Exclusive: U.S. buys more Stingers after missiles’ success in Ukraine

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WASHINGTON, May 27 (Reuters) – The U.S. Army said on Friday it has awarded a contract worth $625 million to Raytheon Technologies Corp (RTX.N) for anti-aircraft Stinger missiles in order to replenish stocks sent to Ukraine.

The shoulder-fired anti-aircraft Stinger missiles made by Raytheon were in hot demand in Ukraine, where they have successfully stopped Russian assaults from the air, and in neighboring European countries which fear they may also need to beat back Russian forces.

U.S. troops have limited use for the current supply of Stingers – a lightweight, self-contained weapon that can be deployed quickly to defend against helicopters, airplanes, drones and even cruise missiles – but the United States needs to maintain its supply on hand while it develops the next generation of a “man-portable air defense system.” read more

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Since February, the United States has shipped about 1,400 Stingers to Ukraine. U.S. allies also want to restock the weapons they shipped to Ukraine in recent months.

The contract for up to 1,468 Stingers was awarded on Wednesday, according to a document reviewed by Reuters, and was worth up to $687 million with options added in. There was no timeline for completion of the work, but it was estimated delivery could take up to 30 months.

The president of Raytheon Missiles & Defense, Wes Kremer, said the order will help “fulfill our current foreign military sale order, while replenishing Stingers provided to Ukraine and accelerating production.”

Separately, the Pentagon is searching for Stinger missiles that are already in inventory, but need to be refurbished, according to the document.

On May 6 the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer, Bill LaPlante, said he had aimed to sign a contract by the end of May and that the intent was to replace the Stinger missiles sent to Ukraine one-for-one.

The Pentagon and Raytheon did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Stinger production line was closed in December 2020, the Pentagon has said. In July 2021, Raytheon won a contract to manufacture more Stingers, but mainly for international governments, according to the U.S. Army. read more

Raytheon Chief Executive Greg Hayes told analysts during an April 26 conference call that the U.S. Department of Defense has not purchased a Stinger in 18 years.

“Some of the components are no longer commercially available, and so we’re going to have to go out and redesign some of the electronics in the missile of the seeker head. That’s going to take us a little bit of time.”

The sole Stinger facility, in Arizona, only produces at a low rate.

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Reporting by Mike Stone in Washington; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Matthew Lewis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Ukraine Live Updates: War’s Effects Widen as Russia Vows More Reprisals

BRUSSELS — Reverberations from the Ukraine war widened on Wednesday, jolting energy markets and spilling across borders, as Russia responded to the West’s escalating arms shipments and economic penalties by halting gas supplies to two European nations and threatening further unspecified retaliation.

The European Union’s top official described as “blackmail” the announcement that Russia was suspending shipments of natural gas to Poland and Bulgaria. Though the immediate impact was likely to be limited, the cutoff was the Kremlin’s toughest retaliation yet against a U.S.-led alliance that President Vladimir V. Putin has accused of waging a proxy war aimed at weakening Russia.

Even as news of a U.S.-Russia prisoner exchange offered a glimmer of hope for diplomatic engagement, Mr. Putin warned that he would order more “counterstrikes” against any adversaries that “create threats of a strategic nature unacceptable to Russia.”

At the same time, a series of explosions across Ukraine’s borders stoked fears that the war, now in its third month, might spread. Blasts were reported in three Russian districts on Wednesday morning, and suspicion fell on Ukrainian forces, which are benefiting from increasingly sophisticated weapons and intelligence from the United States and its allies.

Those blasts came a day after explosions shook Transnistria, a pro-Russian breakaway region of Moldova, on Ukraine’s southwestern flank. Some analysts — and Ukrainian and Moldovan officials — said it was likely that Russia, which has thousands of troops in Transnistria, had orchestrated the explosions to create a pretext to invade Ukraine from that direction.

Taken together, the developments raised the risk of worse to come.

“What’s the ‘so what’ of this escalatory cycle? Further escalation becomes more likely as animosity builds,” said Cliff Kupchan, chairman of the Eurasia Group, a political risk consulting organization. “The chance that Russia hits a staging facility in Poland goes up. The risk that NATO supplies aircraft to Ukraine goes up. Ukraine could strike bigger targets in Russia. Moscow could cut gas to more European nations.”

