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Ukraine being run over by Russia and for what?????


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March 14, 2022

 

Good morning. We look at how Volodymyr Zelensky became an unlikely global hero.

 
 
 
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Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president.Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

A comedian who listens

National heroes sometimes have humble political origins.

Abraham Lincoln was arguably the country’s least-qualified president — a former one-term member of Congress — at the time that he took office. Winston Churchill looked like a washed-up politician when Germany invaded Poland in 1939. And Volodymyr Zelensky did not seem like an international symbol of courage when Russia began threatening to invade Ukraine in recent months.

In today’s newsletter, I want to give you a brief profile of Zelensky, one that goes beyond the one or two sentences many people have heard about him in recent weeks. I’ll also link to some of the best profiles of him and podcasts about him, for anybody who wants more.

Below, you’ll also find the latest news from the war.

Benny Hill humor

By now, the basics of Zelensky’s background are well known: Before becoming Ukraine’s president, he had been a comedic actor whose best-known role was as a teacher who rose to Ukraine’s presidency thanks to a viral video.

That show, “Servant of the People,” was a cross between “The West Wing” and Monty Python. Zelensky himself has credited Benny Hill, the crude British comedian, as an influence. (You can watch a short excerpt from the show, with English voice overs.)

“As a film actor and sitcom star, Zelensky thrived in the role of the Everyman, often playing the average guy who wins over the beautiful woman seemingly beyond his reach,” Franklin Foer has written in The Atlantic.

Zelensky grew up in a fading and polluted industrial city, the son of an engineer and computer-science professor. He is Jewish, in a country with a brutal history of antisemitism, and his first language was Russian, as is the case for many Ukrainians.

He ran for president in 2019, with a charmingly populist campaign that evoked his character on “Servant of the People.” It helped that the billionaire owner of the network that broadcast the show promoted Zelensky’s candidacy, including with a documentary that aired on the eve of the election, comparing him to Ronald Reagan.

Elsewhere in Europe, many officials initially viewed Zelensky as unserious, as The New Yorker’s Joshua Yaffa has reported. “The impression was terrible,” one European diplomat said, referring to one early meeting.

The impression today is very different, of course. Since Russia invaded Ukraine, Zelensky has become a Churchillian figure, the personal embodiment of his country’s refusal to yield to a murderous authoritarian.

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Zelensky, second from left, near the Belarusian border last month.Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Seeing through Putin

That image does have a lot in common with the optimistic and patriotic vision of Ukraine that Zelensky has presented since he began running for office.

His two central campaign promises were to crack down on corruption and to end the military conflict with Russia in the country’s eastern provinces. After taking office, he stripped members of Parliament of their legal immunity. He shrunk his own motorcade to two cars, without sirens. He told government officials to remove presidential portraits from their offices and replace them with pictures of their children, to remind them of the stakes of their work.

He also earnestly took to the job of president, acknowledging how little he knew. “He’s a very intent listener,” John Herbst, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, told Foer.

One early question that many Ukrainians had was what approach Zelensky would take to Russia. Some even worried that he might be too accommodating to Vladimir Putin, Anton Troianovski, The Times’s Moscow bureau chief, has noted. Zelensky not only grew up speaking Russian, but had become a star in Russia, thanks to his television shows.

“Zelensky came in as a candidate who promised to make a deal with Russia to end the war,” Anton said. Over time, though, Zelensky came to believe that Putin was not negotiating in good faith and wanted to dominate Ukraine. That belief pushed Zelensky closer to the West, angering Putin.

“In retrospect, now that we see what Putin really wants, total control over Ukraine, it is hard to see what Zelensky could’ve done,” Anton said.

Personal bravery

Since Russia invaded, Zelensky has remained in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, rallying the country through videotaped speeches. (Yesterday, Zelensky’s government posted photos of him visiting wounded soldiers at a hospital and awarding them medals.) He has done so even though Russian troops and spies are likely trying to kill him.

Anne Applebaum, a journalist and Ukraine expert, recently said on NPR that she thought Zelensky might never flee the country. “He’s an actor, and he understands that he has a role to play, and he will play the role,” Applebaum said. He knows that he represents his country, she added, and even if he wishes he had never run for president, he understands that he now symbolizes something larger than himself.

