That night, she and her husband slept in their cellar. The commander curled up next to the wounded soldier on the kitchen floor.

When Ms. Kozyr stepped outside the next morning, to check on her calf and pigs, she passed by the kitchen and peered through the window.

The soldier’s hands were curled, his body stiff. He was dead.

She started crying at the memory of it, pulling a small rag out of her pocket and wiping her eyes. But she did not question the counteroffensive.

“It needed to be done,” she said. And then she repeated herself, a little more softly. “It needed to be done.”

Oleksandra Mykolyshyn and Oleksandr Chubko contributed reporting from Mykolaiv, Ukraine, and Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Pokrovsk, Ukraine.

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Russia Begins Orchestrating Staged Voting in Occupied Territories

Credit…Associated Press

KYIV, Ukraine — Moscow began orchestrating referendums on joining Russia in areas it occupies in Ukraine on Friday, an effort widely seen as a sham that is expected to culminate in the annexation of an area larger than Portugal.

While the Kremlin has used referendums and annexation in the past to exert its will, the boldness of President Vladimir V. Putin’s gambit in Ukraine far exceeds anything it has tried before. Huge numbers of people have fled the areas that Russia controls, the process has been rushed and referendums are taking place against a backdrop of oppression — with U.N. experts citing evidence of war crimes in a forceful new statement.

The ballots being distributed had one question: Do you wish to secede from Ukraine and create an independent state that will enter the Russian Federation?

“We will be able to make our historic choice,” Kirill Stremousov, a leader of the Russian occupation administration in the southern region of Kherson, said in a statement.

He said the wording on the ballots — in both Ukrainian and Russian — was “in accordance with international law,” but even before the first vote, the referendum plans were met with international condemnation.

President Biden, speaking to the United Nations General Assembly this week, said that “if nations can pursue their imperial ambitions without consequences,” then the global security order established to prevent the horrors of World War II from repeating will be imperiled.

Russian proxy officials in four regions — Donetsk and Luhansk in the east, and Kherson and Zaporizka in the south — earlier this week announced plans to hold referendums over four days beginning on Friday. Russia controls nearly all of two of the four regions, Luhansk and Kherson, but only a fraction of the other two, Zaporizka and Donetsk.

Ukrainian officials have dismissed the voting as grotesque theater — staging polls in cities laid to waste by Russian forces and abandoned by most residents. President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked Ukraine’s allies for their steadfast support and said “the farce” of “sham referenda” would do nothing to change his nation’s fight to drive Russia from Ukraine.

Ukrainian partisans, sometimes working with special operations forces, have blown up warehouses holding ballots and buildings where Russian proxy officials preparing for the vote held meetings..

An explosion rocked the Russian-controlled southern city of Melitopol on Friday morning before the vote got underway. Ivan Fedorov, the exiled mayor, warned residents to stay away from Russian military personnel and equipment.

To give the appearance of widespread participation, minors ages 13 to 17 have been encouraged to vote, the Security Services of Ukraine warned on Thursday.

And Ukrainian officials said that workers were being forced to vote under threat of losing their jobs.

The exiled mayor of the occupied city of Enerhodar, the satellite town of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in the south, told residents to stay away from polling stations.

“Stay at home if possible and do not open the door to strangers,” he said in a message posted on Telegram.

Olha, who communicated with friends in Enerhodar on Thursday night and who, like others, did not want to use her full name out of concern for her safety, said preparations had been going on for weeks and that security had been tightened.

“Since yesterday, they do not allow men aged 18 to 35 to leave the city,” she said. “They want to conscript them to the Russian armed forces. And Ukrainians will have to fight against Ukrainians,” she said, stopping short as she broke into tears.

It was a concern expressed repeatedly by residents in occupied areas, as well as by Ukrainian officials: that one of the first consequences of annexation would be conscription of Ukrainians into the Russian military. That is already the case in parts of Luhansk and Donetsk occupied by Russia since 2014.

Andriy, 44, who has friends and relatives in Kherson, said he had spoken with friends who said it wasn’t possible to leave the city because of the referendum. “You know, those who are smart, they sit at home and don’t go anywhere,” he said.

Anna Lukinova and Maria Varenikova contributed reporting from Kyiv, Ukraine.

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Ukraine Weighs a Risky Offensive to Break Out of a Stalemate

KYIV, Ukraine — For months Russian and Ukrainian soldiers have waged a brutal war across a 1,500-mile front line, inflicting casualties, fighting to the point of exhaustion and making slow gains in territory when they were not suffering costly setbacks.

