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China’s Xi Makes First Call to Ukraine’s Zelensky Since Russian Invasion

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Chinese leader Xi Jinping called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday, their first conversation since the Russian invasion more than a year ago, as Beijing attempts to portray itself as a potential peacemaker in the conflict.

China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement posted to its website that it would send a special representative for Eurasian affairs to Ukraine and other countries “for in-depth communication with all parties on the political settlement of the Ukrainian crisis.”

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In an ornate room, Vice President Kamala Harris, in a dark suit, looks on as President Biden, in a dark suit and a tie with red and blue stripes, speaks.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

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A few weeks ago, one of France’s most famous public intellectuals, Bernard-Henri Lévy, gave an interview to The Times on his new documentary, “Slava Ukraini,” and he said something that helped me understand why, as I approach my 70th birthday, I still want to be a journalist.

Asked why, at age 74, he dodged rockets in Ukraine to bring home the savagery of the Russian invasion, Lévy said, “In Ukraine, I had the feeling for the first time that the world I knew, the world in which I grew up, the world that I want to leave to my children and grandchildren, might collapse.”

I have that exact same fear.

Which is why the focus of my columns these days has been very tight. There are three things that absolutely cannot be allowed to happen: Israel cannot be allowed to turn into an autocracy like Viktor Orban’s Hungary; Ukraine cannot be allowed to fall to Vladimir Putin; and Donald Trump cannot be allowed to occupy the White House ever again.

If all three were to happen, the world that I want to leave my children and grandchildren could completely collapse.

Israel, the only functioning pluralistic democracy in the Middle East, tempered by the rule of law, albeit imperfect, would be lost.

The European Union — the United States of Europe, the world’s other great multiethnic center of free markets, free people and human rights — would be at Putin’s mercy.

And the United States of America, with a vengeful Trump back in the White House, effectively pardoned for his many attacks on our democratic institutions and his assault on the integrity of our elections, would never be the same. Trump would be unchained — an utterly chilling thought.

It’s through this lens that I want to talk about Joe Biden’s announcement on Tuesday that he is running for re-election, joined again by Kamala Harris. Biden’s ability to finish his current term and successfully navigate another one is critical to all three scenarios mentioned above. Which is why, now that Biden has declared that he is running, he absolutely has to win.

But while you may think the 2024 election is very likely going to be a rerun of 2020, that is not the case for the Democrats. This time, Biden’s running mate will really matter.

We are always told that, in the end, people vote for the candidate for president, not for vice president. But because Biden would be 86 at the end of a second term — and therefore the chance of his health failing is not small — people will be asked to vote as much for his vice president as for him, maybe more than in any other election in American history.

The most recent FiveThirtyEight average of all the Biden-Harris approval polls found that 51.9 percent of Americans disapprove of Harris’s job performance and 40 percent approve, about the same numbers as Biden’s.

Let me be clear: I voted for Joe Biden, and I do not want my money back. He is a good man, and he has been a good president, better than the polls give him credit for. The Western alliance that he put together, and has held together, to counter the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been a master class in alliance management and defending the democratic order in Europe. Ask Putin.

The way Biden has told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he is not fooled by — and will not be indifferent to — Netanyahu’s judicial coup d’état masquerading as a “judicial reform” has been a tremendous source of encouragement for the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who have taken to the streets to defend their democracy.

And on the domestic issues I care about most — rebuilding America’s infrastructure, ensuring American leadership in the manufacture of the most advanced microchips that will power the age of artificial intelligence, and incentivizing market forces to deliver the huge scale of clean energy we need to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change — Biden has delivered beyond my highest hopes.

Joe Biden would be my candidate, no matter what his age, as long he was physically and mentally able, because I see no other Democrat with his blend of political skills, his core belief in the necessity and possibility of national unity, his foreign policy savvy and his ability to disagree with Trump’s supporters without trying to humiliate them. He authentically wants to get the poison out of our political system.

But … I am keenly aware that plenty of Americans don’t share my views. I realize that the roughly 30 percent of Republicans who are Trump devotees are most likely beyond reach — and nothing Biden can say will bring them around. However, they will not decide the next election.

As Axios reported on April 17, Gallup polling in March “found that a record 49 percent of Americans see themselves as politically independent — the same as the two major parties put together.”

This means that there are many moderate, principled conservatives and independents who will not, or prefer not to, vote for Trump again. Just enough of them demonstrated as much in the 2022 midterms to prevent virtually all of the major Trump election deniers running for state and national office from gaining power. Their votes helped to save our democracy.

If the 2024 race comes down to Biden vs. Trump again, we are going to need those independents and moderate Republicans to show up again. But this time around, because of his age and the possibility that he might not be able to finish a second term, Biden’s vice president will be much more consequential in their minds.

It’s no secret that Vice President Harris has not elevated her stature in the last two-plus years. I don’t know what the problem is — whether she was dealt an impossible set of issues to deal with, or is in over her head, or is contending with a mix of sexism and racism as the first woman of color to serve as vice president. All I know is that doubts among voters about her abilities to serve as president, which were significant enough for her to quit as a presidential candidate even before the Iowa caucuses in 2020, have not gone away.

Given the stakes, Biden needs to make the case to his party — and, more important, to independents and moderate Republicans — why Harris is the best choice to succeed him, should he not be able to complete his term. He cannot ignore this issue, because that question will be on the minds of many voters come election time.

Credit…Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

At the same time, Harris has to make the case for herself, ideally by showing more forcefully what she can do. One thing Biden might consider is putting Harris in charge of ensuring that America’s transition to the age of artificial intelligence works to strengthen communities and the middle class. It is a big theme that could take her all over the country.

