimental to the bilateral relationship,” she said. “It colored how Zelensky handled foreign policy.”

With all the disruption, former U.S. officials said, Mr. Putin no doubt saw weakness in Washington.

Credit…Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

Biden vs. Putin

Consumed by the pandemic and the economy, Mr. Biden did not prioritize Ukraine at first. But Mr. Blinken visited Kyiv in May 2021 with a message of support.

During a steady rain, Mr. Blinken joined Dmytro Kuleba, the Ukrainian foreign minister, on a walk to the Wall of National Remembrance, where photos of soldiers who had been killed in combat with Russia in the Donbas were displayed outside St. Michael’s monastery.

But he also went to Kyiv with some tough love, determined to press Ukraine to make political and economic changes — a core issue for Mr. Biden when he oversaw relations with the country as vice president.

Just before the visit, Mr. Zelensky’s government had replaced the chief executive of the largest state-owned energy company, whom Western officials had praised for his transparency. The State Department had chastised the move as “just the latest example” of Ukrainian leaders violating practices of good governance. In Kyiv, Mr. Blinken told reporters that he was urging Ukraine to strengthen itself by “building institutions, advancing reforms, combating corruption.”

Such concerns paled in the face of Russia’s growing military threat, which Washington was watching “very, very closely,” Mr. Blinken said. Mr. Putin had begun amassing troops along Ukraine’s borders. By fall, the number approached 100,000.

This past January, Mr. Blinken rushed back to Kyiv for more consultations before a hastily arranged meeting in Geneva with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, in a last-ditch attempt to avert war.

But Russia would not be deterred, and high-level contacts between Washington and Moscow have been severely limited ever since.

By contrast, Mr. Blinken speaks frequently to Mr. Kuleba to convey American support that, at least in terms of aid, has been greater than at any time in the three decades since Ukraine declared independence.

“The world is with you,” Mr. Blinken told him on March 5, stepping into Ukraine just a few feet beyond Poland’s border.

“We’re in it with Ukraine — one way or another, short run, the medium run, the long run,” he said.

Mr. Kuleba referred to an “unprecedented, swift reaction” to Russia’s invasion and thanked Mr. Blinken for the support.

“But,” he said, “it has to be continued.”

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New Supply Chain Risk: 22,000 Dockworkers Who May Soon Strike

In a world contending with no end of economic troubles, a fresh source of concern now looms: the prospect of a confrontation between union dockworkers and their employers at some of the most critical ports on earth.

The potential conflict centers on negotiations over a new contract for more than 22,000 union workers employed at 29 ports along the West Coast of the United States. Nearly three-fourths work at the twin ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, the primary gateway for goods shipped to the United States from Asia, and a locus of problems afflicting the global supply chain.

The contract for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union expires at the end of June. For those whose livelihoods are tied to ports — truckers, logistics companies, retailers — July 1 marks the beginning of a period of grave uncertainty.

A labor impasse could worsen the floating traffic jams that have kept dozens of ships waiting in the Pacific before they can pull up to the docks. That could aggravate shortages and send already high prices for consumer goods soaring.

impacts of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and as China imposes new Covid restrictions on industry.

The dockworkers have moved unprecedented volumes of cargo during the pandemic, even as at least two dozen succumbed to Covid-19, according to the union. They are aware that many of the shipping terminals in Southern California are controlled by global carriers that have been racking up record profits while sharply increasing cargo rates — a fact cited by President Biden in his recent State of the Union address as he promised a “crackdown” to alleviate inflation.

With ports now capturing attention in Washington, some within the shipping industry express confidence that negotiations will yield a deal absent a disruptive slowdown or strike.

“There’s too much at stake for both sides,” Mario Cordero, executive director of the Port of Long Beach, said during a recent interview in his office overlooking towering cranes and stacks of containers. “There’s an incentive because the nation is watching.”

Savannah, Ga.

“If they don’t come to a compromise, then freight will get permanently diverted to the East Coast,” Mr. Matinifar said.

