benefiting from a far more extensive crowdfunding campaign that is delivering millions of dollars’ worth of donations in items like drones, night vision scopes, rifles and consumer technology.

Most of the groups collecting donations for Russian soldiers appear to be operating independently of the Russian government. They mostly rely on volunteers’ personal contacts in individual units and at military hospitals who pass along lists of what they most urgently need.

segment in April about such volunteers explained, “but a mother’s heart has a will of its own.”

Outside state media, however, supporters of the war are pointing to private donations as a key to victory. Pro-Russian military bloggers, some of them embedded with Russian troops, are urging their followers to donate money to buy night vision equipment and basic drones.

“Our guys are dying because they lack this equipment,” one blogger wrote, while “the entire West is supplying the Ukrainian side.”

The needed equipment, largely imported, can be bought at Russian sporting goods stores or ordered online. Starshe Eddy, a popular military blogger, wrote that consumer drones made by the giant Chinese company DJI “have become so firmly entrenched in combat operations that it’s become hard to imagine the war without them.”

says the item “makes seeing — and ranging — deer out to 600 yards a reality.”

wrote, adding a winking emoji and a heart emoji.

Ms. Abiyeva says she started crowdsourcing aid after her husband, a captain, was deployed to Ukraine and she felt “powerless” to affect the course of events. She visited the hospital attached to her husband’s local military base and got the contact information for surgeons deployed to the war. Ever since, they have sent requests to her directly and passed her contacts along to colleagues.

When one surgeon at a field hospital asked for arterial embolectomy catheters, for treating clogs in arteries, Ms. Abiyeva found another volunteer in St. Petersburg to make the 700-mile trip to deliver 10 of them immediately. Ms. Abiyeva said that when she met the surgeon on her own trip to the region a week later, he told her that six of the catheters had already been used.

“It’s possible that we saved six lives,” she said.

The Russian military’s apparently urgent need for essential medical equipment and basic, foreign-made consumer devices has led some Russians to wonder how the Kremlin has been spending its enormous military budget, more than 3 percent of the country’s total economic output. On the VKontakte page of Zhanna Slobozhan, a coordinator of donations in the border city of Belgorod, a woman wrote that talk of raising money for drones and gun sights “makes me think that the army is totally being abandoned to the mercy of fate.”

“Let’s make sure that at least we won’t abandon our guys,” Ms. Slobozhan wrote back. She did not respond to requests for comment.

Mr. Putin visited a military hospital on Wednesday for the first time since the war began. He later told officials that while the doctors he met had assured him that “they have all they need,” the government should “promptly, quickly and effectively respond to any needs” in military medicine.

documentary about soldiers’ mothers released last weekend by the Russian journalist Katerina Gordeyeva, seen some three million times on YouTube, one woman describes her son using a wire to reattach soles to his boots.

An association of retired Russian officers published an open letter on May 19 noting that the public was raising funds for equipment the military sorely lacked “even though the government has plenty of money.” The letter excoriated Mr. Putin’s war effort as halfhearted, urging him to declare a state of war, with the aim of capturing all of Ukraine.

But on the ground, the concerns are more prosaic. With the approach of summer, Lyme disease-bearing ticks are out, and volunteers in Belgorod have been making homemade insect repellent, putting it into spray bottles and delivering it to the front.

A group of women collecting donations in the area learned that some of the Russian-backed separatist forces were so badly equipped that they were using shopping bags to carry their belongings. In their Telegram account with about 1,000 followers, the group put out an urgent call for backpacks, along with shoes, Q-tips, socks, headlamps, lighters, hats, sugar and batteries.

“This is so they understand that they are not alone,” said one of the coordinators of the Belgorod group, Vera Kusenko, 26, who works at a beauty salon as an eyelash extension specialist. “We hope this ends soon.”

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UK to provide 1.3 billion pounds of further military support to Ukraine

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson attend a news briefing, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine April 9, 2022. Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT/File Photo

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LONDON, May 7 (Reuters) – Britain said it would provide a further 1.3 billion pounds ($1.60 billion) in military support and aid to Ukraine, making the pledge ahead of a planned video call on Sunday by Group of Seven leaders with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Prime Minister Johnson has been one of the strongest supporters of Ukraine’s efforts to resist Russian forces since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion on Feb. 24. Johnson’s government has sent anti-tank missiles, air defence systems and other weapons to Ukraine.

