Ukraine Live Updates: Russia Hustles to Recruit Soldiers and Halts Gas Supplies to Finland

The Samara Metallurgical Plant, a sprawling complex in southwestern Russia that spans an area the size of a dozen city blocks, is a cornerstone of Russian industry. It is the country’s largest supplier of aluminum commercial and industrial products.

It is also a source of critical parts for the Russian warplanes and missiles that are now tearing through Ukraine. And atop its edifice, spelled out in giant blue letters, is the name of its American owner: Arconic, a Pittsburgh-based, Fortune 500 company that is one of America’s largest metalworking firms even after splitting out from the industrial giant Alcoa in 2016.

Arconic does not make weapons. But its sophisticated forges are among a handful of machines in Russia that can form lightweight metals into large aerospace parts like bulkheads and wing mounts.

Under an agreement with the Russian government, the company has from the start of its operations at Samara, in 2004, been legally required to supply the country’s defense industry as a condition of operating a plant whose mostly nonmilitary output has proved tremendously lucrative.

Even as Russia turned its military toward ever more aggressive ends around the world and the relationship between the United States and the Kremlin soured, Arconic maintained the Samara operation, despite the growing legal and political complications of operating there.

Now, however, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine polarizing the world, Arconic’s leadership has found that its business at Samara is, finally, unsustainable.

Though there is no indication that Arconic is in breach of American or other Western sanctions, those penalties have made it difficult to keep the plant supplied and operating. But shutting down production could expose its employees there to jail time under Russian laws on maintaining strategic production. And Russia has already cut off Arconic’s access to profits from the Samara plant.

“The conflict in Ukraine has made our continued presence in Russia untenable, which led to our decision to pursue a sale,” Timothy Myers, Arconic’s chief executive, said in a written statement on Friday.

Company documents acquired by The New York Times, along with financial filings and other public materials, reveal Arconic’s struggles to keep the plant running. The documents were provided by a whistleblower employee who objected to Arconic’s continued involvement in Russia even after the invasion of Ukraine.

On Wednesday, the day after The Times approached Arconic with details of its work in Russia, its board approved a plan that, according to internal documents, had been under internal consideration for weeks: to sell the plant outright. The company announced this decision on Thursday.

But any sale remains hypothetical, as the company does not yet have a buyer. And finding one would require regulatory approval at the highest levels from both the United States and Russia.

That is perhaps fitting, as those governments had cooperated to pave the way for Arconic’s ownership of Samara in the first place.

Now, the long-coming divorce, accelerated by the war in Ukraine, is proving costly, with European energy consumers and companies like Arconic caught between now-hostile powers.

Credit…Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

The Arrangement

“The era in which the United States and Russia saw each other as an enemy or strategic threat has ended,” Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir V. Putin announced at a 2002 summit meeting in Moscow. Now, they said, “We are partners,” praising each other as like-minded allies in the war on terrorism.

Mr. Bush encouraged American companies to buy up Russian industries that had fallen into disrepair. Economic integration, it was widely thought, would bind Russia and the West for good.

Credit… Konstantin Zavrazhin/Getty Images

American corporations snapped up whole factory compounds, once the engines of Soviet power. Moscow welcomed this, believing American financing and know-how might reconstitute Russian industrial might.

The American industrial giant Alcoa joined the gold rush in 2004, buying two complexes in Russia, including the one at Samara. It purchased both factories for $257 million but spent twice that rebuilding Samara, which it found running at one-third capacity.

Within the facility was a nine-story metal behemoth: a huge forge press that had been built right into the foundation, able to form the parts that make up the largest airplanes and missiles. It is one of only a handful like it in the world, including just two in Russia.

“These machines are essential to the defense industry,” Martino Barbon, a representative of the manufacturing firm Gasparini Industries, said, calling them “the backbone” of production.

In an interview, Mr. Myers said that Samara’s giant press had seen little use in recent years. Still, its presence, along with a number of smaller forges, underscores that Samara, like many Soviet-era facilities, had been designed to combine commercial and military work.

When it bought the Samara plant, Alcoa — which split part of its operations, including those in Russia, into the name Arconic in 2016 — did not explicitly seek to become a Russian military supplier. Rather, this was Moscow’s condition for the sale.

That condition remains in force, according to company documents that describe a legal obligation to “manufacture aerospace and defense products” for sale to Russia’s weapons industry.

Mr. Myers — who is now the chief executive and had been among the first employees to visit Samara in the early 2000s — said that the U.S. government knew about Moscow’s terms when it approved Alcoa’s purchase. The company’s Russian subsidiary sells most products through other distributors and therefore Arconic cannot control how those products are used, he said.

But company documents show that Arconic has known throughout that the Samara operation was supplying Russia’s military, even if it was only a small part of the company’s overall business.

Moscow required the company to sign an agreement, as a condition of purchase, that it would pledge to indefinitely supply programs that it deemed essential. Mr. Myers acknowledged these terms in an interview with a Russian news outlet just last year.

“The main condition of the deal,” Mr. Myers said, “was the obligation to ensure uninterrupted supplies” for “state defense and aerospace programs.”