“Once you enter the role, you play it to the end,” she said. “You have a larger responsibility to the citizens and to your country’s image in the world.”

Related: Maureen Dowd writes that Zelensky has become “the world’s greatest actor” in a real-life struggle between good and evil.

State of the War

  • Russian forces hit Kyiv with heavy artillery strikes this morning after days of fighting in the suburbs. One projectile struck an apartment building.
  • Russia continued its assault on civilians, firing on a train evacuating people fleeing the Donetsk region. Russian forces also continued to attack residential buildings in Mariupol, where a humanitarian crisis is deepening.
  • “The entire sky was in flames”: A Russian attack 11 miles from the border with Poland hit a base where foreigners who had come to help Ukraine were believed to be training.
  • Russia asked China for military equipment and for financial assistance to protect its economy, U.S. officials say. A Chinese spokesman dismissed the claim.
  • Russian forces fatally shot Brent Renaud, an American journalist who was reporting outside Kyiv, Ukrainian officials said.
  • Russian and Ukrainian officials are holding virtual peace talks today.

More on Ukraine

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Here's a very interesting article from the Holocaust Museum: "Invasion of Poland, Fall 1939"

https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/invasion-of-poland-fall-1939?

When reading this article you'll see similar remarks from Hitler that we are hearing from Putin about why he's invading Ukraine!! Also there's a map that has Germany in yellow and right next to Germany is Poland, and in Poland not far from the border is a city called Lodz, that is where my Father is from. My Father by the way spent 5 years in 3 different concentration camps!!

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March 16, 2022

 

Good morning. Is peace in Ukraine possible? And what could it look like?

 
 
 
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An evacuation train yesterday in Odessa, Ukraine.Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Putin’s price

Vladimir Putin’s history makes it hard to imagine a peace agreement in which an independent Ukraine continues to exist.

Consider the obstacles: Putin views Ukraine as a natural part of greater Russia. To control it, he has at his disposal a military vastly stronger than Ukraine’s. He has also demonstrated — in Chechnya and Syria — that he will kill large numbers of civilians to achieve his aims. In Ukraine, Putin seems willing to spend months if not years fighting a brutal war over a place that matters more to him than to the rest of the world.

But if it is hard to imagine his accepting some version of defeat, it is not impossible. It would probably involve his deciding that the war was becoming too costly — that it threatened the rest of his priorities and perhaps even his position as Russia’s authoritarian leader.

This kind of cost is exactly what the U.S., E.U., Britain and Ukraine’s other allies are trying to impose on Putin. How might they plausibly succeed? Today’s newsletter considers that question, through four main points.

Putin “probably wants all of Ukraine,” Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution has written. “Then again, he may now be appreciating the huge costs he will pay for any such conquest, and be open to settling for lesser objectives.”

1. The goal

Putin has been a destructive force in the world for much of his two decades in power. He annexed the Crimean peninsula and abused Chechnya and Syria. He has used his power to enrich himself. His regime has murdered journalists, human-rights activists and political opponents. In the U.S. and Europe, Putin has used misinformation to influence elections.

For all these reasons, many U.S. and European officials would like to see Putin forced from power. But ending the war in Ukraine — and allowing Ukraine to survive as a nation — does not require regime change in Russia. And if Putin’s ouster is the goal, the chances of success become even smaller.

“There’s loose talk by people now about, well, this will only end if Putin disappears,” Fiona Hill, the Russia expert and former White House official, told our colleague Ezra Klein. “This just feeds into this mentality that Russia is always under siege, its leaders are always under siege, people always want regime change in Russia.”

Putin might at some point be willing to give up Ukraine. He probably will not be willing to give up Russia.

2. Sanctions

Historically, economic sanctions have often failed to change the behavior of the country that they targeted. But they have not always failed. In the 20th century, sanctions achieved at least part of their aim about one-third of the time, according to Nicholas Mulder, a Cornell University historian. One key is connecting them to clearly defined goals.

The sanctions on Russia are some of the most aggressive ever levied, with the potential to stoke public unhappiness. Russian banks will have a harder time lending money. Russian companies will struggle to import some goods and technologies. Russian consumers will no longer be able to use Mastercard or Visa, buy Coke or Pepsi and shop at McDonald’s, Starbucks or Uniqlo. The ruble has fallen in value, raising the cost of many items.

