Ukraine Live Updates: ‘This Man Cannot Remain in Power,’ Biden Says of Putin

WARSAW — President Biden delivered a forceful denunciation of Vladimir V. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine on Saturday, declaring “for God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” as he cast the war as the latest front in a decades-long battle between the forces of democracy and oppression.

Ending a three-day diplomatic trip to Europe with a fiery speech outside a centuries-old castle in Warsaw, Mr. Biden described the Russian invasion of Ukraine as the “test of all time” in a post-World War II struggle between democracy and autocracy, “between liberty and repression, between a rules-based order and one governed by brute force.”

“In this battle, we need to be cleareyed,” Mr. Biden said in front of a crowd waving Polish, Ukrainian and American flags. “This battle will not be won in days or months, either. We need to steel ourselves for the long fight ahead.”

Mr. Biden used the speech to bolster a key NATO ally on Ukraine’s western border that has served as a conduit for Western arms and has absorbed more than 2 million refugees fleeing the violence, more than any other country in Europe. And he sought to prepare the public, at home and abroad, for a grinding conflict that could drag on for weeks, months or longer.

Just hours before the event, missiles struck the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, about 50 miles from the Polish border, extending Russia’s monthlong assault on major cities and civilian populations — and undercutting Russian statements a day earlier suggesting Moscow might be scaling back its goals in the war.

Credit…Vladyslav Sodel/Reuters

While declaring that “the Russian people are not our enemy,” Mr. Biden unleashed an angry tirade against Mr. Putin’s claim that the invasion of Ukraine is intended to “de-Nazify” the country. Mr. Biden called that justification “a lie,” noting that President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine is Jewish and that his father’s family was killed in the Holocaust.

“It’s just cynical,” Mr. Biden said. “He knows that. And it’s also obscene.”

It was not immediately clear whether Mr. Biden’s apparent call for the ouster of Mr. Putin was one of the off-the-cuff remarks for which he is known or a calculated jab, one of many in the speech. But it risks confirming Russia’s central propaganda claim that the West, and particularly the United States, is determined to destroy Russia.

The White House immediately sought to play down the remark. “The president’s point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region,” a White House official told reporters. “He was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia, or regime change.”

Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said Mr. Putin’s fate was not in the hands of the American president. “It’s not for Biden to decide,” Mr. Peskov told reporters. “The president of Russia is elected by the Russians.”

Experts were divided on whether Mr. Biden’s remark was intended to signal he believed Mr. Putin should be ousted, a political escalation that could have consequences on the battlefield.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said in a tweet that the White House’s attempt to walk back the president’s comment was “unlikely to wash.”

“Putin will see it as confirmation of what he’s believed all along,” he wrote. “Bad lapse in discipline that runs risk of extending the scope and duration of the war.”

Mr. Biden’s statement that Mr. Putin could no longer remain in power could be perceived “as a call for regime change,” said Michal Baranowski, a senior fellow and director of the Warsaw office of the German Marshall Fund, a nonpartisan policy organization. But he said he did not read it that way, and that Mr. Putin was unlikely to, either. “I think just what President Biden was saying is, how can such a terrible person be ruling Russia?” said Mr. Baranowski. “In that context, I don’t think it will lead to any escalation with Russia.”

Earlier in the day, Mr. Biden stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the Polish president, Andrzej Duda, and assured him that the United States considered its support for NATO to be a “sacred obligation.”

“America’s ability to meet its role in other parts of the world rests upon a united Europe,” Mr. Biden said.

While Poland’s right-wing, populist government has been embraced by Washington and Brussels as a linchpin of Western security, it has provoked quarrels with both in the past. Mr. Duda, however, thanked Mr. Biden for his support, saying that Poland stood ready as a “serious partner, a credible partner.”

At a stadium in Warsaw, Mr. Biden met with Ukrainian refugees in his first personal encounter with some of the civilians ensnared in a catastrophic humanitarian crisis caused by weeks of indiscriminate Russian shelling of Ukrainian cities and towns.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

After speaking with the refugees, including several from the city of Mariupol, which has been flattened by Russian shelling, Mr. Biden called Mr. Putin “a butcher.”

That comment also prompted a retort from Mr. Peskov, who told TASS, the Russian state-owned news agency, that “such personal insults narrow the window of opportunity” for bilateral relations with the Biden administration.

Mr. Biden also met with Ukrainian ministers in his first in-person meeting with the country’s top leaders since the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24, part of what American officials hoped would be a powerful display of the United States’ commitment to Ukrainian sovereignty.

“We did receive additional promises from the United States on how our defense cooperation will evolve,” Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, told reporters, the Reuters news agency reported.

But Mr. Biden gave no indication that the United States was willing to budge from its previous rejection of Ukrainian requests to establish a no-fly zone over the country or to provide it with the MIG-29 warplanes that Poland offered some weeks ago.

