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Live Updates: Russia Says Focus Is Shifting Away From Kyiv, Toward Eastern Ukraine

Russia signaled a possible recalibration of its war aims in Ukraine on Friday as the Kremlin faced spreading global ostracism for the brutal invasion, hardened Western economic punishments and a determined Ukrainian resistance that appeared to be making some gains on the ground.

A statement by Russia’s Defense Ministry said the goals of the “first stage of the operation” had been “mainly accomplished,” with Ukraine’s combat capabilities “significantly reduced,” and that it would now focus on securing Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, where Russia-backed separatists have been fighting for eight years.

The Defense Ministry statement was ambiguous about further possible Russian territorial ambitions in Ukraine, where its ground forces have been mostly stymied by the unexpectedly strong Ukrainian military response.

But on a day when President Biden was visiting U.S. soldiers in Poland near the Ukrainian border, the statement suggested the possibility that the Russians were looking for a way to salvage some kind of achievement before the costs of the war they launched a month ago became impossibly onerous.

While Russia “does not exclude” that its forces will storm major Ukrainian cities such as Chernihiv, Mykolaiv and the capital, Kyiv, the Defense Ministry statement said that taking them over was not the primary objective.

Credit…Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

“As individual units carry out their tasks — and they are being solved successfully — our forces and means will be concentrated on the main thing: the complete liberation of the Donbas,” Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi, a senior Russian military commander, said in the statement, his first since Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24.

Whether General Rudskoi’s statement was sincere or simply strategic misdirection was difficult to assess. But the statement amounted to the most direct acknowledgment yet that Russia may be unable to take full control of Ukraine and would instead target the Donbas region, where Russia has recognized the independence of two Kremlin-backed separatist areas that it calls the “Donetsk People’s Republic” and the “Luhansk People’s Republic.”

Russia has also insisted that Ukraine recognize its control of Crimea, which President Vladimir V. Putin’s forces seized from Ukraine in 2014.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has ruled out ceding those regions to stop the war.

Pavel Luzin, a Russian military analyst, cautioned that the public pronouncements of Russian military commanders should be regarded skeptically. While Russia could indeed be narrowing its war aims, he said, General Rudskoi’s statement could also be a feint as Russia regroups for a new offensive.

Credit…Natalia Kolesnikova/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“We could say that this is a signal that we’re no longer insisting on dismantling Ukrainian statehood,” Mr. Luzin said. “But I would rather see it as a distracting maneuver.”

General Rudskoi’s statement came as Ukraine acknowledged that Russian forces had been “partially successful” in achieving one of their key objectives — securing a land corridor from Russia to the Crimean Peninsula.

While Russia already controlled much of the area, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said the route allowed Russian troops and supplies to flow between Crimea and Russia.

But some Ukrainian officials said the significance of such a route might be overstated. Oleksandr Danylyuk, a former secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine under Mr. Zelensky, described the land bridge as a minor Russian victory and said the Kremlin was moving to secure Donetsk and Luhansk to “sell to the Russian public as a potential victory.”

In Moscow, Mr. Putin, who has made any criticism of the war a potential crime, used a televised videoconference with the winners of a presidential arts prize on Friday to deliver a diatribe about “cancel culture” that made no mention of the war in Ukraine.

In embracing a term that has become a favorite of the American political right to reprise his contention that the West is trying to erase Russian culture and history, Mr. Putin cited J.K. Rowling, author of the “Harry Potter” books, whose comments about transgender women have been criticized as transphobic.

Credit…Pool photo by Mikhail Klimentyev

“Not so long ago, the children’s writer J.K. Rowling was also ‘canceled’ for the fact that she — the author of books that have sold hundreds of millions of copies around the world — did not please fans of so-called gender freedoms,” Mr. Putin said.

Ms. Rowling responded on Twitter that, “Critiques of Western cancel culture are possibly not best made by those currently slaughtering civilians for the crime of resistance, or who jail and poison their critics.” She added the hashtag #IStandWithUkraine.

As Mr. Putin spoke, there were indications that Ukrainian forces were making some progress in the second week of their counteroffensive. A senior Pentagon official said that Russian forces no longer had full control of the southern port of Kherson and that the city, the first major urban center to be captured in the Russian invasion, was now “contested territory.”

The Pentagon assessment contradicted General Rudskoi’s claim on Friday that the Kherson region was “under full control.”

