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Russia-Ukraine WarRussia Strikes Ukrainian Military Hub Amid Warnings of New Offensive

Here’s what we know:

Missiles hit the city of Kramatorsk hours before President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was expected to address a ceremony honoring the Soviet triumph in World War II.

  • Another attack in Kramatorsk comes as rescuers search for survivors of an earlier Russian strike.

  • Putin is set to deliver a speech at a ‘celebratory concert’ on a visit to Volgograd.

  • Top E.U. officials arrive in Kyiv for a summit with Zelensky.

  • An ailing Navalny describes a prison move that will extend his isolation.

  • The U.S. Treasury announces measures against a ‘sanctions evasion network’ aiding Russia’s military.

Another attack in Kramatorsk comes as rescuers search for survivors of an earlier Russian strike.

KRAMATORSK, Ukraine — Russian missiles slammed into Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine on Thursday, striking a city that is a key base of Ukrainian military operations, amid warnings from Kyiv that Moscow was opening a new offensive in the 11-month-old war.

The strike came hours before President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was expected to rally domestic support for his invasion of Ukraine in a speech on the anniversary of the Soviet triumph over the Nazis at Stalingrad, a decisive battle of World War II and one that many Russians view as a symbol of wartime heroism.

Russian attacks were intensifying in Kramatorsk, a longtime command center for the Ukrainian military and a staging ground for Ukraine’s defense of the city of Bakhmut, which Russia has moved closer to capturing after months of brutal fighting. The fall of Bakhmut would be Moscow’s first significant military victory since the summer, although it has come at a huge cost in Russian and Ukrainian lives.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has said that a large Russian troop buildup in occupied parts of eastern Ukraine, along with a sharp increase in artillery strikes in the east, signal the start of a new Russian offensive. On Wednesday night, at least three people were killed and more than a dozen others wounded when a rocket slammed into a four-story apartment complex in Kramatorsk, turning much of the building into a smoking ruin.

As rescuers were digging furiously through the rubble on Thursday, trying to find an entry into a basement where residents may have been hiding, there was a flash and two more missiles hit nearby, sending firefighters running in all directions.

One missile struck a courtyard, mangling several vehicles and a row of garages, and another stuck in the middle of the road. Residents fled to basements as the police warned that additional missiles were coming.

The head of the regional military administration, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said that the strikes on Thursday hit residential buildings and caused injuries, but did not immediately provide details.

Kramatorsk is the largest Ukrainian city near the epicenter of the fight for the eastern area known as Donbas. It is a hive of military activity, with the numbers of soldiers and armored personnel carriers growing in recent days. Bakhmut lies about 20 miles away, and the entire area comes under bombardment by Russian ordnance almost daily.

It was unclear why the apartment building might have been targeted. At the blast site, the mangled and scorched remains of several vehicles appeared as if they could belong to the military.

“We need to unscrew Putin’s head, and everything will be fine,” said a 65-year-old woman who would give her name only as Svitlana, referring to Mr. Putin.

In April, at least 50 people were killed and many more were wounded in a missile assault on the Kramatorsk train station. The assaults have continued: A Russian missile landed just outside a kindergarten in the city last week, leaving a gaping crater. On Wednesday, the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office said that it had opened a war crimes investigation over the latest attack.

“This is not a repetition of history; this is the daily reality of our country,” Mr. Zelensky said in a statement after the attack on Wednesday.

The Ukrainian leader repeated his pleas for more advanced weapons — fighter jets and long-range missiles — now that Western battle tanks are on the way. Ukraine’s allies have supplied Kyiv with an ever-growing arsenal of weapons, but many remain reluctant to fulfill its requests for military jets.

Carly Olson in New York and Matthew Mpoke Bigg in London contributed reporting.

— Michael Schwirtz

Putin is set to deliver a speech at a ‘celebratory concert’ on a visit to Volgograd.

President Vladimir V. Putin will travel on Thursday to the Russian city formerly known as Stalingrad to commemorate the Soviets’ defeat of the Nazis in a decisive World War II battle, an anniversary that the Kremlin is sure to use to try to rally domestic support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Kremlin said that Mr. Putin would deliver a speech at a “celebratory concert” planned on Thursday in the city, now known as Volgograd. Mr. Putin will also hold an on-camera meeting with members of patriotic and youth groups, the Kremlin said, signaling that the Russian president was likely to make some of his most extended public remarks since December.