Crucially, the U.S. and its allies are going after Russian oligarchs with a new seriousness. The measures imposed after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 proved to be ineffectual, as our colleagues Matt Apuzzo and Jane Bradley explain in a new investigative story. “But just as 9/11 forced world leaders to get serious about terrorist money,” Matt and Jane write, “the recent invasion of Ukraine could be a turning point on tackling illicit Russian wealth.”

The oligarchs are among the few Russians who might have some sway over Putin. “We know that Putin relies on people close to him to hide his money,” Tom Keatinge, a financial crime expert, told The Times.

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Welding antitank barriers in Odessa.Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

3. Weapons

Western Europe and the U.S. have been unwilling to send troops to Ukraine. In part, Western leaders are worried about setting off a larger war, even a nuclear one. In part, the leaders have decided that Ukraine is not worth the deaths of their own citizens (even if they won’t quite say so). Polls suggest that the American public, at least, agrees.

But military help for Ukraine is not simply a yes-or-no question. The U.S. and other countries have already sent weapons and equipment. When Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, speaks to the U.S. Congress by video today, he may ask for fighter jets. (Here’s The Morning’s recent profile of Zelensky.)

The White House announced yesterday that President Biden would attend an impromptu NATO meeting next week in Brussels, where leaders are likely to discuss both economic sanctions on Russia and weapons assistance for Ukraine. Biden is also planning to announce an additional $800 million in military aid to Ukraine.

4. A deal’s framework

Some peace deals would probably be unacceptable to Ukraine — say, a rump state in the western part of the country that does not include Kyiv. Other potential deals are more plausible.

Thomas Friedman, the Times columnist, has laid out the outlines of a possible deal in which Russia acquires a portion of eastern Ukraine where fighting has been going on for years; Ukraine promises not to join NATO (as Zelensky has already hinted); and Russia pays compensation for the damage it has done.

None of this looks likely right now. Russia continues to bombard civilian areas and claims it now controls the entire Kherson region, bordering Crimea in southern Ukraine. But unlikely is not the same thing as impossible. Ukraine’s demise would be so damaging — both for Ukrainians and for the state of democracy — that its allies have good reason to search for alternatives.

A less pessimistic view: “Russia is heading for an outright defeat in Ukraine,” Francis Fukuyama writes in American Purpose. “The army in the field will reach a point where it can neither be supplied nor withdrawn, and morale will vaporize.”

State of the War

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Russian missile strikes in Kyiv yesterday.The New York Times

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Russia’s onslaught continues amid optimism over talks

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces destroyed a theater in Mariupol where hundreds of people were sheltering Wednesday and rained fire on other cities, Ukrainian authorities said, even as the two sides projected optimism over efforts to negotiate an end to the fighting.

https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-zelenskyy-kyiv-europe-congress-058c8b72b81044f861b30b7ceb500a15?

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'Why? Why? Why?' Ukraine's Mariupol descends into despair

MARIUPOL, Ukraine (AP) — The bodies of the children all lie here, dumped into this narrow trench hastily dug into the frozen earth of Mariupol to the constant drumbeat of shelling.

https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-war-mariupol-descends-into-despair-708cb8f4a171ce3f1c1b0b8d090e38e3?

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Russia-Ukraine war: Key things to know about the conflict

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy invoked 9/11 during an urgent appeal Wednesday to the U.S. Congress for more weapons to stem the Russian assault. U.S. President Joe Biden announced an additional $800 million for Ukraine’s military and said Russian President Vladimir Putin is a “war criminal.”

https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-zelenskyy-roman-abramovich-kyiv-kharkiv-597768a19884e0472be9c7190adac658?

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March 17, 2022

 

Good morning. We give you a rare dispatch from Mariupol, a city under siege.

 
 
 
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Bodies are put into a mass grave on the outskirts of Mariupol, Ukraine.Evgeniy Maloletka/Associated Press

‘Show this to Putin’

Mariupol — in southeastern Ukraine, near the Russian border — has been under siege for more than two weeks. It is the city where Russia last week bombed a maternity hospital and yesterday attacked a theater that hundreds of civilians were using as a shelter. It was unclear how many of those sheltering survived, according to a Ukrainian official.