After beginning with the Russian seizure of part of southern Ukraine and a failed strike at the capital, Kyiv, and then pivoting to a bloody artillery battle in the country’s east, the war is entering a third chapter. A battlefield stalemate prevails, with hostilities at a simmer, amid anxious uncertainty over whether — and when — Ukraine will launch a counteroffensive to try to break the deadlock.

The timing for any such attack has emerged as a pivotal decision for Ukraine’s government. Both sides are preparing for a protracted war, but Ukraine has greater incentive to try to avoid it with potentially risky maneuvers as early as this fall — before the rainy season turns the countryside into impassable bogs, or energy shortages and soaring costs undermine European support.

with its propaganda, arresting or driving out opponents, and potentially declaring the land part of Russia after staging sham referendums.

killed an ultranationalist commentator last weekend. The attacks had Russia’s pro-war hawks calling for revenge.

increasing the target size of the armed forces by 137,000, to 1.15 million.

Analysts said the decree hinted that Mr. Putin was preparing for a long and grinding war, but not necessarily a large-scale draft that would mark a major escalation and perhaps prompt a domestic backlash.

“Expectations that this will end by Christmas or that this will end by next spring” are misguided, said Ruslan Pukhov, a defense analyst who runs the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a privately-owned think tank in Moscow. “I think this will last a very long time.”

Ukraine was bolstered this week by the promise of a $3 billion military aid package from the United States. Biden administration officials said the aid was as much a message to Mr. Putin that the United States is in this for the long haul, as it was to Ukraine that America will continue to try to hold the NATO alliance together in backing Kyiv indefinitely.

Administration officials insist that President Biden is committed to helping Ukraine win, even in a war of attrition, if it comes to that. Colin H. Kahl, under secretary of defense for policy, said at a news conference this week that Mr. Putin’s assumption that he can “win the long game’’ was “yet another Russian miscalculation.”

In Russian state media, the message that Russia might be only at the start of a long and existential war against the West — now being fought, by proxy, in Ukraine — is sounding with increasing clarity. It is a sharp shift from six months ago, when Ukrainians were depicted as lacking the will to fight and eagerly awaiting Russian “liberation.”

“We will have fewer Russian tourists in Europe, but the size of the Russian army will increase by 140,000 regular servicemen,” Igor Korotchenko, the editor of a Russian military journal, said on a state television talk show. “I expect that this is just the beginning.”

While Mr. Putin may be content with a protracted standoff, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine is in some ways fighting against the clock.



What we consider before using anonymous sources. How do the sources know the information? What’s their motivation for telling us? Have they proved reliable in the past? Can we corroborate the information? Even with these questions satisfied, The Times uses anonymous sources as a last resort. The reporter and at least one editor know the identity of the source.


“The very difficult state of our economy, the constant risks of air and missile attacks and the general fatigue of the population from the difficulties of war will work against Ukraine” over time, Andriy Zagorodnyuk, a former defense minister, wrote in the Ukrainska Pravda newspaper. He said the military should be prepared to advance, rather than defend.

“It makes no sense to drag out the war for years and compete to see who will run out of resources first,” he wrote.

Stage-managed elections to justify annexation could come as early as next month, Western officials say, putting additional time pressure on Mr. Zelensky to launch an offensive.

But several military analysts say there is a disconnect between Ukrainian civilian leaders, pressing for a major victory, and military leaders who want to ensure they have sufficient troops and combat power before conducting a major offensive.

“There’s a desire to show international partners that their support will enable Ukraine to win, not just hold on,” said Jack Watling, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London, who just returned from Ukraine. “And there is an expectation from the Ukrainian people they’ll be able to liberate their territory.”

But he cautioned, “a military offensive needs to be based on conditions on the battlefield,” not in the political arena.

Over the last month, the Ukrainians have pivoted to the new strategy of so-called “deep war” — hitting targets far behind the front — after months of grim artillery duels and street fighting in the eastern region of Luhansk, which ultimately fell under Russian control by early July.

Using long-range, precision guided rockets provided by the United States and others, the Ukrainian military has been striking Russian weapons depots, bases, command centers and troop positions deep into occupied territory, including Crimea, the peninsula Mr. Putin seized in 2014.

Ukraine has for months been telegraphing plans for the major battle in the south; the types of weapons it has requested from Western allies and the tactics it pursues on the battlefield offering clues to its strategy.

Tellingly, a recent U.S. military assistance package included armored vehicles with mine-clearing attachments that would be used in a ground advance, suggesting preparations for the opening of what would be a new, ground attack phase of the war. Ukraine pushed back Russian forces that were in disarray in the battle for Kyiv last winter, but has yet to demonstrate it can overrun well-fortified Russian defenses.