Stalingrad — the turning point in what Russians call the Great Patriotic War, the Soviet Union’s fight against the Nazis in World War II — holds totemic significance for Russians as a symbol of wartime suffering, sacrifice and heroism. In 1943, the Soviets reversed the tide of Germany’s invasion there after a 200-day battle that cost hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians their lives.

For Mr. Putin, the symbolism is a central trope in his messaging to Russians to push them to support his war in Ukraine, with the Kremlin’s propaganda falsely describing the Ukrainians as modern-day Nazis and twisting reality to describe the Russian invasion as a defensive war.

On Wednesday, for instance, the Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, told reporters that Mr. Putin would hold a meeting to discuss the consequences of “bombardment by Nazi formations from Ukraine” in Russia’s border regions. And in a meeting with World War II veterans last month, Mr. Putin reprised his description of Ukraine’s current government as carrying on the legacy of the Nazis of World War II.

“The neo-Nazis who have gained ground and are running the show in Ukraine,” Mr. Putin claimed in the January meeting, must be punished for carrying out “crimes against civilians.”

“It is essential to record everything they are doing now, especially to civilians,” he said, falsely drawing a parallel with Nazi crimes in World War II.

The Kremlin said that Mr. Putin’s speech on Thursday would come at a concert commemorating the end of the Battle of Stalingrad, after he lays a wreath at a memorial museum. He last delivered a speech at a major public event in September on Red Square in Moscow, celebrating Russia’s illegal annexation of four Ukrainian regions.

Ukraine has dealt Moscow further military setbacks since then, forcing a Russian retreat in November from the city of Kherson. Mr. Putin is also facing pressure because of heavy casualties in fierce fighting around the city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, as well as the West’s pledge to provide battle tanks to Ukraine.

But Mr. Putin appears likely to use his remarks on Thursday to insist that Russia will stay the course despite its travails. Asked on Wednesday about the consequences of new Western arms supplies to Ukraine, Mr. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, said they would lead to “an increase in the level of escalation.”

“This will demand additional efforts from us,” Mr. Peskov said. Using the Kremlin’s euphemistic term for the invasion, he went on: “But, again, this will not change the course of events. The special military operation will continue.”

— Anton Troianovski

The State of the War

  • In the East: Russian forces are ratcheting up pressure on the beleaguered city of Bakhmut, pouring in waves of fighters to break Ukraine’s resistance in a bloody campaign aimed at securing Moscow’s first significant battlefield victory in months.
  • Mercenary Troops: Tens of thousands of Russian convicts have joined the Wagner Group to fight alongside the Kremlin’s decimated forces. Here is how they have fared.
  • Sidestepping Sanctions : Russian trade appears to have largely bounced back to where it was before the invasion of Ukraine, as the country’s neighbors and allies step in to fill the gaps  left by Western restrictions.
  • Military Aid: After weeks of tense negotiations, Germany and the United States announced they would send battle tanks to Ukraine. But the tanks alone won’t help turn the tide, and Kyiv  ha s  started to press Western officials  on advanced weapons like long-range missiles and fighter jets.

Top E.U. officials arrive in Kyiv for a summit with Zelensky.

The European Union’s top officials arrived in Ukraine on Thursday before a summit with President Volodymyr Zelensky to discuss issues including Ukraine’s reconstruction and its candidacy for membership in the bloc.

“We are here together to show that the EU stands by Ukraine as firmly as ever,” Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said on Twitter, adding that it was “good to be back in Kyiv” for her fourth visit to the Ukrainian capital since Russia launched its full-scale invasion almost a year ago.

Ms. von der Leyen and Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, are expected to meet with Mr. Zelensky on Friday. Together, the Commission and Council set the bloc’s political direction and decide key policies for the 27-member association.

Days after Russia invaded Ukraine last February, Mr. Zelensky filed a request for Ukraine to join the European Union, a process that could take a decade. Friday’s meeting will be the first summit between the governments since Ukraine, along with neighboring Moldova, was granted E.U. candidate status in June.

Before Russia’s invasion, Ukraine did not have a serious chance at becoming a candidate in the near future because of its less developed economy, a history of corruption and institutional weaknesses. Since late January, several Ukrainian officials have resigned or been removed from office. On Wednesday, the authorities carried out dozens of searches related to corruption accusations.

The timing of the searches appeared to be intended to assure European officials that Kyiv is rooting out corruption, signaling that the country is taking seriously its responsibility toward spending E.U. money for its reconstruction. Both in Europe and in the United States, politicians and the public are concerned about the way billions of dollars in financial aid will be spent in Ukraine and are seeking accountability on how the funds are funneled toward the country’s rebuilding.