In another sign of the bloody stalemate in Ukraine, Russian soldiers have adopted “defensive positions” near Kyiv, the Pentagon official said, adding that Russia appeared to be “prioritizing” the fight in eastern Ukraine, as General Rudskoi had indicated.

“Clearly, they overestimated their ability to take Kyiv and overestimated their ability to take any population center,” the Pentagon official said.

Mr. Biden, on the second day of his three-day visit to Europe because of the Ukraine crisis, traveled to Rzeszow, Poland, about 50 miles from the Ukrainian border, where he met with members of the 82nd Airborne Division who are serving as part of NATO’s efforts to protect Poland and other member states from Russian aggression.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Greeting American service members who were eating pizza in a cafeteria, Mr. Biden called them “the finest fighting force in the history of the world,” and added, “I personally thank you for what you do.”

Later, Mr. Biden met with President Andrzej Duda of Poland and officials managing the humanitarian response to the more than two million Ukrainian refugees who have fled to Poland to escape the shelling and deprivation.

Mr. Biden also announced a deal to increase U.S. shipments of natural gas to help wean Europe off Russian energy. But it remained unclear exactly how the administration would achieve its goals.

The deal calls for the United States to send an additional 15 billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas — roughly 10 to 12 percent of current annual U.S. exports to all countries. But it does not address the lack of port capacity to ship and receive more gas on both sides of the Atlantic.

Still, American gas executives welcomed a renewed emphasis on exports as a sign that the Biden administration was now seeking to promote the U.S. oil and gas industry rather than punish it for contributions to climate change.

“I have no idea how they are going to do this, but I don’t want to criticize them because for the first time they are trying to do the right thing,” said Charif Souki, executive chairman of Tellurian, a U.S. gas producer that is planning to build an export terminal in Louisiana.

Robert Habeck, the vice chancellor and economic minister of Germany, said his country expected to halve imports of Russian oil by midsummer and nearly end them by year’s end — sooner than many thought possible. He estimated that Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, could be free of Russian gas by mid-2024.

Images and videos from Ukraine that emerged on Friday underscored the escalating death toll and destruction.

Newly surfaced security camera footage, verified by The New York Times, showed an attack on people in line for emergency aid outside a post office and shopping center in the battered northeastern city of Kharkiv on Thursday. Oleg Sinegubov, the head of the regional government there, said that at least six civilians had been killed and 15 wounded.

Credit…Felipe Dana/Associated Press

Photographs out of Kharkiv on Friday also showed a large fireball and nearby cars and buildings on fire, as residents fled on foot and bicycle, carrying whatever belongings they could grab in the aftermath of the attack.

In the central city of Dnipro, Russian missile strikes on a military facility destroyed buildings late Thursday night, according to Ukrainian officials, who said that casualties were still being assessed.

And in Mariupol, the southern port savaged by Russian attacks, Ukrainian officials said that an estimated 300 people had been killed in a March 16 strike on a theater used as a bomb shelter.

It was unclear how officials had arrived at that estimate. Ukrainian officials have said that about 130 people were rescued from the theater, which was attacked even though “children” had been written in giant letters on the pavement on both sides of the building.

The United Nations said on Friday that more than 1,000 civilians have been killed, including 93 children, since Russia’s invasion began, many in what appeared to have been indiscriminate bombardments that could constitute war crimes.

The United Nations cautioned that it had not been able to verify the death toll in areas of intense conflict, including Mariupol, and said the actual number of injured and dead was likely to be considerably higher.

In a sign that diplomatic efforts were struggling, Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, rejected comments by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, who had suggested that Ukraine was open to concessions in four key areas.

In an interview released Friday, Mr. Erdogan, who is hosting talks between Ukrainian and Russian delegations, said that Ukraine was willing to drop its bid for NATO membership, accept Russian as an official language, make “certain concessions” about disarmament and agree to “collective security.”

Credit…Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

But Mr. Kuleba said the negotiations had proved “very difficult” and that Ukraine had “taken a strong position and does not relinquish its demands.”

“We insist, first of all, on a cease-fire, security guarantees and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” he said, adding that there was “no consensus with Russia on the four points mentioned by the president of Turkey.”

“In particular,” he said, “the Ukrainian language is and will be the only one state language in Ukraine.”