The agreement included a supplemental document, a copy of which The Times acquired, detailing mandatory production contracts.

The file lists more than a half-dozen of Russia’s largest weapons-makers, such as N.P.O. Novator and Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aviation Plant. Altogether, the companies provide the bulk of Russia’s cruise missiles, ICBMs, attack helicopters, strategic bombers and other hardware.

Credit…Dmitry Astakhov/Sputnik/Via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The file applied to both plants, the second of which Alcoa later sold. But it underscores Russia’s insistence on steady military supplies — and the American company’s willingness to comply.

For Moscow, the greatest benefit may have been modernization: Western financing and know-how brought the plant from derelict to state-of-the-art.

For Alcoa/Arconic, this was the cost of admission to Russia. In financial terms, it paid off handsomely.

Last year alone, Samara brought in nearly $1 billion, accounting for 16 percent of Arconic’s third-party sales worldwide, according to financial filings.

The Breakdown

Before long, a string of Russian military interventions, chiefly its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its entry to the Syrian war the next year, transformed Western views of Russia.

Arconic found itself supplying, however indirectly, a Russian military that was now seen as a global threat.

Still, the company remained in Russia.

Moscow was no longer so welcoming. It codified sweeping “antimonopoly” laws allowing it to restrict or expel foreign companies involved in sensitive industries.

American companies became especially likely to face official investigation. This often came with supposedly temporary injunctions that make doing business difficult.

Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace industry consultant, said that Russia has since effectively seized control of many foreign-owned plants through what he termed “oligarchization.”

Rather than outright nationalize those businesses, Moscow coerces them into selling themselves off to Kremlin-linked firms, sometimes for pennies on the dollar. Just this week, the French automaker Renault sold a factory in the country to a Russian government-linked firm for one ruble.

Credit…Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

In 2020, Arconic was hit with one such investigation. Russian officials barred Arconic from disbursing its profits from Samara or even restaffing leadership at the Russian subsidiary that runs the plant.

Richard Connolly, a University of Birmingham economist who advises companies on doing business in Russia, called it “very surprising” that Arconic, unlike many other American companies, had not yet been forced out of Russia.

From the Kremlin’s point of view, coercing Samara’s owners to sell the plant, as it has with several other American-owned business over the years, does carry some risk. It could disrupt production at a time when Russia already faces battlefield setbacks. But tolerating Arconic would mean leaving critical infrastructure in the hands of an American corporation.

Dr. Connolly suggested that Russian leaders may still see American knowledge and technology as too critical to lose at Samara, especially as battlefield losses wipe out advanced weapons that, because of sanctions, Russia may struggle to replace.

“They realize they might not be able to produce everything themselves,” he said.

The Unwinding

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in February, forced difficult conversations within Arconic, according to internal documents and the account of a whistleblower employee who asked not to be named because the employee did not have the company’s permission to speak.

At the end of 2021, amid Mr. Putin’s buildup to war with Ukraine, Samara’s forging division had its best quarter on record, reporting an 82 percent increase in production from the prior year. An internal presentation touting the rise listed it under the heading “Aerospace.”

That constituted roughly one percent of the plant’s overall output, making it something of a financial afterthought compared with the rest of the company’s business.

Still, with Russian warplanes and missiles employed in shocking attacks in Ukraine considered to constitute possible war crimes, ethical considerations weighed heavily, according to the employee.

By March, even as sales poured in, Arconic’s leadership was exploring ways to leave Russia entirely, according to internal memos.

But any purchase would require the approval of the Russian government, as well as VSMPO-Avisma, the Kremlin-linked firm with which Arconic had formed a joint partnership.

Selling would also require a license from the Treasury Department to avoid violating sanctions.

Even as Arconic sought an exit, internal documents show that the company went to some lengths to keep Samara running.

Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

As early as March, with shipping companies ceasing operations in Russia, the company began seeking new ways to supply the plant with production materials.

A few weeks later, the company concluded that, because of new sanctions, U.S.- and Europe-based employees could no longer work on efforts to supply the plant with materials, even from abroad.

The company shifted this work to its division in China, where employees were thought to be unconstrained by Western sanctions.

By early May, an internal presentation reported, Samara was hitting “numerous production volume records.” And sales were up: $233 million in the first quarter of 2022, from $195 million the year before. This likely reflected the commercial work that makes up most of Samara’s output, rather than military projects, but it underscored Arconic’s success in keeping the plant spinning at full speed.

Still, the company concluded around the same time, according to Mr. Myers, its chief executive, that the war would continue for a long stretch, and with it both the sanctions and Russian government restrictions constraining Arconic’s ability to operate. Mr. Myers said that moral considerations also factored into Arconic’s decision to seek to leave Russia.

That the partnership between Arconic and Russia ever seemed workable underscores how far the world has moved on from the notion that first brought them together: that economic integration would end a century of Russian-Western enmity and finally secure lasting peace.

