voting rights protections and Mr. Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, as reason for the president to take matters into his own hands.

The New Georgia Project, a group focusing on voter registration founded by the gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, has cast debt relief as an action that would serve Mr. Biden’s pledge to put racial equity at the forefront of his presidency.

“Much of your administration’s legislative priorities have been stymied by obstructionist legislators,” the group wrote in a joint letter with the advocacy group the Debt Collective that was reviewed by The New York Times. “Student debt cancellation is a popular campaign promise that you, President Biden, have the executive power to deliver on your own.”

announcing the latest pause extension last month, Mr. Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, said he “hasn’t ruled out” the idea.

But Mr. Biden’s power to act unilaterally remains an open legal question.

Last April, at Mr. Biden’s request, the Education Department’s acting general counsel wrote an analysis of the legality of canceling debt via executive action. The analysis has not been released; a version provided in response to public records requests was fully redacted.

Proponents of forgiveness say the education secretary has broad powers to modify or cancel debt, which both the Trump and Biden administrations have leaned on to carry out the payment freeze that started in March 2020.

Legal challenges would be likely, although who would have standing is unclear. A Virginia Law Review article this month argued that the answer might be no one: States, for example, have little say in the operation of a federal loan system.

scathing criticism from government auditors and watchdogs, with even basic functions sometimes breaking down.

Some problems are being addressed. The Biden administration has wiped out $17 billion in debt for 725,000 borrowers by expanding and streamlining forgiveness programs for public servants and those who were defrauded by their schools, among others. Last week, it offered millions of borrowers added credit toward forgiveness because of previous payment-counting problems.

But there’s much still to do. The Education Department was deluged by applicants after it expanded eligibility for millions of public servants. And settlement talks in a class-action suit by nearly 200,000 borrowers who say they were defrauded by their schools recently broke down, setting up a trial this summer.

will be restored to good standing.

Canceling debt could make addressing all this easier, advocates say. Forgiving $10,000 per borrower would wipe out the debts of 10 million or more people, according to different analyses, which would free up resources to deal with structural flaws, proponents argue.

“We’ve known for years that the system is broken,” said Sarah Sattelmeyer, a higher-education project director at New America, a think tank. “Having an opportunity, during this timeout, to start fixing some of those major issues feels like a place where the Education Department should be focusing its attention.”

Voters like Ashleigh A. Mosley will be watching. Ms. Mosley, 21, a political science major at Albany State University in Georgia, said she had been swayed to vote for Mr. Biden because of his support for debt cancellation.

Ms. Mosley, who also attended Alabama A&M University, has already borrowed $52,000 and expects her balance to grow to $100,000 by the time she graduates. The debt already hangs over her head.

“I don’t think I’m going to even have enough money to start a family or buy a house because of the loans,” she said. “It’s just not designed for us to win.”

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Ukrainian foreign minister says situation in Mariupol may be ‘red line’ in talks, article with image

FILE PHOTO – Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba is seen after a NATO foreign ministers meeting, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium April 7, 2022. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/Pool

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WASHINGTON, April 17 (Reuters) – Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said there had not been any recent diplomatic communications between Russia and Ukraine at the level of their foreign ministries and that the situation in the port of Mariupol, which he described as “dire”, may be a “red line” in the path of negotiations.

“Mariupol may be a red line”, he told CBS News in an interview on Sunday.

Ukrainian soldiers resisted a Russian ultimatum to lay down arms on Sunday in the pulverized port of Mariupol, which Moscow said its forces had almost completely seized in what would be its biggest prize of the nearly two-month war. read more

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Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said troops in Mariupol were still fighting despite a Russian demand to surrender by dawn.

“We didn’t really have any contacts with Russian diplomats in recent weeks at the level of foreign ministries”, Kuleba said in the interview.

“The only level of contact is the negotiating team that consists of the representatives of various institutions and members of parliament. They continue their consultations at the expert level but no high level talks are taking place,” he added.

The foreign minister said he was expecting “intensification of heavy fighting in eastern Ukraine” in the coming weeks.

When asked about prospects of U.S. President Joe Biden visiting Ukraine, the foreign minister said Ukraine would be happy to welcome him and that a visit from him will send “an message of support.”

The White House, however, said earlier this week there were no plans for Biden to visit the country that Russia invaded in late February.

“We are not sending the president to Ukraine,” White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said on Friday.

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Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Washington; Editing by Toby Chopra and Grant McCool

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Amazon Workers on Staten Island Vote to Unionize

It was a union organizing campaign that few expected to have a chance. A handful of employees at Amazon’s massive warehouse on Staten Island, operating without support from national labor organizations, took on one of the most powerful companies in the world.

And, somehow, they won.

Workers at the facility voted by a wide margin to form a union, according to results released on Friday, in one of the biggest victories for organized labor in a generation.

Employees cast 2,654 votes to be represented by Amazon Labor Union and 2,131 against, giving the union a win by more than 10 percentage points, according to the National Labor Relations Board. More than 8,300 workers at the warehouse, which is the only Amazon fulfillment center in New York City, were eligible to vote.

