ABODE OF DAWN, Russia — High on a hilltop bathed in the autumnal colors of pine, birch and larch trees, Aleksei Demidov paused for a few minutes of quiet prayer. He was directing his thoughts to his religious teacher, known as Vissarion, hoping he might feel his energy.
As he prayed, a cluster of small bells rang out from a spindly wooden gazebo. They belonged to the Church of the Last Testament, founded in 1991 by Vissarion. Except then his name was Sergei Torop, and he was just a former police officer and an amateur artist.
These days, Mr. Demidov and thousands of other church members consider Vissarion a living god. The Russian state, however, considers him a criminal.
dramatic operation led by federal security services. Russia’s Investigative Committee, the country’s top federal prosecutorial authority, accused them of “creating a religious group whose activities may impose violence on citizens,” allegations they deny.
A year later, the three men are still being held without criminal indictment in a prison in the industrial city of Novosibirsk, 1,000 miles from their church community. No trial has been scheduled.
Since taking power at the turn of the century, President Vladimir V. Putin has gone to great lengths to silence critics and prevent any person or group from gaining too much influence. He has forced out and locked up oligarchs, muted the news media and tried to defang political opposition — like Aleksei A. Navalny.
outlawed in 2017 and declared an “extremist” organization, on par with Islamic State militants.
Though there are accusations of extortion and mistreatment of members of the Church of the Last Testament, scholars and criminal justice experts say the arrest of Mr. Torop underscores the government’s intolerance of anything that veers from the mainstream — even a small, marginal group living in the middle of the forest, led by a former police officer claiming to be God.
“There is an idea that there is a defined spiritual essence of Russian culture, meaning conservative values and so on, that is in danger,” said Alexander Panchenko, the head of the Center for Anthropology of Religion at the European University at St. Petersburg, who has been asked to serve as an expert witness in an administrative procedure that could strip the church of its legal status as a church, an act that he said was based on “false accusations.”
“Somehow the new religious movements are now dangerous as well,” Mr. Panchenko said.
told Russian state-owned media that while there was no requirement to donate money, it was encouraged.
She said that some food items were banned and that seeking medical care was difficult. The church drew notice in 2000 when two children died because the community is so remote that they could not get medical help in time. But Ms. Melnikova also said that conditions had softened since the early days.
The accusations come from a vague Soviet-era law used to punish nonregistered groups like Baptists, evangelicals and Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mr. Lunkin said. The prosecutors’ office did not respond to messages seeking information about the status of the case.
In interviews last month with more than two dozen church members, none said that they had been mistreated or strained financially, and all that they could come and go freely for work or school. They said the church did not impose a financial burden on them. When the authorities searched Mr. Torop’s home, they found only 700 rubles (about $10).
Mr. Torop and his church have not been politically active or spoken out against the government. Instead, followers believe their very independence from normal Russian life is what made their church a target. “We’ve created a self-sustaining society, and our freedom is dangerous for the system,” said Aleksandr A. Komogortsev, 46, a disciple who was a police officer in Moscow for 11 years before moving to one of the biggest villages three years ago.
“We have shown how it is possible to live outside the system,” he said, gushing over a breakfast of salad and potato dumplings about how fulfilling it was to work with his hands.
Tanya Denisova, 68, a follower since 1999, said the church was focused on God’s judgment, not politics. She moved to the village in 2001, after divorcing her husband, who did not want to join the church.
“We came here to get away from politics,” she said.
Like the other faithful, Ms. Denisova eats a vegetarian diet, mostly of food grown in her large garden. Pictures of Vissarion, referred to as “the teacher,” and reproductions of his paintings hang in many rooms of her house.
Each village where followers live, like Ms. Denisova’s Petropavlovka, functions as a “united family,” with the household heads meeting each morning after a brief prayer service to discuss urgent communal work to be done for the day, and with weekly evening sessions where members of the community can solve disputes, request assistance or offer help.
At one recent meeting, members approved two new weddings after ensuring the betrothed couples were ready for marriage.
For many of the believers, their leader’s arrest, combined with the coronavirus pandemic, is a sign that Judgment Day approaches.
Others said they felt his arrest was the fulfillment of a prophecy, comparing their teacher’s plight with that of Jesus more than 2,000 years ago.
Stanislav M. Kazakov, the head of a small private school in the village of Cheremshanka, said the arrest had made the teacher more famous in Russia and abroad, which he hoped would draw more adherents.