I wrote a column more than two years ago suggesting that Biden make Harris “his de facto secretary of rural development, in charge of closing the opportunity gap, the connectivity gap, the learning gap, the start-up gap — and the anger and alienation gap — between rural America and the rest of the country.” It would have been a substantive challenge and would have enabled her and the administration to build bridges to rural Republicans. Never happened.

I am terrified of going into this election with a Democratic ticket that gives moderate Republicans and independents — who are desperate for an alternative to Trump — any excuse to gravitate back to him.

And beware. Trump is no fool. If he’s the G.O.P. nominee, I can easily see him asking a more moderate Republican woman, like Nikki Haley, to be his running mate, knowing that her presence on the ticket could be an incentive that gives at least some of those Republicans and independents who are down on Trump an excuse to plug their noses and vote for him another time.

Make no mistake, the vice presidency is really going to matter in an election that is really going to matter. Because I don’t want Biden to win this election by 50.1 percent. I want it to be a landslide rejection of Trumpism and the politics of division. I want it to send a loud message around the world — to the Putins and the Netanyahus and the Orbans — that there are way more of us Americans on the center-right and the center-left, way more people who are ready to work together for the common good, than there are haters and dividers.

That’s an America worth handing over to our children and grandchildren.

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The jailed Russian opposition leader said he faced a terrorism case that he described as “absurd.”

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A guard next to empty courtroom benches, with a screen above them showing Aleksei Navalny.

Aleksei A. Navalny appeared via a video link on Wednesday at a hearing in a Moscow court over separate extremism charges.Credit…Kirill Kudryavtsev/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Ivan Nechepurenko
  • April 26, 2023Updated 10:36 a.m. ET

Aleksei A. Navalny, the jailed Russian opposition leader, said on Wednesday that Russian authorities had initiated “absurd” new terrorism charges against him that could lead to life in prison.

Mr. Navalny’s comments, which were posted on his team’s Twitter account, came as he appeared via video link at a court hearing over separate extremism charges that are widely seen as politically motivated.

Mr. Navalny, who started as an anticorruption activist before becoming one of the Kremlin’s most prominent critics, is already serving a sentence in a penal colony for fraud and contempt of court. Since returning to Russia after recovering in Germany from a poisoning attempt that the West has blamed on the Kremlin, he has repeatedly faced new charges from Russian authorities.

In the comments relayed from the courtroom by his supporters on social media, Mr. Navalny said that an investigator had informed him on Tuesday that a terrorism case had been initiated against him that would be heard in a separate trial by a military court. The Russian authorities did not confirm the charges.

Mr. Navalny said that he faces up to 30 years over the extremism case and up to a life sentence over the terrorism one. He said that the authorities alleged that he had committed terrorist acts while in prison. He did not elaborate on the specifics of the latest accusation but called the claim “absurd.”

Wednesday’s hearing was focused on how much time Mr. Navalny can have to familiarize himself with the extremism case against him. That case is linked to his anticorruption foundation, which the authorities declared an “extremist organization” and effectively banned in 2021.

The judge gave him until May 5, Mr. Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said, and ruled that the trial would be held behind closed doors. Ms. Yarmysh said that the short period given to Mr. Navalny to read his case materials meant that the trial would begin soon, probably before the end of May.

“I insist that the attempt to close the process is not an attempt to simply restrict me in getting acquainted with the case,” Mr. Navalny said, according to his supporters. “It is an attempt to make sure no one finds out about it.”

Mr. Navalny, a lawyer, exposed widespread corruption among the Russian elite and around President Vladimir V. Putin and created a rival political organization to the Kremlin’s, with regional divisions and supporters across the country.

The Kremlin has put pressure on his supporters for years, but the situation escalated in 2020, when Mr. Navalny was poisoned in what he said was an attempt to murder him by the Kremlin. The Russian authorities denied involvement.

In January 2021, Mr. Navalny returned to Moscow after spending months in Germany recovering from the poisoning.

Mr. Navalny and his supporters have said that he is in deteriorating health and have accused prison doctors at a penal colony east of Moscow of giving him substandard care. He says he has been repeatedly placed in “punishment cells” for trivial reasons.

A photo from the courtroom posted on Twitter by Mr. Navalny’s supporters showed him on the video link in a prison uniform and looking thin and tired.

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Moscow April 26, 6:36 p.m.

Washington April 26, 11:36 a.m.

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, and China’s leader, Xi Jinping. Their conversation lasted nearly an hour.Credit…Omar Marques/Getty Images; Thibault Camus/Associated Press

China’s leader, Xi Jinping, and Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, spoke by telephone on Wednesday, in the first known contact between the two leaders since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Mr. Zelensky said he “had a long and meaningful phone call” with Mr. Xi. The Chinese state news media said the two leaders had discussed “the Ukraine crisis” and their nations’ bilateral relationship.

A summary of the nearly hourlong conversation published by the Chinese state news media made no mention of Russia and did not use the word “war.” Mr. Xi reiterated points Beijing has made in the past, saying that China’s “core position” was to “promote peace and talks.” Mr. Xi also said “mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity” was the “political basis of China-Ukrainian relations.”

Mr. Zelensky said on Twitter that the call would help “give a powerful impetus to the development of our bilateral relations.”

The Chinese state media added that China would “send a special representative of the Chinese government on Eurasian affairs to visit Ukraine and “other countries to conduct in-depth communication with all parties on the political settlement of the Ukrainian crisis.”

The special representative, Li Hui, was awarded a “Medal of Friendship” by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in 2019.