Since the war began, two of the few working journalists in Mariupol have been Mstyslav Chernov and Evgeniy Maloletka of The Associated Press. My colleagues and I were deeply affected by their dispatch, and we’re turning over the lead section of today’s newsletter to an excerpt from it.

The bodies of the children all lie here, dumped into this narrow trench hastily dug into the frozen earth of Mariupol to the constant drumbeat of shelling.

There’s 18-month-old Kirill, whose shrapnel wound to the head proved too much for his little toddler’s body. There’s 16-year-old Iliya, whose legs were blown up in an explosion during a soccer game at a school field. There’s the girl no older than 6 who wore the pajamas with cartoon unicorns and who was among the first of Mariupol’s children to die from a Russian shell.

They are stacked together with dozens of others in this mass grave on the outskirts of the city. A man covered in a bright blue tarp, weighed down by stones at the crumbling curb. A woman wrapped in a red and gold bedsheet, her legs neatly bound at the ankles with a scrap of white fabric. Workers toss the bodies in as fast as they can, because the less time they spend in the open, the better their own chances of survival.

“Damn them all, those people who started this!” raged Volodymyr Bykovskyi, a worker pulling crinkling black body bags from a truck.

More bodies will come, from streets where they are everywhere and from the hospital basement where the corpses of adults and children are laid out, awaiting someone to pick them up. The youngest still has an umbilical stump attached.

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An apartment building in Mariupol.Evgeniy Maloletka/Associated Press

Each airstrike and shell that relentlessly pounds Mariupol — about one a minute at times — drives home the curse of a geography that has put the city squarely in the path of Russia’s domination of Ukraine. This southern seaport of 430,000 has become a symbol of the drive by Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, to crush a democratic Ukraine — and also of a fierce resistance on the ground. The city is now encircled by Russian soldiers, who are slowly squeezing the life out of it, one blast at a time.

The surrounding roads are mined and the port blocked. Food is running out, and the Russians have stopped humanitarian attempts to bring it in. Electricity is mostly gone and water is sparse, with residents melting snow to drink. People burn scraps of furniture in makeshift grills to warm their hands in the freezing cold.

Some parents have even left their newborns at the hospital, perhaps hoping to give them a chance at life in the one place with decent electricity and water.

Death is everywhere. Local officials have tallied more than 2,500 deaths in the siege, but many bodies can’t be counted because of the endless shelling. They have told families to leave their dead outside in the streets because it’s too dangerous to hold funerals.

Just weeks ago, Mariupol’s future seemed much brighter. If geography drives a city’s destiny, Mariupol was on the path to success, with its thriving iron and steel plants, a deepwater port and high global demand for both.

By Feb. 27, that started to change, as an ambulance raced into a city hospital carrying a small motionless girl, not yet 6. Her brown hair was pulled back off her pale face with a rubber band, and her pajama pants were bloodied by Russian shelling.

Her wounded father came with her, his head bandaged. Her mother stood outside the ambulance, weeping.

As the doctors and nurses huddled around her, one gave her an injection. Another shocked her with a defibrillator. “Show this to Putin,” one doctor said, with expletive-laced fury. “The eyes of this child and crying doctors.”

They couldn’t save her. Doctors covered the tiny body with her pink striped jacket and gently closed her eyes. She now rests in the mass grave.

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Anastasia Erashova with her child in a hospital in Mariupol.Evgeniy Maloletka/Associated Press

This agony fits in with Putin’s goals. The siege is a military tactic popularized in medieval times and designed to crush a population through starvation and violence, allowing an attacking force to spare its own soldiers the cost of entering a hostile city. Instead, civilians are the ones left to die. Serhiy Orlov, the deputy mayor of Mariupol, predicts worse is soon to come. Most of the city remains trapped. “People are dying without water and food, and I think in the next several days we will count hundreds and thousands of deaths.”

For more: See more photographs from Mariupol in The A.P.’s full story (which Lori Hinnant, based in Paris, helped write). And read a dispatch from Mykolaiv — another besieged city, on the Black Sea — by my colleague Michael Schwirtz, with photos by Tyler Hicks.

