Michael Crowley contributed reporting.

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Violence in Israel Challenges Biden’s ‘Stand Back’ Approach

At a briefing on Monday, Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, was asked about a tweet by Representative Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, who said that the deputy mayor of Jerusalem, in a defense of the proposed evictions, had endorsed “ethnic cleansing.” Mr. Price said the claim was “not something that our analysis supports.”

Some analysts said that even if Mr. Biden shared the assessment that more pressure on Israel’s government would be effective, he might be wary of further exacerbating tensions with Israeli leaders anxious about his top priority in the Middle East: an effort to restore the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which Mr. Netanyahu and other top Israeli officials have long opposed.

Mr. Biden also took office at a moment of enormous political flux, with Israel in the midst of several failed efforts to form a lasting government and the Palestinians headed toward elections — since postponed, another source of the current unrest — that complicated efforts to devise a clear U.S. policy. Mr. Netanyahu is struggling to hold on to power, and U.S. officials say the influence of Mr. Abbas over Palestinian protests and violence, driven by militants and social media, is close to zero.

Mr. Biden also has memories from his days as vice president of Mr. Obama’s call for an Israeli settlement freeze and territorial concessions, which had little effect on policies over the long term but drew fierce political blowback from Republicans and some Democrats who said Mr. Obama failed to understand Israel’s security needs.

Republicans continue to exploit tensions in the Democratic Party over Israel policy. On Tuesday, Mr. Trump issued a statement charging that Mr. Biden’s “lack of support for Israel is leading to new attacks on our allies.” But it was unclear what support Mr. Trump felt the United States was not providing, given that his own statement of support for Israel’s “right to defend itself” matched Biden administration talking points.

Many Democrats, including Biden officials speaking privately, say that Mr. Trump is a key cause of the current problems. Halie Soifer, the chief executive of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, said that Mr. Trump, who fulsomely supported Mr. Netanyahu’s pro-settlement policies and defied warnings of Palestinian unrest in moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, “was willing to intervene in Israeli domestic politics and elections to pursue his political agenda, regardless of its impact on the region or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Ms. Soifer said that Mr. Biden deserved credit for being a supporter, during the Obama administration, of Israel’s so-called Iron Dome antirocket system, which has been defending Israeli cities from incoming fire.

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When Covid Hit, China Was Ready to Tell Its Version of the Story

But Mr. Rigoni, whose company is owned by Italy’s former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, said he didn’t think China’s mix of media and state power was unique. “It’s not the only country where the main TV and radio programs are controlled by the government or the parliament,” he said.

And the general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, Anthony Bellanger, said in an email that his view of the report is that while “China is a growing force in the information war, it is also vital to resist such pressures exerted by the U.S., Russia and other governments around the world.”

But there’s little question of which government is more committed to this campaign right now. A report last year by Sarah Cook for the Freedom House, an American nonprofit group that advocates political freedom, found that Beijing was spending “hundreds of millions of dollars a year to spread their messages to audiences around the world.”

The United States may have pioneered the tools of covert and overt influence during the Cold War, but the government’s official channels have withered. The swaggering C.I.A. influence operations of the early Cold War, in which the agency secretly funded influential journals like Encounter, gave way to American outlets like Voice of America and Radio Liberty, which sought to extend American influence by broadcasting uncensored local news into authoritarian countries. After the Cold War, those turned into softer tools of American power.

But more recently, President Donald J. Trump sought to turn those outlets into blunter propaganda tools, and Democrats and their own journalists resisted. That lack of an American domestic consensus on how to use its own media outlets has left the American government unable to project much of anything. Instead, the cultural power represented by companies like Netflix and Disney — vastly more powerful and better funded than any government effort — has been doing the work.

And journalists around the world expressed skepticism of the effectiveness of often ham-handed Chinese government propaganda, a skepticism I certainly shared when I recycled a week’s worth of unread editions of China Daily sent to my home last week. The kind of propaganda that can work inside China, without any real journalistic answer, is largely failing to compete in the intense open market for people’s attention.

“China is trying to push its content in Kenyan media, but it’s not yet that influential,” said Eric Oduor, the secretary general of the Kenya Union of Journalists.

