It will be accompanied by an independent assessment of the fiscal and economic impact of the policies by the Office for Budget Responsibility, a government watchdog.

While markets have cheered the government’s promise to have its policies independently reviewed, questions remain about how the gap in the public finances can be closed. Economists say there is very little room in stretched department budgets to make cuts. That has led to concerns of a return to austerity measures, reminiscent of the spending cuts after the 2008 financial crisis.

There is a danger,” Mr. Chadha said, “that we end up with tighter fiscal policy than actually is appropriate given the shock that many households are suffering.” This could make it harder to support people suffering amid rising food and energy prices. But Mr. Chadha argues that it’s clear what needs to happen next: a complete elimination of unfunded tax cuts and careful planning on how to support vulnerable households.

The chancellor could also end up having a lot more autonomy over fiscal policy than the prime minister, he added.

“The best outcome for markets would be a rapid rallying of the parliamentary Conservative Party around a single candidate” who would validate Mr. Hunt’s approach and the timing of the Oct. 31 report, Trevor Greetham, a portfolio manager at Royal London Asset Management, said in a written comment.

Three days after the fiscal statement, on Nov. 3, Bank of England policymakers will announce their next interest rate decisions.

Bond investors are trying to parse how the central bank will react to the rapidly changing fiscal news. On Thursday, before Ms. Truss’s resignation, Ben Broadbent, a member of the central bank’s rate-setting committee, indicated that policymakers might not need to raise interest rates as much as markets currently expect. Traders are betting that the bank will raise rates above 5 percent next year, from 2.25 percent.

The bank could raise rates less than expected next year partly because the economy is forecast to shrink over the year. The International Monetary Fund predicted that the British economy would go from 3.6 percent growth this year to a 0.3 percent contraction next year.

That’s a mild recession compared with some other forecasts, but it would only compound the longstanding economic problems that Britain faced, including weak investment, low productivity growth and businesses’ inability to find employees with the right skills. These were among the challenges that Ms. Truss said she would resolve by shaking up the status quo and targeting economic growth of 2.5 percent a year.

Most economists didn’t believe that “Trussonomics,” as her policies were called, would deliver this economic growth. Instead, they predicted the policies would prolong the country’s inflation problem.

Despite the change in leadership, analysts don’t expect a big rally in Britain’s financial markets. The nation’s international standing could take a long time to recover.

“It takes years to build a reputation and one day to undo it,” Mr. Bouvet said, adding, “Investors will come progressively back to the U.K.,” but it won’t be quickly.

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U.K. Live Updates: Liz Truss Resigns as Prime Minister

LONDON — For Liz Truss, the end came on Thursday in a midday meeting with grandees of the Conservative Party. But Ms. Truss’s fate as prime minister was all but sealed three weeks earlier when currency and bond traders reacted to her new fiscal program by torpedoing the pound and other British financial assets.

The market’s swift, withering verdict on Ms. Truss’s tax-cutting agenda shattered her credibility, degraded Britain’s reputation with investors, drove up home mortgage rates, pushed the pound down to near parity with the American dollar, and forced the Bank of England to intervene to prop up British bonds.

That repudiation, measured in the second-by-second fluctuations of bond yields and exchange rates, mattered more than the noisy departures of Ms. Truss’s cabinet ministers or the hothouse anxieties of Conservative lawmakers that ultimately made her position untenable.

For that reason, world leaders, buffeted by economic challenges, are watching the turmoil in Britain with anything but relish, concerned about the stability of Britain itself. Interest rates, energy costs and inflation are rising around the world. Labor unrest is proliferating across borders. Non-British pension funds potentially face the same financial stresses that afflicted those in Britain. The last thing leaders want is for Ms. Truss’s woes to be a harbinger for other countries.

President Emmanuel Macron of France, who recently mended fences with Ms. Truss after she refused last summer to characterize him as a friend or foe, said: “I wish in any case that Great Britain will find stability again and moves on, as soon as possible. It’s good for us, and it’s good for our Europe.”

Credit…Henry Nicholls/Reuters

Ms. Truss, economists said, is correct to argue that markets are driven by global trends broader than her tax cuts. Central banks worldwide are raising rates to battle inflation, which has been fueled by a surge in demand as the coronavirus pandemic ebbed and a spike in gas prices driven by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“The problems are by no means all Truss’s doing but she should have known that getting blamed for everything comes with the territory,” said Kenneth Rogoff, a professor of economics at Harvard and a scholar of financial upheavals.