The new pledge almost doubles Britain’s previous spending commitments on Ukraine and the government said this is the highest rate of spending on a conflict since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, although it did not give details of this calculation.

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“Putin’s brutal attack is not only causing untold devastation in Ukraine – it is also threatening peace and security across Europe,” Johnson said in a statement. Last week he became the first Western leader to address Ukraine’s parliament since the start of the invasion.

The leaders of the G7 countries – Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States – will hold their virtual meeting with Zelenskiy on Sunday, the day before Russia marks its Victory Day holiday, which marks the end of World War Two in Europe. read more

Britain said the extra spending on Ukraine will come from a reserve used by the government for emergencies.

The government also said Johnson will host a meeting of leading defence companies later this month to discuss increasing production in response to increased demand created by the war in Ukraine.

While Britain has provided significant military aid, it has so far accepted relatively few of the more than 5 million Ukrainians who have fled their country. The British government said on Saturday that so far it had issued more than 86,000 visas to Ukrainians, of whom about 27,000 had reached Britain.

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Reporting by Andrew MacAskill
Editing by Frances Kerry

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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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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Live Updates: Biden Vows Putin Will Pay for Ukraine Invasion

This time, the United States intelligence community got it right, unearthing a rival’s secret planning and accurately predicting and broadcasting Russia’s intentions to carry out a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

For months, the Biden administration has been sharing — with allies and the public — intelligence about President Vladimir V. Putin’s intentions, taking away any element of surprise and stripping the Russian leader of his capacity to go to war on a false pretext.

But even with the threat of substantial sanctions and allied unity, it was not enough in the end to deter Mr. Putin from carrying out the broad assault that got underway early on Thursday.

But it improved Washington’s ability to bring the trans-Atlantic alliance into a unified front against Moscow and to prepare waves of sanctions and other steps to impose a cost on Russia. And after high-profile intelligence failures in Afghanistan, Iraq and other global crises over the past several decades, the accuracy of the intelligence and analysis about Mr. Putin gave the C.I.A. and the broader array of U.S. intelligence agencies new credibility at home and abroad.

The result has been a remarkable four months of diplomacy, deterrence and American-led information warfare, including a last-ditch effort to disrupt Mr. Putin’s strategy by plugging into the Russian military’s plans and then exposing them publicly. Unlike the withdrawal from Afghanistan, it was executed almost flawlessly. Even the Germans and other European nations highly dependent on Russian-supplied gas signed onto the playbook.

The U.S. used its intelligence in innovative ways as the crisis built. William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, confronted the Russian government with its own war plans. Avril D. Haines, the director of national intelligence, shared secret intelligence with allied governments to build support for the American assessment. And the White House and State Department shared some declassified intelligence publicly to expose Mr. Putin’s plans for “false flag” operations and deny him the pretext he wanted to invade.

Credit…Evgeniy Maloletka/Associated Press

The intelligence disclosures may not be over now that the invasion has begun. The Biden administration has made clear it does not want to take on the job of publicly calling out Russian troop movements. But the United States is considering continuing its information releases, mulling various options to hold Russia accountable for actions it will take in Ukraine, according to people familiar with the discussion.

Those new efforts could involve countering Russian propaganda that they are guardians and liberators of the Ukrainian people, not an occupying force. They could also involve work to expose potential war crimes and try to give the lie to Russian claims that their war aims are limited.

Mr. Putin’s plan to topple the government in Kyiv was his goal from the beginning, American officials have said, and some officials are keen to show Russia is simply carrying out a plan crafted months ago.

“It’s not something you want to do forever or as a permanent feature of policy or it loses its novelty, but in extraordinary, life-or-death situations, it is justified,” said John E. McLaughlin, a former acting C.I.A. director. “I always found in confronting Russians with our knowledge of what they were doing, that they would inevitably deny it but that it threw them off balance to know that we knew. And I think it has rattled Putin this time.”

In the end it was not enough to stop Mr. Putin, though it is not clear what strategy, if any, he might have.

The American effort to reveal Mr. Putin’s plans to the world, has “been a distraction to him, it’s been somewhat annoying,” James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, said Wednesday. But, he added, “It remains to be seen what difference it has made on his decision-making.”

Some of information the United States shared with allies, beginning with a trip to NATO by Ms. Haines in November, was initially greeted skeptically, according to Western officials. Many Europeans still remember the bad intelligence around the Iraq war.

But as the information provided grew and the Russian war plan played out as Ms. Haines had predicted, European officials shifted their view. The intelligence-sharing campaign ultimately succeeded in uniting Europe and America on a series of tough sanctions.