As Mr. Biden visited Poland, two missiles struck Lviv, rattling residents who ran into underground shelters as smoke rose into the sky. Lviv’s mayor said a fuel storage facility was on fire, and a regional administrator said five people had been injured.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Although Russian missiles hit a warplane repair factory near Lviv on March 18, the city, which had 700,000 residents before many of them fled the war, has otherwise been spared the airstrikes and missile attacks that have hammered other Ukrainian population centers.

Mr. Biden ended his trip one day after a senior Russian general suggested that the Kremlin might be redefining its goals in the war by focusing less on seizing major cities and instead targeting the eastern Donbas region, where Russia-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces for eight years.

Mr. Biden’s administration was quietly exploring the implications of the statement by the Russian general, Sergei Rudskoi, which indicated that Mr. Putin might be looking for a way out of the brutal invasion he launched with confidence and bravado a month ago.

Western intelligence agencies have in recent weeks picked up chatter among senior Russian commanders about giving up the effort to take Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, and other key areas in the north and west of the country, according to two people with access to the intelligence. Instead, the commanders have talked more narrowly of securing the Donbas region.

Military analysts have cautioned that General Rudkoi’s statement could be intended as misdirection while Russian forces regroup for a new offensive.

Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

Only weeks ago, Mr. Putin threatened to fully absorb Ukraine, warning that, “The current leadership needs to understand that if they continue doing what they are doing, they risk the future of Ukrainian statehood.”

In the latest instance of nuclear saber-rattling, Dmitri A. Medvedev, the vice chairman of Russia’s Security Council, restated Moscow’s willingness to use nuclear weapons against the United States and Europe if its existence was threatened.

“No one wants war, especially given that nuclear war would be a threat to the existence of human civilization,” Mr. Medvedev told Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti news agency in excerpts from an interview published on Saturday.

Hoping to rally his country and encourage negotiations with Moscow, Mr. Zelensky said that the success of a Ukrainian counteroffensive that began two weeks ago was “leading the Russian leadership to a simple and logical idea: Talk is necessary.”

For the moment, large portions of Ukraine remain a battleground in what has increasingly come to resemble a bloody stalemate between the smaller Ukrainian army and Russian troops that have struggled with logistical problems.

On Saturday, Russian forces entered the small northern city of Slavutych, near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, where they seized the hospital and briefly detained the mayor, a regional military official said.

Credit…via Reuters

In response, dozens of residents unfurled the Ukrainian flag in front of city hall and chanted, “glory to Ukraine,” prompting Russian troops to fire into the air and throw stun grenades, according to videos and the official, Oleksandr Pavliuk.

Michael D. Shear and David E. Sanger reported from Warsaw and Michael Levenson from New York. Reporting was contributed by Megan Specia from Krakow, Poland, Anton Troianovski from Istanbul, Valerie Hopkins from Lviv, Ukraine, Eric Schmitt from Washington and Apoorva Mandavilli from New York.

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Will War Make Europe’s Switch to Clean Energy Even Harder?

At the Siemens Gamesa factory in Aalborg, Denmark, where the next generation of offshore wind turbines is being built, workers are on their hands and knees inside a shallow, canoe-shaped pod that stretches the length of a football field. It is a mold used to produce one half of a single propeller blade. Guided by laser markings, the crew is lining the sides with panels of balsa wood.

The gargantuan blades offer a glimpse of the energy future that Europe is racing toward with sudden urgency. The invasion of Ukraine by Russia — the European Union’s largest supplier of natural gas and oil — has spurred governments to accelerate plans to reduce their dependence on climate-changing fossil fuels. Armed conflict has prompted policymaking pledges that the more distant threat of an uninhabitable planet has not.

Smoothly managing Europe’s energy switch was always going to be difficult. Now, as economies stagger back from the second year of the pandemic, Russia’s attack on Ukraine grinds on and energy prices soar, the painful trade-offs have crystallized like never before.

Moving investments away from oil, gas and coal to sustainable sources like wind and solar, limiting and taxing carbon emissions, and building a new energy infrastructure to transmit electricity are crucial to weaning Europe off fossil fuels. But they are all likely to raise costs during the transition, an extremely difficult pill for the public and politicians to swallow.

unwinding efforts to shut coal mines and stop drilling new oil and gas wells to replace Russian fuel and bring prices down.

proposed a carbon tax on imports from carbon-producing sectors like steel and cement.

And it has led the way in generating wind power, especially from ocean-based turbines. Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy, for example, has been instrumental in planting rows of colossal whirligigs at sea that can generate enough green energy to light up cities.

Europe, too, is on the verge of investing billions in hydrogen, potentially the multipurpose clean fuel of the future, which might be generated by wind turbines.

halted approval of Nord Stream 2, an $11 billion gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea that directly links Russia to northeastern Germany.

As Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, said when she announced a plan on March 8 to make Europe independent of Russian fossil fuels: “We simply cannot rely on a supplier who explicitly threatens us.” The proposal calls for member nations to reduce Russian natural gas imports by two-thirds by next winter and to end them altogether by 2027 — a very tall order.

This week, European Union leaders are again meeting to discuss the next phase of proposals, but deep divisions remain over how to manage the current price increases amid anxieties that Europe could face a double whammy of inflation and recession.