Animating contract talks is the popular notion that the longshoremen are a privileged class within the supply chain, using the union to protect their ranks — a source of resentment among other workers.

“They treat us like we’re nobodies,” said Mr. Chilton, the truck driver. “The way they talk to us, they’re very rude.”

traced to the outbreak of Covid-19, which triggered an economic slowdown, mass layoffs and a halt to production. Here’s what happened next:

Union officials declined to discuss their objectives for a new contract.

Mr. McKenna, the maritime association chief executive, said the union had yet to outline demands while declining to engage in discussions before May.

He expected that the union would resist efforts to expand automation at the ports, a traditional point of contention. He said greater automation — such as adding self-driving vehicles and robotics to move cargo — was unavoidable in ports in dense urban places like Los Angeles. There, land is tight, so growth must come from increasing efficiency, rather than physically expanding.

The last time the I.L.W.U. contract expired, West Coast ports suffered months of debilitating disruptions — the source of enduring recriminations.

Terminal operators accused dockworkers of slowing operations to generate pressure for a deal. The union countered that employers were the ones creating problems.

Some dockworkers question whether terminal owners are sincerely seeking to speed up cargo handling, given that shipping rates have soared amid chaos at the ports.

Jaime Hipsher, 45, drives a so-called utility tractor rig — equipment used to move containers — at a pair of Southern California shipping terminals. One is operated by A.P. Moller-Maersk, a Danish conglomerate whose profits nearly tripled last year, reaching $24 billion.

She said maintenance of equipment was spotty, producing frequent breakdowns, while the terminals were often understaffed — two problems that could be fixed with more spending.

A Maersk spokesman, Tom Boyd, rejected that characterization.

“Freight rates have been impacted by the global Covid-19 recovery and the demand outpacing supply,” he said in an emailed statement. “Ships at anchor are not productive, nor are they earning revenue against a backdrop of large fixed costs.”

That Ms. Hipsher spends her nights on the docks represents an unexpected turn in her life.

Her father was a longshoreman. He urged her to attend college and do something that involved wearing business attire, in contrast to how he spent his working hours — climbing a skinny ladder to the top of ships and loading coal onto vessels.

“He would come home after work and he would have coal dust coming out of his ears, out of his nose,” Ms. Hipsher recalled. “His hands would just be completely black.”

But in 2004, when she was working as a hairstylist, her brother — also a longshoreman — suggested that she enter a lottery for the right to become a casual dockworker.

The ports had changed, her brother said. Growing numbers of women were employed.

Eighteen years later, Ms. Hipsher has gained the security of seniority, health benefits and a pension.

As contract talks approach, she pushes back against the notion that the union poses a threat to the global economy.

“You’re complaining about my wages, thinking that my wages are the source of inflation, and we don’t deserve it,” she said. “Well, look at the billions that the owners are making.”

Emily Steel contributed reporting.

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The Fed Bets on a ‘Soft Landing,’ but Recession Risk Looms

Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, emphasized this week that the central bank he leads could succeed in its quest to tame rapid inflation without causing unemployment to rise or setting off a recession. But he also acknowledged that such a benign outcome was not certain.

“The historical record provides some grounds for optimism,” Mr. Powell said.

That “some” is worth noting: While there may be hope, there is also reason to worry, given the Fed’s track record when it is in inflation-fighting mode.

The Fed has at times managed to raise interest rates to cool down demand and weaken inflation without meaningfully harming the economy — Mr. Powell highlighted examples in 1965, 1984 and 1994. But those instances came amid much lower inflation, and without the ongoing shocks of a global pandemic and a war in Ukraine.

The part Fed officials avoid saying out loud is that the central bank’s tools work by slowing down the economy, and weakening growth always comes with a risk of overdoing it. And while the Fed ushered in its first rate increase this month, some economists — and at least one Fed official — think it was too slow to start taking its foot off the gas. Some warn that the delay increases the chance it might have to overcorrect.

