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March 1, 2022

 

Good morning. The start of the war has gone poorly for Russia, but many experts are worried about what happens next.

 
 
 
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Ukrainian volunteers in a bunker in Kyiv.Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

A surprising start

The initial days of the Ukrainian invasion have not gone well for Russia.

The Russian military has taken no major cities, and video from Ukraine has shown scorched Russian vehicles and dead soldiers. Contrary to what President Vladimir Putin and his aides apparently expected — and what many Westerners feared — Ukraine’s government did not fall within a matter of days.

But military experts caution against confusing a war’s initial days with its likely result. Russia has now begun to use even more brutal tactics, including a bombardment of a residential area in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, home to universities and long considered a center of national culture. This morning, a large explosion hit the center of the city.

“We’re only in the opening days of this, and Putin has a lot of cards to play,” Douglas Lute, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO, told The Times. “It’s too early to be triumphalist, and there are a lot of Russian capabilities not employed yet.”

The Russian military has an established strategy for taking over hostile cities, one it has used in both Syria and Chechnya. The strategy revolves around firing missiles and bombs into residential neighborhoods, both to destroy infrastructure and to terrify civilians into fleeing, before advancing into the city on the ground, as my colleague Steven Erlanger explains.

Many analysts predict that Putin will take a similar approach in Ukraine, killing thousands of civilians to avoid a humiliating quagmire. “A big fear among U.S. military officials is that Russia, having suffered initial setbacks, will unleash a huge bombardment of missiles and airstrikes on not only Kyiv, but other cities where there’s serious resistance,” my colleague Eric Schmitt said.

Still, there is a high degree of uncertainty about what will happen in the coming days.

Ukrainian troops and civilians continue to resist the invasion. “It’s amazing how citizens have fought back,” said Valerie Hopkins, a Times correspondent now in Kyiv. They have thrown Molotov cocktails, engaged Russian troops in street fights and even tried to repel Russian tanks with their bodies. “The spirit is very strong,” Volodymyr Yermolenko, a Ukrainian philosopher, told Michelle Goldberg of Times Opinion.

Ukrainians’ efforts to defend their country are having an effect. Russia has not yet won control of the airspace over Ukraine, and the Ukrainian military has been surprisingly successful at downing Russian planes and helicopters. “But American analysts have always said air defenses were one of Ukraine’s main vulnerabilities,” Eric added, “so we’ll see how long they can keep it up.”

The U.S. and its allies are also trying to help Ukraine — albeit without sending troops. Western European countries are sending ammunition, missiles and other equipment, while Turkey has sent drones that seem to have played a role in destroying Russian convoys. The U.S., E.U. and Britain — after initially imposing relatively cautious sanctions against Russia, as I explained last week — have also become more aggressive in the last few days.

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In line for an A.T.M. in Moscow on Sunday.Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

The ruble’s rout

At the heart of those sanctions are measures to isolate Russian banks, including the country’s central bank, effectively strangling the Russian economy by denying it cash.

Switzerland yesterday said it was departing from its usual policy of neutrality and freezing Russian assets in its banks, which many oligarchs use. The Biden administration, similarly, said that it was freezing the Russian central bank’s assets in the U.S. “The move on the central bank is absolutely shocking in its sweeping wording,” Adam Tooze, the director of the European Institute at Columbia University, told The Times.

(Tooze goes into more detail about economic warfare on the latest episode of “The Ezra Klein Show.”)

There are early signs that the sanctions are having some of their intended effects. The ruble has lost about 20 percent of its value versus the euro since Sunday. Russian stocks have plummeted, too.

A declining currency reduces the buying power of Russian consumers and businesses, by making all foreign goods more expensive. The falling currency and stock prices also seem to be causing anxiety among many Russians. In some cities, customers have lined up at A.T.M.s, fearful that cash will run out. “Such economic instability could stoke popular unhappiness and even unrest,” my colleagues Patricia Cohen and Jeanna Smialek note.

Russia “got a bloody nose in the early days of the war,” said Michael Kofman, a military expert at CNA, a think tank near Washington. “However, we are only at the beginning of this war, and much of the euphoric optimism about the way the first 96 hours have gone belies the situation on the ground and the reality that the worst may yet be to come.”