Mr. Kazakov said his school, like other community institutions, had been subjected to repeated inspections and fines since 2019, with at least 100 students as young as 8 questioned by the police. He said the arrest and intimidation by the police had made the community stronger.
“They thought we would fall apart without him,” he said. “But in the past year, we have returned to the kind of community that holds each other together.”
PEVEK, Russia — A refurbished port. A spanking new plant to generate electricity. Repaved roads. And money left over to repair the library and put in a new esplanade along the shore of the Arctic Ocean.
Globally, the warming climate is a creeping disaster, threatening lives and livelihoods with floods, fires and droughts, and requiring tremendous effort and expenditure to combat.
But in Pevek, a small port town on the Arctic Ocean in Russia’s Far North capitalizing on a boom in Arctic shipping, the warming climate is seen as a barely mitigated bonanza.
“I would call it a rebirth,” said Valentina Khristoforova, a curator at a local history museum. “We are in a new era.”
Arable land is expanding, with farmers planting corn in parts of Siberia where it never grew before. Winter heating bills are declining, and Russian fishermen have found a modest pollock catch in thawed areas of the Arctic Ocean near Alaska.
Nowhere do the prospects seem brighter than in Russia’s Far North, where rapidly rising temperatures have opened up a panoply of new possibilities, like mining and energy projects. Perhaps the most profound of these is the prospect, as early as next year, of year-round Arctic shipping with specially designed “ice class” container vessels, offering an alternative to the Suez Canal.
The Kremlin’s policy toward climate change is contradictory. It is not a significant issue in domestic politics. But ever mindful of Russia’s global image, President Vladimir V. Putin recently vowed for the first time that Russia, the world’s fourth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases and a prodigious producer of fossil fuels, would become carbon neutral by 2060.
vulnerable to wildfires, reinforce dams against river flooding, rebuild housing collapsing into melting permafrost, and brace for possible lower world demand for oil and natural gas.
Rosatom, the Russian state nuclear company that is coordinating investment in the shipping lane, said the initiative benefits from climate change but will also help fight it by reducing emissions from ships sailing between Europe and Asia by 23 percent, compared with the much longer Suez route.
The trip from Busan, in South Korea, to Amsterdam, for example, is 13 days shorter over the Northern Sea Route — a significant savings in time and fuel.
told the Russian media.
signed a deal with DP World, the Dubai-based ports and logistics company, to develop ports and a fleet of ice-class container ships with specially reinforced hulls to navigate icy seas.
The thawing ocean has also made oil, natural gas and mining ventures more profitable, reducing the costs of shipping supplies in and products out. A multi-billion-dollar joint venture of the Russian company Novatek, Total of France, CNPC of China and other investors now exports about 5 percent of all liquefied natural gas traded globally over the thawing Arctic Ocean.
Overall, analysts say, at least half a dozen large Russian companies in energy, shipping and mining will benefit from global warming.
One benefit the people of Pevek haven’t felt is any sense that the climate is actually warming. To them, the weather seems as cold and miserable as ever, despite an average temperature 2.1 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than 20 years ago.
Global warming has been “a plus from an economic point of view,” said Olga Platonova, a librarian. Still, she and other residents say that in light of the costly and dangerous changes worldwide, they have no reason to celebrate.
And even here the environmental impacts are uncertain many say, citing the (to them) alarming appearance in recent years of a flock of noisy crows never seen before.
And Ms. Platonova had one other regret: “It’s a shame our grandchildren and great-grandchildren won’t see the frozen north as we experienced it.”
Kuwait announced last month that it planned to invest more than $6 billion in exploration over the next five years to increase production to four million barrels a day, from 2.4 million now.
This month, the United Arab Emirates, a major OPEC member that produces four million barrels of oil a day, became the first Persian Gulf state to pledge to a net zero carbon emissions target by 2050. But just last year ADNOC, the U.A.E.’s national oil company, announced it was investing $122 billion in new oil and gas projects.
Iraq, OPEC’s second-largest producer after Saudi Arabia, has invested heavily in recent years to boost oil output, aiming to raise production to eight million barrels a day by 2027, from five million now. The country is suffering from political turmoil, power shortages and inadequate ports, but the government has made several major deals with foreign oil companies to help the state-owned energy company develop new fields and improve production from old ones.
Even in Libya, where warring factions have hamstrung the oil industry for years, production is rising. In recent months, it has been churning out 1.3 million barrels a day, a nine-year high. The government aims to increase that total to 2.5 million within six years.
National oil companies in Brazil, Colombia and Argentina are also working to produce more oil and gas to raise revenue for their governments before demand for oil falls as richer countries cut fossil fuel use.