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U.S. and Iran Want to Restore the Nuclear Deal. They Disagree Deeply on What That Means.

President Biden and Iran’s leaders say they share a common goal: They both want to re-enter the nuclear deal that President Donald J. Trump scrapped three years ago, restoring the bargain that Iran would keep sharp limits on its production of nuclear fuel in return for a lifting of sanctions that have choked its economy.

But after five weeks of shadow boxing in Vienna hotel rooms — where the two sides pass notes through European intermediaries — it has become clear that the old deal, strictly defined, does not work for either of them anymore, at least in the long run.

The Iranians are demanding that they be allowed to keep the advanced nuclear-fuel production equipment they installed after Mr. Trump abandoned the pact, and integration with the world financial system beyond what they achieved under the 2015 agreement.

The Biden administration, for its part, says that restoring the old deal is just a steppingstone. It must be followed immediately by an agreement on limiting missiles and support of terrorism — and making it impossible for Iran to produce enough fuel for a bomb for decades. The Iranians say no way.

financial restrictions that go beyond that deal — mostly involving conducting transactions with Western banks — because it would create what one senior administration official called a “ripe circumstance for a negotiation on a follow-on agreement.”

The Iranians refuse to even discuss a larger agreement. And American officials say it is not yet clear that Iran really wants to restore the old deal, which is derided by powerful hard-liners at home.

campaign of sabotage and assassination to cripple the Iranian program — and perhaps the negotiations themselves. So it was notable that the director of the Mossad, who has led those operations, was recently ushered into the White House for a meeting with the president. After an explosion at the Natanz nuclear plant last month, Mr. Biden told aides that the timing — just as the United States was beginning to make progress on restoring the accord — was suspicious.

The split with Israel remains. In the meetings in Washington last week — which included Mr. Blinken; the C.I.A. director, William J. Burns; and the national security adviser, Jake Sullivan — Israeli officials argued that the United States was naïve to return to the old accord, which they think preserved a nascent nuclear breakout capability.

Mr. Biden’s top aides argued that three years of “maximum pressure” on Iran engineered by Mr. Trump and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, had failed to break its government or limit its support of terrorism. In fact, it had prompted nuclear breakout.

told the BBC.

Iran wants more sanctions lifted than the United States judges consistent with the deal, while insisting on keeping more of its nuclear infrastructure — in particular advanced centrifuges — than that deal permits. Instead, Iran argues that the International Atomic Energy Agency should simply inspect the new centrifuges, a position that is unacceptable to Washington.

While the talks continue, Iran is keeping up the pressure by adding to its stockpile of highly enriched uranium and the equipment to make it, all in violation of the deal.

Both Iran and the United States are working under delicate political constraints. Even as Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has supported the Vienna talks, Mr. Rouhani and Mr. Zarif are mocked by powerful conservatives who do not trust Washington and who expect to capture the presidency.

For his part, Mr. Biden must contend with a Congress that is highly skeptical of a deal and largely sympathetic to the concerns of Israel.

increasing enrichment to just short of bomb grade in small quantities and barring international inspectors from key sites in late February — Mr. Zarif insists that these moves are easily reversible.

American intelligence officials say that while Iran has bolstered its production of nuclear material — and is probably only months from being able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for one or two bombs — even now, there is no evidence Iran is advancing on its work to fashion a warhead. “We continue to assess that Iran is not currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons-development activities that we judge would be necessary to produce a nuclear device,” Avril D. Haines, the director of national intelligence, said in a report last month.

scandal over Mr. Zarif, whose criticism of internal decision-making recently leaked, apparently in an effort to damage his reputation and any chance he had to run for the presidency.

Ayatollah Khamenei refuted the criticism without naming Mr. Zarif, but he said the comments were “a big mistake that must not be made by an official of the Islamic Republic” and “a repetition of what Iran’s enemies say.”

At the same time, by downplaying Mr. Zarif’s role, the supreme leader reaffirmed his support for the talks while also sheltering them from criticism by hard-liners, said Ellie Geranmayeh of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Steven Erlanger reported from Brussels, and David E. Sanger from Washington. Farnaz Fassihi contributed reporting from New York.