On Monday, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres warned that intense focus on quickly replacing Russian oil could mean that major economies “neglect or kneecap policies to cut fossil fuel use.”

price of palladium, used in automotive exhaust systems and mobile phones, has been soaring amid fears that Russia, the world’s largest exporter of the metal, could be cut off from global markets. The price of nickel, another key Russian export, has also been rising.

Mr. Rasmussen and other executives added that identifying suitable areas for wind turbines and obtaining permits required for construction take “far too long.” Challenges are based on worries that the vast arrays of turbines will interfere with fishing, obstruct naval exercises and blight views from summer houses.

To Kadri Simson, Europe’s commissioner for energy, renewable energy projects should be treated as an “overriding public interest,” and Europe should consider changing laws to facilitate them.

“We cannot talk about a renewables revolution if getting a permit for a wind farm takes seven years,” Ms. Simson said.

Still, environmental regulations and other rules relating to large infrastructure installations are usually the province of countries rather than European Union officials in Brussels.

And steadfast opposition from communities and industries invested in fossil fuels make it hard for political leaders to fast-track energy transition policies.

In Upper Silesia, Poland’s coal basin, bright yellow buses display signs that boast they run on 100 percent electric, courtesy of a grant from the European Union. But along the road, large billboards mounted before the invasion of Ukraine by state-owned utilities — erroneously — blame Brussels for 60 percent of the rise in energy prices.

Down in the Wujek coal mine, veterans worry if their jobs will last long enough for them to log the 25 years needed to retire with a lifelong pension. Closing mines not only threatens to devastate the economy, several miners said, but also a way of life built on generations of coal mining.

“Pushing through the climate policy forcefully may lead to a drastic decrease in the standard of living here,” said Mr. Kolorz at Solidarity’s headquarters in Katowice. “And when people do not have something to put on the plate, they can turn to extreme populism.”

Climate pressures are pushing at least some governments to consider steps they might not have before.

German officials have determined that it is too costly to keep the country’s last three remaining nuclear power generators online past the end of the year. But the quest for energy with lower emissions is leading to a revival of nuclear energy elsewhere.

Britain and France say they plan to invest in smaller nuclear reactors that can be produced in larger numbers to bring down costs.

Britain might even build a series of small nuclear fusion reactors, a promising but still unproven technology. Ian Chapman, chief executive of the U.K. Atomic Energy Authority, said every route to clean energy must be tried if there is to be any hope of reaching net zero emissions in three decades, the deadline for avoiding catastrophic climate change. “We’ve got to do everything we possibly can,” he said.

In the short term, much of what the European Union is proposing involves switching the source of fossil fuels, and, in particular, natural gas, from Russia to other suppliers like the United States, Qatar and Azerbaijan, and filling up storage facilities as a buffer. The risk is that Europe’s actions will further raise prices, which are already about five times higher than a year ago, in a market where supplies are short in part because companies are wary of investing in a fuel that the world ultimately wants to phase out.

Over the longer term, Europe and Britain seem likely to accelerate their world-leading rollout in renewable energy and other efforts to cut emissions despite the enormous costs and intense disruptions.

“The E.U. will almost certainly throw hundreds of billions of euros at this,” said Henning Gloystein, a director for energy and climate at Eurasia Group, a political risk firm. “Once the trains have left the station, they can’t be reversed.”

Melissa Eddy contributed reporting.

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Ukraine Live Updates: Russia Strikes Kyiv Mall; Mariupol Refuses to Yield

In destructive power, the behemoths of the Cold War dwarfed the American atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. Washington’s biggest test blast was 1,000 times as large. Moscow’s was 3,000 times. On both sides, the idea was to deter strikes with threats of vast retaliation — with mutual assured destruction, or MAD. The psychological bar was so high that nuclear strikes came to be seen as unthinkable.

Today, both Russia and the United States have nuclear arms that are much less destructive — their power just fractions of the Hiroshima bomb’s force, their use perhaps less frightening and more thinkable.

Concern about these smaller arms has soared as Vladimir V. Putin, in the Ukraine war, has warned of his nuclear might, has put his atomic forces on alert and has had his military carry out risky attacks on nuclear power plants. The fear is that if Mr. Putin feels cornered in the conflict, he might choose to detonate one of his lesser nuclear arms — breaking the taboo set 76 years ago after Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Analysts note that Russian troops have long practiced the transition from conventional to nuclear war, especially as a way to gain the upper hand after battlefield losses. And the military, they add, wielding the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, has explored a variety of escalatory options that Mr. Putin might choose from.

“The chances are low but rising,” said Ulrich Kühn, a nuclear expert at the University of Hamburg and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The war is not going well for the Russians,” he observed, “and the pressure from the West is increasing.”

Mr. Putin might fire a weapon at an uninhabited area instead of at troops, Dr. Kühn said. In a 2018 study, he laid out a crisis scenario in which Moscow detonated a bomb over a remote part of the North Sea as a way to signal deadlier strikes to come.