Economists warned that Europe could face a sharp slowdown of growth if the cutoff of sales by Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned gas company, spreads — or if Europe imposes an embargo on Russian gas. European natural gas prices surged as much as 28 percent on Wednesday and the euro’s value fell below $1.06 for the first time in five years on rising concerns about energy security and a slowdown in European growth. The currency has fallen nearly 4 percent against the U.S. dollar in April alone.

Gazprom’s stated reason for halting gas deliveries was the refusal by Poland and Bulgaria to pay in rubles, a new requirement Russia announced last month, despite the fact that its foreign contracts generally call for payment in dollars or euros. Most European buyers have not complied, which would subvert European Union financial sanctions imposed on Russia after the Ukraine invasion and help prop up the battered ruble.

The European Union had been preparing for the possibility that Russia might halt natural gas deliveries, said Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president. Nonetheless, she told a news conference, the Russian move was an attempt “to use gas as an instrument of blackmail.”

Poland and Bulgaria will quickly receive gas supplies from neighboring E.U. countries to compensate for the loss of Russian gas, she said, declaring that “the era of Russian fossil fuels in Europe is coming to an end.”

Both Poland and Bulgaria said the Russian cutoff would have little impact. In Poland, where electricity is largely generated with coal, not gas, the government sought to assuage any public fears. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki assured Poles that gas storage tanks were three-quarters full — much higher than in other countries.

And if the Kremlin’s plan was to intimidate Poland and Bulgaria with a future of unheated homes and cold meals in the hope of fracturing Western unity to aid Ukraine, it may have miscalculated. On a sunny spring day in Warsaw, the Polish capital, many people reacted with shrugs to the news — mixed with disbelief that anyone would ever view Russia as a trustworthy supplier.

“We have nothing to worry about if the weather stays like this,” said Joanna Gres, a ballet dancer with a troupe attached to the Polish military.

Bulgaria, too, has sufficient gas supplies for the next month, Alexander Nikolov, the energy minister, told Bulgarian news media, vowing that the country would “not negotiate under pressure and with its head bowed. ”

A top German official said the flow of Russian gas to Germany, Russia’s biggest energy customer, remained steady, while adding that the country could live off existing reserves until at least next winter.

Russia announced the cutoff a day after 40 U.S.-led allies met at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany and pledged to provide Ukraine with long-term military aid, following a weekend visit to the country by top Biden administration officials who said they want to see Russia not only defeated but degraded militarily.

That toughened American message is viewed by Mr. Putin and his subordinates as validation of their argument that the Ukraine war is really about the American desire to weaken Russia, and they are indirectly at war with NATO.

Despite fears of a broadened war, there was also a small measure of cooperation on Wednesday between Russia and the United States, which announced a prisoner swap.

They confirmed that Trevor R. Reed, a former Marine convicted on charges that his family said were bogus, had been freed, an unexpected diplomatic success. Mr. Reed, first detained in 2019, was released in exchange for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot sentenced to a lengthy term in the United States on cocaine-trafficking charges.

Credit…Tatyana Makeyeva/Reuters

Other Americans remain in detention in Russia, including Paul Whelan, who was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in prison on espionage charges during a trial that was closed to the public; and Brittney Griner, a basketball star arrested in mid-February on drug charges that could carry a sentence of up to 10 years.

Neither the American nor Russian sides gave any indication that the exchange signaled a broader diplomatic effort to de-escalate the Ukraine crisis.

Credit…David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

Ukraine appeared to have attempted to strike deeper into Russian territory overnight, although officials on both sides were vague about the details. Three local governors described drone flights and explosions as attacks.

Mykhailo Podolyak, a close adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, also described the explosions inside Russia as attacks on sites that Russia had used to launch the invasion, but he attributed them to “karma” — not the Ukrainian military.

As described by the three Russian governors and Russian media, an ammunition depot was set afire near Belgorod, a city less than 20 miles from the border, two explosions were reported in Voronezh, nearly 200 miles from the border, and a Ukrainian drone was shot down over Kursk, about 70 miles from the border. If Ukraine was responsible, the attacks in Kursk and Voronezh would be the deepest inside Russia since the Feb. 24 invasion.

In Moscow, Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary for Mr. Putin’s security council, urged Russian officials across a wide swath of the southwestern region near Ukraine to ensure emergency alerts and civil defense facilities were “working reliably.”