The win on Staten Island comes at a perilous moment for labor unions in the United States, which saw the portion of workers in unions drop last year to 10.3 percent, the lowest rate in decades, despite high demand for workers, pockets of successful labor activity and rising public approval.

including some labor officials — say that traditional unions haven’t spent enough money or shown enough imagination in organizing campaigns and that they have often bet on the wrong fights. Some point to tawdry corruption scandals.

The union victory at Amazon, the first at the company in the United States after years of worker activism there, offers an enormous opportunity to change that trajectory and build on recent wins. Many union leaders regard Amazon as an existential threat to labor standards because it touches so many industries and frequently dominates them.

likely to be a narrow loss by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union at a large Amazon warehouse in Alabama. The vote is close enough that the results will not be known for several weeks as contested ballots are litigated.

The surprising strength shown by unions in both locations most likely means that Amazon will face years of pressure at other company facilities from labor groups and progressive activists working with them. As a recent string of union victories at Starbucks have shown, wins at one location can provide encouragement at others.

Amazon hired voraciously over the past two years and now has 1.6 million employees globally. But it has been plagued by high turnover, and the pandemic gave employees a growing sense of power while fueling worries about workplace safety. The Staten Island warehouse, known as JFK8, was the subject of a New York Times investigation last year, which found that it was emblematic of the stresses — including inadvertent firings and sky-high attrition — on workers caused by Amazon’s employment model.

“The pandemic has fundamentally changed the labor landscape” by giving workers more leverage with their employers, said John Logan, a professor of labor studies at San Francisco State University. “It’s just a question of whether unions can take advantage of the opportunity that transformation has opened up.”

Standing outside the N.L.R.B. office in Brooklyn, where the ballots were tallied, Christian Smalls, a former Amazon employee who started the union, popped a bottle of champagne before a crowd of supporters and press. “To the first Amazon union in American history,” he cheered.

asked a judge to force Amazon to swiftly rectify “flagrant unfair labor practices” it said took place when Amazon fired a worker who became involved with the union. Amazon argued in court that the labor board abandoned “the neutrality of their office” by filing the injunction just before the election.

Amazon would need to prove that any claims of undue influence undermined the so-called laboratory conditions necessary for a fair election, said Wilma B. Liebman, the chair of the N.L.R.B. under President Barack Obama.

President Biden was “glad to see workers ensure their voices are heard” at the Amazon facility, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, told reporters. “He believes firmly that every worker in every state must have a free and fair choice to join a union,” she said.

The near-term question facing the labor movement and other progressive groups is the extent to which they will help the upstart Amazon Labor Union withstand potential challenges to the result and negotiate a first contract, such as by providing resources and legal talent.

“The company will appeal, drag it out — it’s going to be an ongoing fight,” said Gene Bruskin, a longtime organizer who helped notch one of labor’s last victories on this scale, at a Smithfield meat-processing plant in 2008, and has informally advised the Staten Island workers. “The labor movement has to figure out how to support them.”

Sean O’Brien, the new president of the 1.3 million-member International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said in an interview on Thursday that the union was prepared to spend hundreds of millions of dollars unionizing Amazon and to collaborate with a variety of other unions and progressive groups.

said he became alarmed in March 2020 after encountering a co-worker who was clearly ill. He pleaded with management to close the facility for two weeks. The company fired him after he helped lead a walkout over safety conditions in late March that year.

Amazon said at the time that it had taken “extreme measures” to keep workers safe, including deep cleaning and social distancing. It said it had fired Mr. Smalls for violating social distancing guidelines and attending the walkout even though he had been placed in a quarantine.

After workers at Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., overwhelmingly rejected the retail workers union in its first election last spring, Mr. Smalls and Derrick Palmer, an Amazon employee who is his friend, decided to form a new union, called Amazon Labor Union.

While the organizing in Alabama included high-profile tactics, with progressive supporters like Senator Bernie Sanders visiting the area, the organizers at JFK8 benefited from being insiders.

For months, they set up shop at the bus stop outside the warehouse, grilling meat at barbecues and at one point even passing out pot. (The retail workers said they were hamstrung by Covid during their initial election in Alabama.)

nationwide agreement to allow workers more access to organize on-site.

At times the Amazon Labor Union stumbled. The labor board determined this fall that the fledgling union, which spent months collecting signatures from workers requesting a vote, had not demonstrated sufficient support to warrant an election. But the organizers kept trying, and by late January they had finally gathered enough signatures.

Amazon played up its minimum wage of $15 an hour in advertising and other public relations efforts. The company also waged a full-throated campaign against the union, texting employees and mandating attendance at anti-union meetings. It spent $4.3 million on anti-union consultants nationwide last year, according to annual disclosures filed on Thursday with the Labor Department.

In February, Mr. Smalls was arrested at the facility after managers said he was trespassing while delivering food to co-workers and called the police. Two current employees were also arrested during the incident, which appeared to galvanize interest in the union.

The difference in outcomes in Bessemer and Staten Island may reflect a difference in receptiveness toward unions in the two states — roughly 6 percent of workers in Alabama are union members, versus 22 percent in New York — as well as the difference between a mail-in election and one conducted in person.

But it may also suggest the advantages of organizing through an independent, worker-led union. In Alabama, union officials and professional organizers were still barred from the facility under the settlement with the labor board. But at the Staten Island site, a larger portion of the union leadership and organizers were current employees.