After years of frustrating disappointments, production in the Vaca Muerta, or Dead Cow, oil and gas field in Argentina has jumped this year. The field had never supplied more than 120,000 barrels of oil in a day but is now expected to end the year at 200,000 a day, according to Rystad Energy, a research and consulting firm. The government, which is considered a climate leader in Latin America, has proposed legislation that would encourage even more production.
“Argentina is concerned about climate change, but they don’t see it primarily as their responsibility,” said Lisa Viscidi, an energy expert at the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington research organization. Describing the Argentine view, she added, “The rest of the world globally needs to reduce oil production, but that doesn’t mean that we in particular need to change our behavior.”
GENEVA — President Biden had three big tasks to accomplish on his first foreign trip since taking office: Convince the allies that America was back, and for good; gather them in common cause against the rising threat of China; and establish some red lines for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, whom he called his “worthy adversary.”
He largely accomplished the first, though many European leaders still wonder whether his presidency may yet be just an intermezzo, sandwiched between the Trump era and the election of another America First leader uninterested in the 72-year-old Atlantic alliance.
He made inroads on the second, at least in parts of Europe, where there has been enormous reluctance to think first of China as a threat — economically, technologically and militarily — and second as an economic partner.
Mr. Biden expressed cautious optimism about finding ways to reach a polite accommodation with Mr. Putin. But it is far from clear that any of the modest initiatives the two men described on Wednesday, after a stiff, three-hour summit meeting on the edge of Lake Geneva, will fundamentally change a bad dynamic.
when he refers to Beijing’s actions against the Uyghur population and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities as genocide.
So Mr. Biden toned down his autocracy vs. democracy talk for this trip. And that worked.
Yet while “Biden has gotten words from the Europeans, he hasn’t gotten deeds,” said James M. Lindsay, director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Settling some trade issues is a very good start. But it’s not how you start, but how you finish, how you translate the sentiments in the communiqués into common policies, and that will be very difficult.’’
Mr. Biden carefully choreographed the trip so that he demonstrated the repairs being made to the alliance before going on to meet Mr. Putin. Mr. Biden made clear he wanted to present a unified front to the Russian leader, to demonstrate that in the post-Trump era, the United States and the NATO allies were one.
That allowed Mr. Biden to take a softer tone when he got to Geneva for the summit meeting, where he sought to portray Mr. Putin as an isolated leader who has to worry about his country’s future. When Mr. Biden said in response to a reporter’s question that “I don’t think he’s looking for a Cold War with the United States,’’ it was a signal that Mr. Biden believes he has leverage that the rest of the world has underappreciated.
Mr. Putin’s economy is “struggling,’’ he said, and he faces a long border with China at a moment when Beijing is “hellbent” on domination.
“He still, I believe, is concerned about being ‘encircled,’ ” Mr. Biden said. “He still is concerned that we, in fact, are looking to take him down.” But, he added, he didn’t think those security fears “are the driving force as to the kind of relationship he’s looking for with the United States.”
He set as the first test of Mr. Putin’s willingness to deal with him seriously a review of how to improve “strategic stability,’’ which he described as controlling the introduction of “new and dangerous and sophisticated weapons that are coming on the scene now that reduce the times of response, that raise the prospects of accidental war.”
It is territory that has been neglected, and if Mr. Biden is successful he may save hundreds of billions of dollars that would otherwise be spent on hypersonic and space weapons, as well as the development of new nuclear delivery systems.
But none of that is likely to deter Mr. Putin in the world of cyberweapons, which are dirt cheap and give him an instrument of power each and every day. Mr. Biden warned during his news conference that “we have significant cyber capability,” and said that while Mr. Putin “doesn’t know exactly what it is,” if the Russians “violate these basic norms, we will respond with cyber.”
The U.S. has had those capabilities for years but has hesitated to use them, for fear that a cyberconflict with Russia might escalate into something much bigger.
But Mr. Biden thinks Mr. Putin is too invested in self-preservation to let it come to that. In the end, he said, just before boarding Air Force One for the flight home, “You have to figure out what the other guy’s self-interest is. Their self-interest. I don’t trust anybody.”
David E. Sanger reported from Geneva and Steven Erlanger from Brussels.
MOSCOW — Just weeks before the ransomware gang known as DarkSide attacked the owner of a major American pipeline, disrupting gasoline and jet fuel deliveries up and down the East Coast of the United States, the group was turning the screws on a small, family-owned publisher based in the American Midwest.