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry has generally declined to discuss reports of attacks on Russian soil. Ukrainian officials have, for example, declined to comment on Russia’s claim that two Ukrainian helicopters fired on an oil depot in Belgorod in early April. In more than two months of war, the fighting has largely been contained within Ukraine’s borders.

Over the past few weeks Russian forces have concentrated on a full-scale assault in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region, where analysts say Russia is making slow and measured advances on the ground as it confronts entrenched Ukrainian troops.

The pace of Russia’s ground assault appears more planned and deliberate than the initial invasion in February, which aimed at seizing more Ukrainian territory and depended on swift advances of tanks ­— a strategy that failed, at great cost to Russian forces.

Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Military analysts with the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington research group, said in their Tuesday assessment that Russian forces had “adopted a sounder pattern of operational movement in eastern Ukraine,” which is allowing them to “bring more combat power to bear” in their narrower goal of capturing just the eastern region.

Ukrainian troops have been defending positions in Donbas region since 2014, when secessionists there, backed by Russia, declared themselves the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic.

Matina Stevis-Gridneff reported from Brussels, Neil MacFarquhar from Istanbul, and Shashank Bengali and Megan Specia from London. Reporting was contributed by Andrew Higgins from Warsaw, Ivan Nechepurenko from Tbilisi, Georgia, Cora Engelbrechtfrom Krakow, Poland, Liz Aldermanfrom Paris, Jane Arraf from Lviv, Ukraine, Matthew Mpoke Bigg from London and Rick Gladstone from New York.

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Putin’s Ukraine Gamble Pivots to a Very Different Battlefield

KYIV, Ukraine — There are fields instead of city streets, farmsteads instead of apartment buildings. Open highways stretch to the horizon.

The battles in the north that Ukraine won over the past seven weeks raged in towns and densely populated suburbs around the capital, Kyiv, but the war is about to take a hard turn to the southeast and into a vast expanse of wide-open flatland, fundamentally changing the nature of the combat, the weapons at play and the strategies that might bring victory.

Military analysts, Ukrainian commanders, soldiers and even Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, acknowledge that a wider war that began with a failed attempt to capture the capital will now be waged in the eastern Donbas region.

With few natural barriers, the armies can try to flank and surround each other, firing fierce barrages of artillery from a distance to soften enemy positions.

Russia invaded in February, Ukraine had been fighting Russia-backed separatists there since 2014, when Moscow fomented an uprising and sent in forces to support it. That war had settled into a stalemate, with each side controlling territory and neither gaining much ground.

Now, what may be the decisive phase of Mr. Putin’s latest war is returning to that same region, blighted by eight years of conflict and littered with land mines and trenches, as he tries to conquer the portion of Donbas still held by Ukraine. Neither side has made a major move in recent days, and analysts say it will most likely require a long and bloody conflict for either one to prevail.

Slovakia this week provided Ukraine with a potent, long-range antiaircraft missile system, the S-300. And on Wednesday, President Biden announced an $800 million military aid package to Ukraine that for the first time included more-powerful weaponry, including 18 155-millimeter howitzers, 40,000 rounds of artillery ammunition and 200 armored personnel carriers.

warn the United States of “unpredictable consequences” of shipping such arms, American officials said on Friday.

Perhaps the biggest difference from the northern phase of the war, fought among towns, woods and hills, will be the terrain. Military analysts are forecasting an all-out, bloody battle on the steppe.

“There’s nowhere to hide,” said Maksim Finogin, a veteran of Ukraine’s conflict in Donbas.

considering applying for membership in the alliance. Dmitri A. Medvedev, Russia’s former president and prime minister, said Moscow would be forced to “seriously strengthen” its defenses in the Baltics if the two countries were to join.

“The surrounding forces draw in closer, tighten the flanks and then methodically destroy” those trapped inside with artillery, he said, recalling a strategy that nearly cost him his life.

designated a single theater commander, Gen. Aleksandr V. Dvornikov, a former commander of the Russian army in Syria known for brutal tactics there.

And the fight in the east will begin closer to supply lines stretching back to the Russian border; that could be key for a mechanized Russian army advancing in a major conventional assault across the countryside.

“They are now prepared to fight the war that they really want,” the retired Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, a former NATO supreme allied commander for Europe, said of the Russians. “They want to meet force on force in open fields and go at it.”