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‘Undisguised terror’: Russia’s Kharkiv strike chills Ukraine

https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-business-europe-kharkiv-e60a658f746ede8b312f9ce8286565c1?

 

Museum Condemns Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

UNITED STATES HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL MUSEUM CONDEMNS RUSSIA’S INVASION OF UKRAINE AND VLADIMIR PUTIN’S EXPLOITATION OF HOLOCAUST HISTORY AS A PRETEXT FOR WAR

https://www.ushmm.org/information/press/press-releases/museum-condemns-russias-invasion-of-ukraine?

 

Museum Statement on Damage to Babyn Yar

WASHINGTON, DC – The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum strongly condemns the continued Russian attacks on the Ukrainian people and loss of innocent lives, the exploitation of the Holocaust as a pretext for these attacks, the blatant disregard for historical truth, and the attack today at one of the most important memorial sites of the Holocaust. At Babyn Yar, outside of Kyiv, in just two days in September 1941, over 33,000 Jewish men, women, and children were shot by Nazi Germany’s forces with assistance from their local collaborators. 

https://www.ushmm.org/information/press/press-releases/museum-statement-on-damage-to-babyn-yar?

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March 4, 2022

 

Good morning. With brutal tactics, Russia is gaining ground in Ukraine.

 
 
 
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Ukrainian soldiers cross a destroyed bridge.Chris Mcgrath/Getty Images

A campaign of terror

The war in Ukraine is a mismatch.

On one side is the Russian military, among the world’s largest and strongest forces. On the other side is Ukraine, a medium-sized country whose infrastructure is being destroyed during the fighting. Although Ukraine has powerful allies — like the U.S. and Western Europe — those allies have chosen not to send troops, partly because they do not see Ukraine as vital to their national interests and because they fear starting a larger war with nuclear-armed Russia.

The reality of this mismatch explains the developments of the past 48 hours. After some surprising setbacks in the first few days of the invasion, Russia has since used brutal tactics, often targeting civilians, to make progress.

Russian troops have taken control of areas in both the east and south of the country. In the east, Russia is hoping to isolate — and then crush — Ukrainian forces that for years have been battling Russia-backed separatists near the Russian border. In the south, the goal appears to be to control the Black Sea coast, potentially cutting off Ukraine from sea access.

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Russian-occupied areas as of 3 p.m. Eastern on March 2. | Source: Institute for the Study of War

Russia has also intensified its bombing of Ukraine’s two largest cities, Kyiv and Kharkiv, from planes and missile launchers stationed outside the cities. (Here’s footage of bombs hitting a residential area of Chernihiv, a city on the route to Kyiv from the north.)

The strategy, my colleague Eric Schmitt said, is “to terrorize the population and force them to flee, or beg their government to surrender — and to pummel Ukrainian government buildings to disrupt their wartime operations.”

The humanitarian disaster is likely to increase in the coming days. “We cannot collect all the bodies,” the deputy mayor of Mariupol, a southern city, told CNN. The mayor said that the electricity was out and that Russia was blocking food from entering the city.

More than a million Ukrainians, out of a population of about 40 million, have fled. Many have headed west, away from the areas where Russia is advancing, in the hope of entering bordering countries like Poland or Romania. A million more people are internally displaced.

Lviv, the largest city in western Ukraine, is filled with people carrying suitcases, according to Valerie Hopkins, a Times correspondent there. Hotels are cramming people into rooms so that they do not need to sleep at the train station. Valerie spoke with one 20-year-old woman traveling with her mother who had packed only three sweatshirts, a pair of socks and her dog. The two of them had left everything else behind.

Russia’s challenges

It still seems possible that Russia will not be able to win a quick victory.

Russia does not yet control the skies over Ukraine, and its military is struggling to make much progress in the north, near Kyiv. A miles-long convoy of hundreds of military vehicles has largely stalled, about 18 miles from Kyiv. It is facing fierce Ukrainian opposition, as well as shortages of fuel and spare parts, a reflection of the failure to conquer Kyiv immediately.

Morale among Russian troops may also be a problem. Pentagon officials told Eric that some Russian soldiers appeared not to have known that they would be invading Ukraine until the war began. Ukrainian officials quoted what they claimed was a Russian soldier’s text to his mother, recovered from his phone after he died: “There is a real war raging here. I’m afraid. We are bombing all of the cities together, even targeting civilians.”