Working with a hacker who went by the name of Woris, DarkSide launched a series of attacks meant to shut down the websites of the publisher, which works mainly with clients in primary school education, if it refused to meet a $1.75 million ransom demand. It even threatened to contact the company’s clients to falsely warn them that it had obtained information the gang said could be used by pedophiles to make fake identification cards that would allow them to enter schools.
Woris thought this last ploy was a particularly nice touch.
“I laughed to the depth of my soul about the leaked IDs possibly being used by pedophiles to enter the school,” he said in Russian in a secret chat with DarkSide obtained by The New York Times. “I didn’t think it would scare them that much.”
released a statement a week earlier saying it was shutting down. A customer support employee responded almost immediately to a chat request sent from Woris’s account by the Times reporter. But when the reporter identified himself as a journalist the account was immediately blocked.
Megyn Kelly pressed him in a 2018 interview on why Russia was not arresting hackers believed to have interfered in the American election, he shot back that there was nothing to arrest them for.
“If they did not break Russian law, there is nothing to prosecute them for in Russia,” Mr. Putin said. “You must finally realize that people in Russia live by Russian laws, not by American ones.”
After the Colonial attack, President Biden said that intelligence officials had evidence the hackers were from Russia, but that they had yet to find any links to the government.
“So far there is no evidence based on, from our intelligence people, that Russia is involved, though there is evidence that the actors, ransomware, is in Russia,” he said, adding that the Russian authorities “have some responsibility to deal with this.”
This month, DarkSide’s support staff scrambled to respond to parts of the system being shut down, which the group attributed, without evidence, to pressure from the United States. In a posting on May 8, the day after the Colonial attack became public, the DarkSide staff appeared to be hoping for some sympathy from their affiliates.
“There is now the option to leave a tip for Support under ‘payments,’” the posting said. “It’s optional, but Support would be happy :).”
Days after the F.B.I. publicly identified DarkSide as the culprit, Woris, who had yet to extract payment from the publishing company, reached out to customer service, apparently concerned.
“Hi, how’s it going,” he wrote. “They hit you hard.”
It was the last communication Woris had with DarkSide.
Days later, a message popped up on the dashboard saying the group was not exactly shutting down, as it had said it would, but selling its infrastructure so other hackers could carry on the lucrative ransomware business.
“The price is negotiable,” DarkSide wrote. “By fully launching an analogous partnership program it’s possible to make profits of $5 million a month.”
MOSCOW — He may be the Kremlin’s closest ally, but his loyalty remains in doubt.
When Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, the eccentric and brutal leader of Belarus, forced down a European passenger jet on Sunday to arrest a dissident, he ushered in a new and even more brittle phase in one of the post-Soviet region’s most convoluted and consequential relationships: the one between Mr. Lukashenko and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.
The two are increasingly leaning on each other in the face of conflict with the West, but they have sharply diverging interests. Mr. Lukashenko, who has ruled for 26 years, relies on his iron grip on his country to assure his survival. Mr. Putin wants to expand Russian influence in Belarus, undermining Mr. Lukashenko’s authority in the process.
Now, with a summit meeting with President Biden looming in June, Mr. Putin faces a choice over how much political capital to expend to continue supporting Mr. Lukashenko, whose commandeering of the Ryanair plane has complicated the Kremlin’s efforts to smooth relations with the West. Russian officials and pro-Kremlin news outlets have taken Mr. Lukashenko’s side in the furor, but Mr. Lukashenko’s leading Belarusian opponents believe that the Kremlin’s support is only skin deep.
“In the Russian Foreign Ministry, in the Kremlin, I think that people can’t stand Lukashenko,” Franak Viacorka, a senior adviser to the exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, said in a telephone interview. “But at the same time, since there’s not anyone more pro-Russian, they prefer to keep Lukashenko for now.”
Roman Protasevich — who had been on a Belarusian list of “terrorists” because he co-founded a social-media outlet that galvanized and organized last year’s protests.
On Monday, the Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, told journalists in his regular daily briefing that he could not comment on the Ryanair incident. “It is up to the international authorities to assess the case,” he said.
It took another 24 hours for the Kremlin to formulate its final message; Belarus’s actions were “in line with international regulations,” Mr. Peskov said on Tuesday.
as directed by E.U. leaders who voiced outrage over what they called Mr. Lukashenko’s “hijacking.” But speaking in a marble-paneled hall of the Minsk House of Government, Mr. Lukashenko was defiant, claiming that a bomb threat against the plane had arrived from Switzerland.