“What we were trying to say all along is that having workers on the inside is the most powerful tool,” said Mr. Palmer, who makes $21.50 an hour. “People didn’t believe it, but you can’t beat workers organizing other workers.”

The independence of the Amazon Labor Union also appeared to undermine Amazon’s anti-union talking points, which cast the union as an interloping “third party.”

On March 25, workers at JFK8 started lining up outside a tent in the parking lot to vote. And over five voting days, they cast their ballots to form what could become the first union at Amazon’s operations in the United States.

Another election, brought also by Amazon Labor Union at a neighboring Staten Island facility, is scheduled for late April.

Jodi Kantor contributed reporting.

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Biden and Xi set to clash over Putin’s war in Ukraine, article with image

  • Biden tells Xi China would face costs from U.S. and wider world
  • Xi says sanctions could trigger serious crisis in global economy
  • Xi and Biden both stress need for diplomatic solution

WASHINGTON/BEIJING, March 18 (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden warned Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Friday of ‘consequences’ if Beijing gave material support to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the White House said, while both sides stressed the need for a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

While the White House did not detail what those consequences could be, or how the U.S. would define “material support”, press secretary Jen Psaki indicated China’s massive trade flows could be impacted.

“Sanctions are certainly one tool in the tool box,” Psaki told a regular news briefing when asked whether China, the world’s largest exporter, could face trade tariffs or sanctions.

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Speaking after a nearly two-hour video call between Biden and Xi, Psaki said the United States would communicate any consequences directly to Beijing “with our European partners and counterparts.”

In the call, which came at a time of deepening acrimony between the world’s two biggest powers, Biden detailed efforts of the United States and its allies to respond to the invasion of Ukraine, including by imposing costs on Russia.

“He described the implications and consequences if China provides material support to Russia as it conducts brutal attacks against Ukrainian cities and civilians,” the White House said in statement, adding that Biden “underscored his support for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis.”

A senior U.S. official briefing reporters on the call said Biden communicated that Beijing would face consequences not just from the United States but the wider world.

“The president really wasn’t making specific requests of China,” the official said. “I think our view is that China will make its own decisions.”

China’s foreign ministry said Xi told Biden the war in Ukraine must end as soon as possible and called on NATO nations to hold a dialogue with Moscow. He did not, however, assign blame to Russia for the invasion, based on Beijing’s statements about the call.

“The top priorities now are to continue dialogue and negotiations, avoid civilian casualties, prevent a humanitarian crisis, cease fighting and end the war as soon as possible,” Xi said.

Xi advocated Russia-Ukraine dialogue and negotiations, and suggested Washington and NATO conduct talks with Russia to solve the “crux” of the Ukraine crisis and resolve the security concerns of both Russia and Ukraine.

“The Ukraine crisis is something that we don’t want to see,” Chinese state media quoted Xi saying in the call, which it said was requested by the U.S. side.

Xi warned against sanctions.

A TV screen shows news of a video meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, in Hong Kong, China November 16, 2021. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

“Sweeping and indiscriminate sanctions would only make the people suffer. If further escalated, they could trigger serious crises in global economy and trade, finance, energy, food, and industrial and supply chains, crippling the already languishing world economy and causing irrevocable losses,” the ministry quoted him as saying.

On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington was concerned China was considering directly assisting Russia with military equipment for use in Ukraine, something Beijing has denied.

Washington is also worried that China could help Russia circumvent Western economic sanctions.

Targeting Beijing with the sort of extensive economic sanctions already imposed on Russia would have potentially dire consequences for the United States and the world, given that China is the world’s second-largest economy and the largest exporter.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, now in its fourth week, has killed hundreds of civilians, reduced city areas to rubble and sparked a humanitarian crisis as millions flee the country. read more

China has refused to condemn Russia’s action in Ukraine or call it an invasion.

Russia fired missiles at an airport near Lviv on Friday, a city where hundreds of thousands had sought refuge far from Ukraine’s battlefields, as Moscow tries to regain the initiative in its stalled campaign against Ukraine, which it calls a special military operation. read more

U.S.-CHINA TENSIONS

Ukraine has added a new front in a U.S.-Chinese relationship already at its worst level in decades, further deflating Biden’s initial hopes of easing a wide range of disputes by using a personal connection with Xi that predates his term in office.

Biden has been anxious to avoid a new “Cold War” with China, seeking instead to define the relationship as one of competitive coexistence, but China’s “no-limits” strategic partnership with Russia announced last month and its stance on Ukraine has called that into question.

Ahead of the call, a Chinese aircraft carrier sailed through the sensitive Taiwan Strait on Friday. The USS Ralph Johnson, an Arleigh Burke guided missile destroyer, shadowed the carrier at least partly on its route. read more

China claims Taiwan as its own, and has stepped up its military activity near the islands, alarming Taipei and Washington amid concerns that Beijing might follow Russia’s example and use force.

While saying it recognizes Ukraine’s sovereignty, Beijing has repeatedly said that Russia has legitimate security concerns that should be addressed and urged a diplomatic solution to the conflict.