“It feels horrible to talk about these things,” Dr. Kühn said in an interview. “But we have to consider that this is becoming a possibility.”

Washington expects more atomic moves from Mr. Putin in the days ahead. Moscow is likely to “increasingly rely on its nuclear deterrent to signal the West and project strength” as the war and its consequences weaken Russia, Lt. Gen. Scott D. Berrier, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

President Biden is traveling to a NATO summit in Brussels this week to discuss the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The agenda is expected to include how the alliance will respond if Russia employs chemical, biological, cyber or nuclear weapons.

James R. Clapper Jr., a retired Air Force general who served as President Barack Obama’s director of national intelligence, said Moscow had lowered its bar for atomic use after the Cold War when the Russian army fell into disarray. Today, he added, Russia regards nuclear arms as utilitarian rather than unthinkable.

“They didn’t care,” Mr. Clapper said of Russian troops’ risking a radiation release earlier this month when they attacked the Zaporizhzhia nuclear reactor site — the largest not only in Ukraine but in Europe. “They went ahead and fired on it. That’s indicative of the Russian laissez-faire attitude. They don’t make the distinctions that we do on nuclear weapons.”

Mr. Putin announced last month that he was putting Russian nuclear forces into “special combat readiness.” Pavel Podvig, a longtime researcher of Russia’s nuclear forces, said the alert had most likely primed the Russian command and control system for the possibility of receiving a nuclear order.

It’s unclear how Russia exerts control over its arsenal of less destructive arms. But some U.S. politicians and experts have denounced the smaller weapons on both sides as threatening to upend the global balance of nuclear terror.

Credit…Yuri Kochetkov/EPA, via Shutterstock

For Russia, military analysts note, edgy displays of the less destructive arms have let Mr. Putin polish his reputation for deadly brinkmanship and expand the zone of intimidation he needs to fight a bloody conventional war.

“Putin is using nuclear deterrence to have his way in Ukraine,” said Nina Tannenwald, a political scientist at Brown University who recently profiled the less powerful armaments. “His nuclear weapons keep the West from intervening.”

A global race for the smaller arms is intensifying. Though such weapons are less destructive by Cold War standards, modern estimates show that the equivalent of half a Hiroshima bomb, if detonated in Midtown Manhattan, would kill or injure half a million people.

The case against these arms is that they undermine the nuclear taboo and make crisis situations even more dangerous. Their less destructive nature, critics say, can feed the illusion of atomic control when in fact their use can suddenly flare into a full-blown nuclear war. A simulation devised by experts at Princeton University starts with Moscow firing a nuclear warning shot; NATO responds with a small strike, and the ensuing war yields more than 90 million casualties in its first few hours.

No arms control treaties regulate the lesser warheads, known sometimes as tactical or nonstrategic nuclear weapons, so the nuclear superpowers make and deploy as many as they want. Russia has perhaps 2,000, according to Hans M. Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, a private group in Washington. And the United States has roughly 100 in Europe, a number limited by domestic policy disputes and the political complexities of basing them among NATO allies, whose populations often resist and protest the weapons’ presence.

Russia’s atomic war doctrine came to be known as “escalate to de-escalate” — meaning routed troops would fire a nuclear weapon to stun an aggressor into retreat or submission. Moscow repeatedly practiced the tactic in field exercises. In 1999, for instance, a large drill simulated a NATO attack on Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave on the Baltic Sea. The exercise had Russian forces in disarray until Moscow fired nuclear arms at Poland and the United States.

Dr. Kühn of the University of Hamburg said the defensive training drills of the 1990s had turned toward offense in the 2000s as the Russian army regained some of its former strength.

Concurrent with its new offensive strategy, Russia embarked on a modernization of its nuclear forces, including its less destructive arms. As in the West, some of the warheads were given variable explosive yields that could be dialed up or down depending on the military situation.

A centerpiece of the new arsenal was the Iskander-M, first deployed in 2005. The mobile launcher can fire two missiles that travel roughly 300 miles. The missiles can carry conventional as well as nuclear warheads. Russian figures put the smallest nuclear blast from those missiles at roughly a third that of the Hiroshima bomb.

Before the Russian army invaded Ukraine, satellite images showed that Moscow had deployed Iskander missile batteries in Belarus and to its east in Russian territory. There’s no public data on whether Russia has armed any of the Iskanders with nuclear warheads.

Nikolai Sokov, a former Russian diplomat who negotiated arms control treaties in Soviet times, said that nuclear warheads could also be placed on cruise missiles. The low-flying weapons, launched from planes, ships or the ground, hug the local terrain to avoid detection by enemy radar.

From inside Russian territory, he said, “they can reach all of Europe,” including Britain.

Over the years, the United States and its NATO allies have sought to rival Russia’s arsenal of lesser nuclear arms. It started decades ago as the United States began sending bombs for fighter jets to military bases in Belgium, Germany, Italy, Turkey and the Netherlands. Dr. Kühn noted that the alliance, in contrast to Russia, does not conduct field drills practicing a transition from conventional to nuclear war.