Since Russia’s full-scale invasion 14 months ago, Mr. Zelensky had repeatedly expressed interest in speaking with Mr. Xi. China, though it has declared itself neutral in the war and has refrained from criticizing the invasion by Russia, its close partner. Many Western officials believe China may be the only country with enough clout with both Ukraine and Russia to help negotiate an end to the conflict.

But Chinese officials had long dodged questions about whether Mr. Xi would speak with Mr. Zelensky, even as the Chinese leader repeatedly spoke or met with Mr. Putin, including during a trip to Moscow on March 20. Before that visit, China had issued what it framed as a peace plan for Ukraine, seemingly positioning itself as a potential mediator, though the United States and Western allies largely dismissed the plan. China and Russia’s joint statement after the visit made little mention of the war, instead focusing on deepening ties between the two countries.

The call took place days after China’s ambassador to France, Lu Shaye, caused a diplomatic firestorm in Europe after he questioned the sovereignty of post-Soviet nations like Ukraine in a televised interview.

Analysts said Mr. Xi’s call with Mr. Zelensky may have been in response to the flap, which damaged China’s effort to strengthen ties with Europe as its relations with the United States worsen.

“Xi’s strategy is to weaken the trans-Atlantic alliance,” said Theresa Fallon, director of the Center for Russia Europe Asia Studies in Brussels. “It was really important for Xi to fix it and fix it fast.”

Mr. Xi has been trying to burnish his image as a global statesman in recent months by helping restore diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran and by rolling out the red carpet in Beijing for visiting world leaders such as President Emmanuel Macron of France.

Whether Mr. Xi has the intention, or ability, to help mediate for peace in Ukraine remains to be seen. Russia is viewed as a crucial partner in challenging a U.S.-led world order that China is attempting to reshape.

Before the war, China-Ukraine ties had been strengthening. By 2019, China was Ukraine’s largest trading partner and the top importer of its barley and iron ore, according to a report by the Council on Foreign Relations. Ukraine was also China’s largest corn supplier and its second-largest arms supplier. China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, was a discarded Soviet vessel bought from Ukraine that the Chinese Navy refurbished.

The last known contact between Mr. Xi and Mr. Zelensky was a phone call in January 2022, just weeks before the invasion, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of diplomatic bilateral ties.

But after the invasion, the official Chinese news media adopted many of the Kremlin’s talking points and disinformation, accusing NATO of instigating the conflict and refusing to call it an invasion.

Even so, Ukraine has been careful not to antagonize Beijing, mindful of the decisive role China could play in the war. Mr. Zelensky, for example, called China’s position paper on the war “an important signal,” and has said that “I really want to believe” China would not supply weapons to Russia. (Western officials have suggested that Beijing may do so, despite China’s denials.)

  • Spring Offensive: Ukraine is preparing to launch a counteroffensive against Russian forces in the face of immense risks: Without a decisive victory, Western support for Ukraine could weaken, and Kyiv could come under increasing pressure to enter serious peace talks to end or freeze the conflict.
  • In the South: Russian troops are forcibly relocating people from occupied areas near the city of Kherson as fighting there intensifies, Ukrainian officials said.
  • Grain Supplies: When Russia’s war blocked vitally needed Ukrainian grain exports, E.U. officials succeeded in finding other routes out. But the solution has caused discontent among European farmers.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, left, and President Xi Jinping of China spoke by telephone on Wednesday.Credit…Daniel Leal/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

During his long-anticipated telephone conversation with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday, China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, spoke of “lasting peace” and “respect for sovereignty.” Not once, however, in the nearly hourlong call did he mention the name of the country that invaded Ukraine.

The omission of Russia, as well as the word “war,” underscores how closely aligned Beijing and Moscow remain — and it highlights how difficult it will be for China to cast itself as a credible peace mediator in Ukraine.

As with China’s position paper on a peace settlement in Ukraine released in February, Mr. Xi provided no concrete plans to end the fighting, instead referring to “dialogue and negotiation.”

The tack reflects the importance that Mr. Xi places on Russia as a strategic partner and nuclear-armed power countering U.S. global dominance at a time that China is trying to reshape the global order to protect its own interests.

Russia offered a muted response to the call through its foreign ministry. “We note the readiness of Chinese side to make efforts to work toward a negotiation process,” the ministry’s spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said in a press briefing on Wednesday. She added, “Any initiatives for peace are unlikely to be adequately received by puppets controlled by Washington.”

Beijing is throwing Moscow an economic lifeline against Western sanctions. Trade between the two countries grew nearly 40 percent in the first quarter of this year compared to the same period a year ago.

China is also providing Russia diplomatic cover in the face of international opprobrium. Mr. Xi visited Moscow in March, meeting President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia just days before the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Putin’s arrest on accusations of war crimes.

More recently, China’s ambassador to the European Union, Fu Cong, was quoted on Monday in the Chinese media outlet, The Paper, as saying that Beijing’s ties to the Kremlin were “unlimited,” echoing the “no limits” relationship pledge Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin made shortly before Russia’s invasion.

Earlier this month, Mr. Putin met with Li Shangfu, China’s defense minister, to strengthen military cooperation between the two countries.

Anatoly Kurmanaev contributed reporting.

The Uniper energy storage facility in Bierwang, Germany, last year.Credit…Lennart Preiss/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In a move that marks an escalation in the economic struggle between Russia and the West, Moscow has nationalized the local subsidiaries of two major European energy companies and left open the door to further takeovers of Western assets.