For Mr. Putin, even a partial loss of territory as a result of a counteroffensive would represent a major embarrassment, in part because of how he has framed the stakes: Ukraine, he falsely claims, is carrying out a “genocide” of Russian speakers. Russia has failed to capture a single major population center since early July, frustrating the war’s most ardent backers.

But the Russian leader, in control of the state media and the political system, is well-situated for the moment to ignore any criticism, analysts say.

Instead, Mr. Putin insists that his forces are advancing in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region “step by step.”

A senior Biden official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential assessments, countered that narrative in an interview on Friday, describing the Russian advance in Donbas as so slow that “a good day for them is if they advance 500 meters.”

Though conventional wisdom has held that stringing out the war would favor Russia, it also carries risks for Mr. Putin, doing more damage to his economy and bringing more Western weaponry to bear: Despite the arrival of artillery systems from NATO members, Ukraine’s arsenal is still largely made up of Soviet-era arms.

At home in Ukraine, Mr. Zelensky has broad support for continuing the war. An opinion poll by the Razumkov Center, a policy research organization in Kyiv, released on Monday showed 92 percent of Ukrainians are confident in a military victory.

With the decision on an attack in the south looming, Mr. Zelensky has taken pains to show unity with his generals. At a news conference this week, he praised the commander, General Valeriy Zaluzhny, and denied rumors he intended to dismiss the general.

“We work as a team,” Mr. Zelensky said. Asked to assess the general’s performance, he said, “The most important assessment is we are holding on. That means the assessment is high. When we win, it will be the highest assessment.”

Andrew E. Kramer reported from Kyiv, Anton Troianovski from Berlin and Helene Cooper from Washington. Reporting was contributed by Eric Schmitt from Washington and Oleksandr Chubko from Kyiv.

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Long War Looms, Officials Say, Despite Ukraine’s Defiant Message

Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

KYIV, Ukraine — Even as the Ukrainian government sought to bolster the nation’s resolve with defiant commemorations of its Independence Day, military leaders tried to brace the public for a long, bloody slog ahead as Russia appeared to be aiming to strengthen its grip on Ukrainian territory it has seized.

“It’s going to be very difficult; it’s not going to be easy,” the head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, Oleksiy Danilov, said in an interview aired Wednesday with Radio Liberty, a U.S.-funded independent news organization. “And if someone thinks that we have already passed some kind of Rubicon and that the rest will be like clockwork, unfortunately, it will not be.”

The Russian Ministry of Defense has said it was slowing the pace of its military campaign — a reflection, Western military analysts say, of the Kremlin’s need to explain the lack of military progress at home after going weeks without gaining significant new ground in Ukraine.

But Moscow continues to rain rocket strikes on the country, including on Wednesday, when two dozen people were killed in an attack on a train station in the east. And the United States warned that Moscow may try to stage “sham” referendums, possibly as soon as this weekend, in order to provide a veil of legitimacy as it moves to annex parts of the country under its control.

“We expect Russia to try to manipulate the results of these referenda under the false claim of the Ukrainian people wanting to join Russia,” John F. Kirby, the National Security Council spokesman, told reporters on Wednesday. “It will be critical to call out and counter this disinformation in real time.”

He did not offer more detail on why the United States thinks referendums could move so quickly, or what effect such a move could have on efforts to negotiate an end to the fighting. President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has previously said he would end talks with Russia if Moscow holds referendums in occupied areas.

The Ukrainian government has been urging people living under occupation to resist pressure to participate in the referendums. Its network of partisan fighters have stepped up their attacks on local Russian proxy administrations.

The Ukrainian military’s southern command said on Thursday that “local resistance prevents the Russians from taking organizational measures to prepare a fake demonstration of will.”

The concern about Moscow’s referendum planning underscores the steep challenges Ukraine faces as it seeks to translate losses it has recently inflicted against Russian forces into successfully regaining territory. Moscow is now estimated to control some 20 percent of Ukraine.

Strikes against ammunition depots and command centers — along with the work of partisans targeting Russian occupation forces behind enemy lines — are part of a counteroffensive as the Ukrainians seeks to both degrade Russian forces and sow chaos.

But as Mr. Zelensky and other leaders have vowed that Ukraine will win the war, they have also repeatedly urged Ukrainians living under Russian occupation to be patient.

Ukrainian forces have yet to make any major push to drive the Russians from occupied territory, and officials have said they understand they have a limited amount of time to take advantage of Russia’s apparent struggles. And Ukraine, too, has lost fighters and equipment, as its civilians have suffered through frequent Russian strikes.

Mr. Danilov said the hardest days may yet lie ahead.

“We will have a big war with this country,” he said, “and we will have to put a lot of effort in order to win.”