Anton Troianovski reported from Istanbul, Michael D. Shear from Warsaw and Michael Levenson from New York. Reporting was contributed by Helene Cooper from Washington, Ivan Nechepurenko from Istanbul, Valerie Hopkins from Lviv, Ukraine, Andrew E. Kramer from Kyiv, Megan Specia from Krakow, Poland, Nick Cumming-Bruce from Geneva and Clifford Krauss from Houston.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melissa Eddy contributed reporting.

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

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

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

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

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

reaching audiences that were once harder to reach.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

appeared in the information fortress the Kremlin is building.

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

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

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

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

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

Claire Fu contributed research.

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Live Updates: Ukraine Counterattacks as Russia Pounds Civilian Targets

ODESSA, Ukraine — Ukrainian forces carried out counter-offensives against Russian positions on Wednesday, seeking to inflict what one official called “maximum losses,” even as the invading Russian military stepped up its lethal attacks on cities.

In Mariupol, an airstrike destroyed a theater where about 1,000 people had taken shelter, according to city and regional administrators, and photos and videos posted online showed the burning wreckage of the building. Officials in Mariupol, the besieged southern city that has suffered the most intense bombardment, said they could not yet estimate the number of casualties among civilians, who might have been in a bomb shelter beneath the theater.

After falling back under a relentless pounding over the war’s first weeks, Ukrainian troops tried to regain some momentum with counterattacks on Russian positions outside of Kyiv and in the Russian-occupied city of Kherson, in Ukraine’s south, a senior Ukrainian military official said.

Credit…Donetsk Regional Administration, via Reuters

Rather than seek to regain lost territory, Ukrainian forces tried to cause as much destruction and death as possible, attacking Russian troops and equipment with tanks, fighter jets and artillery, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive military information.

“In the task of inflicting maximum losses, we’ve done excellently,” the official said.

While President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine pleaded with Congress for more aid and President Biden promised more weaponry, Russia’s President Vladimir V. Putin falsely accused Ukraine of seeking weapons of mass destruction and asserted that what he called an “economic blitzkrieg” by the West, aimed at destroying Russia, had failed.

Mr. Putin also sneered at Russians who oppose the war, saying the Russian people could distinguish “true patriots from the scum and the traitors, and just to spit them out like a midge that accidentally flew into their mouths.”

Ukrainian and Russian negotiators held a third consecutive day of talks on a possible settlement to the conflict, and in typical fashion, the Kremlin left a muddy picture of its intentions. Mr. Putin’s bellicose, often false statements, larded with World War II references, clashed with more conciliatory comments from his underlings.

But little appeared to have changed on the battlefield. The war in Ukraine, about to enter its fourth week, has become a grinding daily slog with little evidence of significant gains for either side.

Details of the Ukrainian offensive could not be fully established independently, though several top Ukrainian officials, including key aides to Mr. Zelensky, confirmed that the counterattacks were underway.

In Kyiv, missile strikes and heavy artillery sounded overnight and in the early morning on Wednesday in exchanges in the outlying suburbs that were notably heavier and louder than in previous days. Two people were wounded and a residential building was damaged in a strike that landed near the city zoo, the second time in two days that shells have landed close to the city center.

Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Satellite pictures from Tuesday showed heavy black smoke above the Kherson airport, where the senior military official said Ukrainian forces had targeted parked Russian military aircraft.

Kherson was the first (and so far, only) major city to be fully taken over by Russian forces, which have turned it into a forward military base from which they have launched attacks on surrounding cities and villages, according to Ukrainian officials. On Tuesday, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that it had taken control of the entire Kherson region, giving Russian forces a significant foothold in southern Ukraine that Ukraine’s military will have difficulty dislodging.

Even so, neither side can be said to have made much progress militarily. The Institute for the Study of War, which has been tracking developments closely, noted in a Tuesday evening assessment that, for nearly two weeks, Russian forces have not been conducting extensive simultaneous attacks that would allow them to seize control of multiple areas at once in Ukraine. And they are unlikely to do so in the next week, it said.

In the absence of significant military gains, Russian forces on Wednesday continued a campaign of terror against Ukrainian civilians.

At least 10 people were killed when a Russian strike hit a bread line in Chernihiv, a city north of Kyiv that has been subject to intense shelling by Russian troops seeking to move on the capital. Ukraine’s prosecutor general’s office said in a statement that the attack occurred at about 10 a.m. as people were lined up at a grocery store. Photos released by the prosecutor’s office showed several bodies scattered around a dirt yard.