“Don’t you cast blame on me!” Mr. Lukashenko thundered, jabbing his finger into the air. “I acted legally defending my people, and it will also be thus in the future.”
In Moscow, Mr. Lukashenko is widely seen as a frustrating and fickle partner. Despite his reliance on the Kremlin, for instance, he still has not recognized as valid the annexation of Crimea in 2014, which many Russians see as Mr. Putin’s crowning foreign policy achievement.
“It’s a pretty serious mistake to think that Moscow can snap its fingers to solve its problems in Minsk,” said Pavel Slunkin, a former Belarusian diplomat who resigned last year in protest against Mr. Lukashenko’s policies. “Lukashenko will try to avoid further dependence on Moscow in every possible way.”
Andrei Kortunov, the director general of the Russian International Affairs Council, a Moscow research institute co-founded by the Russian Foreign Ministry, likened Mr. Lukashenko to the Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad, another difficult Kremlin ally.
After Russia propped up Mr. Lukashenko in his hour of need last summer, long-sought benefits were expected to accrue to the Kremlin. Mr. Lukashenko could have signed an agreement for a Russian military base in Belarus or allowed Russian investment into major Belarusian enterprises on favorable terms. But despite three face-to-face meetings between Mr. Lukashenko and Mr. Putin since last September — a fourth is expected in the coming days — none of that materialized.
“You’d think: The regime was saved, and he should have paid,” Mr. Kortunov said of Mr. Lukashenko. “But we’re not seeing that.”
Continuing to prop up Mr. Lukashenko could be costly for Mr. Putin, Mr. Kortunov warned. As Mr. Putin prepares for a summit meeting with President Biden scheduled to take place in Geneva on June 16, Russian officials have telegraphed that they want to lower tensions with the United States. One factor is domestic politics: Amid protests and discontent over economic stagnation, the Kremlin faces a public disapproving of foreign adventurism.
“The social contract of, ‘We won’t give you sausage, but we’ll make Russia a great power’ — this no longer works,” Mr. Kortunov said, describing Mr. Putin’s approach. “He understands that he needs to change the agenda. He won’t win any more with foreign policy.”
Mr. Lukashenko’s opponents are now pushing for the United States and Europe to enact more sanctions against Belarus that would further isolate him and perhaps provoke a split in the elite. Ms. Tikhanovskaya, the opposition leader, spent nearly 40 minutes on the phone earlier this week with Jake Sullivan, Mr. Biden’s national security adviser, her aide, Mr. Viacorka, said.
“When the Belarusian issue is discussed in the context of the Russian one, it becomes impossible to solve,” Mr. Viacorka said.
President Biden and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia have agreed to meet on June 16 in Geneva for a face-to-face encounter that comes at a time of fast-deteriorating relations over Ukraine, cyberattacks and a raft of new nuclear weapons Mr. Putin is deploying. The summit is the first in-person meeting between the two leaders since Mr. Biden became president.
The one-day meeting is expected to focus on ways to restore predictability and stability to a relationship that carries a risk of nuclear accident, miscalculation and escalation. Geneva was also the site of the 1985 summit between Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet leader, and Ronald Reagan that was focused on the nuclear arms race.
The meeting comes at the worst point in Russian-American relations since the fall of the Soviet Union about 30 years ago. To say that the two leaders have a tense relationship is an understatement: Mr. Biden called Mr. Putin a “killer” in a television interview in March, leading Mr. Putin to dryly return the accusation and wish the new president “good health.”
Russia, despite its aggressive language toward the West, has shown optimism about the talks. For Mr. Putin, a high-profile presidential summit can help deliver what he has long sought: respect for Russia on the world stage. And he is sure to repeat his message that the United States must respect Russian interests — especially inside Russia, where the Kremlin claims Washington is trying to undermine Mr. Putin’s rule, and in Eastern Europe.
new round of financial sanctions against the country.
That list includes the prosecution and jailing of Aleksei A. Navalny, the opposition leader Mr. Putin’s intelligence services tried to kill with a nerve agent. And Mr. Biden plans to spend considerable time on cybersecurity in hopes of limiting the rising tide of cyberattacks directed at the United States.
Such attacks have dogged Mr. Biden since December, with the disclosure of SolarWinds, a sophisticated hack into network management software used by most of the United States’ largest companies and by a range of government agencies and defense contractors.
Mr. Biden vowed a full investigation and a proportionate response, though it is unclear whether those moves — which his aides said would be “seen and unseen” — are sufficient to deter the low-cost attacks.