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Blinken Jousts With China and Russia in United Nations Meeting

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, meeting with counterparts from both China and Russia on Friday, said that the United States would “push back forcefully” against breakers of international rules, even as he acknowledged his own country’s violations under the Trump administration.

Mr. Blinken’s counterparts, Foreign Ministers Wang Yi of China and Sergey V. Lavrov of Russia, took their own diplomatic swipes at the United States, accusing it of hypocrisy and of defining international rules in terms designed to assert Western dominance in the world.

The exchanges came at a United Nations Security Council meeting, convened by China and held virtually via videoconference link, on the theme of multilateral cooperation against the pandemic, global warming and other common threats.

It was in some ways a rematch between Mr. Blinken and Mr. Wang, who was part of a top Chinese delegation that brusquely lectured the United States at a meeting in Alaska two months ago. That unscripted confrontation was regarded heroically in China, where the government has stoked rising anti-Americanism and nationalism.

“defending democratic values and open societies” — a signal of the Biden administration’s intent to challenge China and Russia on human rights, disinformation and other issues that had been de-emphasized or ignored by the administration of President Donald J. Trump.

In another clear signal from the Biden administration, Mr. Blinken also visited Ukraine, where he pledged support for its fight against a Russian-backed insurgency that has claimed 13,000 lives since 2014.

Mr. Blinken asserted in his Security Council remarks that the United Nations remained a critical force for good in the world, responsible since its founding at the end of World War II for the most peaceful and prosperous era in modern history, but was now under severe threat.

“Nationalism is resurgent, repression is rising, rivalries among countries are deepening — and attacks against the rules-based order are intensifying,” Mr. Blinken said. “Some question whether multilateral cooperation is still possible. The United States believes it is not only possible, but imperative.”

seeking to rejoin the U.N. Human Rights Council.

“We’re also taking steps, with great humility, to address the inequities and injustices in our own democracy,” he said. “We do so openly and transparently, for people around the world to see. Even when it’s ugly. Even when it’s painful.”

Mr. Wang, whose country holds the rotating Security Council presidency for May, sought to depict China as a responsible global citizen that adhered to international law. Without mentioning the United States by name, he chided countries that he said had defined international rules as a “patent or privilege of the few.”

economic sanctions that the United States and European Union have imposed on Russia and others they disagree with, which Mr. Lavrov said were designed to “take opponents out of the game.”

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Russian Spy Team Left Traces That Bolstered C.I.A.’s Bounty Judgment

WASHINGTON — In early 2020, members of a Taliban-linked criminal network in Afghanistan detained in raids told interrogators that they had heard that Russians were offering money to reward killings of American and coalition troops.

The claim, that Russia was trying to pay to generate more frequent attacks on Western forces, was stunning, particularly because the United States was trying at the same time to negotiate a deal with the Taliban to end the long-running war in Afghanistan. C.I.A. analysts set out to see whether they could corroborate or debunk the detainees’ accounts.

Ultimately, newly declassified information shows, those analysts discovered a significant reason to believe the claim was accurate: Other members of the same Taliban-linked network had been working closely with operatives from a notorious unit of the G.R.U., the Russian military intelligence service, known for assassination operations.

“The involvement of this G.R.U. unit is consistent with Russia encouraging attacks against U.S. and coalition personnel in Afghanistan given its leading role in such lethal and destabilizing operations abroad,” the National Security Council said in a statement provided to The New York Times.

U.S. sanctions and other punishments against Russia. The White House took diplomatic action — delivering a warning and demanding an explanation for suspicious activities — about the bounty issue, but did not base sanctions on it. The Biden administration did impose sanctions for Russia’s SolarWinds hacking and election interference.

The Times had reported last summer that different intelligence agencies, while agreeing on the assessment itself, disagreed on whether to put medium or lower confidence in it. The evidence available to analysts — both alarming facts and frustrating gaps — essentially remains the same.