Mr. Connolly, the economist, compared Arconic’s stake in Russia to Europe’s decision to build its energy grids atop Russian gas pipelines and oil shipments, which was thought to make conflict unthinkable.

Instead, European energy consumers are effectively funding Russia’s government even as they punish it with sanctions, much as Arconic appears caught up in Russian militarism that Washington had once hoped American investment might temper.

“It’s a really graphic illustration,” Dr. Connolly said, “of the dashed hopes of that era.”

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Ukraine Live Updates: War’s Economic Toll Tests Western Unity

LONDON — The West united against Russia’s war on Ukraine more swiftly and solidly than almost anyone had expected. But as the war settles into a prolonged conflict, one that could rumble on for months or even years, it is testing the resolve of Western countries, with European and American officials questioning whether the rising economic toll will erode their solidarity over time.

So far, the fissures are mostly superficial: Hungary’s refusal to sign on to an embargo of Russian oil, thwarting the European Union’s effort to impose a continentwide ban; restiveness in Paris with the Biden administration’s aggressive goal of militarily weakening the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin; a beleaguered President Biden blaming sky-high food and gas prices on a Putin price hike.

Alongside those tensions, there are further signs of solidarity: Finland and Sweden on Wednesday edged closer to joining NATO, with Britain offering both countries security assurances to gird against the Russian threat. In Washington, the House voted 368 to 57 on Tuesday in favor of a nearly $40 billion aid package for Ukraine.

Yet Russia’s tanks rolled across the Ukrainian frontier just 76 days ago, the blink of an eye in the scheme of history’s forever wars. As the fighting grinds on, the cascading effect on supply chains, energy pipelines and agricultural harvests will be felt more acutely at gas pumps and on supermarket shelves.

Mr. Putin, some experts say, is calculating that the West will tire before Russia does of a long twilight struggle for Ukraine’s contested Donbas region, especially if the price for the West’s continued support is turbocharged inflation rates, energy disruptions, depleted public finances and fatigued populations.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

The Biden administration’s director of national intelligence, Avril D. Haines, crystallized those doubts on Tuesday, warning senators that Mr. Putin was digging in for a long siege and “probably counting on U.S. and E.U. resolve to weaken as food shortages, inflation and energy shortages get worse.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Biden traveled to a farm in Kankakee, Ill., to make the case that Mr. Putin’s war was to blame for food shortages and the cost-of-living squeeze on American families, a tacit sign that his steadfast support for Ukraine — a policy that has won bipartisan support in Washington — could carry a political cost.

Mr. Putin faces his own domestic pressures, which were evident in the calibrated tone he struck during a speech in Moscow’s Red Square on Monday, neither calling for a mass mobilization nor threatening to escalate the conflict. But he also made clear that there was no end in sight for what he falsely called Russia’s campaign to rid its neighbor of “torturers, death squads and Nazis.”

On the ground in Ukraine, the fighting shows signs of becoming a protracted battle. A day after Ukraine’s counteroffensive unseated Russian forces from a cluster of towns northeast of the city of Kharkiv, the region’s governor said on Wednesday that the Ukrainian efforts had driven Moscow’s forces “even further” from the city, giving them “even less opportunity to fire on the regional center.”

Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Ukraine’s apparent success at pushing back Russian troops outside Kharkiv — its second largest city, about 20 miles from the Russian border — appears to have contributed to reduced shelling there in recent days, even as Russia makes advances along parts of the front line in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine.

That Ukraine would even find itself in an ongoing pitched battle, nearly three months after Russia launched a full-scale invasion, is remarkable. Analysts pointed out that a prolonged war would stretch the resources of a Russian military that has already suffered heavy losses of men and machinery. Given that, some argue that the West should press its advantage by tightening the economic chokehold on Moscow.

“I worry about Western fatigue,” said Michael A. McFaul, a former American ambassador to Russia, “which is why the leaders of the free world should do more now to hasten the end of the war.”

The United States and the European Union, he said, should impose a full range of crippling sanctions immediately, rather than rolling them out in escalating waves, as they have so far. Western countries had come close to such an all-in strategy with military aid, he said, which had helped the Ukrainians hold off the Russians.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

But the halting negotiations on a European oil embargo show the limits of that approach when it comes to Russian energy supplies. European Union ambassadors held another fruitless meeting in Brussels on Wednesday, failing to break the fierce resistance of a single member of the bloc, Hungary.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary, who has a warm relationship with Mr. Putin and has been at odds with Brussels, threw hopes for a show of unity into disarray when he blocked the latest measure, arguing that a ban on Russian oil would be the equivalent of an “atomic bomb” for the Hungarian economy.

Mr. Orban has continued to resist, even after concessions that would give Hungary more time to wean itself off Russian oil and intense lobbying by other leaders. Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, flew to Budapest to try to sway him while President Emmanuel Macron telephoned him.

“We will only support this proposal if Brussels proposes a solution for the problem that Brussels created,” Hungary’s foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto, said, adding that modernizing Hungary’s energy sector would cost “many, many billions of euros.”