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Married Kremlin Spies, a Shadowy Mission to Moscow and Unrest in Catalonia

BARCELONA, Spain — In the spring of 2019, an emissary of Catalonia’s top separatist leader traveled to Moscow in search of a political lifeline.

The independence movement in Catalonia, the semiautonomous region in Spain’s northeast, had been largely crushed after a referendum on breaking away two years earlier. The European Union and the United States, which supported Spain’s effort to keep the country intact, had rebuffed the separatists’ pleas for support.

But in Russia, a door was opening.

In Moscow, the emissary, Josep Lluis Alay, a senior adviser to the self-exiled former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, met with current Russian officials, former intelligence officers and the well-connected grandson of a K.G.B. spymaster. The aim was to secure Russia’s help in severing Catalonia from the rest of Spain, according to a European intelligence report, which was reviewed by The New York Times.

recordings revealed a Russian plot to covertly finance the hard-right League party. In Britain, a Times investigation uncovered discussions among right-wing fringe figures about opening bank accounts in Moscow. And in Spain, the Russians have also offered assistance to far-right parties, according to the intelligence report.

Whether Mr. Alay knew it or not, many of the officials he met in Moscow are involved in what has become known as the Kremlin’s hybrid war against the West. This is a layered strategy involving propaganda and disinformation, covert financing of disruptive political movements, hacking and leaking information (as happened in the 2016 U.S. presidential election) and “active measures” like assassinations meant to erode the stability of Moscow’s adversaries.

It is unclear what help, if any, the Kremlin has provided to the Catalan separatists. But Mr. Alay’s trips to Moscow in 2019 were followed quickly by the emergence of a secretive protest group, Tsunami Democratic, which disrupted operations at Barcelona’s airport and cut off a major highway linking Spain to northern Europe. A confidential police report by Spain’s Guardia Civil, obtained by The Times, found that Mr. Alay was involved in the creation of the protest group.

Unit 29155, which has been linked to attempted coups and assassinations in Europe, had been present in Catalonia around the time of the referendum, but Spain has provided no evidence that they played an active role.

Many Catalan independence leaders have accused the authorities in Madrid of using the specter of Russian interference to tarnish what they described as a grass-roots movement of regular citizens. The referendum was supported by a fragile coalition of three political parties that quickly dissolved over disputes about ideology and strategy. Even as some parties pushed for a negotiated settlement with Madrid, Mr. Puigdemont, a former journalist with a Beatles-like mop of hair, has eschewed compromise.

Asked about the Russian outreach, the current Catalan government under President Pere Aragones distanced itself from Mr. Puigdemont.

railed against the “silence of the main European institutions.”

The European Union declared the Catalan independence referendum illegal. Russia’s position, by contrast, was more equivocal. President Vladimir V. Putin described the Catalan separatist drive as Europe’s comeuppance for supporting independence movements in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Soviet Union.

“There was a time when they welcomed the collapse of a whole series of governments in Europe, not hiding their happiness about this,” Mr. Putin said. “We talk about double standards all the time. There you go.”

In March 2019, Mr. Alay traveled to Moscow, just weeks after leaders of the Catalan independence movement went on trial. Three months later, Mr. Alay went again.

In Russia, according to the intelligence report, Mr. Alay and Mr. Dmitrenko met with several active foreign intelligence officers, as well as Oleg V. Syromolotov, the former chief of counterintelligence for the Federal Security Service, Russia’s domestic intelligence agency, who now oversees counterterrorism as a deputy minister at the Russian foreign ministry.

Mr. Alay denied meeting Mr. Syromolotov and the officers but acknowledged meeting Yevgeny Primakov, the grandson of a famous K.G.B. spymaster, in order to secure an interview with Mr. Puigdemont on an international affairs program he hosted on Kremlin television. Last year, Mr. Primakov was appointed by Mr. Putin to run a Russian cultural agency that, according to European security officials, often serves as a front for intelligence operations.

“Good news from Moscow,” Mr. Alay later texted to Mr. Puigdemont, informing him of Mr. Primakov’s appointment. In another exchange, Mr. Dmitrenko told Mr. Alay that Mr. Primakov’s elevation “puts him in a very good position to activate things between us.”

Mr. Alay also confirmed meeting Andrei Bezrukov, a decorated former officer with Russia’s foreign intelligence service. For more than a decade, Mr. Bezrukov and his wife, Yelena Vavilova, were deep cover operatives living in the United States using the code names Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley.

It was their story of espionage, arrest and eventual return to Russia in a spy swap that served as a basis for the television series “The Americans.” Mr. Alay appears to have become close with the couple. Working with Mr. Dmitrenko, he spent about three months in the fall of 2020 on a Catalan translation of Ms. Vavilova’s autobiographical novel “The Woman Who Can Keep Secrets,” according to his encrypted correspondence.