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Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt, David Brunnstrom, Michael Martina, Steve Holland, Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey in Washington and Martin Quin Pollard, Ryan Woo and Beijing Newsroom; Writing by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Heather Timmons, Alistair Bell and Raissa Kasolowsky

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Ukraine Live Updates: Russian Airstrikes Kill at Least 35 at Base Near Polish Border

WASHINGTON — Russia asked China to give it military equipment and support for the war in Ukraine after President Vladimir V. Putin began a full-scale invasion last month, according to U.S. officials.

Russia has also asked China for additional economic assistance, to help counteract the battering its economy has taken from broad sanctions imposed by the United States and European and Asian nations, according to an official.

American officials, determined to keep secret their means of collecting the intelligence on Russia’s requests, declined to describe further the kind of military weapons or aid that Moscow is seeking. The officials also declined to discuss any reaction by China to the requests.

President Xi Jinping of China has strengthened a partnership with Mr. Putin and has stood by him as Russia has stepped up its military campaign, destroying cities in Ukraine and killing hundreds or thousands of civilians. American officials are watching China closely to see whether it will act on any requests of aid from Russia. Jake Sullivan, the White House national security adviser, is scheduled to meet on Monday in Rome with Yang Jiechi, a member of the Chinese Communist Party’s elite Politburo and director of the party’s Central Foreign Affairs Commission.

Mr. Sullivan intends to warn Mr. Yang about any future Chinese efforts to bolster Russia in its war or undercut Ukraine, the United States and their partners.

“We are communicating directly, privately to Beijing that there will absolutely be consequences for large-scale sanctions evasion efforts or support to Russia to backfill them,” Mr. Sullivan said on CNN on Sunday.

“We will not allow that to go forward and allow there to be a lifeline to Russia from these economic sanctions from any country anywhere in the world,” he said.

Mr. Sullivan did not make any explicit mention of potential military support from China, but other U.S. officials spoke about the request from Russia on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of diplomatic and intelligence matters.

Liu Pengyu, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, said he had never heard of the request from Russia. “The current situation in Ukraine is indeed disconcerting,” he said, adding that Beijing wants to see a peaceful settlement. “The high priority now is to prevent the tense situation from escalating or even getting out of control.”

The Biden administration is seeking to lay out for China the consequences of its alignment with Russia and penalties it will incur if it continues or increases its support. Some U.S. officials argue it might be possible to dissuade Beijing from ramping up its assistance to Moscow. Chinese leaders may be content to offer rhetorical support for Moscow and may not want to further enmesh themselves with Mr. Putin by providing military support for the war, those U.S. officials say.

Mr. Sullivan said China “was aware before the invasion took place that Vladimir Putin was planning something,” but added that the Chinese might not have known the full extent of the Russian leader’s plans. “It’s very possible that Putin lied to them, the same way he lied to Europeans and others,” he said.

Mr. Xi has met with Mr. Putin 38 times as national leaders, more than with any other head of state, and the two share a drive to weaken American power.

Traditionally, China has bought military equipment from Russia rather than the other way around. Russia has increased its sales of weaponry to China in recent years. But China has advanced missile and drone capabilities that Russia could use in its Ukraine campaign.

Although Russia on Sunday launched a missile barrage on a military training ground in western Ukraine that killed at least 35 people, there has been some evidence that Russian missile supplies have been running low, according to independent analysts.

Last week, the White House criticized China for helping spread Kremlin disinformation about the United States and Ukraine. In recent days, Chinese diplomats, state media organizations and government agencies have used a range of platforms and official social media accounts to amplify a conspiracy theory that says the Pentagon has been financing biological and chemical weapons labs in Ukraine. Right-wing political figures in the United States have also promoted the theory.

On Friday, Russia called a United Nations Security Council meeting to present its claims about the labs, and the Chinese ambassador to the U.N., Zhang Jun, supported his Russian counterpart.

“Now that Russia has made these false claims, and China has seemingly endorsed this propaganda, we should all be on the lookout for Russia to possibly use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine, or to create a false flag operation using them,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, wrote on Twitter last Wednesday.

China is also involved in the Iran nuclear negotiations, which have stalled because of new demands from Russia on relief from the sanctions imposed by Western nations in response to the Ukraine war.

American officials are trying to determine to what degree China would support Russia’s position in those talks. Before Russia raised the requests, officials from the nations involved had been close to clinching a return to a version of the Obama-era nuclear limits agreement from which Donald J. Trump withdrew, Mr. Sullivan might bring up Iran with Mr. Yang on Monday.

Current and former U.S. officials say the Rome meeting is important given the lives at stake in the Ukraine war and the possibility of Russia and China presenting a geopolitical united front against the United States and its allies in the years ahead.

“This meeting is critical and possibly a defining moment in the relationship,” said Evan Medeiros, a Georgetown University professor who was a senior Asia director on the National Security Council during the Obama administration.

“I think what the U.S. is probably going to do is lay out the costs and consequences of China’s complicity and possible enabling of Russia’s invasion,” he said. “I don’t think anyone in the administration has illusions that the U.S. can pull China away from Russia.”

Some U.S. officials are looking for ways to compel Mr. Xi to distance himself from Mr. Putin on the war. Others see Mr. Xi as a lost cause and prefer to treat China and Russia as committed partners, hoping that might galvanize policies and coordination among Asian and European allies to contain them both.