Credit…Alexey Nikolsky/Sputnik, via

Republicans have been critical of Mr. Biden for not being more aggressive in the military supplies it sent to Kyiv or acting earlier to impose stiff sentences on Russia to change Mr. Putin’s course of action.

It will take time to know if more and better weapons could have made a difference for the Ukrainian army’s resistance. But administration officials have said they have had to act judiciously not to escalate the situation and not allow Mr. Putin to use American military supplies as excuse to start the war.

More clearly, American sanctions against Mr. Putin go only so far. It is European sanctions against Russia and its billionaire class that really bite, and it took time, and intelligence, for Europe to come on board with a tough package of sanctions.

While the United States clearly has the some of the best, if not the best, intelligence collection in the world, it also had a reputation that remained tarnished, at home and abroad, by the 2003 Iraq invasion, when faulty information was publicly released to justify the war. While the intelligence community had long been pessimistic about the survival prospects for the U.S.-supported Afghan government, some in the administration criticized the spy agencies last year for not accurately predicting how quickly the country’s military forces would fold.

There is little doubt that reputation increased some of the skepticism of the assessment of Mr. Putin’s intentions, both by reporters questioning public officials for more evidence, and by allies.

The warnings this time were far different, the information released to try to prevent a war, not to start one. But releasing the information was nevertheless a risk. Had it proved wrong, the intelligence agencies would have been saddled with fresh doubts about their ability to collect and properly analyze intelligence about an adversaries’ capabilities and intentions. Their ability to credibly warn against future threats would have diminished.

Instead, the public got a rare glimpse of an intelligence success. It is usually the failures, or partial failures, like Iraq, the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the surveillance of domestic civil rights groups or the Bay of Pigs, that are publicly aired.

Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

But the failures do not mean America’s spy agencies do not have many successes, said Nicholas Dujmovic, a former C.I.A. historian who now teaches at the Catholic University of America.

“This is a rare case that intelligence successes are being made public, and the public should conclude, in my view, that this is rather the norm,” Dr. Dujmovic said. “They are getting a rare glimpse of the normal process and production of intelligence that normally they do not see.”

Most accusations of intelligence failures are failures to properly warn about an attack or to overstate a threat. And it is those warnings that this time proved prescient.

“The warning analysts have the hardest job in analysis because they are trying to figure out intentions — whether the attack will come, when it will come, how it will come,” Dr. Dujmovic said. “The best way to penetrate that fog is with a human source close to the decision maker, in this case, Putin — and it’s also the hardest kind of collection to acquire.”

The intelligence agencies succeeded in divining Mr. Putin’s intentions early on. And that was no easy feat. It is simply not publicly known how strong is America’s source network in Russia or how close those people are to Putin, but it is clear Mr. Putin shares his counsel with very few.

Monday’s televised meeting of Russia’s national security aides showed the foreign intelligence chief being berated by Mr. Putin for failing to endorse recognition of the breakaway enclaves in Eastern Ukraine. Juxtaposed with the months of American disclosures, the scene suggested that people atop America’s spy agencies, for once, may have understood Mr. Putin’s intentions better than his own intelligence officers.

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Live Updates: U.S. Faces Off With Russia at U.N. as Ukraine Standoff Continues

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The meeting of the Security Council was requested by the United States in response to Russia’s buildup of military forces along Ukraine’s borders.CreditCredit…Andrew Kelly/Reuters

The United States and Russia engaged in a diplomatic brawl Monday at the U.N. Security Council over the Ukraine crisis, as the Americans accused the Russians of endangering peace by massing troops on Ukraine’s borders while Kremlin diplomats dismissed what they called farcical theatrics and fearmongering.

The meeting of the 15-nation council, requested by the United States last week, represented the highest-profile arena for the two powers to sway world opinion over Ukraine.

The tensions surrounding the former Soviet republic — smoldering since Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula nearly eight years ago, and escalating sharply in recent months — have brought U.S.-Russian relations to their lowest point since the Cold War. The meeting adjourned, as expected, with no action taken.

Almost immediately after the meeting of the council convened, the Russians lost a procedural challenge to even holding it. Ambassador Vasily Nebenzia of Russia accused the Americans of fomenting “unfounded accusations that we have refuted” and said no Russian troops were in Ukraine, questioning the basic premise of a meeting he described as “megaphone diplomacy.”