Two weeks ago, Mr. Biden said he would raise with Mr. Putin the more recent ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline, which shut down nearly half of the supply of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel to the East Coast. That attack was the work of a criminal group, the Biden administration said, but Mr. Biden accused Russia of harboring the ransomware criminals.
The summit will come at the end of Mr. Biden’s first international trip as president, to Europe, where he will meet with the Group of 7 allies — a group the Russians had been part of for several years when integration with the West seemed possible — and NATO allies.
KALANCHAK, Ukraine — A makeshift dam of sand and clay, covered with patches of grass, blocks one of Europe’s great canals. Beyond it, swans drift in the trickle of water that remains. A duck slides into a wall of reeds below the bare, concrete banks.
This quiet spot just north of Crimea may not look like much. But some Ukrainians fear it could be the thing that ignites an all-out war with Russia.
“Putin could send his troops in here at any moment,” said Olha Lomonosova, 38, explaining why she had packed a getaway suitcase this year at her home upstream. “He needs water.”
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia ordered some of the troops he had massed on Ukraine’s border this spring to pull back last month, but as many as 80,000 remain within striking distance, and many Ukrainians believe that the threat of a new invasion remains. A prime reason is the 250-mile-long Northern Crimean Canal linking Crimea with Ukraine’s Dnieper River: the main source of water for Crimea until Mr. Putin annexed it in 2014 and Ukraine, in a secret operation, hastily built the dam to block the canal’s flow.
Mr. Putin’s showdown with the West.
assurances that even tourists to Crimea will not go thirsty.
Blocking the canal, a senior official in the de facto Russian government controlling Crimea said in February, represented “an attempt to destroy us as a people, an attempt at mass murder and genocide.” Moscow has pledged to spend $670 million to address the water shortage, but this year reservoirs have been running dry and water is being rationed.
Ukrainian officials are unmoved. Under the Geneva Convention, they say, it is Russia’s responsibility as an occupying power to provide water, and they add that sufficient underground aquifers exist to provide for the population. The Kremlin says that Crimea willfully joined Russia in 2014, aided by Russian troops, after the pro-Western revolution in Kyiv; nearly every government in the world still considers Crimea to be part of Ukraine.
“No water for Crimea until de-occupation,” said Anton Korynevych, the representative for Crimea of President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, spelling out government policy. “Period.”
visit to the trenches at the Crimean border last month. Even though Russian troops are withdrawing, he warned, Ukraine must be prepared for them to return at “any moment.” In Washington, senior American officials believe that an incursion to secure the water supply remains a real threat, though the costs and difficulty of such a move appear to have been sufficient to dissuade Russia for now.
trove of ancient Scythian treasure.
The canal even has its own anthem, still framed on the wall of the canal’s headquarters. “We built the canal in peace, along with the whole great and powerful country,” the words go. “Keep it, as dear as your breath, for your children and grandchildren!”
But when Russia seized Crimea in 2014, a senior aide in the Ukrainian president’s office, Andriy Senchenko, organized the damming of the canal as a way to strike back. Before the canal’s annual springtime opening, he directed workers to pile up a pyramid of bags of sand and clay near the border with Crimea. And he had them put up a sign saying they were installing a flow-measurement mechanism, to put Russian intelligence on the wrong track.
He is convinced that blocking the canal was the right decision because it imposed costs on Moscow, much as military resistance would have.
“In order to cause as much damage to the Russian Federation as was caused by seven years of blocking the canal, tens of thousands would need to have died at the front,” Mr. Senchenko said.
tell it, Ukraine’s leaders since 2014 have forced Russian speakers in the country to “renounce their identity or to face violence or death.” The reality is different in Kherson, where many residents still value some common bonds with Russia, including language — but want no part of a further military intervention by Mr. Putin.
A hill outside the city of Kakhovka, near the canal’s beginning, bears another reminder of historical ties to Russia: a towering Soviet monument of Communist revolutionaries with a horse-drawn machine gun, marking the fierce battles here in the Russian Civil War a century ago. Kyiv in 2019 demanded that the monument be taken down, calling it “insult to the memory of the millions of victims of the Communist totalitarian regime.” The city refused, and the monument still stands, overlooking rusty, dismantled lampposts.
Tending her mother’s grave at an adjoining cemetery, Ms. Lomonosova, a gardener, and her father, Mikhail Lomonosov, 64, said they did not want the monument torn down.