Mr. Alay, who is also a college professor and author, said he was invited by Mr. Bezrukov, who now teaches at a Moscow university, to deliver two lectures.

Mr. Alay was accompanied on each of his trips by Mr. Dmitrenko, 33, a Russian businessman who is married to a Catalan woman. Mr. Dmitrenko did not respond to requests for comment. But Spanish authorities have monitored him and in 2019 rejected a citizenship application from him because of his Russian contacts, according to a Spanish Ministry of Justice decision reviewed by The Times.

The decision said Mr. Dmitrenko “receives missions” from Russian intelligence and also “does different jobs” for leaders of Russian organized crime.

A few months after Mr. Alay’s trips to Moscow, Catalonia erupted in protests.

A group calling itself Tsunami Democratic occupied the offices of one of Spain’s largest banks, closed a main highway between France and Spain for two days and orchestrated the takeover of the Barcelona airport, forcing the cancellation of more than a hundred flights.

The group’s origins have remained unclear, but one of the confidential police files stated that Mr. Alay attended a meeting in Geneva, where he and other independence activists finalized plans for Tsunami Democratic’s unveiling.

Three days after Tsunami Democratic occupied the Barcelona airport, two Russians flew from Moscow to Barcelona, the Catalan capital, according to flight records obtained by The Times.

One was Sergei Sumin, whom the intelligence report describes as a colonel in Russia’s Federal Protective Service, which oversees security for Mr. Putin and is not known for activities abroad.

The other was Artyom Lukoyanov, the adopted son of a top adviser to Mr. Putin, one who was deeply involved in Russia’s efforts to support separatists in eastern Ukraine.

According to the intelligence report, Mr. Alay and Mr. Dmitrenko met the two men in Barcelona for a strategy session to discuss the independence movement, though the report offered no other details.

Mr. Alay denied any connection to Tsunami Democratic. He confirmed that he had met with Mr. Sumin and Mr. Lukoyanov at the request of Mr. Dmitrenko, but only to “greet them politely.”

Even as the protests faded, Mr. Puigdemont’s associates remained busy. His lawyer, Mr. Boye, flew to Moscow in February 2020 to meet Vasily Khristoforov, whom Western law enforcement agencies describe as a senior Russian organized crime figure. The goal, according to the report, was to enlist Mr. Khristoforov to help set up a secret funding channel for the independence movement.

In an interview, Mr. Boye acknowledged meeting in Moscow with Mr. Khristoforov, who is wanted in several countries including Spain on suspicion of financial crimes, but said they only discussed matters relating to Mr. Khristoforov’s legal cases.

By late 2020, Mr. Alay’s texts reveal an eagerness to keep his Russian contacts happy. In exchanges with Mr. Puigdemont and Mr. Boye, he said they should avoid any public statements that might anger Moscow, especially about the democracy protests that Russia was helping to disperse violently in Belarus.

Mr. Puigdemont did not always heed the advice, appearing in Brussels with the Belarusian opposition and tweeting his support for the protesters, prompting Mr. Boye to text Mr. Alay that “we will have to tell the Russians that this was just to mislead.”

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Of Brexit and Boris: What’s Driving the Call for Scottish Independence

The millions of votes counted across Scotland on Saturday could be among the most consequential in recent times, and not because of their impact on things like health, education and fisheries. The greatest issue facing the country, and the one that was really at stake, was nowhere to be found on the ballot, and that is the future of its 314-year-old union with England.

While the last votes were still being counted on Saturday in the parliamentary elections, it appeared virtually certain that the pro-independence Scottish National Party would fall short of the majority it had hoped would create an irresistible momentum for a new referendum on breaking away from the United Kingdom. But it will retain power in Edinburgh, probably with the support of the Scottish Greens, guaranteeing that the issue will continue to dominate Scottish politics, as it has in recent years.

A lot. A second independence plebiscite, following one in 2014, could lead to the fracturing of the United Kingdom. Were Scotland to become independent, Britain would lose eight percent of its population, a third of its landmass and significant amounts of international prestige.

Some say the loss of Scotland would be the biggest blow to a British prime minister since Lord North lost the colonies in America in the 18th century. Understandably, the current prime minister, Boris Johnson, is no fan of the idea.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister. Her party has led the Scottish government for 14 years and she has earned praise for her steady handling of the coronavirus pandemic, particularly compared with the early performance of Mr. Johnson.