The release of the full talking points as a statement is the government’s most detailed public explanation yet about how the C.I.A. came to the judgment that Russia had most likely offered financial incentives to reward attacks on American and allied troops. It also sheds new light on the gaps in the evidence that raised greater concerns among other analysts.

not intercepted any smoking-gun electronic communication about a bounty plot. (The Defense Intelligence Agency shares that view, while the National Counterterrorism Center agrees with the C.I.A.’s “moderate” level, officials have said.)

But the statement reveals that despite that disagreement over how to rate the quality of available information underlying the core assessment, the intelligence community also had “high confidence” — meaning the judgment is based on high-quality information from multiple sources — in the key circumstantial evidence: Strong ties existed between Russian operatives and the Afghan network where the bounty claims arose.

“We have independently verified the ties of several individuals in this network to Russia,” the National Security Council statement said. It added, “Multiple sources have confirmed that elements of this criminal network worked for Russian intelligence for over a decade and traveled to Moscow in April 2019.”

The declassified statement also opened a window into American officials’ understanding of the Russian operatives, known as Unit 29155 of the G.R.U. The government has previously resisted talking openly about group, although a Times investigation in 2019 linked it to various operations, citing Western security officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

By contrast, the National Security Council statement identified other “nefarious operations” around the world that the government thought the squad had carried out — to explain why the discovery of its involvement with the Afghan network was seen as bolstering the credibility of the detainees’ claims about Russian bounties.

the 2018 poisoning of a former G.R.U. officer, Sergei V. Skripal, in Salisbury, England, and of “assassinations across Europe.”

Unit 29155 was involved in two explosions at ammunition depots that killed two Czechs in 2014. He said the government would expel nearly 80 Russian diplomats.

Days later, the prosecutor general’s office in Bulgaria announced that it was investigating a possible connection between Unit 29155 and four explosions at ammunition depots over the past decade. At least two happened while members of the unit were frequently traveling in and out of Bulgaria, the office said.

Some of the destroyed arms in both countries, according to officials, belonged to Emilian Gebrev, a Bulgarian arms manufacturer who was poisoned in 2015 along with his son and an executive in his company. Officials have previously accused Unit 29155 in that attempted assassination.

While most previous reports about Unit 29155’s activities have centered in Europe, its leader, Maj. Gen. Andrei V. Averyanov, has experience in Central Asia. He graduated in 1988 from the Tashkent Military Academy in what was then the Soviet republic of Uzbekistan, a year before the Soviet pullout from bordering Afghanistan.

The government apparently did not declassify everything. The White House statement described but did not detail certain evidence, keeping its sources and methods of information-gathering secret. It did not specify the G.R.U. unit’s number, but officials have said it was Unit 29155, and the two prior operations the statement mentioned have been attributed to it elsewhere.

as a middleman for the Russian spies, and Habib Muradi. Both escaped capture and are said to have fled to Russia.

And it made no mention of other circumstantial evidence officials have previously described, like the discovery that money was transferred from a G.R.U. account to the Afghan network.

In an interview published April 30 in a Russian newspaper, Nikolai Patrushev, the chairman of Russia’s Security Council, again said it was false that Russia had covertly offered bounties for killing American troops in Afghanistan, adding that there was no evidence that it had done so.

The White House statement also brought into sharper focus two gaps in the available evidence that analysts saw as a reason to be cautious.

Military leaders have repeatedly pointed to one in public: The intelligence community lacks proof tying any specific attack to a bounty payment. “We cannot confirm that the operation resulted in any attacks on U.S. or coalition forces,” the National Security Council said.

The other reason for caution is an absence of information showing that a Kremlin leader authorized Unit 29155 to offer bounties to Afghan militants. “We do not have evidence that the Kremlin directed this operation,” the statement said.

The Biden administration’s briefing to reporters last month reignited a debate over the political implications of the C.I.A.’s assessment — and the Trump White House’s handling of it — that unfolded last year and dwelled in part on confidence levels.

reported last June on the existence of the C.I.A. assessment and that the White House had led an interagency effort to come up with options to respond but then authorized none.

Facing bipartisan criticism, the Trump administration defended its inaction by playing down the assessment as too weak to take seriously, falsely denying that it had been briefed to President Donald J. Trump. In fact, it had been included in his written presidential daily briefing in late February, two officials have said.