In Washington, Mr. Biden has encountered less trouble rounding up support for military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. The House vote in favor of a massive aid package showed how the war’s brutality had overcome resistance from both the right and left to American involvement in military conflicts overseas.

And yet rising food and fuel prices, which are aggravated by the war, pose a genuine threat to Mr. Biden. The price of food rose 0.9 percent in April from the previous month, according to data released on Wednesday. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said the administration was “terribly concerned about global food supplies,” adding that 275 million people around the world face starvation.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

“Putin’s war has cut off critical sources of food,” Mr. Biden said to farmers in Illinois. “Our farmers are helping on both fronts, reducing the price of food at home and expanding production and feeding the world in need.”

It remains to be seen whether the United States can increase agricultural production enough to ease the shortages. But the visit to a farm came as Mr. Biden, under pressure over the fastest pace of inflation in 40 years, tried to reassure Americans that the White House is taking price increases seriously.

While Mr. Putin faces arguably much greater pressures — from swelling combat casualties to the economic pain caused by sanctions — he is exploiting nationalist feelings, which some analysts note will give him staying power.

The Kremlin signaled on Wednesday that it could annex the strategically important southern Ukrainian region of Kherson, as the occupying authorities said they would prepare a formal request to Mr. Putin to absorb their region into Russia.

“They are motived by powerful nationalism,” said Francis Fukuyama, a political scientist at Stanford University, “for which they are willing to undergo extraordinary economic damage.” Still, he added, the West’s muscular response could be “a moment of turnaround in the self-confidence of democracies.”

Credit…David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

For some Europeans, the United States might be going too far. French diplomats with ties to Mr. Macron described the evolving American policy as essentially arming Ukraine to the hilt and maintaining sanctions on Russia indefinitely. France, they said, wants to push hard for negotiations with Mr. Putin because there was no other path to lasting European security.

Other analysts argue that the threats to Western unity are overdone. The moves by Finland and Sweden to join NATO suggest not only that the alliance is pulling together but also that its center of gravity is shifting eastward.

Even before he invaded Ukraine, Mr. Putin warned those countries that they would face “retaliation” if they joined NATO. On a visit to Stockholm, Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested that the mutual security declaration Britain signed with Sweden — under which both countries pledged come to each other’s aid if they face a military threat or natural disaster — would counter that threat.

“Sovereign nations must be free to make those decisions without fear or influence or threat of retaliation,” Mr. Johnson said, alongside Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of Sweden. The declaration “will allow us to share more intelligence, bolster our military exercises and further our joint development of technology,” he said.

Credit…Pool photo by Frank Augstein

Despite Germany’s ambivalence about cutting off Russian gas, it seems highly unlikely to reverse course from its landmark commitment to increase military spending. On Wednesday, Germany started training the first class of Ukrainian gun crews on the use of self-propelled howitzers in western Germany. The German military plans to donate seven of the heavy weapons to Ukraine.

“The Russians, because of their barbarity, keep on generating images and news that will help the cause of Western unity,” said Eliot A. Cohen, a political scientist who served in the State Department during the George W. Bush administration. “If the Ukrainians continue to succeed, I think people will cheer them on.”

Reporting was contributed by Matina Stevis-Gridneff from Brussels, Roger Cohen from Paris, Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Cora Engelbrecht from London, Ana Swanson and Alan Rappeport from Washington, Ivan Nechepurenko from Tbilisi, Georgia, and Christopher F. Schuetze from Berlin.

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Southwest Gas settles boardroom battle with Icahn, replaces CEO

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NEW YORK, May 6 (Reuters) – Southwest Gas Holdings (SWX.N) reached a settlement on Friday with Carl Icahn that will replace the company’s chief executive and hand as many as four board seats to the billionaire investor.

The settlement ends a months-long battle Icahn launched with the Las Vegas, Nevada-based company in October as it pushed ahead with plans to buy Questar Pipelines for roughly $2 billion.

Southwest Gas said it promoted Karen Haller to CEO and president, replacing John Hester immediately. Icahn said in a statement that no settlement would have been reached without Hester leaving the company.

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“We are confident that she is the right leader for Southwest Gas moving forward,” board chairman Michael Melarkey said in a statement about Haller.

Icahn will be allowed to appoint at least three directors after next week’s annual meeting. The company said a fourth director will join the board if the board decides not to spin off infrastructure services company Centuri, a decision the company announced in March.

Southwest Gas said it will make a decision about whether to spin off Centuri within 90 days of the agreement.

Icahn, saying the Questar purchase would hurt shareholders, had sought to take control of the board by trying to replace 10 directors and pushing for the ouster of the CEO. He called Hester and his management team “a great liability” to the company.

The board will have 11 directors, including 10 independent directors after the company’s annual meeting on Thursday.

Icahn, 86, has spent a career tangling with companies and traditionally asks for a few board seats when he thinks businesses should be run better. He often settles with the company and then steps aside as his selected directors become involved in operations.

On Friday Icahn said in a statement that he has rarely felt the need to oust a CEO but that when such a move was necessary, it “almost always greatly enhanced value for ALL shareholders.” Icahn even offered to buy the company for $82.50 a share.