“What is really worrisome now,” he said, is that the situation in Britain “might be the canary in the coal mine as global interest rates keep soaring, especially as they do not seem likely to come down anytime soon.”

Ms. Truss long cultivated a reputation as a disrupter and a free-market evangelist in the tradition of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Her tax cut proposals made her an outlier among leaders of big economies fighting inflation. But she made no apologies for offending either economic orthodoxy or the expectations of financial markets in pursuit of her vision of a “low-tax, high growth” Britain.

“Not everyone will be in favor of change,” a defiant Ms. Truss said a week ago at the annual meeting of the Conservative Party, even though one of her planned tax cuts, for high-earning people, had already been reversed. “But everyone will benefit from the result: a growing economy and a better future.”

The prime minister’s fatal miscalculation, experts said, was to believe that Britain could defy the gravity of the markets by passing sweeping tax cuts, without corresponding spending cuts, at a time when inflation is running in double digits and interest rates were rising.

“It was the combination of the wrong fiscal policy at the wrong time — borrowing when rates were rising rather than, as in 2010s, when they were low,” said Jonathan Portes, a professor of economics and public policy at Kings College London.

He cited what he called Ms. Truss’s “institutional vandalism,’’ in particular the way she and her ousted chancellor of the Exchequer, Kwasi Kwarteng, broke with custom by announcing sweeping tax cuts without subjecting them to the scrutiny of the government’s fiscal watchdog, the Office of Budget Responsibility.

In that sense, he said, Ms. Truss was following in the footsteps of her predecessor, Boris Johnson, who resigned as prime minister barely three months earlier after a series of scandals prompted a wholesale walkout of his ministers.

Credit…Oli Scarff/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Mr. Kwarteng’s budget maneuvering led many in the markets to suspect the government was engaged in a kind of fiscal sleight of hand, which would inevitably require massive borrowing to cover a hole in the budget estimated at 72 billion pounds ($81.5 billion).

Mr. Kwarteng, who studied the history of financial crises as a doctoral student at Cambridge University, brushed off the blowback in financial markets as a temporary phenomenon. Like Ms. Truss, he is a believer in disruptive change. Together, they were among the authors of “Britannia Unchained,” a manifesto for a Thatcher-style, free-market revolution in post-Brexit Britain. Among other things, the authors described Britons as “among the worst idlers in the world.”

When, or even whether, Britain can fully recover from this period of political and economic turbulence is not yet clear. On Thursday, as news of Ms. Truss’s resignation broke, the pound rose against the dollar and yields on British government bonds fell.

Virtually all the government’s planned tax cuts have been reversed, and the next prime minister, regardless of his or her politics, will have little choice but to pursue a policy of spending cuts and strict fiscal discipline. Some fear a return to the bleak austerity of Prime Minister David Cameron in the years after the 2008 financial crisis.

“Rishi or another can steady the ship and calm the markets,” Professor Portes said, referring to Rishi Sunak, a former chancellor who ran unsuccessfully against Ms. Truss and may seek to succeed her. “But it’s hard to see how, given the state of the Conservatives, any Tory prime minister can repair the longer-term damage.”

Much of that damage is to Britain’s once-sterling reputation in the markets. Economists have begun mentioning Britain in the same breath as fiscally wayward countries like Italy and Greece. Lawrence H. Summers, the former U.S. Treasury secretary, told Bloomberg News, “It makes me very sorry to say, but I think the U.K. is behaving a bit like an emerging market turning itself into a submerging market.”

That is a humbling comedown for a country that in 2009 announced a $1.1 trillion emergency fund to bail out the global economy.

“If you’re an American fund manager, you’re not going to put Britain in the super-safe category you might have earlier,” said Jonathan Powell, who served as chief of staff to Prime Minister Tony Blair. “It’s not about Britain’s standing in the world, but what category we’ve put ourselves in.”

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Ukraine troops hold key town, Russia fires more missiles, Zelenskiy says

Oct 15 (Reuters) – Ukrainian troops are still holding the strategic eastern town of Bakhmut despite repeated Russian attacks while the situation in the Donbas region remains very difficult, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Saturday.

Zelenskiy, speaking in an evening address, also said Russian missiles and drones had continued to hit Ukrainian cities, causing destruction and casualties.

Although Ukrainian troops have recaptured thousands of square kilometres (miles) of land in recent offensives in the east and south, officials say progress is likely to slow once Kyiv’s forces meet more determined resistance.