In 2010, Mr. Obama, who had long advocated for a “nuclear-free world,” decided to refurbish and improve the NATO weapons, turning them into smart bombs with maneuverable fins that made their targeting highly precise. That, in turn, gave war planners the freedom to lower the weapons’ variable explosive force to as little as 2 percent of that of the Hiroshima bomb.

The reduced blast capability made breaking the nuclear taboo “more thinkable,” Gen. James E. Cartwright, a vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Mr. Obama, warned at the time. He nonetheless backed the program because the high degree of precision lowered the risk of collateral damage and civilian casualties. But after years of funding and manufacturing delays, the refurbished bomb, known as the B61 Model 12, is not expected to be deployed in Europe until next year, Mr. Kristensen said.

Credit…Randy Montoya/Sandia Labs

The steady Russian buildups and the slow American responses prompted the Trump administration to propose a new missile warhead in 2018. Its destructive force was seen as roughly half that of the Hiroshima bomb, according to Mr. Kristensen. It was to be deployed on the nation’s fleet of 14 ballistic missile submarines.

While some experts warned that the bomb, known as the W76 Model 2, could make it more tempting for a president to order a nuclear strike, the Trump administration argued that the weapon would lower the risk of war by ensuring that Russia would face the threat of proportional counterstrikes. It was deployed in late 2019.

“It’s all about psychology — deadly psychology,” said Franklin C. Miller, a nuclear expert who backed the new warhead and, before leaving public office in 2005, held Pentagon and White House posts for three decades. “If your opponent thinks he has a battlefield edge, you try to convince him that he’s wrong.”

When he was a candidate for the presidency, Joseph R. Biden Jr. called the less powerful warhead a “bad idea” that would make presidents “more inclined” to use it. But Mr. Kristensen said the Biden administration seemed unlikely to remove the new warhead from the nation’s submarines.

It’s unclear how Mr. Biden would respond to the use of a nuclear weapon by Mr. Putin. Nuclear war plans are one of Washington’s most deeply held secrets. Experts say that the war-fighting plans in general go from warning shots to single strikes to multiple retaliations and that the hardest question is whether there are reliable ways to prevent a conflict from escalating.

Even Mr. Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, said he was unsure how he would advise Mr. Biden if Mr. Putin unleashed his nuclear arms.

“When do you stop?” he asked of nuclear retaliation. “You can’t just keep turning the other cheek. At some point we’d have to do something.”

A U.S. response to a small Russian blast, experts say, might be to fire one of the new submarine-launched warheads into the wilds of Siberia or at a military base inside Russia. Mr. Miller, the former government nuclear official and a former chairman of NATO’s nuclear policy committee, said such a blast would be a way of signaling to Moscow that “this is serious, that things are getting out of hand.”

Military strategists say a tit-for-tat rejoinder would throw the responsibility for further escalation back at Russia, making Moscow feel its ominous weight and ideally keeping the situation from spinning out of control despite the dangers in war of miscalculation and accident.

In a darker scenario, Mr. Putin might resort to using atomic arms if the war in Ukraine spilled into neighboring NATO states. All NATO members, including the United States, are obliged to defend one another — potentially with salvos of nuclear warheads.

Dr. Tannenwald, the political scientist at Brown University, wondered if the old protections of nuclear deterrence, now rooted in opposing lines of less destructive arms, would succeed in keeping the peace.

“It sure doesn’t feel that way in a crisis,” she said.

David E. Sanger contributed reporting from Washington.

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The Lies Putin Tells to Justify Russia’s War on Ukraine

In the tense weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, Russian officials denied that it planned anything of the sort, denouncing the United States and its NATO allies for stoking panic and anti-Russian hatred. When it did invade, the officials denied it was at war.

Since then, the Kremlin has cycled through a torrent of lies to explain why it had to wage a “special military operation” against a sovereign neighbor. Drug-addled neo-Nazis. Genocide. American biological weapons factories. Birds and reptiles trained to carry pathogens into Russia. Ukrainian forces bombing their own cities, including theaters sheltering children.

Disinformation in wartime is as old as war itself, but today war unfolds in the age of social media and digital diplomacy. That has given Russia — and its allies in China and elsewhere — powerful means to prop up the claim that the invasion is justified, exploiting disinformation to rally its citizens at home and to discredit its enemies abroad. Truth has simply become another front in Russia’s war.

Using a barrage of increasingly outlandish falsehoods, President Vladimir V. Putin has created an alternative reality, one in which Russia is at war not with Ukraine but with a larger, more pernicious enemy in the West. Even since the war began, the lies have gotten more and more bizarre, transforming from claims that “true sovereignty” for Ukraine was possible only under Russia, made before the attacks, to those about migratory birds carrying bioweapons.

reaching audiences that were once harder to reach.

“Previously, if you were sitting in Moscow and you wanted to reach audiences sitting in, say, Idaho, you would have to work really hard doing that,” said Elise Thomas, a researcher in Australia for the Institute of Strategic Dialogue, referring to disinformation campaigns dating to the Soviet Union. “It would take you time to set up the systems, whereas now you can do it with the press of a button.”