They spoke Russian, described themselves as “little Russians,” and said they occasionally watched Russian television. But if Russian troops were to invade, Ms. Lomonosova was ready to flee, and Mr. Lomonosov was ready to fight against them.
“We may have a Russian last name, but we are proud to be Ukrainian,” Ms. Lomonosova said. “Everyone has their own territory, though all have a shared past.”
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — When Slovakia’s prime minister welcomed a military aircraft carrying 200,000 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine from Russia in March, he posed proudly for photographs on the tarmac in front of crates stuffed with what he expected to be his country’s medical salvation.
Slovakia at the time had the world’s highest per-capita death rate from Covid-19, and the arrival of the Russian vaccine offered a rare glimmer of hope. For Russia it offered big benefits, too: a small but symbolically important new market for its product in the European Union, which has so far declined to register the vaccine and urged member states to hold off on orders until approval is granted.
But the effort by the Slovakian leader, Igor Matovic, soon blew up in his face, costing him his job and almost toppling the whole government — just three months after it adopted a new security strategy rooted in unequivocal support for NATO and wariness of Russia.
The strongly pro-Western Slovak government, torn between its commitment to abide by European rules and desperation for a way out of the health crisis, spasmed in crisis for weeks.
Sputnik V, the world’s first registered vaccine, is the medical breakthrough proclaimed last summer by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, but it has already proved itself to be remarkably effective in spreading disarray and division in Europe.
In France, President Emmanuel Macron talked to Mr. Putin recently about possible deliveries of Sputnik, which Mr. Macron’s own foreign minister derided as a “propaganda tool.” The Austrian chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, furious that European regulators have been slow in approving Sputnik, has clashed with Germany’s leader, Angela Merkel, over the bloc’s vaccination program, which so far involves only Western vaccines.
But Slovakia provides the most concrete example of how Russia’s vaccine diplomacy has had side effects that can be highly toxic.
The decision by Mr. Matovic, then the Slovakian prime minister, to order two million doses of Sputnik V set the country at odds with the European Union and brought one of Eastern Europe’s most stoutly pro-Western governments to the brink of collapse as junior partners in a fractious governing coalition, outraged by the import of Sputnik, defected.
said in a tweet in February that Mr. Putin offered Sputnik V to the world as a “weapon to divide and rule.” And Poland said it was considering buying Chinese vaccines, despite similar concerns about it, but would definitely not order Sputnik V.
A recent survey by the Globsec research group found that, among those willing to be vaccinated, only 1 percent of Poles and Romanians and 2 percent of Lithuanians would choose Sputnik over American and European brands. Even in Hungary, the lone European Union member to start inoculating its citizens with Russia’s product, only 4 percent want Sputnik V.
But in Slovakia, around 15 percent of those willing to be vaccinated expressed a preference for the Russian vaccine, offering Moscow an opportunity to break out of the quarantine imposed by deep suspicion elsewhere.
That Russia targeted Slovakia as a place to widen Sputnik’s narrow beachhead in Europe was evident long before Mr. Matovic decided to order the vaccine.
video on Facebook in January saying that he was ready to help broker a deal with Moscow for the delivery of Sputnik.
His pitch appealed to the generally Russia-friendly sentiments of many ordinary Slovaks, particularly those of an anti-establishment bent.
Martin Smatana, a former Health Ministry official in Bratislava, said he had been amazed by how many of his friends want the Russian vaccine and say, “Screw the system, use Sputnik.”
a report this past week, the European Union’s foreign service said that Russia’s drive to promote Sputnik abroad was aimed at “sowing distrust” in Europe’s medicines regulator and stoking divisions.
In response, the Russian state investment agency spearheading Sputnik’s export drive lamented that the vaccine, which it hails as a “vaccine for all mankind,” has fallen victim to “unfortunate daily information attacks.” On Friday, after Brazil raised concerns about Sputnik, complaining of inadequate data, the vaccine’s developer in Moscow, the Gamaleya Institute, issued an angry statement complaining that “unethical forces continuously attack the Sputnik V vaccine for competitive and political reasons.”
The testy arguments in Slovakia over the vaccine reached a peak in April when the country’s drug regulatory agency claimed that Mr. Matovic had fallen for a Russian bait-and-switch. It said the vaccine doses sent to Slovakia at a cost of around $2 million differed from the Sputnik V reviewed favorably in a peer-reviewed February article in The Lancet, a respected British medical journal.
The Slovak claim, denounced by Moscow as “sabotage,” cast doubt on Sputnik’s main selling point: a proven efficacy rate of over 90 percent against Covid-19. The Lancet gave the vaccine 91.6 percent efficacy in February, and Russian scientists have since claimed a “real world” rate 97.6 percent.