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Fighting is particularly intense in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk provinces bordering Russia. Together they make up the larger industrial Donbas, which Moscow has yet to fully capture.

Russian forces have repeatedly tried to seize Bakhmut, which sits on a main road leading to the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk. Both are situated in the Donetsk region.

“Active fighting continues in various areas of the front. A very difficult situation persists in the Donetsk region and Luhansk region,” Zelenskiy said.

“The most difficult (situation) is in the direction of Bakhmut, as in previous days. We are holding our positions.”

Separately, the Ukrainian armed forces’ general staff said in a Facebook post that troops had on Saturday repelled a total of 11 separate Russian attacks near Kramatorsk, Bakhmut and the town of Avdiivka, just to the north of Donetsk.

Zelenskiy said Russian forces, which rained cruise missiles on several Ukrainian cities on Monday, had hit targets in seven regions over the last two days.

“Some of the missiles and drones were shot down but unfortunately, not all of them. Unfortunately, there is destruction and casualties,” he said. Kyiv said on Friday that it expected the United States and Germany to deliver sophisticated anti-aircraft systems this month.

Zelenskiy also said almost 65,000 Russians had been killed so far since the Feb. 24 invasion, a figure far higher than Moscow’s official Sept. 21 estimate of 5,937 dead. In August the Pentagon said Russia has suffered between 70,000 and 80,000 casualties, either killed or wounded.

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Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Grant McCool

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David Ljunggren

Thomson Reuters

Covers Canadian political, economic and general news as well as breaking news across North America, previously based in London and Moscow and a winner of Reuters’ Treasury scoop of the year.

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UK police charge two women after soup thrown at van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’

LONDON, Oct 15 (Reuters) – Two women have been charged with criminal damage after climate change protesters threw soup over Vincent van Gogh’s painting “Sunflowers” at London’s National Gallery, British police said on Saturday.

A video posted by the Just Stop Oil campaign group, which has been holding protests for the last two weeks in the British capital, showed two of its activists on Friday throwing tins of Heinz tomato soup over the painting, one of five versions on display in museums and galleries around the world.

The gallery said the incident had caused minor damage to the frame but the painting was unharmed. It later went back on display.

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Police said two women, aged 21 and 20, would appear later at Westminster Magistrates’ Court charged with “criminal damage to the frame of van Gogh’s Sunflowers painting”.

Another activist will also appear in court accused of damaging the sign outside the New Scotland Yard police headquarters in central London.

Police said in total 28 people had been arrested during protests on Friday.

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Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise

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As UK’s Truss fights for job, new finance minister says she made mistakes

  • Truss sacked finance minister on Friday
  • New chancellor Hunt warns of tough decisions
  • ‘I’ve listened, I get it’, Truss says
  • BoE’s Bailey says agrees with Hunt on need to fix finances
  • Some Conservative lawmakers say Truss will be ousted

LONDON, Oct 15 (Reuters) – Britain’s new finance minister Jeremy Hunt said on Saturday some taxes would go up and tough spending decisions were needed, saying Prime Minister Liz Truss had made mistakes as she battles to keep her job just over a month into her term.

In an attempt to appease financial markets that have been in turmoil for three weeks, Truss fired Kwasi Kwarteng as her chancellor of the exchequer on Friday and scrapped parts of their controversial economic package.

With opinion poll ratings dire for both the ruling Conservative Party and the prime minister personally, and many of her own lawmakers asking, not if, but how Truss should be removed, Truss is relying on Hunt to help salvage her premiership less than 40 days after taking office.

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In an article for the Sun newspaper published late on Saturday, Truss admitted the plans had gone “further and faster than the markets were expecting”.

“I’ve listened, I get it,” she wrote. “We cannot pave the way to a low-tax, high-growth economy without maintaining the confidence of the markets in our commitment to sound money.”

She said Hunt would lay out at the end of the month the plan to get national debt down “over the medium term”.

But, the speculation about her future shows no sign of diminishing, with Sunday’s newspapers rife with stories that allies of Rishi Sunak, another former finance minister who she beat to become leader last month, were plotting to force her out within weeks.

On a tour of TV and radio studios, Hunt gave a blunt assessment of the situation the country faced, saying Truss and Kwarteng had made mistakes and further changes to her plans were possible.

“We will have some very difficult decisions ahead,” he said.”The thing that people want, the markets want, the country needs now, is stability.”

The Sunday Times said Hunt would rip up more of Truss’s original package by delaying a planned cut to the basic rate of income tax as part of a desperate bid to balance the books.