Andrew E. Kramer reported from Kyiv, Ukraine; Eric Schmitt from Washington; Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Kharkiv, Ukraine; and Michael Schwirtz from Lviv, Ukraine.

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Live Updates: Putin Draws Line on U.S. Arms for Ukraine

Stung by war losses and massing troops for a new battle in eastern Ukraine, Russia has warned the Biden administration to stop supplying advanced weapons to Ukrainian forces or face “unpredictable consequences,” American officials said Friday.

The Russian message — one of a series of warnings punctuated by a formal protest note, delivered on Tuesday — suggested rising concerns in Moscow that the weapons were seriously hindering Russia’s combat capabilities.

The existence of the message was disclosed as the Kremlin was funneling armaments, including attack helicopters, to Russia’s border with eastern Ukraine for the next phase of its two-month-old invasion of the country.

Over the course of the war, the U.S. administration has provided increasingly heavier weapons to the Ukrainians — including 155-mm howitzers — as the conflict has ramped up, and it announced a new $800 million arms package this week.

Back in February, as the war began, the administration worried such weaponry could unnecessarily provoke Russia. But after coming under pressure from President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine and members of Congress from both parties, the administration has decided to provide some of the kinds of heavy weapons it says Ukraine will require in the next phase of the war.

The Russian warnings have come as the invasion has met unexpectedly stiff Ukrainian resistance and has exposed weaknesses in Russia’s conventional armed forces.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has installed a new command to oversee the Ukraine war and this past week publicly suggested for the first time that Russia’s goals were limited to securing the Donbas, the section of eastern Ukraine bordering Russia where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting for eight years.

Russia’s goals when its military invaded on Feb. 24 appeared far more ambitious, with plans to besiege and capture the capital, Kyiv, in the north, cutting off Mr. Zelensky’s government from the rest of the former Soviet republic, which Mr. Putin has said he does not even consider a country.

That strategy backfired and Russian forces retreated last month. They also have failed to completely seize the strategic southeast port of Mariupol despite relentless bombardments that have turned that once bustling city of 450,000 into a wasteland of death and war’s destructive horrors.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, the governor of the Donetsk region of Eastern Ukraine, told CNN on Friday that Ukrainian troops were still in control of Mariupol, but that the city had been “wiped off the face of the earth by the Russian Federation, by those who will never be able to restore it.”

Credit…Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

In what appeared to be another military embarrassment for Russia that it has sought to cover up, a senior U.S. defense official said Friday that Russia’s Black Sea flagship Moskva, a missile cruiser that sank Thursday, had been struck by two Ukrainian Neptune missiles, and not crippled by an accidental fire and explosion during a storm, as the Kremlin has asserted.

It was the first American corroboration of Ukraine’s claims that its Neptune missiles — a newly deployed weapon with a 190-mile range — had hit the ship, which was struck 65 miles south of the port of Odesa.

The loss of the Moskva was more than just a humiliation, as it could now seriously impair any Kremlin plans for an amphibious assault on Ukraine’s southern coast. The loss also raised questions about Russian dominance of Ukraine’s airspace and the apparent inability of the Moskva, a sophisticated warship, to evade or intercept the Neptunes with its own defense systems.

The U.S. official said that American intelligence assessments had indicated an unspecified number of casualties, contradicting Russian claims that all crew members had been safely evacuated.

Detail

area

Russian-controlled

areas

Russia’s warship, the Moskva, was hit by missiles

about 65 nautical miles south of Odesa,

according to a Defense official.

CRIMEA

Seized in 2014

Snake

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April 12

A ship with similar dimensions

and features was seen about

75 nautical miles from Odesa.

April 10

Seen offshore

near port

April 7

Seen in port

in Sevastopol

20 nautical miles

Detail

area

Russian-controlled areas

Russia’s warship, the Moskva, was hit

by missiles about 65 nautical miles

south of Odesa, according to a Defense official.

CRIMEA

Seized in 2014

April 10

Seen offshore

near port

Snake

Island

April 12

A ship with similar

dimensions and

features was seen

about 75 nautical

miles from Odesa.

April 7

Seen in port

in Sevastopol

20 nautical miles

The Russian diplomatic protest note, called a démarche, was sent through normal channels, two administration officials said, and was not signed by Mr. Putin or other senior Russian officials. But it was an indicator, one administration official said, that the weapons sent by the United States were having an effect.