Using heavy artillery, cruise missiles and fighter jets, Russian forces have systematically targeted civilian areas with no military presence, striking apartment buildings, schools and hospitals in cities and villages all over a broad front in the north, east and south of Ukraine. The attacks may have killed thousands of civilians, though reaching a precise count of the dead has been impossible.

Saying it was “profoundly concerned” by Russia’s use of force, the International Court of Justice ordered Russia on Wednesday to suspend its military operations immediately, pending its full review of a case submitted by Ukraine last month. However, the order was not expected to lead to any immediate cessation in the onslaught.

According to the United Nations, at least 726 civilians have been killed, including 64 children, since the invasion began on Feb. 24, though its figures do not include areas where fighting has been heaviest, like Kharkiv and Mariupol. In Mariupol alone, which has been turned into a hellscape of burning and decimated buildings, local authorities say at least 2,400 have been killed, and probably far more.

In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, the municipal emergency services agency first reported on Wednesday that 500 civilians had been killed since the war began, but then revised that number to 100 later in the day. In any case, the agency said in statement on Facebook, the true number of deaths could be much higher, noting that emergency workers were continuing to scour the rubble of residential neighborhoods for more bodies, often under fire.

Western defense and intelligence agencies estimate that each side has suffered thousands of combatants killed.

Mr. Zelensky’s appeal to Congress on Wednesday was in part a desperate effort to obtain the weaponry and defenses capable of fending off such attacks. Central to this appeal was a call for a no-fly zone to be imposed over Ukraine, aimed at preventing Russian fighter jets, which cause some of the most severe death and destruction, from operating over Ukrainian territory. “Close the sky” has become a rallying cry for Ukrainian officials and regular citizens.

“Russia has turned the Ukrainian sky into a source of death for thousands of people,” Mr. Zelensky said.

Credit…Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

Knowing that the request had little chance of being approved, given that it would thrust American pilots into direct confrontation with the Russians, Mr. Zelensky quickly pivoted to something to which Republicans and Democrats have been far more receptive: asking for more weapons to enable his people to keep up the fight themselves.

Mr. Biden announced $800 million in new military aid to Ukraine, including antiaircraft and antitank missiles, body armor, vehicles, drones and small arms, bringing to $2 billion the amount delivered or pledged since early last year. But as expected, he did not offer to deliver warplanes or enforce a no-fly zone.

The United States and its allies have relied primarily on financial sanctions that are already devastating the Russian economy.

Mr. Putin, in a televised videoconference with top officials, once again falsely described the government in Kyiv, led by a Jewish president and prime minister, as being “pro-Nazi” and on its way to acquiring nuclear weapons. “Their aim, of course, would have been Russia,” he said.

And then he went deeper into unreality, accusing the government in Kyiv of disregard for the suffering of the Ukrainian people that his own forces were bombing every day.

“The fact that people are dying, that hundreds of thousands, millions have become refugees, that there is a real humanitarian catastrophe in cities held by neo-Nazis and armed criminals,” he said. “They’re indifferent.”

Russian officials closer to the talks said Wednesday there had been signs of progress, though even there, the picture was unclear. They said the idea of a neutral Ukraine, with a status like that of Sweden or Austria, was on the table, which their Ukrainian counterparts disputed.

Sergei V. Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, told a Russian television network that the status of the Russian language and Russian news outlets in Ukraine were under discussion, and that “there are concrete formulas that are close to being agreed on.”

Mr. Zelensky indicated that he was willing to compromise on one of Russia’s central demands. In his daily video message, he said Ukraine “must recognize” that it would not join NATO. He added that negotiations had become more “realistic.” But one of his negotiators, Mykhailo Podolyak, said Ukraine needed “absolute security guarantees,” including military support from its allies.

Michael Schwirtz reported from Odessa, Ukraine; Valerie Hopkins from Lviv, Ukraine; and Carlotta Gall from Kyiv. Reporting was contributed by Anton Troianovski and Ivan Nechepurenko from Istanbul, and Richard Pérez-Peña from New York.

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Ukraine Live Updates: Russian Airstrikes Kill at Least 35 at Base Near Polish Border

WASHINGTON — Russia asked China to give it military equipment and support for the war in Ukraine after President Vladimir V. Putin began a full-scale invasion last month, according to U.S. officials.