The U.S., E.U. and Britain are continuing to send arms to Ukraine’s military, over land routes. And the West has continued to impose sanctions, which seem to be inflicting significant damage on Russia’s economy.

All of which raise the prospect that the war, which already seems to be somewhat unpopular within Russia, will become even more so.

‘No matter what’

Still, Vladimir Putin is signaling that he will respond to setbacks with more destruction. He also seems willing to allow Russia to pay a high price, in both economic terms and soldiers’ lives.

During a 90-minute call yesterday with French President Emmanuel Macron, Putin said that Russia would achieve its goal in Ukraine “no matter what.” In a televised address yesterday, Putin told Russians that he was determined to fight the war.

Paul Poast, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, pointed out on Derek Thompson’s “Plain English” podcast that Russian leaders have a long history of accepting large casualties among their own troops to win wars. “I’m starting to think that that is what they’re expecting is going to happen here,” Poast said. “It doesn’t matter about the morale, it doesn’t matter if the equipment breaks down. They’re just going to be able to overwhelm eventually the Ukrainians because they don’t expect direct military involvement by the West.”

There are other plausible outcomes, though. The Ukrainian resistance could prove so stout that Russia finds itself in a yearslong quagmire. Or Western sanctions could create such instability in Russia that Putin loses support among the officials around him.

Regardless, the coming weeks are likely to be filled with tragedy for Ukraine.

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An evacuation train passes through Kyiv.Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

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March 7, 2022

 

Good morning. We look at why the West didn’t try harder to prevent the invasion of Ukraine.

 
 
 
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A Ukrainian soldier running to the site of an attack near Kyiv.Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Kuwait’s lesson

Was there any way to prevent the horrific war in Ukraine? Recent history offers at least a partial answer, and it’s one that is also relevant to the future of global stability.

But let’s start with the past: In the summer of 1990, the autocratic leader of a country with a powerful military decided to take over a weaker neighbor. If the armed conflict had remained between only those two countries, the invaders would have easily won.

Instead, an international military coalition, led by the United States, quickly came together. Its leaders declared that the invasion would not be allowed to stand, because one country could not simply annex another. Within months, the invaders had been defeated.

There are certainly differences between Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 1990 and Vladimir Putin’s Russia in 2022. Some of those differences make Russia harder to confront, especially its nuclear arsenal. But other differences suggest that Putin’s aggression toward Ukraine should have been more likely than Hussein’s takeover of Kuwait to inspire an international military coalition.

For one thing, the Iraqi invasion was shockingly swift. It began in the middle of the night, and Iraq controlled Kuwait within 48 hours. Putin’s invasion, by contrast, required months of buildup, accurately analyzed by U.S. intelligence agencies, giving the world enough notice at least to try to prevent it. Second, Kuwait is a small authoritarian emirate, representing few grand political ideals, in a war-torn region. Ukraine is a democracy of more than 40 million people, on what was a largely peaceful continent home to major democracies.

These factors make it possible to envision a very different series of events over the past few weeks. Once Putin’s mobilization inside Russia began, a Western coalition could have sent troops to Ukraine. “He who wants peace must prepare for war,” Evelyn Farkas, a Pentagon official in the Obama administration, wrote in January, calling for a 1990-style coalition. “Only a balance of military power — a deterrent force and the political will to match — can keep war at bay.”

“Putin is someone who responds to brute force,” Ian Brzezinski of the Atlantic Council told The Times before the invasion.

Yes, such a showdown would have carried big risks. Confronting a nuclear power is not easy. But there is a long history of successfully doing so, dating to the Cold War. (Otherwise, any country with a nuclear weapon could simply annex any country without one.) And of course the lack of a military response also carried big risks — which have now turned into terrible costs.

Thousands of Ukrainians and Russians have died. More than two million Ukrainians have fled their homes. Cities are being destroyed and nuclear plants attacked.

Given all of this, it’s striking that Western allies gave so little consideration to a bolder attempt to stop Putin. They merely pleaded with him not to invade and threatened relatively modest economic sanctions (which have since become more aggressive). He scoffed at them.

The meekness of the initial Western response stems from two recent realities: the European Union’s wishful pacifism and the U.S.’s failed belligerence. Together, they created a power vacuum that Putin exploited.