There are smaller parties that want another vote, too, like the Greens, who are close to the S.N.P. Another pro-independence party, Alba, is led by Alex Salmond, who is not an ally of Ms. Sturgeon — at least not any more. A former first minister himself, Mr. Salmond was once Ms. Sturgeon’s mentor, but the two have recently been embroiled in a bitter feud, and his election campaign fell flat.

Re-established in 1999, Scotland’s Parliament was designed to quiet calls for Scottish independence, but it hasn’t worked out like that. The pro-independence S.N.P. has become the dominant force and, in 2011, won a rare overall majority in a Parliament where the voting system is designed to avoid any one party’s domination. After that result, the Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron reluctantly agreed to the 2014 independence referendum.

Ms. Sturgeon had been hoping that a thumping victory for the pro-independence parties in these elections would give her the moral authority to demand another plebiscite. They fell short, but Ms. Sturgeon will keep up pressure for a referendum claiming that, combined with the vote for the Greens, she has a mandate.

They show a divided Scotland, split down the middle over independence. That is in line with the findings of opinion polls that last year showed a majority favoring independence only to fall back slightly in recent months. The Scottish Conservatives, the opposition Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats all oppose independence.

So dominant is the issue that some anti-independence voters seem to have switched allegiance from their normal parties to support the one most likely to defeat the S.N.P. in their area. Ms. Sturgeon is on course to remain first minister, which is an impressive achievement, but with her path to an overall majority likely cut off, her moral case for a second referendum has been weakened.

For a second independence referendum to be legal it would almost certainly need the agreement of London, and Mr. Johnson has repeatedly said no. That’s a big problem for Ms. Sturgeon, because she wants the result of any second referendum to be accepted internationally and for Scotland to be allowed to return to the European Union.

Far from it. Even if she has to rely on the Greens, Ms. Sturgeon is likely to have enough votes to push legislation for “indyref2” through the Scottish Parliament and then challenge Mr. Johnson or his allies to stop it in court.

That could cause a constitutional crisis. After all, Scotland’s union with England in 1707 was voluntary, making it hard for London to say no forever to another referendum. And Ms. Sturgeon may calculate that support for independence will only grow if Scots see the popular will being blocked by a government in England.

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Scottish Election Could Boost Independence Movement

If the pro-independence vote surges in Thursday’s elections for the Scottish Parliament, momentum for an another referendum on independence may become unstoppable.


It has weathered the conquest and loss of an empire, survived two world wars and witnessed more than one deadly pandemic. But now Scotland’s ancient alliance with England is itself in poor health and on Thursday it could take a serious turn for the worse.

When Scottish voters go to the polls to elect 129 members of Scotland’s Parliament , strictly speaking the question of independence will not be on the ballot.

Yet, as these photos vividly illustrate, Scotland is grappling with an uncertain future. Pressure is growing for a second referendum on whether to leave the United Kingdom, breaking up a 314-year-old union. If Scots vote in sufficient numbers for pro-independence parties in Thursday’s election, the momentum for another plebiscite could become unstoppable.

shellfish catches spoiled and boats tied up in harbors.

Both sides of the debate see lessons in that. The pro-independence Scottish National Party, led by the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, points to the economic damage and says she would aim to rejoin the European Union after breaking away from England. In so doing Scotland could make a success of independence like other small nations like Ireland, which took that step a century ago.

Her critics say that this would pile more economic misery on top of Brexit by destroying the common economic market with England, easily Scotland’s biggest trading partner. It would probably also mean a physical trade border between England and Scotland, a frontier that is in some places hard even to spot.

Nonetheless, the 2016 Brexit referendum showed that appeals to emotion can trump those to the wallet. In Scotland identity issues have grown within a proud nation that always maintained a separate, some would say superior, legal and educational system.

Ms. Sturgeon’s S.N.P. is aiming for a rare overall majority in the Scottish Parliament to justify her calls for a second independence referendum. Failing that, she hopes that votes for other pro-independence parties, especially the Greens, will be enough to bolster her case.

Support for independence in opinion polls peaked last year at above 50 percent while Ms. Sturgeon’s handling of the pandemic looked sure-footed at a time when Mr. Johnson’s seemed chaotic.

But the successful rollout the Covid-19 vaccine — for which Mr. Johnson can take credit — has coincided with a slight dip in Ms. Sturgeon’s fortunes. Also campaigning in Thursday election is Alex Salmond, a veteran of the pro-independence cause but now a sworn enemy of Ms. Sturgeon who was once his protégé. The two politicians fell out over Ms. Sturgeon’s role in a bungled investigation into allegations against Mr. Salmond of sexual misconduct.

After months of feuding with her former mentor, Ms. Sturgeon survived a damaging crisis but Mr. Salmond has formed a new pro-independence party, Alba.