President Vladimir V. Putin authorized the government to take control of local subsidiaries of Germany’s Uniper and Finland’s Fortum in a decree signed on Tuesday, a move that could accelerate the exit of the remaining Western businesses from the country that started after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year.

The United States and Europe have led global efforts to prevent Russia from replenishing its war chest and punish companies and businessmen close to the Kremlin. Russia has responded by cutting energy supplies to countries in Europe and taking over the assets of Western companies.

Both sides in the conflict are now calling for the further tightening of the economic screws.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine on Tuesday said his advisers have submitted a plan to allied nations to cut off the remaining sectors of the Russian economy from the global financial system. “This is a necessary self-defense of the international legal order,” Mr. Zelensky said in his daily televised address on Tuesday.

For their part, senior Russian officials have threatened to scrap a fragile Black Sea grain deal with Ukraine, after Kyiv’s allies in the Group of Seven were reportedly considering a move to ban all exports to Russia, an idea that was said to be under discussion last week, according to Japan’s Kyodo news agency.

“If they do it, that would be the end of the grain deal, and of many other things that they require,” Dmitri A. Medvedev, the deputy chairman of Russia’s National Security Council and the country’s former president, wrote on the Telegram social messaging app on Sunday.

In Tuesday’s decree, Mr. Putin justified the nationalization by saying it came in response to the “unfriendly steps taken by the United States and allied foreign nations that go against international law.” Although the decree calls for the immediate takeover of only the local assets owned by Fortum and Uniper, it leaves the possibility of further nationalization of assets of Western companies that are based in countries that will impose economic restrictions against Russian firms.

The decree comes months after Germany nationalized a former local subsidiary of Gazprom, saying it was necessary to maintain the country’s national energy supplies. And Russia’s foreign ministry has accused Finland of freezing access to some of its diplomatic properties in the Nordic country to comply with European sanctions.

More than a thousand foreign companies have reduced their presence in Russia since the invasion of Ukraine, including many well-known Western multinationals, but some have stayed, for business reasons or because of an inability to divest.

Fortum and Uniper both have attempted to sell their Russian subsidiaries, which hold stakes in a network of power plants across the country, but have been unable to find buyers or receive approval from the Kremlin for the sale.

Uniper said on Wednesday that it is reviewing its legal status in Russia, and added that it had already lost operating control of its assets in the country by late 2022. The company wrote off its Russian business last year, incurring a 4.4 billion euro loss. In a statement, Fortum said it has yet to be notified of the Russian government’s decision and it is also investigating its legal situation in the country.

Melissa Eddy, Oleg Matsnev and Marc Santora contributed reporting.

A shell in a field in the Zaporizhzhia region last week. Russian forces carried out 67 attacks on civilian areas overnight, local officials said.Credit…Reuters

ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine — At least five explosions rocked the industrial city of Zaporizhzhia in southern Ukraine on Wednesday amid the near constant shriek of air-raid alarms as Russian forces pound the region ahead of an expected Ukrainian counteroffensive.

The cause of the explosions was not immediately clear. They occurred just seconds after the air alarms sounded, prompting warnings from local officials to seek immediate shelter.

“Stay in a safe place until the end of the air alarm,” Yuri Malashko, the head of the Zaporizhzhia regional military administration, wrote on the Telegram messaging app. “Keep calm and believe in the Ukrainian armed forces.”

After a winter lull in military activity in the region, the Ukrainian authorities say that Russian forces have of late begun to intensify their attacks, both on Ukrainian military positions in the fields and forests of the Zaporizhzhia region as well as on cities and towns, using a range of ordinance, from artillery shells and rockets to Iranian-made Shahed explosive drones.

Overnight, Russian forces carried out 67 attacks on civilian areas, though no injuries were reported, Mr. Malashko said.

The Zaporizhzhia region, with its broad farm fields and large industrial zones, has not experienced the same intense fighting as the eastern Donbas region or neighboring Kherson. Russian forces were able to take about half the Zaporizhzhia region in the first weeks after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in February last year, but have been kept in check by Ukrainian defenses along an extensive front line running west of the Dnipro River.

Military experts say the region could be a focal point in an expected Ukrainian counteroffensive as Ukraine seeks to recapture lost lands and cut important Russian supply lines running through the territory, which makes up the heart of a land bridge connecting Russia with the Crimean Peninsula, an area Moscow illegally annexed in 2014.

Aleksei A. Navalny appeared via a video link on Wednesday at a hearing in a Moscow court over separate extremism charges.Credit…Kirill Kudryavtsev/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Aleksei A. Navalny, the jailed Russian opposition leader, said on Wednesday that Russian authorities had initiated “absurd” new terrorism charges against him that could lead to life in prison.

Mr. Navalny’s comments, which were posted on his team’s Twitter account, came as he appeared via video link at a court hearing over separate extremism charges that are widely seen as politically motivated.

Mr. Navalny, who started as an anticorruption activist before becoming one of the Kremlin’s most prominent critics, is already serving a sentence in a penal colony for fraud and contempt of court. Since returning to Russia after recovering in Germany from a poisoning attempt that the West has blamed on the Kremlin, he has repeatedly faced new charges from Russian authorities.

In the comments relayed from the courtroom by his supporters on social media, Mr. Navalny said that an investigator had informed him on Tuesday that a terrorism case had been initiated against him that would be heard in a separate trial by a military court. The Russian authorities did not confirm the charges.

Mr. Navalny said that he faces up to 30 years over the extremism case and up to a life sentence over the terrorism one. He said that the authorities alleged that he had committed terrorist acts while in prison. He did not elaborate on the specifics of the latest accusation but called the claim “absurd.”