According to the newspaper, Britain’s independent fiscal watchdog had said in a draft forecast there could be a 72 billion pound ($80 billion) black hole in public finances by 2027/28, worse than economists had forecast.

Truss had won the leadership contest to replace Boris Johnson on a platform of big tax cuts to stimulate growth, which Kwarteng duly announced last month. But the absence of any details of how the cuts would be funded sent the markets into meltdown.

She has already ditched plans to cut tax for high earners, and said a levy on business would increase, abandoning her proposal to keep it at current levels. But a slump in bond prices after her news conference on Friday still suggested she had not gone far enough.

‘MEETING OF MINDS’

Kwarteng’s Sept. 23 fiscal statement prompted a backlash in financial markets that was so ferocious the Bank of England (BoE) had to intervene to prevent pension funds being caught up in the chaos as borrowing costs surged.

BoE Governor Andrew Bailey said he had spoken to Hunt and they had agreed on the need to repair the public finances.

“There was a very clear and immediate meeting of minds between us about the importance of fiscal sustainability and the importance of taking measures to do that,” Bailey said in Washington on Saturday. “Of course, there was an important measure taken yesterday.”

He also warned that inflation pressures might require a bigger interest rate rise than previously thought due to the government’s huge energy subsidies for homes and businesses, and its tax cut plans.

Hunt is due to announce the government’s medium-term budget plans on Oct. 31, in what will be a key test of its ability to show it can restore its economic policy credibility.

He cautioned spending would not rise by as much as people would like and all government departments were going to have to find more efficiencies than they were planning.

“Some taxes will not be cut as quickly as people want, and some taxes will go up. So it’s going to be difficult,” he said. He met Treasury officials on Saturday and will hold talks with Truss on Sunday to go through the plans.

‘MISTAKES MADE’

Hunt, an experienced minister and viewed by many in his party as a safe pair of hands, said he agreed with Truss’s fundamental strategy of kickstarting economic growth, but he added that their approach had not worked.

“There were some mistakes made in the last few weeks. That’s why I’m sitting here. It was a mistake to cut the top rate of tax at a period when we’re asking everyone to make sacrifices,” he said.

It was also a mistake, Hunt said, to “fly blind” and produce the tax plans without allowing the independent fiscal watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility, to check the figures.

The fact that Hunt is Britain’s fourth finance minister in four months is testament to a political crisis that has gripped Britain since Johnson was ousted following a series of scandals.

Hunt said Truss should be judged at an election and on her performance over the next 18 months – not the last 18 days.

However, she might not get that chance. During the leadership contest, Truss won support from less than a third of Conservative lawmakers and has appointed her backers since taking office – alienating those who supported her rivals.

The appointment of Hunt, who ran to be leader himself and then backed Sunak, has been seen as a sign of her reaching out, but the move did little to placate some of her party critics.

“It’s over for her,” one Conservative lawmaker told Reuters after Friday’s events.

($1 = 0.8953 pounds)

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Reporting by Michael Holden, Alistair Smout and William Schomberg
Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Helen Popper, Ros Russell and Diane Craft

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Bank of England governor has ‘meeting of minds’ with Hunt

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  • Bailey says he talked to new finance minister on Friday
  • ‘Very clear and immediate meeting of minds’ on fiscal challenge
  • Rates likely to rise by more than thought in August – Bailey
  • Recent bond-buying not about targeting yields

WASHINGTON, Oct 15 (Reuters) – Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey said there was an “immediate meeting of minds” when he spoke with finance minister Jeremy Hunt about the need to fix the public finances after the tax cut plans of Hunt’s predecessor unleashed market turmoil.

Bailey, speaking in Washington where British officials attending International Monetary Fund meetings have been put on the spot about the crisis engulfing the country, said he had spoken to Hunt on Friday after he replaced Kwasi Kwarteng.

“I can tell you that there was a very clear and immediate meeting of minds between us about the importance of fiscal sustainability and the importance of taking measures to do that,” Bailey said.

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“Of course there was an important measure taken yesterday,” he said at an event where he also hinted at a big interest rate rise by the central bank next month.

Prime Minister Liz Truss, seeking to save her term in office which is barely a month old, said on Friday that Britain’s corporation tax rate would increase, reversing a key pledge made during her bid for Downing Street.

Hunt said earlier on Saturday that some taxes might have to rise and others might not fall as much as planned, signalling a further shift away from Truss’s original plans.