If that vacuum remains — if today’s democracies are unable to mount coalitions like the one that defeated Hussein — future wars may become more likely.

Two problems

The American part of this story will be familiar to many readers. The U.S. has spent much of the past two decades fighting wars it did not need to fight. It continued a war in Afghanistan long after Osama bin Laden was gone and invaded Iraq long after Hussein was contained. Both decisions turned into tragic failures that “undermined the world’s confidence in American intentions and competence,” as my colleague Damien Cave has written.

The two wars also affected U.S. politics. Many Americans grew wary of foreign intervention. Public opinion has become so dovish that not one prominent U.S. politician called for defending Ukraine with troops. It was a rare example of bipartisan consensus in a polarized country.

This new isolationism probably won’t disappear anytime soon. For both better and worse, the U.S. is unlikely to be the world’s police officer in the coming decades.

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, in Brussels last week.Yves Herman/Reuters

The obvious candidate to share the burden of democratic leadership is Western Europe. The region is both large enough and rich enough, as Substack’s Matthew Yglesias has noted. Yet it has so far refused to do so. The E.U.’s economic output is similar to that of both the U.S. and China — but China spends 50 percent more on its military than the E.U. does, while the U.S. spends three times more.

Military spending isn’t the only issue. Western Europe still had enough combined military strength to alter the balance of power between Russia and Ukraine. But the E.U. never seemed to consider sending troops to Ukraine as a deterrent. European leaders have spent so long deferring to the U.S., effectively outsourcing protection of their own continent, that they could not fathom the alternative.

Putin, as a result, assumed that Ukraine was his for the taking. It was a modern-day version of appeasement.

Since the invasion, European leaders have shown signs of shifting their approach. They have sent arms to Ukraine, and Germany and Denmark have announced more military spending. All of it was too late to prevent war in Ukraine. But the horrible reality of the war may yet alter global politics in ways that could discourage future aggression.

“So far in the geopolitical landscape, you’ve had one passive actor, which is Europe,” Fareed Zakaria told The Times’s Ezra Klein. “It would be deeply ironic, if the result of what Vladimir Putin has done has been to arouse the sleeping giant of Europe.”

“If we get lucky,” Zakaria said, “what we may see is the emergence of a powerful, strategically minded, national security-minded Europe that is willing to defend the liberal order, which is a huge shift in international politics.”

More on the war

  • Delegations from both sides will hold a third round of talks today. Follow updates.
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March 8, 2022

 

Good morning. Things were going very well for China, until the war in Ukraine.

 
 
 
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Ukrainian forces with a captured Russian tank.Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Why Beijing likes stability

As China has emerged as a power over the past decade, it has benefited from the political disarray among its global rivals.

The United States organized a Pacific trade pact meant to counter China’s rise — and then refused to ratify that very pact, because of domestic politics. The U.S. also alienated longtime allies in Europe with Donald Trump’s “America First” policy. The European Union has been even more chaotic, with the departure of one of its biggest members, Britain.

China, all the while, has been strengthening its economic ties with countries around the world. Chinese leaders have been thrilled by the contrast between their own apparent competence and the West’s disorganization. It seemed to augur a new international order, in which China would compete with the U.S. for supremacy.

That scenario still seems likely. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has complicated it. The war is arguably the most problematic international development for China in years.

It has unified much of the rest of the world — including the U.S., the E.U., Britain and Japan — in support of Ukraine, with a diplomatic boldness that these countries have often lacked in recent years. China’s leaders, on the other hand, are in a partnership with the world’s new villain, Vladimir Putin. “This is both a crisis and an opportunity,” Ryan Hass, who oversaw China policy on the National Security Council in the Obama administration, told me.

The crisis part is obvious: A brutal invasion is killing Ukrainians and Russian soldiers and potentially destroying Ukraine as a country. As horrible as the war is, the opportunity is real: The relative isolation of Russia and China offers a chance to help defeat Russia in the short term — and to check the rise of an authoritarian China in the longer term.

Ten times as large

China and Russia share some major interests. They both would like American influence to wane, so that they have a freer hand to dominate their regions and exert global influence. These shared interests help explain why Xi Jinping and Putin released a joint statement last month, professing their countries’ friendship and harshly criticizing the U.S.