40-year high and continued to accelerate, but longer-term price growth expectations have nudged only slightly higher.

If consumers and businesses anticipated rapid price increases year after year, that would be a troubling sign. Such expectations could become self-fulfilling if companies felt comfortable raising prices and consumers accepted those higher costs but asked for bigger paychecks to cover their rising expenses.

But after a year of rapid inflation, it is no guarantee that longer-term inflation expectations will stay in check. Keeping them under control is a big part of why the Fed is getting moving now even as a war in Ukraine stokes uncertainty. The central bank raised rates a quarter point this month and projected a series of interest rate increases to come.

While officials would usually look past a temporary pop in oil prices, like the one the conflict has spurred, concerns about expectations mean they do not have that luxury this time.

“The risk is rising that an extended period of high inflation could push longer-term expectations uncomfortably higher,” Mr. Powell said this week.

Mr. Powell signaled that the Fed might raise interest rates by half a percentage point in May and imminently begin to shrink its balance sheet of bond holdings, policies that would remove help from the U.S. economy much more rapidly than in the last economic expansion.

Some officials, including Mr. Bullard, have urged moving quickly, arguing that monetary policy is still at an emergency setting and out of line with a very strong economy.

But investors think the Fed will need to reverse course after a series of rapid rate increases. Market pricing suggests — and some researchers think — that the Fed will raise rates notably this year and early next, only to reverse some of those moves as the economy slows markedly.

“Our base case has the Fed reversing quickly enough to avoid a full-blown recession,” Krishna Guha, the head of global policy at Evercore ISI, wrote in a recent analysis. “But the probability of pulling this off is not particularly high.”

So why would the Fed put the economy at risk? Neil Shearing, the group chief economist at Capital Economics, wrote that the central bank was following the “stitch in time saves nine” approach to monetary policy.

Raising interest rates now to reduce inflation gives the central bank a shot at stabilizing the economy without having to enact an even more painful policy down the road. If the Fed dallies, and higher inflation becomes a more lasting feature of the economy, it will be even harder to stamp out.

“Delaying rate hikes due to fears about the economic spillovers from the war in Ukraine would risk inflation becoming more entrenched,” Mr. Shearing wrote in a note to clients. “Meaning more policy tightening is ultimately needed to squeeze it out of the system, and making a recession at some point in the future even more likely.”

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Live Updates: Ukraine’s Counteroffensive Shifts Dynamic of War

KYIV, Ukraine — A month into a war that began with widespread expectations of a quick Russian rout, Ukraine’s military has begun a counteroffensive that has altered the central dynamic of the fighting: the question is no longer how far Russian forces have advanced, but whether the Ukrainians are now pushing them back.

Ukraine has blown up parked Russian helicopters in the south, and on Thursday claimed to have destroyed a naval ship in the Sea of Azov. Its forces struck a Russian resupply convoy in the Northeast.

Western and Ukrainian officials also have claimed progress in fierce fighting around the capital, Kyiv.

The asserted gains in territory are hard to quantify, or verify. In at least one crucial battle in a suburb of Kyiv, where Russian troops had made their closest approach to the capital, brutal street fighting still raged on Thursday and it was not clear that Ukraine had regained any ground.

But even this muddied picture of Ukrainian progress is helpful for the country’s messaging to its citizens, and to the world — that it is taking the fight to a foe with superior numbers and weaponry, and not just hunkering down to play defense. And it underscores the flawed planning and execution that has bedeviled Russian forces from the start, including supply shortages and demoralizing conditions for its soldiers. Those missteps have enabled Ukraine to unexpectedly go on the offensive.

Credit…Gleb Garanich/Reuters

In particular, by preventing Russian troops from capturing Irpin, a suburban town about 12 miles from the center of Kyiv, Ukraine showed that its strategy of sending small units out from the capital to engage the Russians, often in ambushes, has had success, at least for now.