Chinese officials have consistently voiced sympathy for Russia during the Ukraine war by reiterating Mr. Putin’s criticism of NATO and blaming the United States for starting the conflict. They have refrained from any mention of a Russian “war” or “invasion,” even as they express general concern for the humanitarian crisis.

They mention support for “sovereignty and territorial integrity,” a common catchphrase in Chinese diplomacy, but do not say explicitly which nation’s sovereignty they support — meaning the phrase could be interpreted as backing for Ukraine or an endorsement of Mr. Putin’s claims to restoring the territory of imperial Russia.

China and Russia issued a 5,000-word statement on Feb. 4 saying their partnership had “no limits” when Mr. Putin met with Mr. Xi before the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Beijing. Around that time, senior Chinese officials asked senior Russian officials not to invade Ukraine before the end of the Games, according to U.S. and European officials who cite a Western intelligence report.

Starting last November, American officials quietly held talks with Chinese officials, including the ambassador in Washington and the foreign minister, to discuss intelligence showing Mr. Putin’s troop buildup to persuade the Chinese to tell the Russians not to launch a war, U.S. officials said. The Chinese officials rebuffed the Americans at every meeting and expressed skepticism that Mr. Putin intended to invade Ukraine, the U.S. officials said.

William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, said Thursday in a Senate hearing that he believed Mr. Xi was “unsettled” by the Ukraine war.

Last Tuesday, Mr. Xi repeated China’s standard talking points on the war in a video call with the leaders of France and Germany. He also said that all nations should show “maximum restraint” and that China was “deeply grieved by the outbreak of war again on the European continent,” according to a Chinese readout. He did not say Russia had started the fighting.

U.S. and European officials say large Chinese companies will most likely refrain from openly violating sanctions on Russia for fear of jeopardizing their global commerce. On Thursday, some Russian news articles and commentary questioned China’s commitment to Russia after news agencies reported that China was refusing to send aircraft parts to the country.

Russia, as U.S. officials often remind the public, has relatively few friends or allies. And officials have said Russia’s outreach to its partners is a sign of the difficulties it is encountering trying to subdue Ukraine.

As the United States and Europe have increased pressure and sanctions, Moscow has sought more aid.

In the buildup to war, Russia got assistance from Belarus, using its territory to launch part of the invasion. Minsk has also tried to help Moscow evade sanctions. Those actions prompted the European Union to impose sanctions on Belarus. The penalties would limit money flowing into Belarus from Europe and block some Belarusian banks from using the SWIFT financial messaging system.

Michael Carpenter, the U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, accused Belarus of being a “co-aggressor” and having “stabbed your neighbor in the back,” referring to Ukraine.

President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus has said his military will not join in the war. But Russia has launched missiles from Belarus and evacuated some injured Russian soldiers to hospitals in that country.

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, who owes his government’s survival to Russian intervention in the Syrian civil war, also declared support for Moscow’s invasion. Russia has tried to recruit Syrian fighters to join the Ukraine war, according to the Pentagon.

While there are no details of how many recruits Moscow has enlisted or if they have arrived in Ukraine, American officials said it was an indicator of the strategic and tactical problems that have plagued Russian commanders.

Before the start of the war, European officials said, Russian military contractors with experience fighting in Syria and Libya secretly entered eastern Ukraine to help lay the groundwork for the invasion.

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Inflation Rises to 7.9 Percent for February 2022

Prices climbed at the fastest pace in decades in the month leading up to the war in Ukraine, underlining the high stakes facing the United States — along with many developed economies — as the conflict promises to drive costs higher.

The Consumer Price Index rose by 7.9 percent through February, the fastest pace of annual inflation in 40 years. Rising food and rent costs contributed to the big increase, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said, as did a nascent surge in gas prices that will become more pronounced in the March inflation report.

The February report caught only the start of the surge in gas prices that came in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine late last month. Economists expect inflation to pick up even more in March because prices at the pump have since jumped to record-breaking highs. The average price for a gallon of gas was $4.32 on Thursday, according to AAA.

Rapidly climbing costs are hitting consumers in the pocketbook, causing confidence to fall and stretching household budgets. Rising wages and savings amassed during the pandemic have helped many families continue spending despite rising prices, but the burden is falling most intensely on lower-income households, which devote a big chunk of their budgets to daily necessities that are now swiftly becoming more expensive.

signaled it will raise interest rates by a quarter percentage point at its meeting next week, probably the first in a series of moves meant to increase the cost of borrowing and spending money and slow down the economy. By reducing consumption and slowing the labor market, the Fed is able to take some pressure off inflation over time.

Broadening price pressures and high gas costs could become a serious issue for central bank policymakers if they help convince consumers that the run-up in prices will last. If people begin expecting inflation, they may change their behavior in ways that make it more permanent: accepting price increases more readily, and asking for bigger raises to keep up.

“It was another bad report,” said Laura Rosner-Warburton, senior economist at MacroPolicy Perspectives. “Inflation was already way too high before the invasion of Ukraine.”

keep shipping routes tangled and parts scarce. Ukraine is an important producer of neon, which could keep computer chips in short supply, perpetuating the shortages that have plagued automakers. Higher energy costs could ricochet through other industries.