Bailey, speaking at an event organised by the Group of Thirty, which comprises financiers and academics, welcomed the role that Britain’s independent budget watchdog would have in assessing the budget plan that Hunt will publish on Oct. 31.

The Office for Budget Responsibility was not tasked with weighing up the impact of Kwarteng’s “mini-budget” which set off a slump in the value of the pound and government bonds when he announced it on Sept. 23.

“Flying blind is not a way to achieve sustainability,” Bailey said.

Truss criticised the BoE during her leadership campaign, saying she wanted to set a “clear direction of travel” for the central bank. BoE officials pushed back at those comments saying their independence was key to managing the economy.

‘STRONGER RESPONSE’ WITH RATES

Bailey said the BoE might raise interest rates by more than it previously thought because of the government’s huge energy bill support – which could lower inflation in the short term but push it up further ahead – and whatever it decides to do on tax cuts and spending.

“We will not hesitate to raise interest rates to meet the inflation target,” Bailey said. “And, as things stand today, my best guess is that inflationary pressures will require a stronger response than we perhaps thought in August.”

The BoE raised rates by half a percentage point in August – at the time its biggest increase in 27 years – and then did so again in September with inflation around 10%, far above the BoE’s target of 2%.

It is due to announce its next decision on Nov. 3 and many investors think it will either raise them from their current level of 2.25% to 3% or possibly 3.25%.

In the shorter term, the BoE will be keeping a close eye on how financial markets behave on Monday after it ended its emergency bond-buying programme on Friday.

Bailey said the now-completed intervention was “not about steering market yields towards some particular level, but rather preventing them from being distorted by market dysfunction”.

He said the BoE had acted after the violent market moves which exposed the “flaws in the strategy and structure” of a lot of pension funds.

The intervention was different to the much bigger and longer-running bond-buying that the BoE undertook during the coronavirus pandemic and earlier as a monetary policy tool.

“In these difficult times, we need to be very clear on this framework of intervention,” Bailey said.

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Reporting by Howard Schneider in Washington and William Schomberg in London; Additional reporting by Michael Holden in London; Editing by David Clarke

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Covers the U.S. Federal Reserve, monetary policy and the economy, a graduate of the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University with previous experience as a foreign correspondent, economics reporter and on the local staff of the Washington Post.

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Peter Thiel, Major U.S. Political Donor, Is Said to Pursue Maltese Citizenship

A spokesman for Mr. Angermayer, who has based his family office and other business ventures in Malta, did not respond to requests for comment.

In early 2021, Thiel Capital also became a shareholder in a Malta entity through a byzantine series of developments. The deal involved Coru, a Mexican online financial advice start-up, which has a parent company incorporated in London.

Entities controlled by Mr. Thiel and Mr. Danzeisen, his husband, were among Coru’s biggest owners, corporate filings show. The start-up needed additional funding in late 2020, but its investors could not reach an agreement to put more cash in, said two former investors. The company went into administration, the equivalent of bankruptcy.

Around that time, Mr. Thiel, Mr. Danzeisen and several other Coru investors established a company in Malta called EUM Holdings Melite Ltd., Maltese records show. That company bought Coru’s shares out of administration for about $100,000, according to British records. The records do not detail EUM’s business activities.

Now Coru is owned by EUM. Its shareholders include Mr. Thiel, Mr. Danzeisen, Richard Li — a son of Hong Kong’s richest man, Li Ka-shing — and a group with a former Nicaraguan government official and a scion of the Spanish family that made a fortune selling Lladró porcelain figurines.

Mr. Thiel began exploring Maltese citizenship around that time, said people familiar with the process. By late 2021, documents show, he was far along in the application process and retained an agency that fielded questions from the Maltese government about his businesses and political activities.

The questions included Mr. Thiel’s role with Palantir Technologies, a data analytics company he founded that works with governments and corporations, and his political activity supporting Mr. Trump.

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Live Updates: Putin’s ‘Mass Strike’ on Ukraine Draws Furious Condemnation

For months, Russia’s state media insisted that the country was only hitting military targets in Ukraine, leaving out the suffering that the invasion has brought to millions of civilians.

On Monday, the mask came off. Russian state television showed gas lines in Ukraine, empty store shelves and a long-range forecast promising months of freezing temperatures there. And rather than focus on the civilian destruction in Russian-held areas as they usually do, news broadcasts in Russia showed columns of smoke and carnage in central Kyiv.