American officials said the tone of the note was consistent with a series of public Russian threats, including to target deliveries of weapons as they moved across Ukrainian territory.

Officials said the note did not prompt any special concern inside the White House. But it has touched off a broader discussion inside the Pentagon and intelligence agencies about whether the “unpredictable consequences” could include trying to target or sabotage some of the weapons shipments while still in NATO territory, before they are transferred to Ukrainians for the final journey into the hands of Ukrainian troops. The delivery of the protest note was first reported by The Washington Post.

The weapons President Biden authorized this week for transfer to the Ukrainians include long-range artillery that is suited for what American officials believe will be a different style of battle in the open areas of the Donbas, where Russian forces appear to be massing for an attack in coming days.

Pentagon officials were insistent in the run-up to the war that the United States provide only defensive weaponry that would avoid escalation.

Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, described in an interview at the Washington Economic Club on Thursday how he and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had reviewed weapons requests. They went over each item with their Ukrainian counterparts, talking about what the United States had in its stocks and what it could deliver quickly.

Reports by pro-Kremlin media have highlighted antitank systems and other Western weapons used by Ukrainian forces, promoting the idea that Russia is not at war with Ukraine but with an American-led alliance seeking to destroy Russia. Mr. Biden and his aides have denied that, saying that they wished to avoid direct conflict with Russia and had no interest in American-engineered regime change.

In Moscow, commentators have been increasingly calling on Russia to strike Ukrainian roads and railroads to inhibit the weapons transfers. While Russia has targeted many of Ukraine’s airports, the country’s ground transportation network remains largely intact.

“The time has come not to speak, but to attack,” Viktor Baranets, a military columnist for Komsomolskaya Pravda, Russia’s biggest tabloid, said on Friday. “Train echelons must be destroyed along with the railways.”

Russia’s concern may partly be over the accuracy Ukraine showed in hitting the Moskva, one of its most sophisticated warships.

Credit…Maxar Technologies

The Russian démarche echoed the public rhetoric of officials in Moscow, who have been warning for weeks that Western arms deliveries to Ukraine would prolong the war and be met with a tough response.

It came as the level of concern among Russian officials over the impact of Western arms has been increasing, said Andrei Kortunov, the director general of the Russian International Affairs Council, a research organization close to the Kremlin.

“It seems the United States and the West in general are right now testing the limits of Russian tolerance when it comes to weapons deliveries,” Mr. Kortunov said. “It’s clear that these volumes are already so significant that they can affect the course of the hostilities, and this is raising concerns.”

A Russian deputy foreign minister, Sergei A. Ryabkov, said on Friday that Russia was “making it clear to the Americans and other Westerners” that attempts to hamper what Russia is calling its “special military operation” in Ukraine and increase Russian losses would be “curbed in a tough manner.”

Credit…David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

He added that NATO vehicles carrying weapons across Ukrainian territory would be “viewed by us as legitimate military targets.” His comments came in an interview with Tass, the state-run news agency.

NATO hands off weapons to the Ukrainians in ways that seek to avoid having the alliance’s vehicles traverse Ukrainian soil. But Mr. Ryabkov’s comments have heightened concerns about whether Russia would take the risk of striking inside NATO territory.

When Mr. Putin announced his “special military operation” on Feb. 24, he said that those “who may be tempted to interfere” in Ukraine would face consequences as severe “as you have never seen in your entire history.”

Credit…Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik

“No matter how the events unfold, we are ready,” Mr. Putin said at the time. “All the necessary decisions in this regard have been taken.”

But Russia has so far appeared careful not to escalate the conflict in a way that could draw NATO countries more directly — for instance, not striking weapons convoys crossing into Ukraine from Poland.

“There are still fears regarding strikes that may hit the territory of NATO member countries,” Mr. Kortunov said. “One certainly does not want to create a pretext for some further escalation.”

David E. Sanger and Helene Cooper reported from Washington, and Anton Troianovski from Istanbul. Reporting was contributed by Marc Santora from Krakow, Poland; Michael Schwirtz from Lviv, Ukraine; and Julian E. Barnes and Eric Schmitt from Washington.