Even without further supply chain troubles, there are signs that inflation is widening beyond a few pandemic-affected sectors, an indication that they could last as the latest virus surge fades from view. Rent of primary residences, for instance, climbed by 0.6 percent from the prior month — the fastest monthly pace of growth since 1999.

Price gains have been rapid around much of the world, causing many central banks to scale back how much help they are providing to their economies. The European Central Bank on Thursday decided to speed up its exit from its bond-buying program as it tries to counter rising inflation. Europe’s push to end its energy dependence on Russia promises to raise costs at a time when inflation is already nearly triple the central bank’s target.

a separate inflation index, but one that is also up considerably.

loss of purchasing power over time, meaning your dollar will not go as far tomorrow as it did today. It is typically expressed as the annual change in prices for everyday goods and services such as food, furniture, apparel, transportation and toys.

For someone who was a longtime Manhattanite, that’s a real loss, Mr. Gutbrod, 61, said. He used to enjoy three restaurant brunches or dinners each week. Now it’s more like one every two weeks.

“I used to go on relaxing drives,” he said, but now joy rides are unaffordable. “I’m on a shoestring budget, and I work pretty hard. For anyone who doesn’t make a lot of money, you have to be intelligent and start cutting corners.”

As it disturbs everyday lives, inflation is likely to dog Democrats and the administration as they fight to retain control of Congress in November. Despite plentiful jobs and quickly rising wages, consumer confidence has fallen to itslowest level since the summer of 2011, when the economy was clambering back from the global financial crisis and Congress was bickering over lifting the nation’s debt ceiling.

That probably at least partly reflects the reality that pay is not quite keeping up with inflation for the typical worker, and that consumers are paying more at the pump, which tends to be a very salient cost for Americans.

In February, the cost of food rose, which is also difficult for consumers on tight budgets. Over the past year, grocery prices have increased by 8.6 percent, the largest yearly jump since the period ending in April 1981. Fresh fruit and dairy products became notably more expensive last month.

The White House has emphasized that it is trying to offset rising costs to the degree that it can.

“We’ve taken steps to address bottlenecks in the supply chain, to reduce those bottlenecks,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said this week.

But those changes have mostly helped around the edges, and as prices have shown little sign of moderating on their own, Fed officials have coalesced around the view that they will need to use their policies to cool off demand and keep today’s rapid inflation from becoming entrenched. That may limit the central bank’s room to react to any slowdown in growth prompted by uncertainty and high gas prices.

“They need to stay on track,” said Ms. Rosner-Warburton. “They don’t have as much leeway to respond to these risks, given how elevated inflation is.”

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Venezuela’s Maduro says work agenda agreed with U.S. delegation, article with image

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro speaks beside Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov (not pictured) after the signing of documents during a bilateral agreement at the Miraflores Palace during his visit to Caracas, Venezuela February 16, 2022. REUTERS/Leonardo Fernandez Viloria

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CARACAS, March 7 (Reuters) – Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro on Monday said he agreed an agenda for future talks with a U.S. delegation that he met on Saturday, the first high-level meeting between the two countries in years.

Officials from the two countries discussed easing oil sanctions on the South American country but made little progress towards reaching a deal, five sources familiar with the matter told Reuters on Sunday, part of U.S. efforts to separate Russia from one of its key allies. read more

“Last Saturday night a delegation from the government of the United States of America arrived in Venezuela, I received it here at the presidential palace,” Maduro said in a broadcast on state media.

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“We had a meeting, I could describe it as respectful, cordial, very diplomatic,” he said.

The meeting lasted two hours, he said, without specifying the topics discussed or who the U.S. delegates were.

Sources previously told Reuters the U.S. delegation was led by Juan Gonzalez, the White House’s top adviser on Latin America, U.S. Ambassador James Story, as well as Roger Carstens, the United States’ presidential special envoy for hostage affairs.

Earlier, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the purpose of the trip was to discuss a number of issues, including “energy security” and the cases of nine U.S. citizens who are in prison in Venezuela.

The talks will continue, Maduro said, without offering a date.

“As I said to the (U.S.) delegation, I reiterate all our will so that from diplomacy, from respect and from the hope of a better world, we can advance in an agenda that allows well-being and peace,” Maduro said.

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Reporting by Vivian Sequera and Mayela Armas; writing by Oliver Griffin; editing by Richard Pullin

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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What’s at Stake for the Global Economy as Conflict Looms in Ukraine

After getting battered by the pandemic, supply chain chokeholds and leaps in prices, the global economy is poised to be sent on yet another unpredictable course by an armed clash on Europe’s border.

Even before the Kremlin ordered Russian troops into separatist territories of Ukraine on Monday, the tension had taken a toll. The promise of punishing sanctions in return by President Biden and the potential for Russian retaliation had already pushed down stock returns and driven up gas prices.

An outright attack by Russian troops could cause dizzying spikes in energy and food prices, fuel inflation fears and spook investors, a combination that threatens investment and growth in economies around the world.