The power of Russia’s claim that the invasion is justified comes not from the veracity of any individual falsehood meant to support it but from the broader argument. Individual lies about bioweapons labs or crisis actors are advanced by Russia as swiftly as they are debunked, with little consistency or logic between them. But supporters stubbornly cling to the overarching belief that something is wrong in Ukraine and Russia will fix it. Those connections prove harder to shake, even as new evidence is introduced.

That mythology, and its resilience in the face of fact-checking and criticism, reflects “the ability of autocrats and malign actors to completely brainwash us to the point where we don’t see what’s in front of us,” said Laura Thornton, the director and senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund’s Alliance for Securing Democracy.

The Kremlin’s narratives today feed on pre-existing views of the war’s root causes, which Mr. Putin has nurtured for years — and restated in increasingly strident language last week.

President Volodymyr Zelensky himself, whose video messages to Ukrainians and the world have combined bravery with the stage presence of the television performer he once was.

Russia, though, has more tools and reach, and it has the upper hand with weaponry. The strategy has been to overwhelm the information space, especially at home, which “is really where their focus is,” said Peter Pomerantsev, a scholar at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University who has written extensively about Russian propaganda.

Russia’s propaganda machine plays into suspicion of the West and NATO, which have been vilified on state television for years, deeply embedding distrust in Russian society. State media has also more recently echoed beliefs advanced by the QAnon movement, which ascribes the world’s problems largely to global elites and sex traffickers.

Those beliefs make people feel “scared and uncertain and alienated,” said Sophia Moskalenko, a social psychologist at Georgia State University. “As a result of manipulating their emotions, they will be more likely to embrace conspiracy theories.”

Mr. Putin’s public remarks, which dominate state media, have become increasingly strident. He has warned that nationalist sentiment in Ukraine is a threat to Russia itself, as is NATO expansion.

swiftly to silence dissenting points of view that could cut through the fog of war and discourage the Russian population.

For now, the campaign appears to have rallied public opinion behind Mr. Putin, according to most surveys in Russia, though not as high as might be expected for a country at war.

“My impression is that many people in Russia are buying the government’s narrative,” said Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center. “They have doctored images on state-controlled media. Private media don’t cover the war, fearing 15 years in prison. Same goes for people on the social media. Russia has lost information warfare globally, but the regime is quite successful at home.”

appeared in the information fortress the Kremlin is building.

A week after the invasion began, when it was already clear the war was going badly for Russian troops, Mr. Putin rushed to enact a law that punishes “fake news” with up to 15 years in prison. Media regulators warned broadcasters not to refer to the war as a war. They also forced off the air two flagships of independent media — Ekho Moskvy, a liberal radio station, and Dozhd, a television station — that gave voice to the Kremlin’s opponents.

Access to Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and most recently Instagram has also been severed inside Russia — all platforms the country’s diplomats have continued to use outside to misinform. Once spread, disinformation can be tenacious, even in places with a free press and open debate, like the United States, where polls suggest that more than 40 percent of the population believes the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald J. Trump.

“Why are people so surprised that this kind of widespread disinformation can be so effective in Russia when it was so effective here?” Ms. Thornton of the German Marshall Fund said.

As the war in Ukraine drags on, however, casualties are mounting, confronting families in Russia with the loss of fathers and sons. That could test how persuasive the Kremlin’s information campaign truly is.

The Soviet Union sought to keep a similar veil of silence around its decade-long quagmire in Afghanistan in the 1980s, but the truth seeped into public consciousness anyway, eroding the foundation of the entire system. Two years after the last troops pulled out in 1989, the Soviet Union itself collapsed.

Claire Fu contributed research.

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Ukraine Live Updates: Russian Forces Push Ahead After Talks Failed to Make Progress

Russia’s international disinformation campaign seemed to flounder in the early days of the invasion, as narratives about Ukrainian bravery dominated the internet. But in Russia, the country’s propaganda machine was busy churning out a deluge of misinformation aimed at its own citizens.

The narrative disseminated online through state-run and unofficial channels has helped create an alternate reality where the invasion is justified and Ukrainians are to blame for violence. To control the narrative at home, Russia also shut down access to several websites and threatened the news media with long prison sentences for criticizing the war. There’s some evidence that the effort has mollified at least some Russians.

Here is what the war looks like to Russians, based on a review of state news articles, channels on the popular chat app Telegram, and input from several disinformation watchdogs who are monitoring Russia’s propaganda machine.

After Russian shellings killed Ukrainian civilians, Russia blamed ‘neo-Nazis.’

A headline from the Russian state news website Tass.
Translated into English. TapHover for the original.

Some of the most disturbing images from the war have come from Mariupol, a port city in the southeastern coast. Shelling battered the region, killing several civilians who were trying to flee the area, during what was supposed to be a cease-fire.

But Russians got a different explanation online: Ukrainians had fired on Russian forces during the cease-fire, and neo-Nazis were “hiding behind civilians as a human shield,” according to the Russian state news website Tass.