The American ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, countered that many private diplomatic meetings had been held about Russia’s military buildup and it was “now time to have a meeting in public.” She asked other members how they would feel “if you had 100,000 troops sitting on your border.”

The council voted to proceed with the meeting, with only Russia and China objecting. Although Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States are all veto-wielding permanent members of the council, veto power cannot be used to block a meeting.

“The situation we are facing in Europe is urgent and dangerous,” Ms. Thomas-Greenfield said in her opening remarks. “Russia’s actions strike at the very heart of the U.N. charter.”

The Russian military buildup, she said, reflected “an escalation in a pattern of aggression that we’ve seen from Russia again and again.” While she emphasized American desires for a peaceful outcome, Mrs. Thomas-Greenfield said that if the Russians invaded Ukraine, “none of us will be able to say we didn’t see it coming.”

Mr. Nebenzia, in his remarks, said Russia wanted peace and that the United States and its Western allies had manufactured a nonexistent crisis to drive a wedge between Russia and Ukraine.

He accused his American counterpart of making a “hodgepodge of accusations but no specific facts.” He drew an analogy to the false American evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that preceded the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, adding that “what happened to that country is known to all.”






Armored vehicles

Other military or air installations

Russia has begun moving

troops, armor and advanced

antiaircraft systems into

Belarus, a close ally.

Baranovichi

Around 130,000 Russian troops

have been deployed near the

Ukrainian border.

Asipovichy

Marshala Zhukova

Forces deployed north of

Ukraine could stretch

the country’s forces thin and

threaten its capital, Kyiv.

KAZAKHSTAN

Approximate line

separating Ukrainian and

Russian-backed forces.

Persianovskiy

Nearly 20,000 troops are near

two breakaway provinces, where

Ukraine has been locked in a

grinding war with Russian-backed

separatists since 2014.

Rostov-on-Don

SEA OF AZOV

CASPIAN SEA

Armored vehicles

Other military or air installations

Baranovichi

Around 130,000 Russian troops

have been deployed near the

Ukrainian border.

Asipovichy

Marshala Zhukova

Russia has begun moving

troops, armor and advanced

antiaircraft systems into

Belarus, a close ally.

KAZAKHSTAN

Approximate line

separating Ukrainian and

Russian-backed forces.

Persianovskiy

Nearly 20,000 troops are near two

breakaway provinces, where Ukraine

has been locked in a grinding

war with Russian-backed

separatists since 2014.

Rostov-on-Don

SEA OF AZOV

CASPIAN SEA

Armored vehicles

Other installations

Around 130,000 Russian troops

have been deployed near the

Ukrainian border.

Baranovichi

Asipovichy

Russia has begun moving

troops, armor and advanced

antiaircraft systems into

Belarus, a close ally.

KAZAKHSTAN

Approximate line

separating Ukrainian and

Russian-backed forces.

Persianovskiy

CASPIAN SEA

Rostov-on-Don

SEA OF AZOV

Nearly 20,000 troops are near two

breakaway provinces, where Ukraine

has been locked in a grinding

war with Russian-backed

separatists since 2014.

Other installations

Armored vehicles

Around 130,000 Russian troops

have been deployed near the

Ukrainian border.

Russia has begun moving

troops, armor and advanced

antiaircraft systems into

Belarus, a close ally.

Nearly 20,000 troops are near

two breakaway provinces, where

Ukraine has been locked in a

grinding war with Russian-backed

separatists since 2014.

Other installations

Armored vehicles

Note: Numbers for newly arrived troops to Belarus, parts of Crimea, and western Russia are rough estimates.

Mr. Nebenzia’s remarks reinforced a message that other Kremlin diplomats have sought to project: that the Security Council meeting was a manufactured contretemps over what they call unjustified Western fears, instigated by the United States, that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia is preparing to invade Ukraine. The Russians have also seized on complaints by Ukraine’s president and others that the Americans are needlessly sowing panic.

Mr. Putin, who has not spoken publicly about Ukraine since December, maintained his silence.

His spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, told reporters on Monday that Mr. Putin would state his views on the situation “as soon as he determines it to be necessary.”

“I can’t give you an exact date,” Mr. Peskov said. Russian officials continued to maintain they were not at fault for the rising tensions, insisting that the United States was fabricating the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

That was a rare point of common ground with Kyiv, where President Volodymyr Zelensky has also blamed the United States for needlessly sowing “panic” in Ukraine.