Last month Southwest said it would consider selling itself, among other alternatives, after an unnamed potential buyer showed interest in buying the company at a price “well in excess” of Icahn’s offer.

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Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss; Editing by William Mallard

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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How the Ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder Became Putin’s Man in Germany

But it was more than that, Mr. Schröder said. “I had been chancellor. I couldn’t go back to being a lawyer dealing with rental contracts. I needed a project,” he said. “Something I knew how to do and where I could serve German interests.”

When Mr. Putin called Mr. Schröder on his cellphone the night of Dec. 9, 2005, he accepted the offer.

Many in Germany were appalled. No chancellor before him had taken a job in a company controlled by a foreign country, let alone one that had benefited from their support in office.

But the pipeline project itself remained uncontroversial.

“The next government continued with it seamlessly,” Mr. Schröder recalled. “Nobody in the first Merkel government said a word against it. No one!”

Mr. Ischinger, who was Mr. Schröder’s ambassador to the United States and later ran the Munich Security Conference, concurred.

“You can’t blame Schröder for Nord Stream 1,” Mr. Ischinger said. “Most German politicians, whether in government or in opposition, did not critically question this. No one asked whether we were laying the foundation for getting ourselves into an unhealthy dependence.”

Ms. Merkel, through a spokesperson, declined to comment for this article.

Nord Stream 1 took six years to plan and build. In 2011, Mr. Schröder attended both opening ceremonies — one on the Russian end, in Vyborg, along with Mr. Putin, Russia’s prime minister at the time, and the other on the German end, in Lubmin, on the Baltic Sea, along with Ms. Merkel and Mr. Putin’s trusted ally, Dmitri A. Medvedev, Russia’s president at the time.

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Ukraine Live Updates: Biden Taps U.S. Oil Reserves as War Disrupts Supply

Under growing pressure to bring down high energy prices, President Biden announced on Thursday that the United States would release up to 180 million barrels of oil from a strategic reserve to counteract the economic impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

With midterm elections just months away, gasoline prices have risen nearly $1.50 a gallon over the last year, undercutting consumer confidence. And the cost of diesel, the fuel used by most farmers and shippers, has climbed even faster, threatening to push up already high inflation on all manner of goods and services.

“I know how much it hurts,” Mr. Biden said Thursday as he announced the plan. “As you’ve heard me say before, I grew up in a family like many of you where the price of a gallon gasoline went up, it was a discussion at the kitchen table.”

Mr. Biden has few tools to control commodity prices that are set on global markets, so he is turning to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, ordering the largest release since that emergency stockpile was established in the early 1970s. But the move will most likely have a modest impact because it cannot make up for all the oil, diesel and other fuels that Russia used to sell to the world but is no longer able to.

“Our prices are rising because of Putin’s action,” Mr. Biden added, referring to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. “There isn’t enough supply. And the bottom line is if we want lower gas prices, we need to have more oil supply right now.”

Mr. Biden’s plan, to release one million barrels of oil a day for 180 days, would represent roughly 5 percent of American demand and 1 percent of global demand. To put that in context, Russian oil exports are down about three million barrels a day. The U.S. benchmark oil price fell about 6 percent on Thursday.

The administration’s announcement came as Russia conveyed mixed signals about its aims for the war in Ukraine, now in its sixth week. Despite Kremlin claims that it was withdrawing from the outskirts of Kyiv, the capital, fighting continued in that area on Thursday, and Western officials said they saw little evidence of a Russian pullback.

“Russia maintains pressure on Kyiv and other cities, so we can expect additional offensive actions, bringing even more suffering,” the NATO secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said at a news conference.

Russian officials also said they would allow a respite for greater humanitarian access to the devastated southeast port of Mariupol, once home to 400,000 people, which has come to symbolize Russia’s battlefield tactic of indiscriminate destruction. Previous agreements for pauses in fighting around Mariupol have repeatedly broken down.

Largely as a result of the ceaseless war, energy experts expect oil prices to stay high for a while without big interventions like the U.S. reserve release.

Reaction from the oil industry to Mr. Biden’s announcement was muted. The reserve has mostly been used to increase the supply of oil during wars, foreign threats to energy supplies or natural disasters. Smaller reserve releases by the Biden administration starting late last year have had little impact on the prices that drivers and businesses pay for fuel.

“It will lower the oil price a little and encourage more demand,” said Scott Sheffield, chief executive of Pioneer Natural Resources, a major Texas oil company. “But it is still a Band-Aid on a significant shortfall of supply.”

The American Petroleum Institute, which represents oil and gas companies, said Mr. Biden ought to encourage domestic oil production by reducing regulations. The reserve “was put in place to reduce the impact of significant supply chain disruptions,” said Mike Sommers, the group’s president, “and while today’s release may provide some short-term relief, it is far from a long-term solution to the economic pain Americans are feeling at the pump.”

After sinking to historically low levels during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, oil prices have been climbing for the last year, reaching their highest levels in nearly a decade.