“There’s no hot water, part of the city is without power,” one anchor announced, describing the scene in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv.

The sharp shift was a sign that domestic pressure over Russia’s flailing war effort had escalated to the point where President Vladimir V. Putin felt a decisive show of force was necessary.

His military has come under increasingly withering criticism from the war’s supporters for not being aggressive enough in its assault on Ukraine, a chorus that reached a fever pitch after Saturday’s attack on the 12-mile bridge to the annexed Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea — a symbol of Mr. Putin’s rule.

With Monday’s brutal escalation of the war effort, Mr. Putin in part appears to be responding to those critics, momentarily quieting the clamors of hard liners furious with the Russian military’s humiliating setbacks on the battlefield.

“This is important from the domestic political perspective, first and foremost,” Abbas Gallyamov, a Russian political analyst and former Putin speechwriter, said of Monday’s strikes. “It was important to demonstrate to the ruling class that Putin is still capable, that the Army is still good for something.”

But with his escalation, Mr. Putin is also betting that Russian elites — and the public at large — do indeed see it as a sign of strength, rather than a desperate effort to inflict more pain in a war that Russia appears to be losing.

“The response was supposed to show power, but in fact it showed powerlessness,” Mr. Gallyamov said. “There’s nothing else the army can do.”

After Monday’s strikes, some of the invasion’s harshest critics among the Russian hawks declared that the military was finally doing its job. The strongman leader of the Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov — who recently excoriated the army’s “incompetent” leadership — said in a Telegram post that he was now “100 percent happy” with the war effort.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

“Run, Zelensky, run,” he wrote, referring to Ukraine’s president.

Other cheerleaders of the war triumphantly recalled Mr. Putin’s declaration in July that Russia had not “started anything yet in earnest” in Ukraine.

“Now, it seems, it’s started,” one state television talk show host, Olga Skabeyeva, said.

Mr. Putin described Monday’s strikes as a response to Ukrainian “terrorist acts,” casting them as a one-time assault to deter future Ukrainian attacks on Russian territory. In his home city of St. Petersburg, where he had traveled on Friday for his 70th birthday, Mr. Putin spoke on national television for just over three minutes in what the Kremlin characterized as the start of a meeting with his Security Council.

He made a point of saying the strikes came at the military’s initiative, an apparent effort to head off assertions that he was plotting the war effort in isolation.

“This morning, at the suggestion of the Ministry of Defense and according to the plan of the Russian General Staff, a massive strike with air, sea and land-based high-precision long-range weapons was launched against Ukrainian energy, military command and communications facilities,” Mr. Putin said. “If attempts to carry out terrorist attacks on our territory continue, the measures taken by Russia will be tough and in their scale will correspond to the level of threats posed to the Russian Federation. No one should have any doubt about it.”

In his speech, Mr. Putin made one notable omission: he did not mention the West as the ultimate culprit behind Saturday’s Crimean bridge explosion or other suspected Ukrainian attacks. That was a departure from the typical Kremlin rhetoric that portrays Washington and London as the puppeteers behind Ukraine’s resistance.

The shift was a possible signal that the Russian leader was interested in controlling the escalation of the war, and that he was not on the verge of provoking a direct conflict with NATO.

But some signs pointed to Mr. Putin being prepared for a wider escalation of the war. On Saturday, he appointed a general known for his ruthlessness, Sergei Surovikin, to lead the war effort in Ukraine. And Mr. Putin’s closest international ally, President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus, declared on Monday that thousands of Russian soldiers would soon arrive in the country to form a joint military group with Belarusian forces — creating the specter of a new threat to Ukraine’s north.

Greg Yudin, a professor of political philosophy at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences, said Mr. Putin had bent to pressure from right-wing hawks who are calling for even more escalation. He said he expected that Mr. Putin would “sooner or later” heighten the threats of potentially using tactical nuclear weapons.

In central Moscow, many people said they were unaware of what had happened in Ukraine. People soaked up the sun in the chic neighborhood of central Tsvetno, or rushed to work or appointments.

Some younger people, more attuned to social media, said they were aware of the strikes on Ukraine but felt powerless to assign blame. “It is bad when people are killed for any reason,” said Sasha, 19, a university student. Still, she went on, “In any fight, both sides are responsible.”

In Russia, the penalties for criticizing the war — or even using the term war — come with hefty fines and even jail time, so many Russians are cautious about making comments that might have a negative connotation about the war.

Valerie Hopkins reported from Moscow. Alina Lobzina also contributed reporting.

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