Russia has sent more than 100,000 troops to the Ukrainian border in recent weeks, part of an increasingly aggressive posture by Mr. Putin to protect and enlarge what he sees as Russia’s rightful sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. The Pentagon said on Friday that Russia had amassed enough forces to stage a full-scale invasion of Ukraine at a time of its choosing.

The Kremlin has accused the NATO alliance of threatening Russia and has demanded that it never admit Ukraine as a member. The possibility of a diplomatic solution has remained unclear at best.

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, will have a phone call with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday, but there are no plans at the moment to arrange an in-person meeting, Maria V. Zakharova, the spokeswoman for the ministry, said on Monday.

The Biden administration has said it wants a peaceful outcome to the crisis but is preparing for the possibility of what American military commanders have said would be a devastating armed conflict in Ukraine. The administration has vowed to respond with crippling economic sanctions on Russia if it invades Ukraine.

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A Ban on 19 Singers in Egypt Tests the Old Guard’s Power

CAIRO — The song starts out like standard fare for Egyptian pop music: A secret infatuation between two young neighbors who, unable to marry, sneak flirtatious glances at each other and commit their hearts in a bittersweet dance of longing and waiting.

But then the lyrics take a radical turn.

“If you leave me,” blasts/explodes/shouts the singer, Hassan Shakosh, “I’ll be lost and gone, drinking alcohol and smoking hash.”

The song, “The Neighbors’ Daughter,” has become a giant hit, garnering more than a half- billion views of its video on YouTube alone and catapulting Mr. Shakosh to stardom. But the explicit reference to drugs and booze, culturally prohibited substances in Egypt, has made the song, released in 2019, a lightning rod in a culture war over what is an acceptable face and subject matter for popular music and who gets to decide.

The battle, which pits Egypt’s cultural establishment against a renegade musical genre embraced by millions of young Egyptians, has heated up recently after the organization that licenses musicians barred at least 19 young artists from singing and performing in Egypt.

arrested teenage girls who posted videos of themselves dancing, which is a crime there. And in 2020, Northwestern University in Qatar called off a concert by a Lebanese indie rock band whose lead singer is openly gay.

But online streaming and social media platforms have poked giant holes in that effort, allowing artists to bypass state-sanctioned media, like television and record companies, and reach a generation of new fans hungry for what they see as more authentic and relevant content.

Iran’s draconian restrictions on unacceptable music have produced a flourishing underground rock and hip-hop scene. The question facing Egypt is who now has the power to regulate matters of taste — the 12 men and one woman who run the syndicate, or the millions of fans who have been streaming and downloading mahraganat.

Mahraganat first rose out of the dense, rowdy working-class neighborhoods of Cairo more than a decade ago and is still generally made in low-tech home studios, often with no more equipment than a cheap microphone and pirated software.

DJ Saso, the 27-year-old producer of Mr. Shakosh’s blockbuster hit.

Many lawyers and experts say the syndicate has no legal right to ban artists, insisting that Egypt’s Constitution explicitly protects creative liberty. But these arguments seem academic in the authoritarian state of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, which has stifled freedom of speech, tightened control on the media and passed laws to help monitor and criminalize immoral behavior on the internet.

The syndicate’s executive members have adamantly defended their move, arguing that a key part of their job is to safeguard the profession against inferior work that they say is made by uncultured impostors who tarnish the image of the country.

YouTube.

He is one of the Arab world’s leading performers. Since he was barred, he has performed in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Iraq, and “The Neighbors’ Daughter” has become one of the biggest Arabic hits to date.

“It’s not the same old love songs,” said Yasmine el-Assal, a 41-year-old bank executive, after attending one of Mr. Shakosh’s concerts before the ban. “His stage presence, the music, the vibe, it’s fresh and it’s all about having fun.”

Mr. Shakosh would not agree to be interviewed, preferring to keep a low profile, his manager said, rather than to appear to publicly challenge the authorities. The ban has been harder on other artists, many of whom do not have the wherewithal or the international profile to tour abroad.

They have mostly kept quiet, refusing to make statements that they fear could ruffle more feathers.

Despite the squeeze, however, many are confident that their music falls beyond the grip of any single authority or government.

Kareem Gaber, a 23-year-old experimental music producer known by the stage name El Waili, is still burning tracks, sitting in his bedroom with a twin mattress on the floor, bare walls and his instrument, a personal computer with $100 MIDI keyboard.

“Mahraganat taught us that you can do something new,” he said, “and it will be heard.”