Russia has also asked China for additional economic assistance, to help counteract the battering its economy has taken from broad sanctions imposed by the United States and European and Asian nations, according to an official.

American officials, determined to keep secret their means of collecting the intelligence on Russia’s requests, declined to describe further the kind of military weapons or aid that Moscow is seeking. The officials also declined to discuss any reaction by China to the requests.

President Xi Jinping of China has strengthened a partnership with Mr. Putin and has stood by him as Russia has stepped up its military campaign, destroying cities in Ukraine and killing hundreds or thousands of civilians. American officials are watching China closely to see whether it will act on any requests of aid from Russia. Jake Sullivan, the White House national security adviser, is scheduled to meet on Monday in Rome with Yang Jiechi, a member of the Chinese Communist Party’s elite Politburo and director of the party’s Central Foreign Affairs Commission.

Mr. Sullivan intends to warn Mr. Yang about any future Chinese efforts to bolster Russia in its war or undercut Ukraine, the United States and their partners.

“We are communicating directly, privately to Beijing that there will absolutely be consequences for large-scale sanctions evasion efforts or support to Russia to backfill them,” Mr. Sullivan said on CNN on Sunday.

“We will not allow that to go forward and allow there to be a lifeline to Russia from these economic sanctions from any country anywhere in the world,” he said.

Mr. Sullivan did not make any explicit mention of potential military support from China, but other U.S. officials spoke about the request from Russia on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of diplomatic and intelligence matters.

Liu Pengyu, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, said he had never heard of the request from Russia. “The current situation in Ukraine is indeed disconcerting,” he said, adding that Beijing wants to see a peaceful settlement. “The high priority now is to prevent the tense situation from escalating or even getting out of control.”

The Biden administration is seeking to lay out for China the consequences of its alignment with Russia and penalties it will incur if it continues or increases its support. Some U.S. officials argue it might be possible to dissuade Beijing from ramping up its assistance to Moscow. Chinese leaders may be content to offer rhetorical support for Moscow and may not want to further enmesh themselves with Mr. Putin by providing military support for the war, those U.S. officials say.

Mr. Sullivan said China “was aware before the invasion took place that Vladimir Putin was planning something,” but added that the Chinese might not have known the full extent of the Russian leader’s plans. “It’s very possible that Putin lied to them, the same way he lied to Europeans and others,” he said.

Mr. Xi has met with Mr. Putin 38 times as national leaders, more than with any other head of state, and the two share a drive to weaken American power.

Traditionally, China has bought military equipment from Russia rather than the other way around. Russia has increased its sales of weaponry to China in recent years. But China has advanced missile and drone capabilities that Russia could use in its Ukraine campaign.

Although Russia on Sunday launched a missile barrage on a military training ground in western Ukraine that killed at least 35 people, there has been some evidence that Russian missile supplies have been running low, according to independent analysts.

Last week, the White House criticized China for helping spread Kremlin disinformation about the United States and Ukraine. In recent days, Chinese diplomats, state media organizations and government agencies have used a range of platforms and official social media accounts to amplify a conspiracy theory that says the Pentagon has been financing biological and chemical weapons labs in Ukraine. Right-wing political figures in the United States have also promoted the theory.

On Friday, Russia called a United Nations Security Council meeting to present its claims about the labs, and the Chinese ambassador to the U.N., Zhang Jun, supported his Russian counterpart.

“Now that Russia has made these false claims, and China has seemingly endorsed this propaganda, we should all be on the lookout for Russia to possibly use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine, or to create a false flag operation using them,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, wrote on Twitter last Wednesday.

China is also involved in the Iran nuclear negotiations, which have stalled because of new demands from Russia on relief from the sanctions imposed by Western nations in response to the Ukraine war.

American officials are trying to determine to what degree China would support Russia’s position in those talks. Before Russia raised the requests, officials from the nations involved had been close to clinching a return to a version of the Obama-era nuclear limits agreement from which Donald J. Trump withdrew, Mr. Sullivan might bring up Iran with Mr. Yang on Monday.

Current and former U.S. officials say the Rome meeting is important given the lives at stake in the Ukraine war and the possibility of Russia and China presenting a geopolitical united front against the United States and its allies in the years ahead.

“This meeting is critical and possibly a defining moment in the relationship,” said Evan Medeiros, a Georgetown University professor who was a senior Asia director on the National Security Council during the Obama administration.