There are domestic issues at stake too and, after 14 years in power in Edinburgh, the S.N.P. has many critics in Scotland. In TV debates Ms. Sturgeon has been forced to defend her record on everything ranging from educational achievement to Scotland’s poor record on drug deaths.

In the Shetland Islands some voters feel as remote from Ms. Sturgeon’s government in Edinburgh as from Mr. Johnson’s in London, and there is even talk of the islands opting for independence from Scotland.

On the mainland the mood is uncertainty. For Ms. Sturgeon tough questions lie ahead about whether an independent Scotland could afford the sort of social policies she favors without the support of taxpayers in England or their central bank.

Noticeably absent from these photos is Mr. Johnson, who has stayed away from Scotland, knowing that his presence would probably undercut the Conservative Party’s pitch to preserve the union. Educated at Britain’s most famous high school, Eton College, and then Oxford University, Mr. Johnson’s cultivated English upper-class persona tends to grate on Scottish voters.

Despite his absence the stakes are for high for Mr. Johnson. The loss of Scotland would deprive the United Kingdom of about a third of its landmass and significant international prestige.

It would also likely mean the closure of the Faslane nuclear submarine base that the S.N.P. opposes, believing its location makes the nearby city of Glasgow a military target.

Were Mr. Johnson to lose a Scottish independence referendum, he would probably have to resign, and his strategy so far has simply been to reject calls for one. For a plebiscite to be legally binding an agreement almost certainly would have to first be struck with London, and the prime minister can continue to stonewall for some time.

But whatever the law, it’s hard to say no indefinitely. And a centuries-old union could face its greatest test if a majority in Scotland, which joined voluntarily with England in 1707, thinks now is the time to think again.

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Navalny’s Group Is Disbanding Its Network in Russia

MOSCOW — Associates of Aleksei A. Navalny have been forced to disband the imprisoned Russian opposition leader’s network of 40 regional offices, one of his top aides said Thursday, a step that pushes the domestic resistance to President Vladimir V. Putin further underground.

The move was inevitable, Mr. Navalny’s aide, Leonid Volkov, said in a YouTube video, amid the Kremlin’s latest efforts to stifle political dissent. Moscow prosecutors on April 16 announced that they would seek a court ruling to have Mr. Navalny’s movement declared an extremist organization, and the court quickly ordered Mr. Navalny’s groups to halt all public activity, including participating in political campaigns or referendums.

“Alas, we must be honest: it’s impossible to work under these conditions,” Mr. Volkov said, warning that continuing to operate would expose Navalny supporters to criminal prosecution. “We are officially disbanding the network of Navalny offices.”

Mr. Volkov predicted that while some offices would close, others would transform into independent political entities engaged in local politics. Either way, the end of Mr. Navalny’s nationwide network — from Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea to Vladivostok on the Pacific — represented the end of an era in Russian politics.

February conviction for defamation of a World War II veteran that resulted in an $11,500 fine. The court denied the appeal.

It was Mr. Navalny’s first public appearance since he started his hunger strike demanding better medical treatment.

Mr. Navalny ended the hunger strike last week after 24 days, saying his demands had been partially met. On the courtroom video screens, Mr. Navalny appeared gaunt, but as he talked over the judge’s attempts to interrupt his closing statement, his voice sounded nearly as forceful as it was in his dramatic courtroom appearances earlier this year.

Mr. Putin, Mr. Navalny said, was trying to wrap himself in the glory of the Soviet Union’s victory in World War II in order to justify his effort to stay in power.

“Your king with no clothes has stolen the banner of victory and is trying to fashion it into a thong for himself,” Mr. Navalny said, addressing the judge, according to a recording of his speech published by the BBC’s Russian-language service. “All your authorities are occupiers and traitors.”

splashy corruption investigations published on YouTube, the local offices highlighted what they described as theft and injustice carried out by local officials.

“Most will continue their work as self-sufficient, independent, regional civic and political movements, with strong people at the helm,” Mr. Volkov said of the offices. “This means that everything we have done together up until now will not have been for naught.”

Mr. Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation continues to operate, though prosecutors are also seeking to have it outlawed as extremist. Some of Mr. Navalny’s associates are keeping the foundation running from outside Russia; on Wednesday, they published a video disclosing what they said were the salaries of Mr. Navalny’s loudest critics on RT, the Russian state-funded television network.

Prosecutors have for years harried Mr. Navalny and other opposition figures, but usually under pretexts like violating rules on public gatherings, laws unrelated to their political activities or more recently regulations against gatherings to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

That approach provided a pretense of legal acceptance for political dissent, which is guaranteed under Russia’s 1993 post-Soviet Constitution. But this month’s effort to declare Mr. Navalny’s movement “extremist” has been distinct for directly targeting the political activity of Mr. Navalny’s nongovernmental organizations.