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Left Out of High-Level Talks, Ukraine Tries Other Diplomatic Channels

KYIV, Ukraine — Peace negotiations are usually thought to involve two sides brought together by a mediator trying to tease out possible compromises, far from the anger and destruction of the battlefield.

But talks starting in Geneva Monday on the eight-year-old war in Ukraine are different. The conflict — and an overtly threatened Russian invasion that the talks are intended to forestall — is in Ukraine. But Ukraine will be missing from two of the three negotiating sessions scheduled for this week.

Such a limited role for Ukraine in the talks has clearly unnerved the government in Kyiv. Fearing the talks will yield little or nothing, and with President Biden’s statement that the United States will not intervene militarily if Russia invades, Ukraine has quietly pursued its own negotiating track with Moscow.

The latest threat of invasion began last month, when Russia massed more than 100,000 troops along its borders with Ukraine and demanded wide-ranging — and, to Western analysts, impossible — concessions from the United States and NATO on matters of European security.

threatened to launch an invasion of Ukraine if the talks on its proposals should fail.

In effect, that made Ukraine “the hostage,” of Russia, said Kostiantyn Yelisieiev, a former Ukrainian ambassador to the European Union.

Dmytro Kuleba, posted on Twitter last week, noting he will also meet with NATO officials in Brussels. “Part of a wide diplomatic effort to deter further Russian aggression.”

The current threat follows eight years of low-level conflict. Russia intervened militarily in Ukraine in 2014, annexing the Crimean Peninsula and fomenting separatist uprisings in two eastern provinces, leading to the deaths of about 13,000 people.

Given the stakes for Ukraine, the government of President Volodymyr Zelensky has decided not to rely wholly on the U.S.-led negotiations. Mr. Zelensky announced a separate, Ukrainian diplomatic initiative with Russia in late December, the specifics of which were later published in the Russian newspaper Kommersant.

implemented.

cause a firestorm in Ukrainian politics.

To date, none of the diplomatic talks with Russia, whether with the United States or Ukraine, have slowed the stream of ominous statements from Russian officials that diplomats and analysts worry could be used to justify military action or prepare the Russian population for a war.

told Izvestia newspaper soon after the fall of Kabul.

In December, Mr. Putin, speaking to a gathering of generals and security officials, said Moscow might resort to “military-technical” means if Western nations “continue the obviously aggressive stance.”

compared Moscow favorably to a gangster character in a Russian movie who, “raising his heavy fist and looking into the eyes of his interlocutor, gently asks again: Where is your strength America?”

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Kazakhstan Protests Lead President to Crack Down: ‘Fire Without Warning’

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — The authoritarian leader of Kazakhstan said Friday that he had authorized the nation’s security forces to “fire without warning” as the government moved to bring an end to two days of chaos and violence after peaceful protests descended into scenes of anarchy.

“We hear calls from abroad for the parties to negotiate to find a peaceful solution to the problems,” President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said in an address to the nation. “This is just nonsense.”

“What negotiations can there be with criminals and murderers,” he said. “They need to be destroyed and this will be done.”

The government said that order had been “mainly restored” across the country as Russian troops joined with the country’s security forces to quell widespread unrest.

the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.

This is the first time in the history of the alliance that its protection clause has been invoked.

Even as Russian paratroopers from the elite 45th Guards Spetsnaz Brigade landed in Almaty, gunbattles raged in the streets late into the night, according to video from a BBC correspondent on the scene.

lifted price caps for liquefied petroleum gas, a low-carbon fuel that many Kazakhs use to power their cars. But the frustration among the people runs deep in regards to social and economic disparities.

“The United States and, frankly, the world will be watching for any violations of human rights,” said Ned Price, a State Department spokesman. “We will also be watching for any actions that may lay the predicate for the seizure of Kazakh institutions.”

Meanwhile, China expressed full support for the Kazakh leader.

“You decisively took effective measures at critical moments to quickly calm the situation, which embodies your responsibility as a politician,” China’s authoritarian leader, Xi Jinping, said in a message to Mr. Tokayev, according to China’s official Xinhua News Agency.

Kazakhstan has been expanding its ties with China in recent years. The country plays a central role in Mr. Xi’s signature infrastructure program, known as “One Belt, One Road,” which aims to revive the ancient Silk Road and build up other trading routes between Asia and Europe to pump Chinese products into foreign markets.