However harsh the effects, the immediate impact will be nowhere near as devastating as the sudden economic shutdowns first caused by the coronavirus in 2020. Russia is a transcontinental behemoth with 146 million people and a huge nuclear arsenal, as well as a key supplier of the oil, gas and raw materials that keep the world’s factories running. But unlike China, which is a manufacturing powerhouse and intimately woven into intricate supply chains, Russia is a minor player in the global economy.

spikes in heating and gas bills, which are already soaring. Natural gas reserves are at less than a third of capacity, with weeks of cold weather ahead, and European leaders have already accused Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, of reducing supplies to gain a political edge.

United Nations report. Russia is the world’s largest supplier of wheat, and together with Ukraine, accounts for nearly a quarter of total global exports. For some countries, the dependence is much greater. That flow of grain makes up more than 70 percent of Egypt and Turkey’s total wheat imports.

This will put further strain on Turkey, which is already in the middle of an economic crisis and struggling with inflation that is running close to 50 percent, with skyrocketing food, fuel and electricity prices.

And as usual, the burden falls heaviest on the most vulnerable. “Poorer people spend a higher share of incomes on food and heating,” said Ian Goldin, a professor of globalization and development at Oxford University.

Ukraine, long known as the “breadbasket of Europe,” actually sends more than 40 percent of its wheat and corn exports to the Middle East or Africa, where there are worries that further food shortages and price increases could stoke social unrest.

Lebanon, for example, which is experiencing one of the most devastating economic crises in more than a century, gets more than half of its wheat from Ukraine, which is also the world’s largest exporter of seed oils like sunflower and rapeseed.

On Monday, the White House responded to Mr. Putin’s decision to recognize the independence of two Russian-backed territories in the country’s east by saying it would begin imposing limited sanctions on the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics. Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said Mr. Biden would soon issue an executive order prohibiting investment, trade and financing with people in those regions.

range of scenarios from mild to severe. The fallout on working-class families and Wall Street traders depends on how an invasion plays out: whether Russian troops stay near the border or attack the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv; whether the fighting lasts for days or months; what kind of Western sanctions are imposed; and whether Mr. Putin responds by withholding critical gas supplies from Europe or launching insidious cyberattacks.

“Think about it rolling out in stages,” said Julia Friedlander, director of the economic statecraft initiative at the Atlantic Council. “This is likely to play out as a slow motion drama.”

As became clear from the pandemic, minor interruptions in one region can generate major disruptions far away. Isolated shortages and price surges— whether of gas, wheat, aluminum or nickel — can snowball in a world still struggling to recover from the pandemic.

“You have to look at the backdrop against which this is coming,” said Gregory Daco, chief economist for EY-Parthenon. “There is high inflation, strained supply chains and uncertainty about what central banks are going to do and how insistent price rises are.”

at 7.5 percent in January, and is expected to start raising interest rates next month. Higher energy prices set off by a conflict in Europe may be transitory but they could feed worries about a wage-price spiral.

“We could see a new burst of inflation,” said Christopher Miller, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and an assistant professor at Tufts University.

Also fueling inflation fears are possible shortages of essential metals like palladium, aluminum and nickel, creating another disruption to global supply chains already suffering from the pandemic, trucker blockades in Canada and shortages of semiconductors.

The price of palladium, for example, used in automotive exhaust systems, mobile phones and even dental fillings, has soared in recent weeks because of fears that Russia, the world’s largest exporter of the metal, could be cut off from global markets. The price of nickel, used to make steel and electric car batteries, has also been jumping.

It’s too early to gauge the precise impact of an armed conflict, said Lars Stenqvist, the chief technology officer of Volvo, the Swedish truck maker. But he added, “It is a very, very serious thing.”

“We have a number of scenarios on the table and we are following the developments of the situation day by day,” Mr. Stenqvist said Monday.

The West has taken steps to blunt the impact on Europe if Mr. Putin decides to retaliate. The United States has ramped up delivery of liquefied natural gas and asked other suppliers like Qatar to do the same.

negotiations to revive a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program. Iran, which is estimated to have as many as 80 million barrels of oil in storage, has been locked out of much of the world’s markets since 2018, when President Donald J. Trump withdrew from the nuclear accord and reimposed sanctions.

Some of the sanctions against Russia that the Biden administration is considering, such as cutting off access to the system of international payments known as SWIFT or blocking companies from selling anything to Russia that contains American-made components, would hurt anyone who does business with Russia. But across the board, the United States is much less vulnerable than the European Union, which is Russia’s largest trading partner.

Americans, as Mr. Biden has already warned, are likely to see higher gasoline prices. But because the United States is itself a large producer of natural gas, those price increases are not nearly as steep and as broad as elsewhere. And Europe has many more links to Russia and engages in more financial transactions — including paying for the Russian gas.

Oil companies like Shell and Total have joint ventures in Russia, while BP boasts that it “is one of the biggest foreign investors in Russia,” with ties to the Russian oil company Rosneft. Airbus, the European aviation giant, gets titanium from Russia. And European banks, particularly those in Germany, France and Italy, have lent billions of dollars to Russian borrowers.

“Severe sanctions that hurt Russia painfully and comprehensively have potential to do huge damage to European customers,” said Adam Tooze, director of the European Institute at Columbia University.