“Both share in the belief that the United States is determined to hobble the ascent of their countries,” Amy Qin, who covers China for The Times, told me. “And they have signaled a desire to see a world order in which Washington’s influence is far diminished.”

But the China-Russia relationship also has its limits and tensions. The two countries compete for influence, in Asia and elsewhere, and have fundamentally different diplomatic strategies.

China is trying to shape and lead the existing world order. “It benefits enormously from international stability,” Fareed Zakaria, the foreign-policy journalist, has pointed out. As The Times’s Thomas Friedman wrote, “Peace has been very good for China.”

Russia is both weaker and less satisfied with the recent developments. “Putin may dream of restoring Soviet-era greatness,” Paul Krugman wrote yesterday, “but China’s economy, which was roughly the same size as Russia’s 30 years ago, is now 10 times as large.” Today, Russia’s economy largely revolves around energy exports, giving it an incentive to foment political instability; oil prices often go up when the world is unstable.

“Putin is sort of an arsonist of the system,” Hass said. “China’s interests are not advanced by that.”

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Refugees from Ukraine waiting for a bus.Maciek Nabrdalik for The New York Times

The war in Ukraine evidently surprised Chinese officials, at least in its scope. “They did not anticipate a full-scale invasion,” said Yun Sun, director of the China program at the Stimson Center, a think tank. That helps explain why China has edged away from Russia over the past two weeks, as my colleagues Chris Buckley and Steven Lee Myers write:

It has softened its tone, expressing grief over civilian casualties. It has cast itself as an impartial party, calling for peace talks and for the war to stop as soon as possible.

These subtle changes are a sign that China is not fully comfortable with Putin’s mayhem. It risks solidifying the “alliance of democracies” that President Biden has called for. It risks reminding the U.S. and its allies that they have more similarities than differences.

“Xi’s growing alignment with Moscow presents something of a Catch-22 for China,” Jude Blanchette and Bonny Lin wrote in Foreign Affairs. “As it competes with the West over global order, Russia becomes a more attractive security partner. But by elevating the relationship with Russia — and choosing to do so in the middle of a Putin-provoked crisis — Beijing is inviting pushback it can ill afford.”

Xi’s leverage

And how might this help Ukraine?

The recent sanctions on Russia’s economy have damaged it and left it dependent on China — to buy Russian goods, to sell goods to Russian consumers and businesses, to give loans to Russian banks and more. If Xi came to believe that the war in Ukraine was hurting China, he could do something about it.

“China doesn’t need to loudly condemn Russia,” Hass said. “They can just choose to be judicious about what they trade in and invest in.” Xi is one of the few people in the world with leverage over Putin. Xi also has reason to be wary of the uncertainty and disarray that Putin’s war has created.

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After a Russian strike in Mykolaiv, Ukraine.Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

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March 10, 2022

 

Good morning. We tell you the story of a Ukrainian family that has become an international symbol of civilian death.

 
 
 
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Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

The Perebyinis family

The photograph has become a worldwide symbol of Russia’s brutality toward Ukrainian civilians.

Four people lay near an intersection in Irpin, a Kyiv suburb, on Sunday. All were dead or soon would be, from the force of Russian mortars. There had been no Ukrainian forces where the mortars landed, suggesting Russia might have been targeting a civilian escape route near Kyiv.

If so, it was part of Russia’s larger campaign to demoralize Ukraine by killing and wounding ordinary people, a strategy the Russian military has also used in Syria and Chechnya. Ukraine is now enduring these attacks every day, many of them undocumented.

In Irpin, however, a team of Times journalists happened to be nearby when the mortar shells landed, and one of them, Lynsey Addario, took the photograph of the family. “I thought, you know, it’s disrespectful to take a photo, but I have to take a photo — this is a war crime,” Lynsey told CBS Evening News. “I think it’s really important that people around the world see these images.”

In the days since the attack, my colleagues have reconstructed the lives of the four victims: Tetiana Perebyinis and her two children, 18-year-old Mykyta and 9-year-old Alisa, along with Anatoly Berezhnyi, a 26-year-old church volunteer trying to help them to safety.