In his message, Mr. Xi condemned any efforts to undermine Kazakhstan’s stability and peace, as well as its relationship with China. He told Mr. Tokayev that Beijing “resolutely opposes external forces deliberately creating turmoil and instigating a ‘color revolution’ in Kazakhstan,” the news agency said.

The Xinhua report did not elaborate on what Mr. Xi was referring to, but the Chinese Communist Party has often invoked the theme of foreign meddling to explain unrest, including in Hong Kong.

The protests in Kazakhstan started on Sunday with what appeared to be a genuine outpouring of public anger over an increase in fuel prices and a broader frustration over a government widely viewed as corrupt — with vast oil riches benefiting an elite few at the expense of the masses.

In a concession, the government on Thursday announced a price cap on vehicle fuel and a halt to increases in utility bills.

However, as the protests swelled, both the government and even some supporters of the protests said they had been co-opted by criminal gangs looking to exploit the situation.

Over the past two days, oil prices have risen 4 percent, partly driven by worries over Kazakhstan, a major petroleum producer. Futures in Brent crude, the international benchmark, were trading at $82.95 a barrel on Friday, close to seven-year highs that were reached in October.

Chevron, the second largest U.S. oil company, said there has been some disruption to oil production at their key Tengiz field in Kazakhstan. The issue appears to be difficulty in loading some petroleum products from the field onto rail cars.

The market is also responding to geopolitical tensions, including over Ukraine, and to production problems in Nigeria, Angola, Libya and elsewhere.

The huge destruction of public property in Kazakhstan — including the torching of Almaty’s City Hall and the burning and looting of scores of other government buildings — has been met with a strong show of force by security personnel.

The Interior Ministry said in a statement on Friday that 26 “armed criminals” had been “liquidated” and 18 security officers killed in the unrest.

Ivan Nechepurenko reported from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Valerie Hopkins from Moscow, and Marc Santora from Chatel, France. Michael Crowley contributed reporting from Washington, Stanley Reed from London, and Gillian Wong from Seoul.

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On Syria’s Ruins, a Drug Empire Flourishes

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Built on the ashes of 10 years of war in Syria, an illegal drug industry run by powerful associates and relatives of President Bashar al-Assad has grown into a multi-billion-dollar operation, eclipsing Syria’s legal exports and turning the country into the world’s newest narcostate.

Its flagship product is captagon, an illegal, addictive amphetamine popular in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states. Its operations stretch across Syria, including workshops that manufacture the pills, packing plants where they are concealed for export, and smuggling networks to spirit them to markets abroad.

An investigation by The New York Times found that much of the production and distribution is overseen by the Fourth Armored Division of the Syrian army, an elite unit commanded by Maher al-Assad, the president’s younger brother and one of Syria’s most powerful men.

Major players also include businessmen with close ties to the government, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, and other members of the president’s extended family, whose last name ensures protection for illegal activities, according to The Times investigation, which is based on information from law enforcement officials in 10 countries and dozens of interviews with international and regional drug experts, Syrians with knowledge of the drug trade and current and former United States officials.

found 84 million pills hidden in huge rolls of paper and metal gears last year. Malaysian officials discovered more than 94 million pills sealed inside rubber trolley wheels in March.

hub of hashish production and a stronghold of Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militant group that is now part of Lebanon’s government.

While the pharmaceutical Captagon contained the amphetamine fenethylline, the illicit version sold today, often referred to as “captagon” with a lowercase c, usually contains a mix of amphetamines, caffeine and various fillers. Cheap versions retail for less than a dollar a pill in Syria, while higher quality pills can sell for $14 or more apiece in Saudi Arabia.

After the Syrian war broke out, smugglers took advantage of the chaos to sell the drug to fighters on all sides, who took it to bolster their courage in battle. Enterprising Syrians, working with local pharmacists and machinery from disused pharmaceutical factories, began making it.

Syria had the needed components: experts to mix drugs, factories to make products to conceal the pills, access to Mediterranean shipping lanes and established smuggling routes to Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.

As the war dragged on, the country’s economy fell apart and a growing number of Mr. al-Assad’s associates were targeted with international sanctions. Some of them invested in captagon, and a state-linked cartel developed, bringing together military officers, militia leaders, traders whose businesses had boomed during the war and relatives of Mr. al-Assad.

Mr. Khiti and Mr. Taha. It called Mr. Taha an intermediary for the Fourth Division whose businesses “generate revenue for the regime and its supporters.”

