What happened on day 47 of the war in Ukraine

The Austrian Chancellor visited Russian President Vladimir V. Putin – the first Western leader to see him in person since the invasion of Ukraine – on Monday and said he left not only pessimistic about the prospects for peace, but fearing that Mr. Putin intends to dramatically escalate the brutality of the war.

Describing Mr Putin as dismissive of atrocities in Ukraine, visiting Chancellor Karl Nehammer said it was clear Russian forces were mobilizing for a full-scale assault in eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region. Ukraine, the next phase of a war now in its seventh week. .

“The threatened battle cannot be underestimated in its violence,” Mr Nehammer told a news conference after the 75-minute meeting at Mr Putin’s residence outside Moscow, which the visitor described as frank and direct.

The Austrian chancellor said he told the Russian president that as long as people died in Ukraine, “the sanctions against Russia will remain in place and will be further tightened.”

The Kremlin, downplaying the meeting in a terse statement, said only that it was “not long by recent standards”.

Even as Mr Nehammer was visiting, Russian forces were shelling Ukrainian towns and villages, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said “tens of thousands of people died” in Mariupol, the besieged southern city that was the scene of the most intense destruction in the world. war.

Credit…Alexander Ermoshenko/Reuters

And Mr. Putin, despite Russian military blunders during the war and despite all Western efforts to ostracize him, still seemed to be in control of the crisis. It harshly suppressed all dissent and enjoyed widespread domestic support, continued revenue from oil and gas sales to Europe, implicit support from China, and the refusal of much of the world to join. sanctions against Russia.

Many Western commentators had criticized the Austrian Chancellor – his country is a member of the European Union but not of NATO – for visiting Moscow, apparently playing into Mr Putin’s narrative that efforts by the United States to isolate Russia would necessarily end. in check.

Mr. Nehammer later told reporters that he tried to confront Mr. Putin with the horrors of war and the war crimes that Russian troops are accused of committing in the Kyiv suburbs of Bucha and elsewhere. He said he also spoke to Mr Putin about the destroyed Russian tanks he had seen during a recent visit to Ukraine, to convey the huge loss of life Russia was suffering.

Mr Nehammer said Mr Putin dismissed the war crimes charges as having been staged by Ukraine.

At the end, Mr. Putin told him: “It would be better if this” – the war – “ends soon”, Mr. Nehammer said, but the meaning of these words was not clear, because they could either signaling that Mr Putin was ready for further peace talks or that he could plot a swift and brutal assault in Donbass, where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting the Ukrainian army since 2014.

“We cannot have any illusions: President Putin has totally embraced the logic of war and is acting accordingly,” Nehammer said. “That’s why I believe it’s so important to constantly confront him with the facts of war.”

Credit…Alexander Zemlianitchenko/Associated Press

How even more brutal the war could become was signaled in an interview with Eduard Basurin, a separatist commander, broadcast on Russian state television. Mr Basurin said that with Ukrainian forces entrenched in the underground fortifications of a steelworks in Mariupol, storming the redoubt made no sense. Instead, he said, Russian forces should first block the exits and then “turn to the chemical troops who will find a way to smoke the moles out of their holes.”

Mr Putin remained silent on Monday but was due to speak publicly on Tuesday, when he travels to the spaceport of Vostochny in the Russian Far East with President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus, his ally, to mark the annual Day cosmonauts.

The February 24 invasion of Ukraine has increasingly been framed by Mr Putin as not against that country, but against the West – particularly the United States, as the supposed boss of Mr Putin’s government. Zelensky and his aspirations to escape Russia’s sphere of influence. like a former Soviet republic.

Sergei V. Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister, said in a Russian television interview broadcast on Monday that what the Kremlin calls its “special operation” in Ukraine is aimed at rolling back American influence – which the Russian government calls the root of the world. ailments.

“Our special military operation is designed to end reckless expansion and the reckless drive for complete US dominance,” Lavrov said.

The United States and the European Union have imposed increasingly severe economic sanctions on Russia following the invasion and are sending weapons to the Ukrainian army. But they don’t want to be dragged into a war with Russia. And the European Union remains reluctant to ban Russian oil and natural gas, which remain essential to the bloc’s economic health.