State of the War

  • With the war entering its fourth week, Russian forces are taking heavy losses on the battlefield and have increasingly aimed their attacks against towns and cities.
  • In the south, Russia’s warships on the Black Sea launched missiles at towns around Odessa, but its ground forces remained more than 80 miles away.
  • Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, asked the U.S. Congress for more weapons, and he implored President Biden to be the “leader of peace.” (Here’s the transcript of Zelensky’s speech.)
  • The Biden administration will give Ukraine more high-tech defensive weapons that require little training to use, part of an additional $800 million in military aid.
  • More than 7,000 Russian soldiers have died, according to U.S. estimates — greater than the number of American troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.
  • Peace talks between Russia and Ukraine are continuing today.

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AP PHOTOS: Day 21: Ukraine war toll seen in drawing, tears

A child’s drawing hanging at a military checkpoint shows a person with a Ukrainian flag in one hand — and in the other, a large, black gun pointed at a green tank. A Ukrainian soldier wearing camouflage embraces a relative heading to Poland to flee the war. And an elderly Ukrainian woman wipes away tears during a funeral procession.

https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-europe-fca67beca1f9ba7eb06bee0b4267b7a4?

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Putin appears at big rally as troops press attack in Ukraine

Vladimir Putin appeared at a huge flag-waving rally at a packed Moscow stadium Friday and lavished praise on his troops fighting in Ukraine, three weeks into the invasion that has led to heavier-than-expected Russian losses on the battlefield and increasingly authoritarian rule at home.

https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-kyiv-united-nations-europe-antony-blinken-c3310a12490a0cf2e06f5f389e22e3a6?

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AP PHOTOS: Day 22: Buildings in flames, soldiers on guard

Raging walls of flame light up the night from inside the gutted interior of a bombed brick warehouse where firefighters desperately shoot water toward crumbling walls and smoke that looks like it was belched from an erupting volcano fills the sky with dense, black clouds.

https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-europe-d5d57547e5c91684d9fb5b81b49ee433?

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March 20, 2022

 

Good morning. China is watching Russia’s invasion of Ukraine closely.

 
 
 
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Taiwan's flag from a cafe window in Dongyin, Taiwan.Ann Wang/Reuters

A fragile peace

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has amplified fears that the world is teetering back to a Cold War-like era in which the most powerful countries compete for dominance.

That could mean not only Russia exerting control over Eastern Europe but also China imposing itself over East and Southeast Asia — particularly Taiwan.

China has laid claim to Taiwan since the island split off from the mainland in 1949 and has threatened to forcibly reunite the two. It views the issue as a top priority: Days after Russia’s invasion, Chinese officials reiterated that they were committed to “resolving the Taiwan question.” In a Friday call with President Biden about Russia’s invasion, China’s leader, Xi Jinping, seemed more concerned about the fate of Taiwan than the war in Ukraine.

China, like Russia, appears to see a void after Western powers pulled back from the world stage, sidelined by internal disputes and the failed U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the West, a Cold War victory had convinced many that a new democratic world order would keep the peace — without realizing how fragile that peace really was.

“People forgot about great power politics,” said Jennifer Lind, an expert on East Asia at Dartmouth College. “People had hoped we had transformed international politics, and we didn’t.”

But Russia’s failure so far to overpower Ukraine, and the West’s rush to punish and isolate Russia for its invasion, should make great or rising powers skeptical of similar incursions, experts said.

China, after all, has benefited from the relatively peaceful world order of recent decades; it transformed into the only real economic rival to the U.S. as the world became increasingly integrated. An invasion of Taiwan could disrupt that order and potentially isolate China from the global economy, as Russia’s experience has shown.

So what happens in Taiwan will likely be influenced by what happens in Ukraine. If Russia succeeds in overtaking Ukraine, it increases the danger for Taiwan. If Russia ultimately retreats, or suffers lasting, damaging consequences, that could be good news for the island.

Why China might hesitate

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Taiwanese military during a drill.Ritchie B. Tongo/EPA, via Shutterstock

Because Russia’s invasion has gone poorly, Chinese officials are likely to be more cautious about sending troops into Taiwan, said Liang-chih Evans Chen at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research in Taiwan.

That would be a relief for Taiwan, an island of almost 24 million people with a strong liberal democracy — it is the only Asian government to legally allow same-sex marriages — and a modern economy.

Taiwan does not expect that it could outright defeat China’s powerful military, especially without direct help from the U.S. Taiwan’s aim, instead, is to make a war look so costly for China that it is deterred from invading.