“I think what the U.S. is probably going to do is lay out the costs and consequences of China’s complicity and possible enabling of Russia’s invasion,” he said. “I don’t think anyone in the administration has illusions that the U.S. can pull China away from Russia.”

Some U.S. officials are looking for ways to compel Mr. Xi to distance himself from Mr. Putin on the war. Others see Mr. Xi as a lost cause and prefer to treat China and Russia as committed partners, hoping that might galvanize policies and coordination among Asian and European allies to contain them both.

Chinese officials have consistently voiced sympathy for Russia during the Ukraine war by reiterating Mr. Putin’s criticism of NATO and blaming the United States for starting the conflict. They have refrained from any mention of a Russian “war” or “invasion,” even as they express general concern for the humanitarian crisis.

They mention support for “sovereignty and territorial integrity,” a common catchphrase in Chinese diplomacy, but do not say explicitly which nation’s sovereignty they support — meaning the phrase could be interpreted as backing for Ukraine or an endorsement of Mr. Putin’s claims to restoring the territory of imperial Russia.

China and Russia issued a 5,000-word statement on Feb. 4 saying their partnership had “no limits” when Mr. Putin met with Mr. Xi before the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Beijing. Around that time, senior Chinese officials asked senior Russian officials not to invade Ukraine before the end of the Games, according to U.S. and European officials who cite a Western intelligence report.

Starting last November, American officials quietly held talks with Chinese officials, including the ambassador in Washington and the foreign minister, to discuss intelligence showing Mr. Putin’s troop buildup to persuade the Chinese to tell the Russians not to launch a war, U.S. officials said. The Chinese officials rebuffed the Americans at every meeting and expressed skepticism that Mr. Putin intended to invade Ukraine, the U.S. officials said.

William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, said Thursday in a Senate hearing that he believed Mr. Xi was “unsettled” by the Ukraine war.

Last Tuesday, Mr. Xi repeated China’s standard talking points on the war in a video call with the leaders of France and Germany. He also said that all nations should show “maximum restraint” and that China was “deeply grieved by the outbreak of war again on the European continent,” according to a Chinese readout. He did not say Russia had started the fighting.

U.S. and European officials say large Chinese companies will most likely refrain from openly violating sanctions on Russia for fear of jeopardizing their global commerce. On Thursday, some Russian news articles and commentary questioned China’s commitment to Russia after news agencies reported that China was refusing to send aircraft parts to the country.

Russia, as U.S. officials often remind the public, has relatively few friends or allies. And officials have said Russia’s outreach to its partners is a sign of the difficulties it is encountering trying to subdue Ukraine.

As the United States and Europe have increased pressure and sanctions, Moscow has sought more aid.

In the buildup to war, Russia got assistance from Belarus, using its territory to launch part of the invasion. Minsk has also tried to help Moscow evade sanctions. Those actions prompted the European Union to impose sanctions on Belarus. The penalties would limit money flowing into Belarus from Europe and block some Belarusian banks from using the SWIFT financial messaging system.

Michael Carpenter, the U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, accused Belarus of being a “co-aggressor” and having “stabbed your neighbor in the back,” referring to Ukraine.

President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus has said his military will not join in the war. But Russia has launched missiles from Belarus and evacuated some injured Russian soldiers to hospitals in that country.

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, who owes his government’s survival to Russian intervention in the Syrian civil war, also declared support for Moscow’s invasion. Russia has tried to recruit Syrian fighters to join the Ukraine war, according to the Pentagon.

While there are no details of how many recruits Moscow has enlisted or if they have arrived in Ukraine, American officials said it was an indicator of the strategic and tactical problems that have plagued Russian commanders.

Before the start of the war, European officials said, Russian military contractors with experience fighting in Syria and Libya secretly entered eastern Ukraine to help lay the groundwork for the invasion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

William J. Broad and Ivan Nechepurenko contributed reporting.

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In Ukraine’s Information War, a Blend of Fact and Fiction

In exercising discretion over how unverified or false content is moderated, social media companies have decided to “pick a side,” according to Alex Stamos, the director of the Stanford Internet Observatory and a former head of security at Facebook.

“I think this demonstrates the limits of ‘fact-checking’ in a fast-moving battle with real lives at stake,” Mr. Stamos said. He added that technology platforms never created rules against misinformation overall, instead targeting specific behaviors, actors and content.