In congressional testimony, military leaders based in the United States who regularly interacted with the Trump White House said they would be outraged if it were true, but they had not seen proof that any attack resulted from bounties. But some military officials based in Afghanistan, as well as some other senior Pentagon and State Department officials, thought the C.I.A. was right, according to officials familiar with internal deliberations at the time.

Among those who found the evidence and analysis persuasive was Nathan Sales, the State Department’s politically appointed top counterterrorism official during the Trump administration.

“The reporting that Russia was placing bounties on American soldiers’ heads was so serious that it warranted a robust diplomatic response,” Mr. Sales said this week in an email.

A top Pentagon official and the secretary of state at the time, Mike Pompeo, later delivered warnings over the issue to their Russian counterparts, effectively breaking with the White House.

After the briefing last month, some Trump supporters — as well as some left-wing critics of the C.I.A. and military interventions — argued that the C.I.A.’s bounty assessment had been debunked as evidence-free “fake news,” vindicating Mr. Trump’s dismissal of the issue last year as a “hoax.” Russian propaganda outlets echoed and amplified those assertions.

Michael J. Morell, a former acting director of the C.I.A., said another factor had fostered confusion. When analysts assess something with low confidence, he said, that does not mean they think the conclusion is wrong. Rather, they are expressing greater concerns about the sourcing limitations, while still judging that the assessment is the best explanation of the available facts.

“A judgment at any confidence level is a judgment that the analysts believe to be true,” he said. “Even when you have a judgment that is low confidence, the analysts believe that judgment is correct. So in this case, the analysts believe that the Russians were offering bounties.”

Charlie Savage and Eric Schmitt reported from Washington, and Michael Schwirtz from New York. Julian E. Barnes contributed reporting from Washington.

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Nuclear Talks With Iran Could Reach Agreement Within Weeks, U.S. Says

WASHINGTON — The United States and Iran could each come back into compliance with a 2015 nuclear deal within weeks, a senior State Department official said on Thursday, on the eve of what could be a final round of negotiations before an agreement is brokered.

Significant hurdles remain. But the comments were an optimistic signal by the Biden administration that an American return to the accord between Iran and world powers could be within reach.

Briefing journalists on the condition of anonymity, the senior official described the likelihood of an agreement before Iran’s presidential elections in mid-June as both possible and doable. He did not rule out that it could come in the round of talks that begin on Friday in Vienna.

Still, the official cautioned that the United States and Iran continued to diverge on the extent to which each side needed to comply with the original terms of the 2015 deal — namely, unwinding economic sanctions by Washington in exchange for Tehran scaling back its nuclear program.

withdrew from the deal in 2018 to pressure Iran into a broader agreement that would have also limited its missile program and military activities across the Middle East. Later that year, the United States reimposed sanctions on Iran’s key financial sectors, including its lucrative oil industry, to squeeze its economy and try to force Tehran back to the bargaining table.

Instead, Iran resisted the pressure campaign by accelerating its nuclear program and raising its prospects for building a weapon.

President Biden has pledged to rejoin the nuclear accord — but has also called for negotiating a “longer and stronger” deal afterward to curb Iran’s missile program and its support for proxy forces in places such as Iraq, Syria and Yemen, where they threaten U.S. allies, including Israel and Saudi Arabia.

As American negotiators have warned in recent weeks that an agreement on reviving the 2015 deal may ultimately be thwarted, Iranian officials have cast the negotiations in a far rosier light.

Iran’s installation of advanced centrifuges last month.

The centrifuges shorten the time needed to enrich uranium, the fuel for nuclear bombs, and Western negotiators have demanded they be destroyed, Iran’s state media reported. Iran, however, wants to maintain the centrifuges, but would allow them to be monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog.

Asked about the centrifuges in his briefing to reporters, the senior State Department official would not directly discuss them, except to suggest that their capabilities for enriching uranium would exceed the terms of the 2015 agreement.

Iranian state media also reported that Tehran’s negotiators want the United States to drop its terrorism designation against the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, a powerful arm of Iran’s military. American officials have made clear that they do not intend to lift sanctions or address issues in the current nuclear talks that go beyond the limits of the 2015 deal. The terrorism designation was imposed in 2019.