Neo-Nazis have been a recurring character in Russian propaganda campaigns for years, used to falsely justify military action against Ukraine in what Russian officials have called “denazification.” Those claims have only continued during the conflict. To explain away attacks on other Ukrainian apartment buildings, the same article by Tass claimed that neo-Nazis had placed “heavy weapons in apartment buildings, while some residents are forcibly kept in their homes,” providing no evidence.

Russian social media accounts have used a mix of fake and unconfirmed photos showing Ukrainian soldiers holding Nazi flags or photos of Hitler. An analysis by the Center for Information Resilience, a nonprofit focused on identifying disinformation, showed that the number of tweets connecting Ukrainians to Nazis soared after the invasion began.

“Propaganda works when it coincides with your existing assumptions,” said Pierre Vaux, a senior investigator at the Center for Information Resilience. “The stuff that chimes into the Nazi stuff is really effective.”

After a nuclear facility caught fire, Russians claimed they were protecting it.

A headline from the Russian state news website Tass.
Translated into English. TapHover for the original.

After Russia attacked an area near the nuclear complex in Zaporizhzhia, leading to a fire, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine called it “nuclear terrorism.”

But according to a Kremlin statement reported in Tass, the military seized the facility to prevent Ukrainians and neo-Nazis from “organizing provocations fraught with catastrophic consequences.” Even though Ukrainians heavily fortified the region against an attack, Russian officials claimed they already had control of the compound before Ukrainians opened fire. They added that Ukrainians set fire to an adjacent building before fleeing, providing no evidence. Western experts said controlling the Zaporizhzhia complex would allow Russia to trigger blackouts or shut down the entire power grid.

The image of Russia as a world protector surfaced again after the country’s officials claimed they discovered evidence that Ukraine was working on a nuclear bomb. According to Russian officials, plans for the bomb were uncovered at the abandoned Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

“It doesn’t even make sense, because if you’re going to develop a nuclear weapon, you don’t do your secret development in a nuclear power plant,” Mr. Vaux said. “But that kind of thing is just being beamed out on Russian state TV.”

After Russia shelled a residential neighborhood, Russians claimed Ukrainians did it.

An attack on Kharkiv, a northeast Ukraine city bordering Russia, provided additional evidence that Russia had indiscriminately bombed residential neighborhoods and killed civilians, according to the Atlantic Council, an American research group. The International Criminal Court opened an investigation into war crimes after the assault.

In one attack that included heavy shelling, 34 civilians were killed and 285 were injured, according to the Ukrainian State Emergency Service.

A post from the Telegram channel for the Russian news site Readovka.
Translated into English. TapHover for the original.

But Russians listening to state media or browsing channels on Telegram heard another story: The missiles, those sources claimed, came from Ukrainian territory.

On a Telegram channel for the Russian news site Readovka, one post described how “Ukrainian missiles” had “arrived from the northwest” — an area controlled by the Ukrainian military.

Russia’s defense department said that it never attacked cities, instead targeting “military infrastructure” with “high-precision weapons,” according to an article in the state-owned news agency RIA Novosti.

After attacks bloodied civilians, Russians called injured Ukrainians crisis actors.

A woman who survived a blast at her apartment building became the focus of disinformation efforts after her bloodied and bandaged photograph spread widely through newspapers and Western media.

The woman was a resident of an apartment complex in Chuhuiv, near Kharkiv. The photojournalist Alex Lourie captured her portrait after the attack, and the image was soon featured on the front pages of newspapers around the world.

A post from the Telegram channel War on Fakes.
Translated into English. TapHover for the original.

But Russian social media channels falsely described her as a member of Ukraine’s psychological operations unit, according to an analysis by the Ukrainian fact-checking website StopFake.

A post by “War on Fakes,” a pro-Russian website and Telegram channel that appeared at the start of the invasion, suggested that the blood could be grape juice and that the woman could be “part of the territorial defense.” As evidence, the post included a shot of another woman bearing some resemblance. That image came from a New York Times photograph, which was taken in Kyiv — a seven-hour drive west of Chuhuiv.

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Live Updates: ‘No Water, No Heating, No Gas’ in Besieged Ukraine City as Maternity Hospital Is Hit.

Ukrainian government officials said Wednesday that damage by Russian forces had left the former Chernobyl nuclear power plant “disconnected” from outside electricity, leaving the site of the worst nuclear accident in history dependent on power from diesel generators.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations agency on nuclear power, said Wednesday that it saw “no critical impact on safety” at the complex.

The American Nuclear Society, a professional group, agreed. “The loss of power is a serious matter but it does not pose a threat to the public,” it said in a statement.

But officials warned that the situation around the plant, where there was an explosion and fire at one of the reactors in 1986, was still of grave concern.

The plant has not produced electricity since the last of its four reactors was shut down in 2000, but if its generators stopped working, that could affect the operations to store the large quantities of radioactive nuclear waste there.