The war in Ukraine has shown how this could play out. Ukrainian resistance has been fiercer than anyone expected — killing thousands of Russian troops, according to U.S. estimates. The same could prove true in Taiwan, where polls find that nearly three-quarters of the population is willing to fight a Chinese invasion.

The West’s sweeping sanctions on Russia also suggest that an invasion of Taiwan could result in economic pain for China. Along with the weapons shipped to Ukraine, the sanctions show Western countries’ willingness to support democracies that are under attack.

The West’s resolve could go even further in Taiwan, with the possibility of U.S. forces directly intervening against an invasion. Biden has said American troops will not fight in Ukraine, but the U.S. keeps a deliberately vague line on Taiwan.

China’s advantages

China has strengths that Russia does not. Its economy is far bigger and more diversified, cushioning the damage that sanctions could inflict. The countries that would stand to impose sanctions on China, from the U.S. to European nations to Japan, are generally more reliant on trade with China than they are on trade with Russia.

Unlike Ukraine, Taiwan is not recognized globally as an independent country — not even by the U.S. — potentially leading to questions about whether China’s attack would be an invasion at all.

China also has an enormous military advantage, with about a million active-duty ground troops, compared with Taiwan’s 88,000. (Although, unlike Russia, China would have to cross 100 miles of water to invade — a difficult, complex undertaking.)

The reaction to Russia’s invasion has also exposed some limits in how far the West is willing to go, with countries declining to send troops to defend Ukraine. And the U.S.’s ambiguity on Taiwan leaves room for American forces to stay out of combat.

Most important, China has time: Any invasion of Taiwan could be years away, if it happens at all, experts said. That gives China time to build up its military, insulate its economy from possible sanctions, study what Russia got wrong in Ukraine and see whether Western resolve actually holds.

The return of great power politics, then, could hinge on the outcome of the war in Ukraine — and whether it was ultimately worth it from Russia’s perspective.

State of the War

  • Russia made significant gains yesterday. It pushed into the center of the besieged city of Mariupol, moving closer to linking its forces in Ukraine’s south with separatist allies in the east.
  • Mariupol is one of several places where Russian forces dealt blows to Ukraine’s military. Russia also destroyed a barracks in the south, killing at least 40 marines in one of the deadliest attacks on Ukrainian forces since the war began, and took out a weapons depot in the west.
  • Russia said it had used hypersonic missiles to destroy the depot, but that could not be independently confirmed. Launching the missiles would be an escalation and the first use of such weapons in combat; they can travel at five times the speed of sound.
  • Russia appears to be digging in for a long fight around Kyiv, its biggest prize. Satellite imagery showed Russian forces establishing defensive positions.

More on Ukraine

  • Ukrainians placed 109 empty strollers on a public square to symbolize children killed in Russian bombardments.
  • The Biden administration is trying to help Ukraine without inciting broader conflict, leading to sometimes tortured policy distinctions.
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As Mariupol hangs on, the extent of the horror not yet known

LVIV, Ukraine (AP) — As Mariupol’s defenders held out Monday against Russian demands that they surrender, the number of bodies in the rubble of the bombarded and encircled Ukrainian city remained shrouded in uncertainty, the full extent of the horror not yet known.

https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-war-024cfeb20ed4a60dc692401ffb3bb7be?

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March 21, 2022

 

Good morning. The Biden administration is facing an old Cold War dilemma: Be weak or risk a world war.

 
 
 
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A shelter in a kindergarten in Kyiv.Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

A Schelling problem

Since Vladimir Putin began threatening an invasion of Ukraine, the West has had to grapple with the grimmest of dilemmas: How to confront a nuclear power like Russia without risking a nuclear war.

It is not a new dilemma, however. It inspired much of modern game theory, developed by academic theorists like Thomas Schelling and studied by generals and top government officials throughout the Cold War.

The basic theory makes clear that it is possible to challenge another country with nuclear weapons. Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and other American presidents have done so, threatening force against Soviet troops and, on a few occasions, even using it. Yet these confrontations are extremely sensitive, requiring careful measures to minimize the chances of escalation.

The Biden administration and its European allies are following a version of this strategy in Ukraine. In addition to imposing tough economic sanctions against Russia, the coalition is arming Ukraine with weapons — while also cautiously signaling it has no plans to expand the conflict by invading Russia, as Putin seems to fear.