The senior State Department official left open the possibility of an unrelated but parallel deal with Tehran to immediately release four American detainees held in Iran, regardless of the timing of a nuclear agreement. Iranian officials have also been pressing for a prisoner swap of its citizens being held in the United States.

is presumed dead — in describing intense and continuing discussions through intermediaries to free the detainees.

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‘Are You Like This Doggy?’ U.S. Embassy Asked Chinese Students. It Backfired.

HONG KONG — The U.S. Embassy in Beijing had good news to share: Student visa applications for Chinese nationals were resuming after a yearlong hiatus.

“Spring has come and the flowers are in bloom,” the embassy wrote in a Chinese-language social media post on Wednesday that included a video of a dog trying to jump over a fence. “Are you like this doggy who can’t wait to go out and play?”

It backfired, big time.

The post on Weibo, a Twitter-like platform in China, could be read as a ham-handed attempt to be cute. But at a moment of heightened nationalism on the Chinese internet, it set off criticism — and accusations of racism — that were amplified by the ruling Communist Party’s formidable propaganda machine.

The embassy quickly removed the post and apologized, but the damage was done. The spat is the latest thorn in a diplomatic relationship that is prickly at the best of times and has lately been at its most delicate point in decades.

aggregating criticism of the post and criticizing former President Donald J. Trump’s visa policies.

Fang Kecheng, a professor of journalism and communication at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the response was a typical example of how nationalistic news outlets and social media users in China wage “public opinion warfare.”

“They pay close attention to what the U.S. government and media say, and amplify any inappropriate expressions to discredit them,” he said.

Professor Fang said that such campaigns sometimes drew attention to statements that he said deserved to be criticized, such as Mr. Trump’s use of the term “China virus” to describe the coronavirus. That phrase has been widely criticized in the United States and beyond as racist and anti-Chinese.

“In this case, it’s amplifying a misstep,” he added, referring to the embassy’s social media post.

Early last year, Mr. Trump imposed restrictions on travelers from China, including students, prompting criticism from Beijing. The Weibo post on Wednesday by the U.S. Embassy’s consular section announced that student applications had resumed under President Biden’s administration.

technology Cold War, among other issues. Travel between the two counties has largely been frozen by strict visa controls, a result of both Covid-19 protocols and souring relations. Even attempts to restore diplomatic normalcy have been fraught.

There are potential financial implications for the U.S. education sector, too.

About a million international students enroll in American universities every year. More than a third were from China in the 2019-2020 academic year, according to data compiled by the Institute of International Education.

But experts say that universities in the United States and other English-speaking countries could lose billions of dollars in the coming years because of travel restrictions and anger among Chinese students and parents about what they see as a permissive attitude toward public health during the pandemic.

abandoned a plan to strip international college students of their visas if they did not attend at least some classes in person. Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and attorneys general of 20 states had sued over the proposed policy, saying it was reckless, cruel and senseless.

Paul Mozur contributed reporting and Lin Qiqing contributed research.

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U.S. Secretary of State Blinken Visiting Ukraine

LONDON — When Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken arrives in Ukraine early Thursday, he will encounter an all too familiar scene: a country struggling to defend itself from without and reconstruct itself from within.

It is little changed from the days when Mr. Blinken was a White House staffer in the Obama administration — and a warning that solutions might be years away still.

Mr. Blinken is the first senior Biden administration official to visit Kyiv, and his task when he meets with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, will be to reassure him of American support against Russia’s ongoing aggression, which flared last month when Moscow built up more than 100,000 troops along Ukraine’s eastern border.

Russia began withdrawing those forces in late April but still has many of them and all their equipment in place. Moscow also continues to back a pro-Russian insurgency in a war in Ukraine’s east that has killed more than 13,000 people, according to the United Nations.

seeking evidence related to Mr. Giuliani’s role in the removal of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in April 2019.

Although that saga is unlikely to be on the official agenda or to affect U.S. policy, it is a vivid reminder of the power of anti-reform figures in the country. Ukrainian associates of Mr. Giuliani pressed Mr. Giuliani to oust the ambassador, Marie L. Yovanovitch, because they viewed her as a threat to their business interests, American diplomats testified during the impeachment hearings in 2019.