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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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Live Updates: Pentagon Leaders Speak After ISIS Leader’s Death

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Video footage shows the aftermath of a U.S. raid in which the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, was killed.CreditCredit…Yahya Nemah/EPA, via Shutterstock

President Biden said on Thursday that the leader of the Islamic State died during a raid by U.S. Special Operations commandos in a risky pre-dawn attack in northwest Syria. Rescue workers said women and children were among at least 13 people killed during the raid.

In brief remarks at the White House, Mr. Biden said the choice to target the ISIS leader, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, using the Special Forces was made to minimize civilian casualties, despite the greater risk to American troops.

Speaking in the Roosevelt Room at the White House, Mr. Biden was understated as he described the ISIS leader’s history, saying that he had ordered a series of atrocities, including against the Yazidi people. “Thanks to the bravery of our troops, this horrible terrorist leader is no more.”

He said the operation was a warning to terrorist groups.

“This operation is testament to America’s reach and capability to take out terrorist threats no matter where they try to hide anywhere in the world,” he said.

Mr. Biden said Mr. al-Qurayshi died when he exploded a bomb that killed him as well as members of his own family.

Before his White House remarks, Mr. Biden said in a statement, “All Americans have returned safely from the operation.”

John F. Kirby, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman, addressed the casualties associated with the raid in a news conference on Thursday afternoon. “To the degree there’s loss of innocent lives, it’s caused by Abdullah and his lieutenants,” he said, using a nickname for Mr. al-Quaryshi. He said the U.S. forces were able to evacuate 10 civilians from the building, including several children.

The helicopter-borne assault carried out by about two dozen American commandos, backed by helicopter gunships, armed Reaper drones and attack jets, resembled the raid in October 2019 in which Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the previous leader of the Islamic State, died when he detonated a suicide vest as U.S. forces raided a hide-out not far from where Thursday’s operation took place.

The airborne raid came days after the end of the largest U.S. combat involvement with the Islamic State since the end of the jihadists’ so-called caliphate three years ago. American forces backed a Kurdish-led militia in northeastern Syria as it fought for more than a week to oust Islamic State fighters from a prison they had occupied in the city of Hasaka.

Little is known about Mr. al-Qurayshi, who succeeded Mr. al-Baghdadi, or ISIS’s top command structure. But analysts said the death of the Islamic State leader was a significant blow to the terrorist group.

American helicopters ferried the commandos into position after midnight, surrounding a house in Atmeh, a town close to the border with Turkey in rebel-held Idlib Province, according to eyewitnesses, social media reports and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a conflict monitor based in Britain.

A tense standoff briefly ensued, with loudspeakers blaring warnings in Arabic for everyone in the house to surrender, neighbors said. Then an explosion rocked the building. After that, some of the house’s occupants had not emerged and a major battle erupted, with heavy machine gun fire and apparent missile strikes.

During the operation, one of the American helicopters suffered a mechanical problem, was forced to land and was later destroyed by American attack aircraft. After about three hours, the American commandos and their remaining helicopters flew off, witnesses said.

Given the fluid nature of early reports in a complex raid like Thursday’s operation, the military’s initial version may be incomplete. Accounts of other events have at times turned out to be contradictory or sometimes flat wrong.

Reporting was contributed by Falih Hassan, Muhammad Najdat Hij Kadour, Asmaa al-Omar, Hwaida Saad and Evan Hill.

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As Other Arab States Falter, Saudi Arabia Seeks to Become a Cultural Hub

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — A pregnant Saudi woman, far from home, finds herself stalked by inner and outer demons. A wannabe Saudi vlogger and his friends, menaced by the internet’s insatiable appetite for content and more mysterious dangers, try to escape a dark forest. At a wedding, the mother of the bride panics when her daughter disappears with all of their guests waiting downstairs.

These were just a few of the 27 Saudi-made films premiering this month at a film festival in Jeddah, part of the conservative kingdom’s huge effort to transform itself from a cultural backwater into a cinematic powerhouse in the Middle East.

The Saudi push reflects profound shifts in the creative industries across the Arab world. Over the past century, while the name Saudi Arabia conjured little more than oil, desert and Islam, Cairo, Beirut, Damascus and Baghdad stood out as the Arab cultural beacons where blockbuster movies were made, chart-topping songs were recorded and books that got intellectuals talking hit the shelves.

to promote pro-government themes.

In many ways, the region’s cultural mantle is up for grabs, and Saudi Arabia is spending lavishly to seize it.