Oil exploration and production in the United States and elsewhere slid during the pandemic, and still has not quite recovered. American companies, under pressure from investors, have been cautious about spending too much money to drill new wells, lest prices fall again. Instead, many have been paying out larger dividends and buying back their stock.

While that calculation might make sense for individual businesses, it has caused political problems for Democrats who had hoped to reduce the use of fossil fuels to address climate change. Now, under attack from Republicans for high prices, Mr. Biden and Democrats are trying to get the oil industry to drill more.

Credit…Tannen Maury/EPA, via Shutterstock

Both sides of the political divide are eyeing the November congressional election, when inflation is expected to be a major issue.

Reacting to news of the release from the reserve, a spokesman for Representative Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader in the House, accused the president of “attacks on American energy production in order to fulfill his campaign promise to ‘get rid of fossil fuels.’”

Mark Bednar, the spokesman, added: “As a result, the American people are paying the price, as gas is more than $4 per gallon, and we are more reliant on other countries for energy.”

But Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, welcomed the Biden announcement, saying it would “provide much-needed relief while also allowing for the simultaneous ramping up of domestic oil and gas production to backfill Russian energy resources.”

Aides to Mr. Biden are hoping to blunt Republican criticisms by taking actions to try to lower prices. In a statement about the oil release Thursday morning, the White House said that Mr. Biden was “committed to doing everything in his power to help American families who are paying more out of pocket as a result.”

They are also trying to pin some of the blame for high prices on oil companies, which the administration argues are not producing more energy to increase their profits. The administration plans to call on Congress to require companies to produce oil on more than 12 million acres of federal lands that are already permitted for extraction or pay fines, a proposal that will probably face an uphill climb.

Energy experts said the reserve release would pack more punch if other countries, like China, also sold oil from their stockpiles. The International Energy Agency, an organization of more than 30 countries, will meet Friday and may recommend further releases from national reserves.

Russian oil exports normally represent more than one of every 10 barrels the world consumes. The United States, Britain and Canada have stopped importing Russian oil, and many oil companies and shippers in Europe have voluntarily stopped buying Russia’s energy products. That has produced a deficit so far of about three million barrels a day.

The average price of regular gasoline in the United States is $4.23 a gallon, according to AAA, the motor club. That’s about the same as it was a week ago but up 62 cents a gallon in the last month.

Oil prices had dropped this week after peace talks between Russia and Ukraine showed the first signs of progress. Energy traders are also concerned that demand could fall as China, the world’s largest oil importer, imposes lockdowns in Shanghai and other places to deal with coronavirus outbreaks.

“The price effect is likely to be short term,” David Goldwyn, who was a senior State Department official in the Obama administration, said about Mr. Biden’s announcement. “But part of the benefit of this release is that it will provide a bridge to when new physical supply comes online in the second half of this year from the U.S., Canada, Brazil and other countries.”

Some environmentalists criticized the reserve release. “Putting more oil on the market is not the solution to our problem but the perpetuation of our problem,” said Mark Brownstein, a senior vice president at the Environmental Defense Fund.

But Meghan L. O’Sullivan, director of the Geopolitics of Energy Project at Harvard’s Kennedy School, said releasing reserves to ease shortages would not imperil the transition to clean energy. “What the last month has told us is that if there is no energy security today, the appetite for taking hard steps on the path of transition will evaporate,” she said.

The release is not without risk. Goldman Sachs analysts wrote in a research note that a large discharge could cause “congestion” on the Gulf Coast, keeping new oil production from fields in West Texas out of pipelines and storage tanks.

Mr. Biden’s move could also discourage Saudi Arabia and other producers from increasing supply to reduce prices. OPEC Plus, a group led by Saudi Arabia that includes Russia, on Thursday decided to maintain a policy of only modestly increasing supply.

Bob McNally, who was an energy adviser to President George W. Bush, said the release was “not big enough to offset the potential loss of Russian oil exports should the conflict and sanctions pressure continue to extend.”

The oil market tends to go in cycles, so the release may allow the government to sell high and, later, buy low, potentially earning billions of dollars for the Treasury. The government will use the money it makes from oil sales to refill the reserve, which in turn could help raise prices again.

While pushing up those prices, Jason Bordoff, founding director of Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy and a former aide to President Barack Obama, said an eventual refill could also “send a signal to shale producers that may help encourage them to invest in more production, which may help with today’s potential shortages.”

The U.S. reserve contains nearly 600 million barrels, approximately a month of total American consumption, and it can release up to 4.4 million barrels a day. The stockpile was established after the 1973 energy crisis, when Saudi Arabia and other Arab producers proclaimed an oil embargo.

Megan Specia contributed reporting from Krakow, Poland, and Steven Erlanger from Brussels.

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Why the Toughest Sanctions on Russia Are the Hardest for Europe to Wield

The punishing sanctions that the United States and European Union have so far announced against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine include shutting the government and banks out of global financial markets, restricting technology exports and freezing assets of influential Russians. Noticeably missing from that list is the one reprisal that would cause Russia the most pain: choking off the export of Russian fuel.