Ms. von der Leyen and Mr. Michel traveled to Kyiv with several members of the European Commission who are responsible for policy areas such as technology, trade and agriculture. The commissioners will meet with Ukrainian government officials on Thursday before the higher-level gathering of Mr. Zelensky, Ms. von der Leyen and Mr. Michel on Friday.

— Erin Mendell

An ailing Navalny describes a prison move that will extend his isolation.

Aleksei A. Navalny, the imprisoned Russian opposition leader, said on Wednesday that he was being moved to a “cell-type facility” within a Russian penal colony that would likely extend his time without visits to more than a year, even as his supporters continue to raise alarms about his declining physical condition.

“Even maniacs and serial killers serving life sentences have the right to receive a visit, but I don’t,” Mr. Navalny wrote on Twitter. “Well, hardships make one tougher, though I don’t understand why this should apply to my children too.”

Mr. Navalny said that he would spend six months, the maximum possible term under Russian law, in the new facility, and that he would be denied visits, as he has for the prior eight months.

The move is an unmistakable effort to destroy Mr. Navalny’s health by any means, his lawyer, Vadim Kobzev, said on Twitter on Wednesday. He accused prison officials of deliberately infecting Mr. Navalny with an illness and then administering inappropriate treatment. Mr. Navalny was experiencing sharp stomach pains and had lost over 15 pounds, Mr. Kobzev reported.

One of President Vladimir V. Putin’s most prominent critics, Mr. Navalny has been jailed since he returned to Russia in 2021, after recovering in Germany from an assassination attempt that Western officials say was carried out by the Kremlin. He has spent much of his time in prison in so-called punishment cells.

Concerns about his health have been growing in recent weeks and led to rare, public petitions from groups of Russian lawyers, doctors and lawmakers who used their full names to demand that he receive better medical care, undertaking a considerable risk of being prosecuted for their dissent.

Mr. Navalny’s spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, described his new facility, known as PKT, as a “ concrete cage ” with a bed chained to the wall. “Putin tried to kill Navalny the quick way,” she said. “Now Putin’s torturing him and killing him the slow way.”

— Anushka Patil

The U.S. Treasury announces measures against a ‘sanctions evasion network’ aiding Russia’s military.

The United States government on Wednesday imposed sanctions on a network led by a Russia- and Cyprus-based arms dealer, Igor Zimenkov, described as working to evade prior sanctions to support Russia’s military.

This round of penalties specifically targets Mr. Zimenkov, his son Jonatan Zimenkov, and 20 other associates and entities — many of them front companies — that have tried to circumvent existing sanctions to “re-supply Putin’s war machine,” Wally Adeyemo, the deputy Treasury secretary, said in a statement.

The elder Zimenkov has supported Russian defense companies that are already under U.S. sanctions and facilitated sales of Russian defense supplies to other governments, according to the Treasury Department. His larger network used front companies and associates in Cyprus, Bulgaria, Israel and other countries “to funnel money within the network while attempting to maintain a lawful appearance,” the statement said.

The newly imposed sanctions “will decrease Russia’s ability to wage war and weaken its military-industrial complex,” Antony J. Blinken, the secretary of state, said in a statement.

The Treasury Department said that in the past year it had placed sanctions on “over 100 individuals and entities” trying to evade sanctions related to Russia. Those are among the sweeping sanctions the U.S. government has placed on influential individuals and organizations to try to choke off Russia’s military entities.

In December, the State Department announced penalties against five board members of Russia’s state-owned rail company, more than two dozen Russian heads of regions and governors and Vladimir Potanin, an industrial metal tycoon. Those sanctions also designated Mr. Potanin’s superyacht, Nirvana, as blocked property subject to seizure. Later in the month, the State Department imposed sanctions on entities supporting the Russian Navy.

— Carly Olson

battlefield Update

The town of Kreminna is in the cross hairs in the fight for northern Luhansk.

THE BATTLE: Even as Ukrainian forces have been defending the eastern city of Bakhmut and the surrounding area against a steady Russian assault, they have been moving slowly toward the town of Kreminna, about 30 miles to the northeast. Over months, the Ukrainians have fought a series of battles over villages and roads in the area, trying to take back the territory Russia controls in the northeastern part of the Luhansk region. Now, Ukrainian officials fear that Russia is preparing its forces for a counterstrike.

THE LATEST: On Wednesday, the head of Ukraine’s military administration in Luhansk, Serhiy Haidai, said that Russian forces were “trying to advance” from Kreminna and another contested city 25 miles further north, Svatove. Other Ukrainian officials say they expect the Kremlin to renew its offensive soon in both Luhansk and in Donetsk, the two regions that make up Donbas, which Russia has sought to seize in its entirety.