Captagon is still produced in and smuggled through Lebanon. Nouh Zaiter, a Lebanese drug lord who now lives mostly in Syria, links the Lebanese and Syrian sides of the business, according to regional security officials and Syrians with knowledge of the drug trade.

A tall, longhaired Bekaa Valley native, Mr. Zaiter was sentenced in absentia to life in prison with hard labor by a Lebanese military court this year for drug crimes.

Reached by phone, Mr. Zaiter said his business was hashish and denied that he had ever been involved with captagon.

“I have not and will never send such poisons to Saudi Arabia or anywhere else,” he said. “Even my worst enemy, I won’t provide him with captagon.”

sewn into the linings of clothes.

In May, after Saudi authorities discovered more than five million pills hidden inside hollowed out pomegranates shipped from Beirut, they banned produce from Lebanon, a major blow to local farmers.

According to The Times’ database, the number of pills seized has increased every year since 2017.

The street value of the drugs seized has outstripped the value of Syria’s legal exports, mostly agricultural products, every year since 2019.

Last year, global captagon seizures had a street value of about$2.9 billion, more than triple Syria’s legal exports of $860 million.

Law enforcement agencies have struggled to catch the smugglers, not least because the Syrian authorities offer little if any information about shipments that originated in their country.

The name of shippers listed on manifests are usually fake and searches for the intended recipients often lead to mazes of shell companies.

The Italian seizure of 84 million pills in Salerno last year, the largest captagon bust ever at the time, had come from Latakia. Shipping documents listed the sender as Basil al-Shagri Bin Jamal, but the Italian authorities were unable to find him.

GPS Global Aviation Supplier, a company registered in Lugano, Switzerland, that appears to have no office.

Phone calls, text messages and emails to the company received no response, and the wealth management firm that the company listed as its mailing address, SMC Family Office SA, declined to comment.

Greek investigators have hit similar roadblocks.

In June 2019, workers in Piraeus found five tons of captagon, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, inside sheets of fiberboard on their way to China.

Seehog, a Chinese logistics firm. When reached by phone, she denied knowing anything about the shipment and refused to answer questions.

“You are not the police,” she said, and hung up.

There was one more clue in the documents: The sender was Mohammed Amer al-Dakak, with a Syrian phone number. When entered into WhatsApp, the phone number showed a photo of Maher al-Assad, the commander of Syria’s Fourth Armored Division, suggesting the number belonged to, at least, one of his fans.

A man who answered that number said that he was not Mr. al-Dakak. He said that he had acquired the phone number recently.

Loukas Danabasis, the head of the narcotics unit of Greece’s financial crime squad, said the smugglers’ tactics made solving such cases “difficult and sometimes impossible.”

While officials in Europe struggle to identify smugglers, Jordan, one of the United States’ closest partners in the Middle East, sits on the front lines of a regional drug war.

“Jordan is the gateway to the Gulf,” Brig. Gen. Ahmad al-Sarhan, the commander of an army unit along Jordan’s border with Syria, said during a visit to the area.

Overlooking a deep valley with views of Syria, General al-Sarhan and his men detailed Syrian smugglers’ tricks to bring drugs into Jordan: They launch crossing attempts at multiple spots. They attach drugs to drones and fly them across. They load drugs onto donkeys trained to cross by themselves.

Sometimes the smugglers stop by Syrian army posts before approaching the border.

“There is clear involvement,” General al-Sarhan said.

The drug trade worries Jordanian officials for many reasons.

The quantities are increasing. The number of Captagon pills seized in Jordan this year is nearly double the amount seized in 2020, according to Colonel Alqudah, the head of the narcotics department.

And while Jordan was originally just a pathway to Saudi Arabia, as much as one-fifth of the drugs smuggled in from Syria are now consumed in Jordan, he estimated. The increased supply has lowered the price, making it easy for students to become addicted.

Even more worrying, he said, is the growing quantity of crystal meth entering Jordan from Syria, which poses a greater threat. As of October, Jordan had seized 132 pounds of it this year, up from 44 pounds the year before.

“We are now in a dangerous stage because we can’t go back,” said Dr. Morad al-Ayasrah, a Jordanian psychiatrist who treats drug addicts. “We are going forward and the drugs are increasing.”

Reporting was contributed by Niki Kitsantonis in Athens; Gaia Pianigiani in Rome; Kit Gillet in Bucharest, Romania; Hannah Beech in Bangkok; and employees of The New York Times in Damascus, Syria, and Beirut, Lebanon.

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