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Serhiy Perebyinis with photos of his wife and children.Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Tetiana Perebyinis, who was an accountant, and her husband, Serhiy, a computer programmer, had already escaped war in Ukraine once. Until 2014, they lived in eastern Ukraine, and they fled to Kyiv after Russia fomented a separatist uprising in the east.

“They met in high school but became a couple years later, after meeting again on a dance floor at a Ukrainian nightclub,” my colleague Andrew Kramer reports from Kyiv, after speaking with Serhiy this week. “They owned a Chevrolet minivan and shared a country home with friends, and Ms. Perebyinis was a dedicated gardener and an avid skier.”

A few weeks ago, before the situation in Kyiv deteriorated, Tetiana’s company rented rooms in Poland and encouraged its employees to use them. But Tetiana did not want to leave until she had a plan to evacuate her mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease. Finally, around 7 a.m. on Sunday, Tetiana and her children began their journey, while Serhiy was trapped in eastern Ukraine, tending to his ailing mother.

By mid-morning on Sunday, Tetiana, Mykyta and Alisa had all been killed, alongside Berezhnyi, the church volunteer. Berezhnyi had moved his wife to western Ukraine but returned himself to Irpin to help others evacuate.

“The whole world should know what is happening here,” Serhiy said. Read the rest of the family’s story.

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Rescuers carried a pregnant woman from a hospital in Mariupol.Evgeniy Maloletka/Associated Press

Attack on a hospital

The civilian death toll continued to rise yesterday.

  • A Russian strike hit a hospital in Mariupol, a southern Ukrainian city near the Russian border. The complex included a children’s clinic and a maternity ward. Video showed blown-out windows in the hospital and a crater, more than 10 feet deep, in a courtyard.
  • It was another apparent instance of Russia’s efforts to destroy civilian infrastructure in Mariupol. Residents there have been without power, water and heat, cutting down trees to burn for warmth and cooking. “There are just bodies lying in the streets,” one resident said.
  • Russia and Ukraine announced a tentative agreement yesterday to open humanitarian corridors in six cities, supposedly allowing Ukrainians to leave safely. But the only corridor that seemed to be functioning was in Sumy, east of Kyiv.
  • The United Nations reported that at least 516 civilians had been killed and that it believed the true number was “considerably higher.” The Associated Press has documented the civilian toll in these photos, and you can see more Times photos.

Russia “is resorting to tactics reminiscent of medieval siege warfare, encircling cities, cutting off escape routes and pounding the civilian population with heavy ordnance,” Jonathan Gimblett, a London-based lawyer who represents the Ukrainian government, said.

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March 11, 2022

 

Good morning. Which companies have pulled out of Russia — and which have not?

 
 
 
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A line for A.T.M. of Alfa Bank in Moscow last month.Victor Berzkin/Associated Press

‘Economic war’

It’s hard to think of a precedent: The British government yesterday ordered Chelsea — one of the world’s most glamorous soccer clubs and Europe’s defending champion — to stop conducting almost all its business operations.

Chelsea can no longer sell tickets or sign players. A team-owned hotel near Chelsea’s West London stadium stopped taking reservations, while the official souvenir store abruptly closed. “Shoppers, who had been filling baskets with club merchandise, were told to put everything back and leave,” our colleague Tariq Panja wrote.

These moves were the latest part of an international campaign to damage Russia’s economy and isolate Russian elites. Chelsea’s owner, Roman Abramovich, is close to Vladimir Putin and is one of seven oligarchs whose assets Britain froze yesterday.

Combined, the sanctions — by Britain, the U.S., the E.U. and others — have been more aggressive than many analysts expected. “We’re in totally new territory,” Nicholas Mulder, a historian of sanctions, told The Atlantic. “The speed, the sweep and the size of the sanctions, or the size of the targets of the sanctions — those three factors make them extraordinary.”

The sanctions are unlikely to alter Putin’s military strategy, at least in the short term: Russia seems committed to taking over Ukraine, almost regardless of the human cost. The Russian military has stepped up aerial bombardments across Ukraine, and has continued to attack civilians in an attempt to demoralize the population.