WHY IT MATTERS: Kreminna, Svatove and a third nearby town, Starobilsk, are vital for Moscow’s ability to resupply its forces in Luhansk. For Ukraine, capturing Kreminna could pave the way to an assault on larger cities to the south, especially Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, which Russia seized last summer. For Russia, the ability to make a push from Kreminna could help fulfill President Vladimir V. Putin’s stated goal of seizing the whole of Donbas. It could also compel Ukraine to deploy further military resources to northern Luhansk that it needs elsewhere in Donbas.

— Matthew Mpoke Bigg

Zelensky accuses Georgia of trying to kill its former president, Mikheil Saakashvili.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine accused the government of Georgia on Wednesday of trying to kill its former president, Mikheil Saakashvili, who is now a Ukrainian citizen and imprisoned by the country he led during a Russian invasion in 2008.

“I think that today the Georgian government is killing him,” Mr. Zelensky said at a news conference in Kyiv, according to Ukrainian news media reports. “You know that they poisoned him and now, excuse me, they are killing him little by little.”

He suggested that Georgia, a former Soviet state, was mistreating Mr. Saakashvili, 55, a longtime nemesis of Russia, to curry favor with the Kremlin. Mr. Zelensky held up photos of the once robust former Georgian president, who has intermittently gone on hunger strikes to protest his treatment, looking gaunt.

Mr. Saakashvili’s allies, rights groups and foreign diplomats have accused Georgia of denying Mr. Saakashvili proper medical care since he returned to the country in 2021 and was arrested on charges of corruption and ordering the severe beating of a political opponent. Mr. Zelensky explicitly said that he was not commenting on the validity of the charges, only on what he called “public torture of a citizen of Ukraine.”

In 2003, Mr. Saakashvili helped lead street protests that chased President Eduard Shevardnadze, a former Soviet official, from office. Mr. Saakashvili then won a landslide election for the presidency at age 37. He was re-elected in 2008.

He set out to move Georgia out of Moscow’s orbit and closer to the West, seeking membership in NATO and the European Union — and infuriating President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. The two countries clashed repeatedly over the status of two regions of Georgia with Russian-backed separatist movements, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and critics said Mr. Saakashvili was playing with fire by pushing hard to assert control over them.

In 2008, NATO promised membership, some day, to Georgia and Ukraine. A few months later, Russia invaded Georgia, defeating its forces within days, and it still has troops stationed in the breakaway regions.

To Ukrainians, whose country fought Russian-backed separatists for years before a full-fledged invasion last year, the parallels to Georgia’s experience are painfully obvious.

After Mr. Saakashvili left office in 2013, his political opponents took control and he left the country, living in Ukraine and the United States. He served for a time as the governor of the Odesa region of Ukraine and an adviser to Mr. Zelensky, and gained Ukrainian citizenship.

— Richard Pérez-Peña

Funds for Russia, frozen for 15 years, will be redirected to aid Ukraine, U.S. says.

More than $135 million of a long-dormant U.S. government fund that was established to invest in Russia’s private sector will be distributed to help the economies of Ukraine and its neighbor, Moldova, recover from Russia’s war, the U.S. Agency for International Development said on Wednesday.

Another $18 million of the money from the fund, known as the U.S. Russia Investment Fund, will support Russian pro-democracy groups, including the independent news media, human rights monitors and civil society groups that may have been exiled, U.S.A.I.D. said.

The money in the U.S. Russia Investment Fund has been effectively frozen for 15 years, across the Obama and Trump administrations, over questions about who should get it. The fund’s goal, when it was established in 1995, was to support a free-market economy in Russia, though the Kremlin has since “thwarted those dreams,” said Samantha Power, the administrator of U.S.A.I.D.

Efforts to distribute more than $150 million remaining in the fund were accelerated after President Vladimir V. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine last year, Ms. Power told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in May.

On Wednesday, speaking at an event announcing the distribution of the aid with Ambassadors Oksana Markarova of Ukraine and Viorel Ursu of Moldova, Ms. Power hailed the redirection of the money “to those resisting Moscow’s aggression.” She also praised the entrepreneurship of citizens in Ukraine and Moldova, which welcomed more Ukrainian refugees than any other country at the start of the war.

“This funding can be catalytic in helping incentivize Ukrainian refugees — those families who have gone to Europe and beyond — to return,” Ms. Power said. “We know they never wanted to leave in the first place.”

— Anushka Patil

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