The omission is not surprising. In recent years, the European Union has received nearly 40 percent of its gas and more than a quarter of its oil from Russia. That energy heats Europe’s homes, powers its factories and fuels its vehicles, while pumping enormous sums of money into the Russian economy.

a third of the national budget. But a cutoff would hurt Europe as well.

37 percent of its global trade in 2020. About 70 percent of Russian gas exports and half of its oil exports go to Europe.

The flip side of mutual interest is mutual pain.

European leaders are caught between wanting to punish Russia for its aggression and to protect their own economies.

halt Nord Stream 2 — the completed gas pipeline that directly links Russia and northeastern Germany — is among the most consequential that Europe has taken, said Mathieu Savary, chief European investment strategist at BCA Research.

Russia shrank its pipeline exports by close to 25 percent compared with a year earlier, according to the International Energy Agency. Europe’s reserves stand at just 30 percent, and Europeans are already paying exorbitant prices for energy.

The conflict is occurring when supplies of both oil and natural gas have been tight for months, driving up prices.

“There are serious concerns” that Moscow will tighten exports further and send prices higher, said Helima Croft, head of commodities at RBC Capital Markets, an investment bank.

Germany, Russia’s largest trading partner in Europe, gets 55 percent of its supply from Russia. Italy, the second-biggest trading partner, gets 41 percent. At a forum in Milan last week, the Russian ambassador Sergey Razov said President Vladimir V. Putin had told the Italian prime minister, Mario Draghi, that “if Italy needs more gas we are ready to supply it.”

Mr. Putin also made a point of saying that roughly 500 Italian businesses have operations in Russia and that bilateral investments are worth $8 billion.

Austria, Turkey and France are large consumers of Russian natural gas. In central and Eastern Europe, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia are the biggest customers, the Russian energy giant Gazprom said.

250,000 barrels a day from Russia that move through Ukraine to Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. That amount is relatively small in a global market that consumes 100 million barrels a day, but its loss could create severe shortages in those countries.

dizzying spikes in prices for energy and food and could spook investors. The economic damage from supply disruptions and economic sanctions would be severe in some countries and industries and unnoticed in others.

The money that Russia makes from energy exports could also be reduced if shippers, wary of the growing complexity of transporting Russian crude and supplies, raise what they charge Moscow, Mr. Goldwyn said.

He added it was possible that the White House would ban imports of Russian crude to the United States. Such a move, experts said, would force American refiners to rely on other suppliers and Moscow to find other buyers for around 700,000 barrels a day. China would most likely be one, after the two countries pledged to “strongly support each other.”

Flows of L.N.G. from elsewhere, mostly the United States, have exceeded Russian gas volumes to Europe in recent weeks. Such measures would probably help Western European countries like Germany and Italy more than those in southern and Eastern Europe with fewer alternatives to Russian gas.

Even without a clear cutoff of fuel by Moscow or a disruption by war, there is a substantial risk that extraordinarily high gas and electricity prices will continue, squeezing hard-pressed consumers and, possibly, pushing more businesses to scale back their operations. In recent months, some energy-intensive businesses, including fertilizer makers, have announced closures because of high gas costs.

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How China’s Xi Jinping Is Staging the Beijing Olympics on His Terms

When the International Olympic Committee met seven years ago to choose a host for the 2022 Winter Games, China’s leader, Xi Jinping, sent a short video message that helped tip the scale in a close, controversial vote.

China had limited experience with winter sports. Little snow falls in the distant hills where outdoor events would take place. Pollution was so dense at times that it was known as the “Airpocalypse.”

Mr. Xi pledged to resolve all of this, putting his personal prestige on what seemed then like an audacious bid. “We will deliver every promise we made,” he told the Olympic delegates meeting in Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur.

host of the Summer Olympics, the Games have become a showcase of the country’s achievements. Only now, it is a very different country.

China no longer needs to prove its standing on the world stage; instead, it wants to proclaim the sweeping vision of a more prosperous, more confident nation under Mr. Xi, the country’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong. Where the government once sought to mollify its critics to make the Games a success, today it defies them.

Beijing 2022 “will not only enhance our confidence in realizing the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” said Mr. Xi, who this year is poised to claim a third term at the top. It will also “show a good image of our country and demonstrate our nation’s commitment to building a community with a shared future for mankind.”

Mr. Xi’s government has brushed off criticism from human rights activists and world leaders as the bias of those — including President Biden — who would keep China down. It has implicitly warned Olympic broadcasters and sponsors not to bend to calls for protests or boycotts over the country’s political crackdown in Hong Kong or its campaign of repression in Xinjiang, the largely Muslim region in the northwest.

combat Covid and imposed stricter safety measures than those during the Summer Olympics in Tokyo last year. It has insisted on sustaining its “zero Covid” strategy, evolved from China’s first lockdown, in Wuhan two years ago, regardless of the cost to its economy and its people.

an accusation of sexual assault by the tennis player Peng Shuai, a three-time Olympian, the I.O.C. did not speak out. Instead, it helped deflect concerns about her whereabouts and safety.

staggering costs of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and the white-knuckle chaos of preparations for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.

blue skies. High-speed railways have slashed the trip from Beijing to the most distant venues from four hours to one.