“The balancing act informs every aspect of American policy about the war,” a recent Times analysis explained. As Andrea Kendall-Taylor of the Center for a New American Security says, President Biden and his aides “are trying to figure out how do you get right up to the line without crossing over in a way that would risk direct confrontation with Russia.”

The balance involves vexing trade-offs in which almost any step that helps Ukraine defend itself also risks offending Putin.

Some observers — including many conservatives, but not only them — believe that the U.S. and Western Europe have been too timid. (Bret Stephens, the Times columnist, has made this case.) Michael McFaul, a U.S. ambassador to Russia under Barack Obama, wrote in The Washington Post, “More Western military assistance, especially weapons that can shoot down Russian airplanes and rockets or destroy artillery, is immediately needed for ending the war.”

Other analysts believe that the U.S. and Europe have been quite confrontational. They have levied harsh sanctions, provided Ukraine with weapons and massed troops in NATO countries near Russia’s borders. Going much further, these analysts say, could lead Putin to attack a NATO country, potentially sparking a world war.

Already, a nuclear attack — while unlikely — has become more plausible than at any point since the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, my colleague Max Fisher has written. “The prospect of nuclear war,” António Guterres, the U.N. secretary general, warned last week, “is now back within the realm of possibility.”

(“To ignore it,” Thomas Friedman writes, “would be naïve in the extreme.”)

Today’s newsletter lays out both sides of the issue: How else can the U.S., E.U., Britain, Turkey and others help Ukraine? And how can these countries signal to Putin that they are not seeking a larger war?

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A Ukrainian soldier in Kyiv last week.Gleb Garanich/Reuters

What the U.S. is doing

The guiding principle for which weapons the U.S. is willing to send Ukraine is straightforward: weapons that can help Ukraine defend itself but that would not be useful in an invasion of Russia.

If you’re confused about why anybody is talking about an invasion of Russia, don’t feel bad. The Biden administration and its European allies are in no way considering an invasion of Russia. The problem is that Putin does not believe that.

He knows that the West wishes he were no longer Russia’s leader, and he knows that the U.S. has a recent history of fighting wars of regime change, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria. Putin puts these two facts together and worries about a military campaign to remove him from power.

“It might ring crazy to you or me,” Max says, “but is seen within Moscow as highly plausible and is a point of obsession.”

For this reason, the West has been sending weapons to Ukraine that are more useful for defense than offense. The list includes shoulder-fired missiles (like Javelins, NLAWs and Stingers) and drones that can shoot guided missiles at troops inside Ukraine but that lack the range to reach Russia. The U.S. and Europe are trying to send large numbers of these weapons to Ukraine before Russia takes over so much of the country that delivery becomes difficult, Eric Schmitt, a senior writer at The Times, says.

And what it isn’t

By contrast, the Biden administration has firmly rejected requests from Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Doing so would probably require bombing weapons systems inside Russia that help protect its planes while they are over Ukraine.

The administration has also blocked Zelensky’s request for MiG-29 fighter planes from Poland that could help Ukraine attack Russian troops from the air. The planes would feed into Russian fears of an invasion because — as U.S. generals said during a closed-door session with Congress last week — they could reach Moscow from Ukraine within minutes.

Still, the Biden administration is discussing one new idea: whether to encourage Turkey to send S-400 antiaircraft missile systems to Ukraine. The S-400 (which happens to be Russian-made) travels on the back of a truck and can shoot down planes. U.S. officials are unsure how Putin might react if Ukraine received them.

Game theory looms over all of these questions.

Putin, of course, has an interest in making the West believe that he would be angered by almost any substantive help to Ukraine. Doing so can help maintain Russia’s military advantage. The Biden administration, in turn, would be acting naïvely — and effectively abandoning Ukraine — by taking Putin at his word.

On the other hand, confronting him so aggressively that he fears for his political life could set off a larger war. It could lead Putin to attack a NATO country on Ukraine’s border, like Poland, through which Western weapons are flowing to Ukraine.

There are no easy answers. It is a dilemma out of the Cold War, in which both timidity and aggression carry risks. “Brinkmanship,” Schelling wrote, “is thus the deliberate creation of a recognizable risk of war, a risk that one does not completely control.”