EU foreign ministers met in Luxembourg on Monday and the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell Fontelles said ‘nothing is ruled out, including oil and gas sanctions’ .

Credit…Pool photo by Chung Sung-Jun

While ministers discussed a possible phase-out of Russian oil, which is more easily replaced by suppliers other than gas, the meeting also laid bare the bloc’s divisions. Austria, Hungary and Germany have opposed any effort, for now, to restrict imports of Russian gas.

Yet European Union leaders were to approve an additional €500 million to reimburse member states for sending arms to Ukraine, which would mean a total of €1.5 billion up to present, nearly equivalent to the $1.7 billion worth of weapons that the United States has. authorized.

Russian troops, who withdrew from northern Ukraine after a failed attempt last month to reach the capital, Kyiv, have resupplied and regrouped in Russia and Belarus so they can join the battle in the east from Ukraine. But Western officials said on Monday that effort could still take some time.

Ukrainian officials have been warning since last week that civilians in eastern Ukraine should flee while they can. Mr Zelensky warned that tens of thousands of Russian troops were preparing a new assault there.

If and when the southern port city of Mariupol eventually falls, Russian troops may move north to meet Russian troops attempting to move south from Izyum and attempt to encircle the bulk of the Ukrainian army, which is concentrated further east, said Mathieu Boulègue, a Russian military specialist at Chatham House, the London research institute.

Credit…Reuters

That’s easier said than done, Boulègue said, as battered Russian troops wait for reinforcements. The Ukrainians, he said, were trying to block the Russians and organize a counterattack that would be more complicated than the fighting around kyiv, which had forced the Russians to retreat.

In view of reports of Russian atrocities in Bucha, Kramatorsk, Mariupol and other cities, negotiations between the Ukrainian and Russian governments are suspended.

But few believe the antagonists are ready for real talks because Mr Putin needs to show more military gains and because the Ukrainians believe they can still fend off the Russians, said Ivo Daalder, a former US ambassador to the NATO.

“The Ukrainians think they have an opportunity not only to prevent Russia from gaining more ground in the east, but also to push them out of there, while Putin has to find something he can sell as a victory “, Mr. Daalder said. “So diplomacy is going nowhere.”

If and when talks on a settlement finally take place, Mr. Putin will inevitably be part of it, said Francois Heisbourg, a French defense expert. Diplomats deal with heads of government, however unpleasant they are, he said.

The West also hopes that growing economic pain will encourage Mr Putin to scale back the war and end it. Russia is already in a “deep recession” and its economy is expected to shrink by 11% this year, the World Bank has reported.

Credit…Kirill Kudryavtsev/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

But the impact is also severe on Ukraine. The bank predicted that Ukraine’s economy would shrink by around 45% this year due to the Russian invasion and the impact of a “deep humanitarian crisis”.

Mr Putin initially named one of the war’s goals as the “denazification” of Ukraine, incorrectly labeling those who resist Russian rule as Nazis. A Monday article in a Russian state newspaper, Parlamentskaya Gazeta, written by an adviser to the speaker of the lower house of the Russian parliament, expanded on this concept to define the enemy as “Ukrainian-American neo-Nazism.”

The fight also included a “cold war” against enemies of the state inside Russia, according to the article, adding: “The denazification of Ukraine is impossible without a parallel denazification of Russia.”

It was the latest sign that, even as the war in Ukraine rages on, Mr Putin is preparing his security apparatus for an ever-growing intolerance of dissent. The crackdown has accelerated in recent weeks, with pro-war Russians denouncing teachers and neighbors who are speaking out against the war.

Last Friday, Russia shut down some of the last independent civil society institutions, including the Carnegie Moscow Center and the Moscow offices of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. It expanded the practice of naming government critics as “foreign agents”, adding a popular musician to the list for the first time: rapper Ivan Dryomin, 25, who goes by the name Face.

Credit…Sergei Ponomarev for The New York Times

Steven Erlanger reported from Brussels and Anton Troianovski from Istanbul. Reporting was provided by Monika Pronczuk in Brussels.

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