Depending on what happens, the most significant effects on the global economy may manifest themselves only over the long run.

economic ties to China. The two nations recently negotiated a 30-year contract for Russia to supply gas to China through a new pipeline.

“Russia is likely to pivot all energy and commodity exports to China,” said Carl Weinberg, chief economist at High Frequency Economics.

The crisis is also contributing to a reassessment of the global economy’s structure and concerns about self-sufficiency. The pandemic has already highlighted the downsides of far-flung supply chains that rely on lean production.

Now Europe’s dependence on Russian gas is spurring discussions about expanding energy sources, which could further sideline Russia’s presence in the global economy.

“In the longer term, it’s going to push Europe to diversify,” said Jeffrey Schott, a senior fellow working on international trade policy at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. As for Russia, the real cost “would be corrosive over time and really making it much more difficult to do business with Russian entities and deterring investment.”

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Canada Live Updates: Multiple Blockades at U.S.-Canada Border Disrupt Auto Industry

ImageProtestors opposing vaccine mandates blocking the roadway at the Ambassador Bridge border crossing, in Windsor, Ontario, on Wednesday.
Credit…Geoff Robins/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Multiple blockades at some of the busiest routes linking Canada to the United States are disrupting supply chains of major car companies, leading to production stoppages and fanning alarm that protests in Canada are threatening the country’s economy and trade with the United States, its biggest trading partner.

Automakers, who have already been suffering from a global shortage of semiconductors needed to power their cars, are being particularly affected by the partial shutdown of the Ambassador Bridge, which links Detroit, Mich., with Windsor, Ontario, and accounts for roughly a quarter of the trade between the two countries.

Trucks make thousands of trips across the bridge each day in both directions, carrying $300 million worth of goods, about a third of which are related to the automobile industry, a major employer across the Midwest and Ontario.

The blockades are a spillover from demonstrations in Canada’s capital of Ottawa, which began nearly two weeks ago when loosely organized groups of truck drivers and others converged on the city to protest vaccination requirements for truckers crossing into Canada from the United States. In addition to the blockades, the protests have morphed into a battle cry against pandemic restrictions in general and the leadership of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

With protests in Ottawa and blockades in other parts of Ontario, the protests have presented a challenge to stretched law enforcement trying to tame them. On Thursday, Ottawa police also warned on Twitter that its 911 lines were being inundated with nonurgent calls. “This puts lives in danger and is totally unacceptable,” it wrote on Twitter.

Local news reports also said that a group of protesters had gone to Ottawa International Airport on Thursday morning, honking horns and driving around the airport.

As the border blockades in Ontario continued, Said Deep, a spokesman at Ford Motor Company, said Thursday morning that the company was currently running its plants in Oakville and Windsor at reduced capacity.

“This interruption on the Detroit-Windsor bridge hurts customers, autoworkers, suppliers, communities and companies on both sides of the border that are already two years into parts shortages resulting from the global semiconductor issue, Covid and more,” Mr. Deep said. “It could have widespread impact on all automakers in the U.S. and Canada.”

Scott Vazin, a spokesman at Toyota, said the shutdown at the border would prevent the company from being able to manufacture anything at its three Canadian plants for the rest of this week. But he said the overall impact on the company’s business would be limited.

“A couple of days shouldn’t be that significant,” he said. “We’re certainly hoping the blockade ends.”

G.M. said it had canceled two shifts on Wednesday and Thursday at a factory in Lansing, Mich., that makes sport utility vehicles.

On Wednesday night, protesters also swarmed the Ambassador Bridge entrance to the United States from Windsor, effectively closing it in both directions, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Canada’s national broadcaster, reported.

In a briefing Wednesday, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said that the blockade posed a risk to auto industry supply chains, and that the administration was also tracking potential disruptions to agricultural exports from Michigan into Canada.

Omar Alghabra, Canada’s transport minister, called for an end to what he described as “illegal blockades” amid suggestions that the Ontario government rein in the protesters by revoking permits for commercial vehicles.

In Toronto, Canada’s largest city and financial center, the police on Wednesday closed roads in the downtown area before a possible truck convoy after seeing social media posts that protests were heading to Toronto. The police blocked off roads surrounding the provincial legislature building, repeating precautions they took before protests last weekend.

Some in the Ottawa protests have clearly been on the fringe, wearing Nazi symbols and desecrating public monuments. Others have also described themselves as ordinary Canadians driven to take to the streets by desperation.

Far-right and anti-vaccine groups around the world have amplified the message of the Canadian protesters on social media, raising millions of dollars in online campaigns. The protests have also inspired copycat convoys in France, New Zealand and Australia.

Paris police officials on Thursday issued an order banning a convoy of truckers and drivers heading to the French capital to protest against the country’s vaccination pass program, as part of a movement directly inspired by Canada’s trucker-led protests.

In Canada, Mr. Trudeau has faced a barrage of criticism from opposition politicians, including the contention that overzealous restrictions are keeping Canada in a state of a permanent pandemic, and that he has been too passive in the face of the protests undermining Canada’s image on the global stage.

But in a sign of intensifying impatience with the protests, even among former political supporters, Candice Bergen, interim leader of the Conservative Party, on Thursday called for the protesters to “take down the barricades,” citing disruptions to the economy.

Constant Méheut contributed reporting.

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