But the sanctions do have the potential to create longer-term problems for Putin’s regime. A Kremlin spokesman has described them as “economic war.” Among their effects:

  • They have cut off Russian banks from large parts of the international financial markets, which in turn will make it harder for Russian families and businesses to take out loans, use credit cards and make purchases.
  • The list of Western companies that are pulling out of Russia — like McDonald’s and Starbucks — yesterday grew to include Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Uniqlo. These shutdowns will reduce economic growth in Russia and may cause public frustration.
  • Some companies have stopped exporting goods to Russia, which will complicate the manufacturing and sale of cellphones, cars and other technology-heavy items.
  • Russian officials are sufficiently fearful of the effect on stock prices that they halted trading on Moscow’s stock market 11 days ago and have not yet resumed it.
  • The economic damage has caused the value of Russia’s currency, the ruble, to decline about 40 percent since the war began, effectively increasing the price of any item that comes from outside Russia. “That immediately raises the cost of essentials for everyone, and will be felt most sharply by the poorest,” Patricia Cohen, The Times’s global economics correspondent, told me yesterday.
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A closed Louis Vuitton shop in Moscow.Maxim Shipenkov/EPA, via Shutterstock

Signs of discontent

The history of sanctions suggests that the world probably needs to impose measures that hurt ordinary Russians if it wants to put political pressure on Putin. “Smart” sanctions, targeted at elites, are an important part of the strategy but by themselves would likely be too narrow to matter to change Putin’s domestic standing.

Even the current set of sanctions may fail to help Ukraine or may even lead Putin to lash out in new ways. (Yesterday, he suggested that he might nationalize the assets of Western companies that pull out of Russia.) Historically, sanctions have been at least partly successful about one-third of the time they have been tried, Mulder told The Atlantic’s Annie Lowrey.

But because Ukraine’s allies seem unwilling to send troops, sanctions seem their best hope for confronting Putin. And the sanctions do seem to be having some effect already. Oleg Deripaska, a prominent billionaire (and among those whom Britain sanctioned yesterday), recently said that he expected the country to experience an economic crisis lasting at least three years. Already, there are signs that the turmoil may be aggravating Russian public discontent that already existed about the war.

“Russian public opinion is becoming such a problem that Putin is effectively fighting two wars: one in Ukraine, and one at home,” Sam Greene, a Russia scholar at King’s College London, wrote this week. Erica Frantz, an expert on dictators at Michigan State University, told our colleague Max Fisher, “The indicators of elite discontent that we have seen thus far are unusual in Putin’s Russia and should therefore be taken seriously.”

Still in Russia

It’s worth mentioning that there are at least two major categories of sanctions that the world has not imposed on Russia.

One, Europe continues to buy large amounts of oil and natural gas from Russia, and energy is easily Russia’s biggest source of revenue. Europe is so reliant on Russian energy that a full embargo could cause large price increases, notes Mark Landler, The Times’s London bureau chief.

Two, some large companies are continuing to operate in Russia, as the Popular Information newsletter has reported. Hyatt and Marriott have continued running hotels there. Citi, Bridgestone Tire and Philip Morris have also continued their operations. And Halliburton has continued to operate oil fields in Russia despite a specific appeal from a top Ukrainian official.

“Always unfortunate in so many ways for so many people,” Jeff Miller, Halliburton’s chief executive, said in January, about the prospect of a war. “But from a business perspective, we’ve managed these sorts of things up and down for, I hate to say, nearly 100 years.”

We asked Hyatt, Marriott, Halliburton and other companies to explain their decisions to continue operating in Russia, and they did not do so. Several have expressed shock or horror about the war.

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Yelena Lavinska mourns her fiancé, Mikhailo Pristupa, a Ukrainian soldier, in Kyiv, Ukraine.Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

The State of the War

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March 13, 2022

 

Good morning. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has unexpectedly transformed Europe.

 
 
 
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A European Union flag at an anti-war rally in Prague.Eva Korinkova/Reuters

Accustomed to peace

Europe’s assertive response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has presented a possibility that was hard to imagine a month ago: the European Union as a superpower that can alter the global order, promoting liberal democratic values worldwide.

Before the war, the E.U. focused largely on economic growth. It resisted calls, particularly from the U.S., to increase its military spending and become more self-sufficient at defending Europe.

Vladimir Putin’s invasion drove European countries to be more aggressive. They imposed tough sanctions, helping to cripple Russia’s economy, and are working to cut off trade from Russia. They have sent weapons and other aid to Ukraine. Several moved to increase military spending, and E.U. leaders met in France over the past few days to coordinate their efforts. The leaders of France and Germany pressed Putin yesterday in a phone call to agree to a cease-fire.