Though Mr. Blinken is no stranger to Ukraine, having visited repeatedly during the Obama years, he will be joined by one of the government’s top experts and strongest defenders of the country, Victoria J. Nuland, who last week was confirmed as the State Department’s under secretary for political affairs, its No. 3 position.

As the department’s top official for Europe and Eurasia in the Obama administration, Ms. Nuland became a loathed figure in the Kremlin over her ardent support for Ukraine’s 2014 revolution. Russian officials bitterly recall how Ms. Nuland passed out food to protesters in Kyiv before they toppled Ukraine’s Russian-backed president, Viktor F. Yanukovych.

Ms. Nuland’s visit with Mr. Blinken comes a few weeks before President Biden is likely to meet with Mr. Putin during a trip to Europe. For now, Mr. Taylor said, that meeting in June serves as “a hostage” that may be preventing the Russian leader from sending troops across Ukraine’s border, though analysts remain divided about Mr. Putin’s motives in ordering the buildup. Some believe he may be simply trying to intimidate Mr. Zelensky and put Mr. Biden off balance.

Combat has been taking place within Ukraine for seven years, as government forces battle separatists armed and funded by the Kremlin, and a European-led peace process is deadlocked.

Mr. Biden himself has had extensive experience in Ukraine, having led the Obama administration’s actions there as vice president. On Tuesday, he said his “hope and expectation” was that he will meet with Mr. Putin during his trip to Europe, a meeting at which Ukraine is sure to be a central topic of discussion.

With an eye on Russia’s threats and meddling, Ukrainian officials have said they are eager for more security aid from the Biden administration, but it is far from clear whether that will be forthcoming.

Asked last week whether Mr. Blinken might come bearing such offers, Philip T. Reeker, the State Department’s acting assistant secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, pointed to $408 million in existing U.S. support, and said only, “I’m sure that will come up in our conversation.” Strong support exists in Congress for increasing that funding, Mr. Taylor noted.

During his visit, Mr. Blinken is expected to try to assess how much confidence to place in Mr. Zelensky, a former comedic actor elected in April 2019 with no political experience.

Just last month, President Volodymyr Zelensky donned a helmet and flak jacket to visit his soldiers in trenches at the front, showing defiance to the Russian military buildup. Praise and warm words of support flowed in from Ukraine’s Western allies.

In a statement, the State Department said Mr. Blinken would “reaffirm unwavering U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. But he will also encourage continued progress in Ukraine’s institutional reform agenda, particularly anti-corruption action, with is key to securing Ukraine’s democratic institutions, economic prosperity and Euro-Atlantic future.”

In Kyiv, independent analysts have praised the tough-love policy.

“Biden is an opportunity Ukraine can use or lose,” Sergiy Sydorenko, editor of European Pravda, an online news outlet, said in an interview. “By the look of it, Biden really cares for democracy, and having a democratic Ukraine is vital for developments in the wider region, including Russia. But Biden’s support is not guaranteed.”

Anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine have been a mixed bag.

Earlier in his tenure, Mr. Zelensky’s political party and allies passed a law privatizing former collective farmland, a step toward unwinding corruption schemes in agriculture. He also formed an anti-corruption court, and this year, his government sanctioned oligarchs with ties to Russia.

But for Western donor nations that prop up the Ukrainian budget, a critical aspect of Mr. Zelensky’s presidency has been his relationship with an oligarch, Ihor Kolomoisky, whom Ukraine’s own banking regulators accuse of embezzlement. Mr. Kolomoisky denies the allegations.

In March, the Biden administration sanctioned Mr. Kolomoisky and members of his family, and the U.S. authorities have frozen or seized his commercial real estate assets, including an office tower in Cleveland.

Two years ago, a freshly installed Mr. Zelensky was put through the mangle of American politics. A hangover still lingers.

In a phone call in July 2019, while withholding military aid, President Trump asked him for the “favor” of investigating Mr. Biden, a political adversary, and members of his family. Mr. Trump accused Mr. Biden of wrongdoing when he was vice president in the Obama administration.