At the Red Sea International Film Festival, held on a former execution ground, Jeddah residents rubbernecked as stars like Hilary Swank and Naomi Campbell strutted down a red carpet in revealing gowns, and Saudi influencers D.J.-ed at dance parties.

All this in a country where, until a few years ago, women were not allowed to drive, cinemas were banned and aspiring filmmakers often had to dodge the religious police to shoot in public.

CineWaves.

Although Saudi Arabia’s population is about a fifth of Egypt’s, the Saudis are more affluent and wired, making them more likely to pay for streaming services and movie tickets. At about $18, a ticket in Saudi theaters is among the most expensive in the world.

But the kingdom only allowed cinemas to reopen only in 2018 after a 35-year ban. Before that, Saudis escaped to nearby Bahrain or Dubai to go to theaters.

Now, the country has 430 screens and counting, making it the fastest-growing market in the world, with a target of 2,600 screens by 2030, Mr. Abdulmajeed said.

Film Clinic, a Cairo-based production company.

Several Saudi-Egyptian collaborations are in the works, and an Egyptian “Hangover”-style comedy, “Wa’afet Reggala” (“A Stand Worthy of Men”), was the highest-grossing release in Saudi Arabia this year, beating the Hollywood blockbusters.

Saudi productions may also continue to draw acting, writing and directing talent from Lebanon, Syria and Egypt — and will most likely need to do so to reach non-Saudi audiences, said Rebecca Joubin, an Arab studies professor at Davidson College in North Carolina.

“With Saudi opening up, they say in Egypt that it’s saving Egypt’s movie industry,” said Marwan Mokbel, an Egyptian who co-wrote “Junoon,” the Saudi horror film about the vlogger that premiered at the Jeddah festival.

Shahid, its Dubai-based Arabic counterpart.

That has created a big market for Arabic-language content.

Netflix has produced Jordanian, Egyptian and Syrian-Lebanese shows, with varying degrees of success, and just announced the release of its first Arabic-language feature film, “Perfect Strangers.”

Syrian and Lebanese studios that used to depend on gulf financiers — who, they complained, often forced them to water down their artistic ambitions by nixing political themes — are also turning to web series and Netflix for new funding and wider audiences.

a hip alternative to the somnolent broadcast television. Mohammad Makki recalled dodging the police, guerrilla style, to film the first season of his show “Takki,” about a group of Saudi friends navigating Saudi social constraints, a decade ago. Then, it was a low-budget YouTube series. Now, it is a Netflix hit.

“We grew up dying to go to the cinema,” he said, “and now it’s two blocks from my house.”

Saudi women in the industry faced even greater challenges.

When “Wadjda” (2012), the first Saudi feature directed by a woman, was filmed, Haifaa al-Mansour, the director, was barred from mixing in public with male crew members. She worked instead from the back of a van, communicating with the actors via walkie-talkie.

“I’m still in shock,” said Ahd Kamel, who played a conservative teacher in “Wadjda,” which portrays a rebellious young Saudi girl who desperately wants a bicycle, as she walked through the festival. “It’s surreal.”

As a young actress in New York, Ms. Kamel hid her career from her family, knowing they, and Saudi society, would not approve of a woman acting. Now, she said, her family pesters her for festival tickets, and she is preparing to direct a new film to be shot in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi political, religious and cultural sensitivities are still factors, of course.

Marvel’s big-budget “Eternals” was not released in Saudi Arabia — or in Qatar, Kuwait or Egypt — because of gay romantic scenes. Several of the non-Saudi films screened at the Jeddah festival, however, included gay scenes, nudity and an out-of-wedlock pregnancy.

Hisham Fageeh, a Saudi comedian and actor, said officials had told him future films should avoid touching directly on God or politics.

Sumaya Rida, an actress in the festival movies “Junoon” and “Rupture,” said the films aimed to portray Saudi couples realistically while avoiding onscreen physical affection.

But the filmmakers said they were just happy to have support, accepting that it would come at the price of creative constraints.

“I don’t intend to provoke to provoke. The purpose of cinema is to tease. Cinema doesn’t have to be didactic,” said Fatima al-Banawi, a Saudi actress and director whose first feature film the festival is funding. “It comes naturally. We’ve been so good at working around things for so long.”

Vivian Yee reported from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and Ben Hubbard from Beirut, Lebanon. Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut, and Nada Rashwan from Cairo.

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