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Checkpoints around northern Kyiv.Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

State of the War

  • The war is reaching a stalemate in many places, as Russia suffers troop and equipment losses that will limit its ability to mount offensives.
  • A stalemate does not necessarily mean peace; it may mean that the war will get bloodier as Russia tries to gain control.
  • Russian forces escalated attacks on the strategic port city of Mariupol, including on an art school where hundreds of people were hiding. Ukraine rejected Russia’s demand that soldiers defending the city surrender at dawn today.
  • Russian forces are deporting thousands of residents from Mariupol against their will to Russia, according to local officials.

More on Ukraine

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Ukraine retakes key Kyiv suburb; battle for Mariupol rages

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian forces fought off continuing Russian efforts to occupy Mariupol and claimed to have retaken a strategic suburb of Kyiv on Tuesday, mounting a defense so dogged that it is stoking fears Russia’s Vladimir Putin will escalate the war to new heights.

https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-kyiv-business-europe-58eb1948eae037b72218abca32131498?

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Ukraine war imperils wheat, but farmers in no rush to pivot

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Russia’s war in Ukraine could mean changes for Ed Kessel’s farm along a quiet stretch of western North Dakota.

https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-business-canada-lifestyle-middle-east-1c8918d4734f0974eefe09121d2090ed?

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US, Ukraine quietly try to pierce Putin’s propaganda bubble

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. and Ukraine have knocked back Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to falsely frame the narrative of his brutal war, but they are struggling to get a more accurate view of the Kremlin’s invasion in front of the Russian people.

https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-putin-technology-business-media-4e5083e473f56ef728115fbfef3dbf31?

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Ukrainian theater's new drama? Making dumplings for soldiers

DROHOBYCH, Ukraine (AP) — The theater was empty. The seats were covered against dust. But it was a moment of drama that Alla Shkondina had prepared for all her life.

https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-europe-26495a6b735d8f71f446a59a6fc7016e?

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NATO: 7,000 to 15,000 Russian troops dead in Ukraine

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — NATO estimated on Wednesday that 7,000 to 15,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in four weeks of war in Ukraine, where fierce resistance from the country’s defenders has denied Moscow the lightning victory it sought.

https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-zelenskyy-kyiv-europe-nato-e35e54b40359e52f3ffd4911577b669a?

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State of the War
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A family from Ukraine crossing into Palanca, Moldova, yesterday.Mauricio Lima for The New York Times
  • Vladimir Putin is expanding his crackdown on dissent. Russia extended a law banning criticism of the government, and a court sentenced the opposition leader Aleksei Navalny to nine more years in prison.
  • Russia’s battlefield failures are creating fissures among its leadership. Six Russian generals have died in combat, Ukraine says, and a top intelligence official is reportedly under house arrest.
  • The Ukrainian military recaptured a town outside the capital, Kyiv, and is trying to retake Kherson, a southern region bordering Crimea.
  • Russia’s “combat power” has dipped below 90 percent of its original strength, according to the Pentagon. Still, Russian forces continued to bombard civilian areas.
  • About 10 million have fled their homes. “The Ukrainian people are enduring a living hell,” António Guterres, the U.N. secretary general, said.
 
More on Ukraine
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Przemysl, Poland, is a way station for refugees fleeing the war.Erin Schaff/The New York Times
  • A Polish town near the Ukrainian border is addressing almost every possible need of those fleeing Russian bombs — even taking in their pets.
  • President Biden will head to Brussels today to meet with NATO allies. He is expected to announce fresh sanctions on Russian lawmakers.
  • Dmitri Muratov will auction his Nobel medal — won for independent journalism inside Russia — to benefit Ukrainian refugees.
  • Russian misinformation is popping up on right-wing podcasts and TV shows in the U.S.
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Key moments in Russia’s month-old war in Ukraine

Russia’s war in Ukraine has killed thousands, extensively damaged some cities and forced millions to flee their homes. The largest military conflict in Europe since World War II has also upset the international security order and sent dangerous ripples through the global economy.

https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-putin-biden-business-europe-d3598ec612a4d8cbceade7a67c1092f7?

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What a complete waste of bombing a country with horse manure of an excuse that they are removing or de-Nazify Ukraine!!!!!

 

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