That leaves the truth behind some wartime narratives, like an apparent assassination plot against Mr. Zelensky or simply the number of troops killed in battle, fairly elusive, even as official accounts and news media share the information.

Those narratives have continued as the war marches on, revealing the contours of an information war aimed not just at Western audiences but also Russian citizens. At the United Nations on Monday, the Ukrainian ambassador, Sergiy Kyslytsya, shared a series of text messages that he said were retrieved from the phone of dead Russian soldier.

“Mama, I’m in Ukraine. There is a real war raging here. I’m afraid,” the Russian soldier apparently wrote, according to Mr. Kyslytsya’s account, which he read in Russian. The tale seemed to evoke a narrative advanced by officials and shared extensively on social media that Russian soldiers are poorly trained, too young, and don’t want to be fighting their Ukrainian neighbors. “We are bombing all of the cities together, even targeting civilians.”

The story, whether true or not, appears tailor-made for Russian civilians — particularly parents fretting over the fate of their enlisted children, experts said.

“This is an age-old tactic that the Ukrainians are trying to use, and that is to draw the attention of the mothers and the families in Russia away from the more grandiose aims for war, onto, instead, the human costs of war,” said Ian Garner, a historian focusing on Russia who has followed Russian-language propaganda during the conflict. “We know that this is really effective.”

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Live Updates: Explosions Shake Kyiv and Ukraine’s Second-Largest City

Africans who had been living in Ukraine say they were stuck for days at crossings into neighboring European Union countries, huddling in the cold without food or shelter, held up by Ukrainian authorities who pushed them to the ends of long lines and even beat them, while letting Ukrainians through.

At least 660,000 people have fled Ukraine in the five days following the start of Russia’s invasion, the United Nations refugee agency U.N.H.C.R. said. Most are Ukrainians, but some are students or migrant workers from Africa, Asia and other regions who are also desperate to escape.

Chineye Mbagwu, a 24-year-old doctor from Nigeria who lived in the western Ukrainian town of Ivano-Frankivsk, said she had spent more than two days stranded at the Poland-Ukraine border crossing in the town of Medyka, as the guards let Ukrainians cross but blocked foreigners.

“The Ukrainian border guards were not letting us through,” she said in a phone interview, her voice trembling. “They were beating people up with sticks” and tearing off their jackets, she added. “They would slap them, beat them and push them to the end of the queue. It was awful.”

The African Union and President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria have condemned the treatment of Africans fleeing Ukraine following social media reports about border guards hindering them from leaving. Africans have also reported being barred from boarding trains headed to the border.

“Reports that Africans are singled out for unacceptable dissimilar treatment would be shockingly racist” and violate international law, the African Union said.

Ukraine’s deputy interior minister, Anton Heraschenko, denied that his country was obstructing foreigners from leaving.

“Everything is simple,” he said. “We are first to release women and children. Foreign men must wait for women and children to come forward. We will release all foreigners without hindrance,” he added, in a written response to questions. “Same goes for blacks.”

Credit…Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

Ms. Mbagwu, the Nigerian doctor, managed to reach Warsaw, but said she crossed the border only by struggling and pushing her way through.

“They would say ‘only women and children can pass through,’” she said. “But they were letting some Ukrainian men through. And whenever a Black lady would try to pass, they said: ‘Our women first,’” Ms. Mbagwu added.

“There was no shelter from the cold. It snowed. There was no food, water, or a place to rest. I was literally hallucinating from sleep deprivation,” she said.

She said her 21-year-old brother, a medical student, had been blocked at the border since Friday, but made it into Poland after four days of trying.

Not all foreigners reported ill treatment by Ukrainian authorities at the border crossings.

A Pakistani student and an Afghan national who crossed from Ukraine into Poland on Saturday said the only problem was very long lines. And a group of Vietnamese workers crossed easily into Moldova on Monday.

Mohammed Saadaoui, a 23-year-old Moroccan pharmacy student who traveled from the Ukrainian city of Odessa to Warsaw, said he did not have any problems.

“But we took a long time to find the good border crossing where there would not be too many people,” he said. “There, we were treated the same way as the Ukrainians.”

The International Organization of Migration estimated that there are more than 470,000 foreign nationals in Ukraine, including a large number of overseas students and migrant workers. At least 6,000 of them have arrived in Moldova and Slovakia alone over the past five days, according to the I.O.M., and many more have crossed into Poland.