Since the plant was captured by Russian forces not long after the invasion began last month, the I.A.E.A. has said that there have been interruptions in the feed of data it receives automatically from radiation monitors and other sensors at the plant.

A full loss of power would cut that feed completely, leaving the agency’s experts with little knowledge of what is going on there, except what could be gathered using portable devices. On Tuesday, the I.A.E.A. said it had lost communications with its sensors at the plant.

The most hazardous waste at Chernobyl is found in two locations.

As is common practice in the nuclear power industry, used fuel from all four reactors is stored in pools of water that dissipate the heat produced as the fuel decays radioactively. When fuel is newly removed from a reactor, there is a lot of decay and thus a lot of heat, so plants need power to run pumps that circulate the storage water to remove excess heat.

The I.A.E.A. has said that the used fuel assemblies at Chernobyl — there are more than 20,000 of them — are old enough and decayed enough that circulating pumps are not needed to keep them safe.

“The heat load of the spent fuel storage pool and the volume of cooling water contained in the pool is sufficient to maintain effective heat removal without the need for electrical supply,” the agency said.

The other main source of nuclear waste are the ruins of the destroyed reactor itself. An estimated 200 tons of fuel remain there, in a lava-like mix with molten concrete, sand and chemicals that were dumped on the reactor during the disaster. This mixture is found throughout the remains of the reactor. Some parts of it are completely inaccessible and have only been studied by boring into them.

A functioning reactor requires pumps that circulate water around the core, keeping it cool and moderating the nuclear reaction to avoid a meltdown. There is no cooling water in the chaotic, jumbled remains of the reactor, so the loss of power would not affect them.

But in recent years there have been incidents in which nuclear reactions have started spontaneously in pockets of these fuel-containing materials, leading to spikes in radiation levels. Without monitoring — of humidity in addition to radiation levels — workers would not know if any new incident was occurring.

Since 2017, the destroyed reactor has been covered by a large arched structure, intended to confine the waste and safeguard against any release of radiation. The structure is also meant to allow the work of removing waste to long-term storage.

The facility was only granted an operating license by Ukraine’s authorities last year, so that work had only just begun, and will take decades to complete. There are several large cranes and other specialized equipment to allow crews to work safely. Without power, most if not all of that work could not proceed.

On Wednesday, Russia’s Energy Ministry said that Belarus, whose border is not far from the Chernobyl zone, was working on restoring the power supply of the complex from its own grid.

William J. Broad and Ivan Nechepurenko contributed reporting.

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China tightens scrutiny of offshore listings in certain sectors

A China yuan note is seen in this illustration photo May 31, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas White/Illustration

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SHANGHAI, Dec 27 (Reuters) – The Chinese government will require that domestic firms in sectors off-limits to foreign direct investment, such as Internet news and publishing, receive clearances from regulators before they can list their shares outside the mainland.

The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) announced the new rules on the clearances on Monday in a statement that also included an updated annual “Foreign Investment Negative List” that outlines business sectors where foreign direct investment is banned or restricted.

The new rules now apply that list to companies issuing shares overseas for the first time, and come as China is tightening scrutiny over offshore share sales.

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Chinese companies in sectors prohibited for foreign investment “should get clearance from relevant Chinese regulatory bodies, if they seek share sales and list in overseas markets,” the NDRC said, plugging a regulatory loophole.

In addition, “foreign investors must not participate in the operation and management of the companies” and their holdings are to be capped at 30%, in line with the rules regulating locally-listed companies.

The latest Negative List includes prohibited sectors such as compulsory education institutions, news organizations and rare earth minerals.

Additionally, overseas investment in industries ranging from publishing, nuclear power stations and telecom is restricted.

Many Chinese companies use a so-called variable interest entity (VIE) structure to float overseas, skirting the foreign investment restrictions in areas such as media and education. read more

The NDRC statement comes just days after China’s securities regulator published draft rules requiring filings by companies seeking offshore listings to ensure they comply with Chinese laws and regulations. read more

Under the new filing system, VIE-structured companies will still be allowed to list as long as they are compliant.

“The NDRC statement goes hand in hand with the filing system,” and will likely restrict the use of VIEs, said Zhan Kai, a lawyer at East & Concord Partners.

However, China’s Ministry of Commerce framed the new rules as a gesture of policy relaxation.

“China is exploring ways to allow companies in sectors off-limits to foreign investment to list overseas under certain conditions, expanding investment channels for foreign investors,” the ministry said in a separate statement.

China’s new rules to manage offshore listings will likely ease the regulatory uncertainty that roiled financial markets this year and stalled offshore listings. read more

Investors had previously feared that Beijing could ban all overseas listings using the VIE structure, after Didi Global Inc’s (DIDI.N) U.S. floatation in July sparked a major regulatory backlash from Chinese officials that were concerned over national security.

The NDRC statement also formally scrapped foreign ownership restrictions in carmakers and removed a previous cap limiting the number of vehicle joint ventures a foreign investor can set up in China.

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Reporting by Beijing and Shanghai newsroom; Editing by Shri Navaratnam, Edwina Gibbs and Christian Schmollinger

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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