But the main issue with Sputnik has never been whether it works — most experts believe it does — but Russia’s repeated failure to follow procedure and provide all the data needed by foreign regulators to assess safety. Slovakia’s regulator made its damning statement not because it had discovered any specific problems with Sputnik but “due to the lack of data from the manufacturer, inconsistencies in dosage forms and inability to compare the batches used in different studies and countries.”
The 200,000 doses that Russia delivered in March were still all unused at a pharmaceutical company in eastern Slovakia as of last week. But Mr. Matovic said Russia had already returned the money paid by Slovakia.
Pavol Babos, a political analyst in Bratislava, said Mr. Matovic was “never pro-Russian” but “very naïve.” Desperate for a way to slow the pandemic and lift his own slumping ratings, the prime minister, Mr. Babos added, “fell into a trap set by Russian propaganda.”
But Mr. Matovic scoffed at accusations that Moscow had played him to promote its own geopolitical agenda. The Russians, he said, “wanted to help, but instead of thanking them we said, ‘You are stupid, and you are cheating people around the world.’”
Most at fault, Mr. Matovic said, was the State Institute for Drug Control, which asserted that the Sputnik V batches Russia sent to Slovakia did “not have the same characteristics and properties” as the version V reviewed by The Lancet. This, he said, “was an extremely incorrect political statement.”
Zuzana Batova, the institute’s director, who has received death threats from aggressive Sputnik fans, declined to be interviewed, saying she did not want to pour oil on the fire.
The head of the Biomedical Research Center, which carried out a series of 14 tests in Slovakia on the Russian vaccine, said she had no concerns over whether Sputnik V works but was troubled by Russia’s lack of transparency.
While the potential side effects of the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have been documented in detail publicly, the center’s chief, Silvia Pastorekova, said, “We know nothing about Sputnik’s side effects.”
The Russian vaccine, she said, passed all of her team’s tests but failed to win approval from the state regulator because more than three-quarters of the documents required to meet European norms had either not been submitted or were incomplete.
“We are part of the European family and we should accept the rules of the family,” Ms. Pastorekova said.
Monika Pronczuk contributed reporting from Brussels, and Kristina Hamarova from Bratislava.
MOSCOW — The lead lawyer defending the Russian opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny in an extremism case that could outlaw Mr. Navalny’s opposition movement was arrested on Friday, the latest instance of a remarkable escalation by the Kremlin in its long-running campaign to stifle dissent.
The lawyer, Ivan Pavlov, was detained after Russia’s Federal Security Service, or F.S.B., raided his Moscow hotel room at 6:40 a.m., his colleagues said. He stood accused of disclosing details of a law-enforcement investigation unconnected to Mr. Navalny and faced three months of prison time. Mr. Pavlov’s colleagues said agents also searched their group’s St. Petersburg offices and broke down the apartment door of their technology manager.
Mr. Pavlov, one of Russia’s best-known human rights lawyers, has frequently represented high-profile defendants in cases involving the F.S.B., a successor to the K.G.B. that wields enormous influence in Russia. His arrest shook Russia’s activist community because lawyers have, for the most part, been able to continue to operate even as the authorities have intensified their crackdown on the opposition.
“Ivan’s arrest is connected to his professional activity,” a group of lawyers said in an open letter Friday. “We believe that these actions by law enforcement are aimed exclusively at scaring Ivan and his colleagues in order to force them to reject an active position in defending their clients.”
accused of spying for NATO last year.
Team 29 said that Mr. Pavlov was being investigated for allegedly disclosing classified details of the Safronov case to the news media.
But the raids came just four days after Mr. Pavlov took up the defense of Mr. Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition figure. On Monday, Team 29 announced it would be representing Mr. Navalny’s organizations in a lawsuit filed in April by Moscow prosecutors to have the organizations outlawed as extremist groups.
said they were shutting down their nationwide network of 40 regional offices.
The crackdown on dissent has accompanied rising tensions between Russia and the West, leaving regular Russians increasingly isolated from the outside world. In response to the April 15 American sanctions against Russia over hacking and other “harmful foreign activities,” Russia countered by, among other things, prohibiting the U.S. Embassy in Moscow from employing people who are not American citizens.
The U.S. Embassy said on Friday that the move had forced it to lay off three quarters of its consular staff. As a result, the embassy said, it would stop processing nearly all nonimmigrant visa requests in Russia, such as for tourism or work travel.