Wednesday’s hearing was focused on how much time Mr. Navalny can have to familiarize himself with the extremism case against him. That case is linked to his anticorruption foundation, which the authorities declared an “extremist organization” and effectively banned in 2021.

The judge gave him until May 5, Mr. Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said, and ruled that the trial would be held behind closed doors. Ms. Yarmysh said that the short period given to Mr. Navalny to read his case materials meant that the trial would begin soon, probably before the end of May.

“I insist that the attempt to close the process is not an attempt to simply restrict me in getting acquainted with the case,” Mr. Navalny said, according to his supporters. “It is an attempt to make sure no one finds out about it.”

Mr. Navalny, a lawyer, exposed widespread corruption among the Russian elite and around President Vladimir V. Putin and created a rival political organization to the Kremlin’s, with regional divisions and supporters across the country.

The Kremlin has put pressure on his supporters for years, but the situation escalated in 2020, when Mr. Navalny was poisoned in what he said was an attempt to murder him by the Kremlin. The Russian authorities denied involvement.

In January 2021, Mr. Navalny returned to Moscow after spending months in Germany recovering from the poisoning.

Mr. Navalny and his supporters have said that he is in deteriorating health and have accused prison doctors at a penal colony east of Moscow of giving him substandard care. He says he has been repeatedly placed in “punishment cells” for trivial reasons.

A photo from the courtroom posted on Twitter by Mr. Navalny’s supporters showed him on the video link in a prison uniform and looking thin and tired.

António Guterres, the U.N. secretary general, is scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken.Credit…Mike Segar/Reuters

The United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, was set to travel to Washington on Wednesday to meet with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken as part of continued efforts to salvage the Black Sea grain deal.

Russia’s foreign minister described the agreement on Tuesday as being in a “deadlock” with its expiration date quickly approaching.

Mr. Guterres is expected to meet with Mr. Blinken and members of Congress in three days of meetings in Washington after sitting down with Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, early this week.

Among the topics he is expected to discuss are the war in Ukraine and the grain deal, which has increasingly appeared to be in jeopardy amid complaints from Russia that aspects of the agreement that would facilitate the export of Russian grain and fertilizers were not being upheld.

“We are at a very delicate time in the renewal of the Black Sea initiative,” Mr. Guterres’ spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, said on Tuesday.

In a news conference at the United Nations, Mr. Lavrov reiterated complaints that Russia has had trouble selling its own grain and fertilizer because of sanctions on its financial transactions.

The United Nations has stressed the importance of the deal, which has allowed more than 29 million tons of grain from Ukraine to reach world markets, including as part of humanitarian relief efforts. The United Nations and Turkey helped broker the agreement last July to allow Ukraine to export grain across the Black Sea.

The United Nations said it was working to push forward a parallel part of the deal relating to the resumption of exports of Russia’s ammonia — an ingredient in fertilizer — through a pipeline across Ukraine to the Black Sea port of Odesa.

“But there remain a couple of obstacles which we’re trying to overcome,” Mr. Dujarric said.

The spokesman said that while the back-to-back timing of the secretary general’s meetings was coincidental, “No doubt, it is important that he will be meeting with both Mr. Lavrov and Mr. Blinken in a short amount of time.” He declined to detail what the U.N. chief would be discussing with Mr. Blinken.

On Monday, the United Nations said that Mr. Guterres had delivered a letter to Mr. Lavrov addressed to Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, outlining a new proposal for extending the deal.

Mr. Lavrov said in a statement after meeting with Mr. Guterres that Moscow would give the letter a “thorough review.”

“Thus far, we do not see the Western countries’ desire to carry out what is necessary for the successful implementation of the secretary general’s initiative,” he said. “We will study his latest ideas now that we have them in black and white.”

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, told Reuters that Mr. Guterres’s proposal to extend the deal past its current May deadline could succeed “only if the international community collectively pressures Russia.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa said on Tuesday that his political party, the African National Congress, believed it “prudent” to withdraw from the International Criminal Court. His office later clarified his remarks.Credit…Pool photo by Rodger Bosch

A month after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on war crimes charges over his war in Ukraine, allies like South Africa remain under pressure over whether they would move to arrest the Russian leader if he were to step onto their soil.

Mr. Putin has been invited to a summit in South Africa in August, and South African officials have not said whether they will honor their commitment to the I.C.C. and arrest Mr. Putin. The Russian leader’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, said this week that Russia would participate in the meeting but that decisions over who will attend “will be made closer to the summit.”

On Tuesday, President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa said that his party, the African National Congress, had decided “it is prudent” to withdraw from the court — only for representatives for him and the party to later clarify that neither was actually advocating quitting the court, at least for now.

The A.N.C. would push for withdrawal only as a last resort, if other efforts aimed at ending what it considers the court’s inequitable treatment of certain nations failed, according to separate statements issued late in the night by a spokeswoman for the party and a spokesman for the president.

The shifting statements underscore the complexities and sensitivity of the matter at a fraught geopolitical moment, when South Africa and other countries are pushing back against a world order dominated by the United States and the West.

Over the years, officials in South Africa and the governing A.N.C. have argued that the I.C.C., and the international community in general, have come down harshly on African leaders and countries like Russia, and given a pass to other nations, perhaps most notably Israel for what they believe is unjust violence against Palestinians.

“Our view is that we would like this matter of unfair treatment to be properly discussed,” Mr. Ramaphosa said during a news conference on Tuesday with Finland’s president. “But in the meantime, the governing party has decided once again that there should be a pullout.”