Western governments have issued cautiously optimistic assessments of the counteroffensive. In an intelligence report released Wednesday, the British Ministry of Defense said the Ukrainian moves were “increasing pressure” on the Russians to the east of Kyiv, and that Ukrainian soldiers “have probably retaken Makariv” and another small town directly north of the capital.

While noting the inconclusive state of the battle, the report raised what it called a “realistic possibility” that the Ukrainian counteroffensive could succeed in encircling and cutting the supply lines of the Russian invasion force in the area, in what would be a clear tactical victory for Ukraine. At the least, it said, “the successful counter attacks by Ukraine will disrupt the ability of Russian forces to reorganize and resume their own offensive toward Kyiv.”

In the counteroffensive around Kyiv, the Ukrainian military ordered lower-level commanders to devise strategies for striking back in ways appropriate to their local areas. In many cases, this involved sending small units of infantry on reconnaissance missions to find and engage Russian forces that had fanned out into villages near Kyiv, a soldier on one such mission said over the weekend.

In the battles to the northwest of the capital, time is likely on Ukraine’s side, analysts say. Russian columns have run low on fuel and ammunition, intercepted radio transmissions suggest. Soldiers have been sleeping in vehicles for a month, in freezing weather.

Credit…Planet Labs PBC, via Associated Press

And military analysts see this axis of the Russian advance, though it came the closest to the center of Kyiv, as the most troubled by logistical failures and setbacks in combat.

Still, without knowing now which army is actually advancing in the contested towns and villages, the war here is in a state of uncertainty, said Michael Kofman, the director of Russia studies at CNA, a research institute in Arlington, Va.

More broadly, throughout the country, time is also on Ukraine’s side in at least stalling the initial Russian invasion force. But this may shift. An initial upswelling of patriotism could wane as the war’s grim reality sets in or as civilians begin to grasp Ukraine’s military losses, about which little is known.

“Our understanding of where we are now in this war is very incomplete, and we have to be honest about this,” said Mr. Kofman. “If you don’t know who controls what, you don’t know who has the momentum on the ground.”

By Thursday, the intensive fighting had set so many fires in towns around Kyiv that the city was shrouded in an eerie, white haze of smoke. But signs of actual, on the ground progress were elusive. Ukrainian forces have been unable to demonstrate they control villages or towns previously held by the Russian army.

“They are fighting day and night and everything is burning,” said Olha, 33, a saleswoman who escaped from Irpin Wednesday evening, and who was not comfortable providing her full name. She was interviewed at an aid station for displaced civilians where a continuous, cacophonous rumble of explosions could be heard from the fighting nearby.

Credit…Vadim Ghirda/Associated Press

Earlier on Wednesday, Kyiv’s mayor, Vitaly Klitschko, told a news conference that Ukrainian forces had in fact pushed back Russian troops and that “almost the whole of Irpin is in Ukrainian hands.” Other Ukrainian and Western officials have also offered more optimistic accounts than could be verified from witnesses.

The deputy police chief of Irpin, Oleksandr Bogai, said Russian soldiers were still in the town, occupying several districts and fighting Ukrainian forces. That is essentially the same situation that has persisted for nearly the entire month of the war. “There are huge explosions and a lot of smoke,” he said by telephone. “Civilians are holed up in basements. I don’t know exactly what is happening.”

In Makariv, another battleground town to the west of Kyiv that Ukrainian officials claimed to have recaptured this week, the fighting was also ongoing, Vadym Tokar, the mayor, said in a telephone interview.

“I don’t understand where this nonsense came from,” he said of reports his town had been liberated. “It is not true. We have shelling and we have Russian tanks shooting into the town right now.”

To be sure, some Western and Ukrainian official accounts have also offered more measured assessments. The head of the Kyiv regional military administration, Oleksandr Pavliuk, said Thursday that the counteroffensive had managed to “improve positions” in Irpin and Makariv, but did not assert control.

Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky, announced the counteroffensive on March 16, after it became clear the Russian armored columns had become bogged down, plagued by logistical and communications glitches and taking losses in ambushes.

Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Russian forces have continued to make advances in eastern Ukraine, where its military claimed on Thursday to have captured Izyum, a provincial town in the Kharkiv region that had been under attack for weeks. Ukraine denied it was captured. Neither account could be independently confirmed.

In the fighting around Kyiv, civilians evacuating from the combat zone painted a picture, not so much of liberated towns but of chaotic, lethal violence.

Vladimir, 66, a retired furniture factory worker who declined to offer his last name, walked out of Irpin Thursday morning after his home burned down overnight.

“Nobody is putting out the fires,” he said. “My neighbor’s home burned and I saw sparks on my roof and then my house started to burn.”

Lacking water to fight the fire, he could only watch. “We should never surrender,” he said. “We will never live under the Russians again.”

There were also few signs the Ukrainian government had established even rudimentary civilian services in the towns it is attempting to recapture.

A woman who also offered only her first name, Elena, arrived at an aid station on the evacuation route out of Irpin in tears, saying neighbors had helped her bury her adult son in her backyard because no authorities were collecting the dead.

“I just hope his grave will not be destroyed” in the artillery shelling, she said. “The men dug a grave in the garden between the roses, and put stones around it, and a cross over it.”

Still, in one sign the counteroffensive has pushed into areas previously controlled by Russian troops, a Ukrainian unit that retrieves military dead from the battlefield has now also been finding the bodies of Russian soldiers in the towns around Kyiv, according to Serhiy Lysenko, the unit’s commander.

Credit…Felipe Dana/Associated Press

He declined to say in which towns he had been working. For now, he said in a telephone interview, they are leaving the Russian dead in place, not wanting to take additional risks to retrieve them.

Mr. Kofman, from the CNA research institute, said “It’s clear Russia cannot achieve its initial political objectives in this war now.” He said Russia must shift its goals or alter its military strategy “if it wants to sustain this war on scale beyond the coming weeks.”

Maria Varenikova contributed reporting from Kyiv, Ukraine.

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How to Fight Inflation With Lessons From History

Annual spending in the Union reached a staggering 16 times its prewar budget. Despite the need for funds, there was great fear in Congress of increasing taxes because of Americans’ well-known antipathy to taxation.

But Salmon P. Chase, the fiscally conservative Treasury secretary, was mortally afraid of inflation. He recognized that without revenue the government would have to resort to the printing press. After the southern states seceded, interest rates on the country’s debt soared and foreigners refused to lend.

Thaddeus Stevens, the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, went further than Mr. Chase imagined by inventing an entirely new tax code. Previously, the Union had funded itself with tariffs on foreign trade, which it raised several times. Alongside that it created a system of “internal taxes,” on everything from personal income to leaf tobacco, liquor, slaughtered hogs and fees on auctioneers. Congress also created a new bureau to collect taxes, a forerunner of the Internal Revenue Service, underscoring its commitment to raising revenue this way.

Mr. Stevens had no idea how much revenue the taxes would raise, or if people would even pay them. (“Everything on the earth and under the earth is to be taxed,” one Ohioan groused.) But by 1865, the Treasury netted $300 million from customs and internal taxes — six times its prewar tax revenue.

That revenue helped moderate the inflation created by the issuance of “greenbacks,” notes that circulated as money, to pay for the war. The country’s credit improved and Mr. Chase was able to borrow prodigious sums. Ultimately, inflation in the Union was no greater than during the two World Wars in the following century.

The Confederacy faced similar financial challenges. Christopher Memminger, its German-born Treasury secretary, warned that printing notes was “the most dangerous of all methods of raising money.” But the South was ideologically opposed to taxation, especially by the central government.

The South approved a very modest tax (half a percent on real estate), but collection was left to the states and few tried to collect it. With cotton shipments to Europe pinched by the Union blockade, Mr. Memminger soon found he had little choice but to print notes to cover the cost of the war. These inflated at a catastrophic rate.

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