Hearings in the extremism case are continuing this week — behind closed doors, because the evidence has been deemed classified. When they announced the case this month, the prosecutors argued that Mr. Navalny’s groups were seditious organizations disguised as a political movement. In a news release, prosecutors said that “under the guise of liberal slogans these organizations are busy forming conditions for destabilizing the social and sociopolitical situation.”

Andrew E. Kramer contributed reporting.

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Navalny’s Group Is Shutting all Its Offices in Russia

MOSCOW — Associates of Aleksei A. Navalny have been forced to disband the imprisoned Russian opposition leader’s network of 40 regional offices, one of his top aides said Thursday, a step that pushes the domestic resistance to President Vladimir V. Putin further underground.

The move was inevitable, Mr. Navalny’s aide, Leonid Volkov, said in a YouTube video, amid the Kremlin’s latest efforts to stifle political dissent. Moscow prosecutors on April 16 announced that they would seek a court ruling to have Mr. Navalny’s movement declared an extremist organization, and the court quickly ordered Mr. Navalny’s groups to halt all public activity, including participating in political campaigns or referendums.

“Alas, we must be honest: It’s impossible to work under these conditions,” Mr. Volkov said, warning that continuing to operate would expose Navalny supporters to criminal prosecution. “We are officially disbanding the network of Navalny offices.”

Mr. Volkov predicted that while some offices would close, others would transform into independent political entities engaged in local politics. Either way, the end of Mr. Navalny’s nationwide network — from Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea to Vladivostok on the Pacific — represented the end of an era in Russian politics.

splashy corruption investigations published on YouTube, the local offices highlighted what they described as theft and injustice carried out by local officials.

“Most will continue their work as self-sufficient, independent, regional civic and political movements, with strong people at the helm,” Mr. Volkov said of the offices. “This means that everything we have done together up until now will not have been for naught.”

February conviction for defamation of a World War II veteran that resulted in an $11,500 fine. It was his first public appearance since he started his hunger strike demanding better medical treatment.

Mr. Navalny ended the hunger strike last week after 24 days, saying his demands had been partially met. On the courtroom video screens Thursday, Mr. Navalny appeared gaunt, but as he talked over the judge’s attempts to interrupt his closing statement, his voice sounded nearly as forceful as it was in his dramatic courtroom appearances earlier this year.

Mr. Putin, Mr. Navalny said, was trying to wrap himself in the glory of the Soviet Union’s victory in World War II in order to justify his effort to stay in power.

“Your king with no clothes has stolen the banner of victory and is trying to fashion it into a thong for himself,” Mr. Navalny said, addressing the judge, according to a recording of his speech published by the BBC Russian Service. “All your authorities are occupiers and traitors.”

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Russia Suspends Public Activity by Navalny’s Political Groups

MOSCOW — Prosecutors in President Vladimir V. Putin’s government ordered an immediate halt on Monday to all public activity by Aleksei A. Navalny’s political groups, in one of the more sweeping legal moves against the Russian opposition in recent years.

Previously, prosecutors had targeted Mr. Navalny and other opposition figures mostly on pretexts, such as accusations they had violated rules for public gatherings, laws unrelated to politics or more recently restrictions on public meetings because of the coronavirus.

The order issued on Monday differed from those precedents in that it directly targeted the opposition groups for what are usually seen as political activities.

It was the latest move in a long cat-and-mouse battle between Mr. Putin and Mr. Navalny. The opposition leader has led an anti-corruption drive that has frustrated and embarrassed the Russian leader for years, despite unrelenting pressure from the Russian authorities.

wrote on Twitter, referring to a voting strategy in which the opposition coalesces around the single strongest candidate in a given race.

Though overshadowed by the assassination attempt on Mr. Navalny last year and his imprisonment and hunger strike this spring, the legal onslaught against his movement also carries potentially far-reaching implications. Mr. Putin’s system of governance is sometimes called a “soft authoritarian” approach because it allows open opposition and more internet freedoms than in China.

Other political parties exist in Russia that are ostensibly in the opposition, but in fact they back Mr. Putin and most of his policies while criticizing officials lower down the pecking order, such as regional governors. The order singled out Mr. Navalny’s nongovernmental groups — he has not been allowed to form a legal political party — for posing a risk to “the interests of the Russian Federation.”

The evidence in the case has been classified. The order, which was published online by Mr. Navalny’s aides, said the ban covering three of Mr. Navalny’s nongovernmental organizations could be appealed but would otherwise be in effect until a court ruling that might make it permanent.

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