Within hours, the president’s spokesman, Vincent Magwenya, issued a statement saying that “the presidency wishes to clarify” that South Africa remained a signatory to the court and that the A.N.C. this past December had rescinded its earlier decision to withdraw from it.

While the statement made clear that South Africa would not imminently begin what would be a yearslong process of withdrawal, the president’s unscripted remarks touched off a media frenzy and highlighted the country’s different stance from much of the West on both the court and the war in Ukraine.

South Africa has refused pressure from its Western allies to condemn the Russian invasion. The two countries, along with China, held joint military exercises this year that overlapped with the first anniversary of the start of the war. And government and A.N.C. officials have repeatedly reiterated that South Africa and Russia are friends.

Ivan Nechepurenko contributed reporting.

Bumper cars in the abandoned city of Pripyat, in Chernobyl’s Exclusion Zone, in Ukraine in March.

The world’s worst nuclear disaster, unfolding only a few miles away, did not force Halyna Voloshyna, 74, to abandon her home in Chernobyl in 1986.

So when marauding Russian soldiers showed up at her door a little over a year ago, she was not about to let them scare her away either.

Instead, during the month that Russian forces occupied this polluted patch of earth known as the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, Ms. Voloshyna was such a thorn in their side that they began referring to her as the “furious babushka at the end of the lane.”

“They said they were here to liberate me,” she recalled. “Liberate me from what?” she asked before cursing them.

Ms. Voloshyna is one of 99 longtime residents who still live in the zone, an area that covers roughly 1,000 square miles of some of the most radioactive soil on the planet. The disastrous meltdown at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant blanketed the region with 100 times as much radiation as the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.

Clockwise from top left: the abandoned city of Pripyat, two residents in their home in Chernobyl, the entrance to the town of Chernobyl, Halyna Voloshyna at her home in Chernobyl’s Exclusion Zone.Credit…Emile Ducke for The New York Times

On Wednesday, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine marked the 37th anniversary of the disaster with a post on the social messaging app Telegram, saying that the episode had “left a huge scar on the whole world.”

Chernobyl was also one of the first areas Russian tanks rolled through as they swept out of Belarus in the hopes of seizing Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, about 75 miles to the south. And it was one of the first places they were driven out, forced to withdraw at the end of last March. In his message, Mr. Zelensky said that Russia’s brief occupation of Chernobyl had “endangered the entire world again.”

A Ukrainian soldier driving by farmhouses in the village of Oleksandro-Shultyne this month.Credit…Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

This is one in an occasional series of dispatches about life amid the war in Ukraine.

OLEKSANDRO-SHULTYNE, Ukraine — The bombardment began at night. Rockets rained down. On one street, every house blew up, scattering bricks and debris.

At dawn, medics stationed in the village ventured out of a cellar, looking for human casualties. Instead, they saw four older villagers, all apparently unhurt, leading a cow wounded by shrapnel. The medics decided to treat the animal.

“We are used to human doses and didn’t know how much painkiller to inject, but figured out approximately,” said Volodymyr, a combat medic in the Ukrainian Army, who asked to be identified only by his first name in keeping with military rules. “After that, we extracted all the shrapnel we could find and treated the wounds.”

In Oleksandro-Shultyne, some residents stayed behind because they did not want to abandon their farm animals.Credit…Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

Home farming is widespread in Ukraine. In frontline villages where most residents have fled because of the war, those who stayed behind often did so because they didn’t want to abandon dairy cows, animals so prized that they are often considered to be almost family members.

Cows are included in religious celebrations. Their milk provides a source of income. Visitors would struggle to find a cow in any Ukrainian village whose family hadn’t given it a name. The animal also holds a special significance in a country with agonizing memories of the Holodomor, the famine engineered by Joseph Stalin 90 years ago, said Olena Braichenko, the founder of Yizhakultura, an independent project about the gastronomic culture of Ukraine.

Medics stationed in frontline villages were looking for human casualties.Credit…Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

Separation can be heartbreaking. Tetyana, a 53-year-old woman who fled a village near Bakhmut last May, left three cows behind. “It has been almost a year. Sometimes I think I let it go, but then I remember my cows and cry,” she said by telephone from the Zhytomyr region, where she now lives. Like others interviewed for this article, she asked that her full name not be used for safety reasons.

“I ran around to the neighbors asking to take my cows, but no one wanted them,” she recalled. “I ran to the butchers, asking to cut their throats as I couldn’t do it myself, but they refused.”

“I just left them tethered, she added. “I understood I couldn’t let them go as they would destroy other people’s gardens.” Her village, Vasiukivka, remains occupied by Russians, and Tetyana has no idea what became of the animals.

The medics who treated the wounded cow in Oleksandro-Shultyne named her Buryonka, or Brownie. Buryonka had a concussion and multiple shrapnel injuries. For two days, she could barely stand. The medics treated her with antibiotics, and on the third day, she finally stood up.

She and four other cows whose barns had burned were brought to the yard of an abandoned house where the medics look after wounded soldiers. Now the cows are in their care, too. That allowed several families to evacuate, knowing their livestock was in good hands.

Buryonka is still very weak but is giving milk again. Her owner fled to a nearby village but still returns to milk Buryonka and the four other cows, giving some to the soldiers and other residents while keeping some for herself.

Zina Richkova, who lost her barn in the shelling. Three hens and a rooster live in her kitchen.Credit…Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

Zina Richkova, 71, one of the neighbors who helped save Buryonka, also lost her barn in the shelling. She has three hens and one rooster, which now live with her in her kitchen.

“With them around, I have somebody to speak with,” she said. “I don’t want to kill them. When I hear in the morning the rooster singing, it means I am alive.”

The Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich declared his innocence in a Moscow courtroom earlier this month.Credit…Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, hinted on Tuesday at the possibility of a prisoner swap involving two Americans detained in Russia, Paul Whelan and the Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich.

Speaking at a wide-ranging news conference at the United Nations, Mr. Lavrov said the channel to discuss detained American and Russian citizens was created when President Biden and Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, met in Geneva in 2021. Back then, Mr. Lavrov said, the channel did not provide “for the involvement of journalists.”

“This is work that is not public in nature and publicity here will only complicate the process,” Mr. Lavrov said at the United Nations, where Russia is wrapping up a contentious monthlong stint as president of the Security Council, a rotating position.

Mr. Lavrov said that several American citizens were serving prison sentences in Russia for various crimes, but that Mr. Whelan and Mr. Gershkovich had been detained “when they were committing a crime, receiving material” that he maintained consisted of state secrets.

Russia has provided no evidence of such charges against Mr. Gershkovich. Mr. Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, was detained minutes after he was handed a USB stick by a Russian acquaintance that Russia maintains contained a classified list of its security agents. The Biden administration has classified both men as “wrongfully detained,” tantamount to being political prisoners.

Mr. Lavrov said Russia rejected the notion that journalists did not commit crimes, apparently making reference to the phrase “journalism is not a crime” that press advocacy groups often quote in campaigns to released detained journalists around the world, like Mr. Gershkovich.

Mr. Gershkovich, who was on a reporting trip in the city of Yekaterinburg, was detained on March 29 and accused of espionage, a charge that his employer and the United States emphatically reject. He was formally charged on April 7 and remains in custody at Moscow’s Lefortovo Prison, a detention center where inmates are held in isolation and receive only rare visits from lawyers.

Mr. Whelan was detained in December 2018, then tried and convicted. He is serving a 16-year prison sentence.

The United States has agreed to prisoner swaps with Russia recently to free detained Americans — most notably for the W.N.B.A. star Brittney Griner, in December, and Trevor Reed, a former U.S. Marine, in April 2022.

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China’s president Xi Jinping held a phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday, the first conversation between the leaders since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Zelenskyy described the almost hour-long call as “long and meaningful”. He has for some time wanted direct talks with Xi to seek China’s help in ending the war, which follows Moscow’s invasion in February 2022.

“I believe that this call, as well as the appointment of Ukraine’s ambassador to China, will give a powerful impetus to the development of our bilateral relations,” Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter. 

The Ukrainian president’s press secretary, Serhiy Nykyforov, told the Financial Times that the call lasted “almost an hour”.

Xi told Zelenskyy he would send a special government representative for Eurasia to visit Ukraine and other countries, to seek a “political resolution of the Ukraine crisis and conduct deep dialogue with all parties”, according to Chinese state media.

Zelenskyy said previously that he had extended an invitation to Xi to visit the Ukrainian capital.

“China is not a maker of the Ukraine crisis, nor is it a party to it,” Xi said. The Chinese government does not describe the conflict as a war or invasion.

Xi added: “The mutual respect of sovereignty and territorial integrity is the political foundation of China-Ukraine relations.”

Last weekend, China’s ambassador to France caused uproar among European officials when he said that post-Soviet states had no legal standing in international law.

He added that the question of whether Crimea belonged to Ukraine was “not simple to answer”. Russia illegally annexed the peninsula in 2014. Beijing later backtracked on the comments.

China has presented a 12-point proposal to end the Ukraine conflict that appears to greatly favour Moscow. It calls for the warring sides to resume peace talks and respect national sovereignty. Conspicuously absent from the proposal, however, is any mention of Russia withdrawing its troops from Ukrainian territory, a key demand of Kyiv and its western backers before any negotiations with Moscow can begin.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken told a Senate committee on Capitol Hill in March that any ceasefire without the withdrawal of Russian troops “would effectively be supporting the ratification of Russian conquest”.

Xi discussed the plan with Russian president Vladimir Putin last month during a state visit to Moscow.

Zelenskyy said in February that China’s plan was not a “peace plan”. 

“I believe only a state on whose territory the war is taking place can do that,” he said at the time, adding that Ukraine had its own 10-point plan to end the conflict. “I want to believe that China is going to side with the idea of peace and fairness, which is our side.”

Xi said to Zelenskyy on Wednesday, according to Chinese state media: “We hope all parties deeply reflect on the Ukraine crisis, and through dialogue, together seek the path of long-term stability and peace for Europe.”

A senior EU official said China wanted “to be regarded as a player and not discarded as being on Russia’s side”. “They want to be back in the game and be seen as a party in the [peace] project,” the official said.

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John Kirby, spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, said the US had not known of the call in advance.

But he said it was a “good thing” that Xi and Zelenskyy had spoken, since Washington had been pressing the Chinese for a call and for Beijing to hear the “Ukrainian perspective” on the conflict. 

Kirby cautioned, however, that it could not currently be known whether the contact might help pave the way for peace talks. “If there’s going to be a negotiated peace it has got to be when President Zelenskyy is ready for it,” Kirby said.