Europe’s new commitments could help counter the global democratic backslide of the past 15 or so years. Democracies’ failure to stand up for themselves partly enabled that shift. But a tougher Europe, as well as other countries’ fierce response to Russia’s invasion, shows that democracies are still willing to wield power to counter autocratic governments.

“Democratic nations and people are sending a united message to Putin that democracy matters, and authoritarians cannot act with impunity, and that’s powerful,” said Michael Abramowitz, the president of Freedom House, which tracks the state of democracy around the world.

The E.U. is often fractious, made up of nations and ethnic groups that warred with each other for centuries and have different, sometimes competing interests and values. Britain’s vote in 2016 to leave the union shows how far such divisions can go.

But the E.U. has moved in a more united direction over time. Though it is not a single country, in many ways it acts like one. What began as a loose organization of six nations now includes most of the continent’s population, with 27 countries as members. Most share a currency and open their borders to each other, and they all send representatives to legislative, executive and judicial branches with powers across all aspects of European life.

The E.U.’s response to Russia’s invasion was another unifying step — one that could push Europe from its passive role to an influential democratic force around the world.

A sleeping Europe

Europe’s previous inaction is rooted in World War II. After the atrocities of war and the Holocaust, Germany leaned toward pacifism, refusing to build up its military or ship its weapons to conflict zones. As the E.U.’s most populous and wealthiest member, its approach had a large impact on the continent.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine suddenly forced the continent’s leaders to confront the prospect that their stance was failing one of the foundational goals of the E.U.: to prevent war in Europe. In what sounds like a paradox, the E.U. might need greater military power to deter more war.

“Peace was taken for granted,” Jana Puglierin, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told me. That’s no longer the case, she added.

Germany moved within days of the invasion to spend more to rebuild its military. Others made similar commitments, including Austria, Denmark and Sweden this past week. More E.U. and NATO members are likely to follow, experts said.

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British Marines training.Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images

Another superpower

Over the longer run, a revitalized Europe could help renew a wounded global order led by a democratic West.

One way this could play out is through Europe more aggressively protecting itself. That could help free up American resources now devoted to European security, which would in turn allow the U.S. to embark on a long-promised refocus on Asia to help counter China. (White House officials say the war has already persuaded some Asian governments to work more closely with the West to defend democracy, my colleagues Michael Crowley and Edward Wong reported.)

As the world’s second-largest economy, Europe could also leverage its wealth to counter threats to itself or to democracy abroad — with sanctions, financial investments and trade policy.

The E.U. has played a role in expanding a global democratic order before. After the Soviet Union’s fall in 1991, the E.U.’s embrace of Eastern European countries empowered new democracies, from Bulgaria to Lithuania. That “was one of the biggest democracy-promotion projects in recent history,” Timothy Garton Ash, a historian at the University of Oxford, told me.

The future is not as simple as a new Cold War between democracies and autocracies. India, the world’s most populous democracy, is friendly with Russia and has refused to condemn Putin’s war in Ukraine. The U.S. is dealing with its own illiberal movement. Inside Europe, democratic institutions have deteriorated in Poland and more severely in Hungary. “There are serious internal problems within Europe,” said Mujtaba Rahman, an analyst at the Eurasia Group.

A big unanswered question remains: Will Europe’s new assertiveness last? Europeans are facing a refugee crisis and rising food and gas prices as a result of the war and the sanctions imposed on Russia. That could fuel a backlash against politicians who have aggressively backed Ukraine — and cut short the path that Europe is on now.

State of the war

  • Russian war planes struck a base near the border with Poland, Ukrainian officials said, killing at least 35 people and bringing the war even closer to NATO’s doorstep.
  • Russian forces stepped up bombardments aimed at devastating Ukraine’s cities and towns. Soldiers fought street-by-street battles in a Kyiv suburb.
  • Russian forces detained the mayor of the captured city of Melitopol, Ukrainian officials said, prompting hundreds of outraged residents to protest.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of commencing a “new stage of terror” designed to break citizens’ will.
  • Attacks in two cities punctured the relative sense of security in western Ukraine.

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