Many of the foreigners fleeing Ukraine said they were warmly welcomed in neighboring Poland, Moldova, Hungary and Romania. But Mr. Buhari, the Nigerian president, said there were reports of Polish officials refusing Nigerians entry.

Piotr Mueller, the spokesman for the Polish prime minister, denied this, saying, “Poland is letting in everyone coming from Ukraine regardless of their nationality.”

Piotr Bystrianin, head of the Ocalenie Foundation, a Polish refugee charity, said that so far, “problems were on the Ukrainian side.”

Credit…Maciek Nabrdalik for The New York Times

More than 300,000 people have fled from Ukraine to Poland since the Russian invasion began, according to Poland’s interior ministry. Makeshift accommodation is being set up across the country, and Poles are helping Ukrainians on a massive scale, transporting them through the border, hosting them in their homes, feeding and clothing them.

On Monday, Poland’s ambassador to the United Nations, Krzysztof Szczerski, said his country welcomed all foreign students who were studying in Ukraine, and invited them to continue their studies in Poland.

In the years leading up to the Russian invasion, Poland had taken a hard line on migrants trying to enter the country. The army and border guards have pushed asylum seekers from the Middle East and Africa back into Belarus. Last week, aid organizations said a 26-year-old man from Yemen froze to death at that border.

Some of the foreigners arriving in Poland from Ukraine over the past few days were exhausted and freezing, according to local aid organizations on the ground. Some were taken directly to hospitals because of their injuries.

Ahmed Habboubi, a 22-year-old French-Tunisian medical student, said all foreign nationals, including Africans, Israelis, Canadians and Americans, were told to go to one gate at the Medyka crossing from Ukraine to Poland, which would only process four people every couple of hours, while Ukrainians were allowed to pass freely through another gate.

“The Ukrainian army beat me up so much I couldn’t properly walk,” he said in an phone interview. “When I finally managed to enter Poland, the Polish authorities took me straight to the hospital,” he added.

“It was absolute chaos. We were treated like animals. There are still thousands of people stranded there.”

He said that Poland had welcomed him warmly.

Dennis Nana Appiah Nkansah, a Ghanaian medical student, said he saw the same discrimination at the crossing from Ukraine into the Romanian town of Siret — one rule for Ukrainians and another for everyone else. Thousands of foreigners, including Zambians, Namibians, Moroccans, Indians and Pakistanis, were directed to one gate that was mostly closed, while another reserved for Ukrainians was open and people flowed through.

Over about three hours, four or five foreigners were allowed to leave, while there was a “massive influx” of Ukrainians crossing, he said. “It’s not fair,” he said, but “we understood that they have to see to their people first.”

Mr. Nkansah, 31, said he had organized 74 Ghanaian and Nigerian students to pitch in and hire a bus to flee together. They reached the border early Saturday morning, he said, but it took them 24 hours to cross over.

Emmanuel Nwulu, 30, a Nigerian student of electronics at Kharkiv National University, said that when he tried to board a train in Ukraine going west toward the border, Ukrainian officials told him, “Blacks could not board the train.” But Mr. Nwulu and his cousin managed to force their way aboard.

Credit…Laetitia Vancon for The New York Times

Taha Daraa, a 25-year-old Moroccan student in his fourth year studying dentistry in Dnipro Medical Institute, started his journey out on Saturday around noon and crossed the border into Romania in the early hours of Monday morning after days without sleep.

“We were treated so badly. We took buses to the Romanian border. It was very scary then we had to walk across the border while hearing gunshots,” he said via WhatsApp. “All we did was pray. Our parents prayed as well for our safety. It’s the only protection we had,” he added.

“I witnessed a lot of racism.”

He said he was in a group with two other Moroccans and many other Africans and he asked a Ukrainian border guard to let them through. The guard started firing his gun in the air to scare them and so they stepped back.

“I have never felt so much fear in my life,” Mr. Daraa said. “He asked us to move back. Snow was falling on us. As the crowd got bigger, they gave up and let everyone through.”

He said the Romanians were taking good care of him and other foreigners and providing them with food and other necessities.

“They gave us everything,” he said.

Abdi Latif Dahir contributed reporting from Nairobi, Kenya, Valerie Hopkins from Kyiv, Ukraine, Ben Novak from Zahony and Beregsurany, Hungary and Aida Alami from Rabat, Morocco.

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