In an area perennially short of water, China built a network of pipelines to feed a phalanx of snow-making machines to dust barren slopes in white. Officials this week even claimed the entire Games would be “fully carbon neutral.”

Christophe Dubi, executive director of the upcoming Games, said in an interview that China proved to be a partner willing and able to do whatever it took to pull off the event, regardless of the challenges.

“Organizing the Games,” Mr. Dubi said, “was easy.”

The committee has deflected questions about human rights and other controversies overshadowing the Games. While the committee’s own charter calls for “improving the promotion and respect of human rights,” officials have said that it was not for them to judge the host country’s political system.

Instead, what matters most to the committee is pulling off the Games. By selecting Beijing, the committee had alighted on a “safe choice,” said Thomas Bach, the committee’s president.

unseasonably warm weather. Sochi 2014 — intended as a valedictory of Vladimir V. Putin’s rule in Russia — cost a staggering $51 billion.

Growing wariness of organizing the quadrennial event gave China an unexpected advantage. Beijing — no one’s idea of a winter sports capital — could reuse sites from the 2008 Games, including the iconic Bird’s Nest stadium for the opening ceremony. The Water Cube, which held the swimming and diving events 14 years ago, was rebranded as the Ice Cube.

Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan, once a republic of the Soviet Union.

The final tally was 44 to 40 for Beijing, with one abstention. Almaty’s supporters were left to fume over a glitch in the electronic voting system that prompted a manual recount to “protect the integrity of the vote.” That Kazakhstan has plunged into political turmoil on the eve of the Games seems now, in hindsight, further validation of the choice to pick Beijing.

Xinhua, compared to 480,000 three years before.

ceremonial scepter popular in the Qing dynasty, complete with a 6,000-seat stadium at the bottom that is supposed to hold soccer matches after the Olympics.

military preparations for the Games, including the installation of 44 antiaircraft batteries around Beijing, even though the likelihood of an aerial attack on the city seemed far-fetched.

“A safe Olympics is the biggest symbol of a successful Beijing Olympic Games, and is the most important symbol of the country’s international image,” he said then.

accusation of sexual harassment rocked the sports world last fall, the committee found itself caught in the furor.

fumed in private. Without the protective cover of the international committee, they feared reprisals if they spoke out individually.

The 2008 Olympics also faced harsh criticism. A campaign led by the actress Mia Farrow called the event the “genocide games” because of China’s support for Sudan despite its brutal crackdown in the Darfur region. The traditional torch relay was hounded by protests in cities on multiple continents, including Paris, London, San Francisco and Seoul.

The accusations against China today are, arguably, even more serious. The United States and other countries have declared that China’s crackdown against the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang amounts to genocide. Ms. Farrow’s biting sobriquet has resurfaced for 2022, with a Twitter hashtag.

only screened spectators of its own choosing. It will mostly be a performance for Chinese and international television audiences, offering a choreographed view of the country, the one Mr. Xi’s government has of itself.

If the coronavirus can be kept under control, Beijing could weather the Olympics with fewer problems than seemed likely when it won the rights to the Games seven years ago. Mr. Xi’s government has already effectively declared it a success. A dozen other Chinese cities are already angling for the 2036 Summer Olympics.

“The world looks forward to China,” Mr. Xi said in an New Year’s address, “and China is ready.”

Chris Buckley contributed reporting. Claire Fu, Liu Yi and Li You contributed research.

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On Ukraine, Biden Flusters European Allies by Stating the Obvious

Her party leader and chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has been more circumspect, saying after a meeting with the NATO secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, on Tuesday that Germany was ready to discuss halting the pipeline should Russia attack Ukraine. “It is clear that there will be a high price to pay and that everything will have to be discussed should there be a military intervention in Ukraine,” Mr. Scholz said.

The issue is sensitive for Washington, too. Last week, at NATO, Wendy R. Sherman, the deputy secretary of state, said: “From our perspective, it’s very hard to see gas flowing through the pipeline or for it to become operational if Russia renews its aggression on Ukraine.”

But the divisions are precisely why her boss, the secretary of state, Antony J. Blinken, is in Berlin on Thursday to talk to the German government and to senior diplomats from Britain and the so-called Normandy Format on Ukraine — France and Germany.

Set up in 2014 after the commemoration of D-Day in Normandy, the group includes Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany, but not the United States, because at the time President Barack Obama wanted to leave Ukraine to the Europeans.

Some consider that to have been a mistake, and there are discussions now about whether the United States should also join to try to de-escalate the current crisis. Negotiations produced the Minsk accords, which both Russia and Ukraine accuse the other of violating, and which Russia continues to say hold the key to the Ukrainian crisis.

Further divisions were on display on Wednesday in Strasbourg, France, where Emmanuel Macron, the French president, gave a long speech to the European Parliament setting out his priorities for the French presidency of the European Union — and implicitly for his own re-election campaign with voting in April.

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