Additional reporting by James Politi in Washington and Henry Foy in Brussels

Albert Solé @asolepascual

posted at 10:57:51 UTC by Albert Solé via Tweets by ‎@mikenov
Michael Novakhov retweeted:

Webcam de #LaMolina – April 26, 2023 at 07:31AM

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DW на русском @dw_russian

posted at 10:57:51 UTC by DW на русском via Tweets by ‎@mikenov
Michael Novakhov retweeted:

Против Навального возбудили уголовное дело о терроризме. “Они выдвинули абсурдные обвинения, по которым мне грозит 30 лет колонии… И по этом делу меня будет судить отдельно военный суд”, – цитирует слова оппозиционера Команда Навального. По его словам, в деле 195 томов

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Michael Novakhov @mikenov

posted at 10:57:51 UTC by Michael Novakhov via Tweets by ‎@mikenov

“Это мир ненормальный”. ЛГБТ-людей преследуют с удвоенной силой svoboda.org/a/eto-mir-vokrug…

DW на русском @dw_russian

posted at 08:57:49 UTC by DW на русском via Tweets by ‎@mikenov
Michael Novakhov retweeted:

“Мы не должны повторять ошибку 1 сентября 1939 года”. Член Палаты представителей США Джо Уилсон внес резолюцию с требованием добиваться возвращения Украины к границам 1991 года. Она фиксирует: страна должна сохранить признанные границы, войти в НАТО и ЕС, а РФ – платить репарации

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Ben Hodges @general_ben

posted at 08:57:49 UTC by Ben Hodges via Tweets by ‎@mikenov
Michael Novakhov retweeted:

Superb by @Judy_Dempsey The Ukrainian people will continue to fight for their freedom. They have lived under Russian subjugation before and refuse to ever do that again. Ukraine’s Resilience Is About Winning the War carnegieeurope.eu/strategice… via @Judy_Dempsey

DW на русском @dw_russian

posted on Apr 25 2023 22:55:49 UTC by DW на русском via Tweets by ‎@mikenov
Michael Novakhov retweeted:

Германия богатеет, имущественное неравенство в 2017-2021 году слегка сократилось, гласит отчет бундесбанка. Уровень накоплений среднего домохозяйства в ФРГ вырос до рекордных 316500 евро, при этом 10% самых богатых домохозяйств владеют 56% всех чистых активов

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Albert Solé @asolepascual

posted on Apr 25 2023 11:26:44 UTC by Albert Solé via Tweets by ‎@mikenov
Michael Novakhov retweeted:

April 25, 2023 at 12:59PM Imatge en directe de la webcam de #Montserrat

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DW на русском @dw_russian

posted on Apr 25 2023 11:26:44 UTC by DW на русском via Tweets by ‎@mikenov
Michael Novakhov retweeted:

ЕС выделит Украине еще 1,5 млрд евро помощи, сообщила глава Еврокомиссии Урсула фон дер Ляйен. “Мы будем продолжать помогать Украине противостоять агрессии РФ, поддерживать работу институтов и инфраструктуры, а также проводить важные реформы”, – заявила она (Фото из архива)

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PassBlue @pass_blue

posted on Apr 25 2023 11:26:44 UTC by PassBlue via Tweets by ‎@mikenov
Michael Novakhov retweeted:

#Ukrainian people have paid the heaviest price, but the damaging impacts of #Russia‘s aggression have been felt across the world: #EU envoy to #UN says before Russian-led mtg in SecCouncil

Michael Novakhov @mikenov

posted on Apr 25 2023 11:26:44 UTC by Michael Novakhov via Tweets by ‎@mikenov

Russia’s Defense of the UN Charter as It Wages War Brought Both Condemnations and Shrugs in a Security Council Debate passblue.com/2023/04/24/russ… via @pass_blue

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DW на русском @dw_russian

posted on Apr 25 2023 11:26:44 UTC by DW на русском via Tweets by ‎@mikenov
Michael Novakhov retweeted:

Навальный рассказал в соцсетях, как тюремное начальство лишает его дополнительной еды, которую он покупает на свои деньги. Пайки, по его словам, не хватает, к тому же зачастую она несъедобна, поэтому доступ к дополнительной еде – “великий рычаг” администрации для влияния на зеков

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PassBlue @pass_blue

posted on Apr 25 2023 11:26:44 UTC by PassBlue via Tweets by ‎@mikenov
Michael Novakhov retweeted:

Russia’s Defense of the UN Charter as It Wages War Brought Both Condemnations and Shrugs in a Security Council D passblue.com/2023/04/24/russ…

Michael Novakhov @mikenov

posted on Apr 25 2023 11:26:44 UTC by Michael Novakhov via Tweets by ‎@mikenov

The News And Times putinandputinism.com/ How Putin Could Be Compelled to Step Down From Power: “The only hope is what occurred after Stalin’s death. A new leadership took over and began to slowly dismantle the dictator’s tyrannical system. That may be the best outcome one can imagine for Russia.” Michael Novakhov (Mike Nova) 4/25/2023 06:53:00 AM Michael Novakhov’s favorite articles on Inoreader How Putin Could Be Compelled to Step Down From Power

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Michael Novakhov @mikenov

posted at 08:57:49 UTC by Michael Novakhov via Tweets by ‎@mikenov

Putin #Putin Russia #Russia Из альбома к материалу Встреча с губернатором Ямало-Ненецкого автономного округа Дмитрием Артюховым 25 апреля 2023 года Москва, Кремль kremlin.ru/events/president/…

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Michael Novakhov @mikenov

posted on Apr 25 2023 14:26:27 UTC by Michael Novakhov via Tweets by ‎@mikenov

Как Путина могут заставить уйти от власти: Единственная надежда на то, что произошло после смерти Сталина. Новое руководство пришло к власти и начало медленно демонтировать тираническую систему диктатора. Возможно, это лучший исход, который можно себе представить для России. – Стивен Шлезингер russianewsreview.org/499506-…

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The News And Times Information Network – Blogs By Michael Novakhov – thenewsandtimes.blogspot.com