Untangling this situation became an early headache for Mr. Zelensky in the first months of his presidency.

With seemingly little choice and his country at war and in need of the military assistance, Mr. Zelensky leaned toward helping in the scheme to discredit Mr. Biden. But Mr. Zelensky’s plans to publicly announce the investigation in September in a CNN interview, something that would have sealed his support for Mr. Trump’s position, never came to fruition. By then, a C.I.A. whistle-blower’s warning about the scheme became public and Mr. Zelensky was spared the need to pick a side.

Mr. Zelensky insisted that he had tried to remain neutral throughout, and his aides note that he never publicly endorsed Mr. Trump’s dirt-digging effort.

They say they see no reason for Mr. Biden to hold a grudge.

Maria Varenikova contributed reporting from Kyiv.

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Blinken and G-7 Allies Turn Their Focus to ‘Democratic Values’

LONDON — The Group of 7 was created to help coordinate economic policy among the world’s top industrial powers. In the four decades since, it has acted to combat energy shortages, global poverty and financial crises.

But as Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken meets with fellow Group of 7 foreign ministers in London this week, a key item on the agenda will be what Mr. Blinken called, in remarks to the press on Monday, “defending democratic values and open societies.”

Implicitly, that defense is against China and, to a lesser extent, Russia. While the economic and public tasks of recovering from the coronavirus remain paramount, Mr. Blinken is also employing the Group of 7 — composed of the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan — to coordinate with allies in an emerging global competition between democracy and the authoritarian visions of Moscow and Beijing.

One twist in the meeting this week is the presence of nations that are not formal Group of 7 members: India, South Korea, Australia and South Africa. Also in attendance is Brunei, the current chair of the Association of South East Asian Nations.

Ash Jain, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.

Mr. Jain noted the way the group is now emphasizing common values over shared economic interests. “The G-7 is being rebranded as a group of like-minded democracies, as opposed to a group of ‘highly industrialized nations.’ They’re changing the emphasis,” he said.

Many of the countries represented at the meeting do big business with China and Russia, complicating efforts to align them against those nations. China’s pattern of economic coercion was one specific topic of conversation on Tuesday, participants said.

was expelled in 2014 from what was then the Group of 8 after its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

Nor is it likely a coincidence that the expanded guest list matches, with the additions of South Africa and Brunei, a group of 10 countries and the European Union, collectively short-handed as the “D-10” by proponents of organizing them in a new world body. Those proponents include Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, the host of this week’s gathering and architect of its guest list.

Mr. Johnson has also invited India, Australia and South Korea to send their heads of state to this summer’s Group of 7 summit in Cornwall, citing his “ambition to work with a group of like-minded democracies to advance shared interests and tackle common challenges.”

President Biden has similarly suggested that the world is grouping into competing camps, divided by the openness of their political systems. In his address to Congress last week, Mr. Biden said that “America’s adversaries, the autocrats of the world, are betting” that the nation’s battered democracy cannot be restored.

also committed to holding a “Summit for Democracy” during his first year in office, and officials say planning for such an event is underway. Asked in a Tuesday interview with The Financial Times which countries might be invited to such a summit, Mr. Blinken did not answer directly.

And Wednesday’s agenda for the gathering includes a session on open societies, including issues of media freedom and disinformation. Other sessions over the two days include Syria, Russia and its neighbors Ukraine and Belarus, Myanmar, and Afghanistan.

interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” broadcast the night before, Mr. Blinken made clear how the United States views China’s rise.

Jeremy Shapiro, a former State Department official in the Obama administration who is now research director at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said that informally expanding the Group of 7 is far easier than constructing a new body.

“It is always a pain, from a governmental perspective, to invent a new forum, because you need to have an endless discussion about who’s in and who’s out, and how it works, and its relationship to the U.N.,” Mr. Shapiro said.

He added that the Group of 7, whose mission had grown nebulous in recent years, may have acquired a new sense of purpose as it tries to organize a post-Trump democratic world in the face of Chinese and Russian threats.

“You would be hard-pressed to look back the past five years or more since they kicked out Russia to name a single thing the G-7 has done of interest,” Mr. Shapiro said. “It didn’t have much to do.”

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