Good evening. This is your Russia-Ukraine War Briefing, a weeknight guide to the latest news and analysis about the conflict.
Russian forces stormed the Avostal steel plant, trying to snuff out the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol.
Russian airstrikes destroyed an apartment complex in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk, injuring dozens.
President Vladimir Putin apologized to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett of Israel for remarks by Russia’s top diplomat that Jews were “the biggest antisemites,” Israel said.
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Destroyed apartment buildings in the southern port city of Mariupol last week.Credit…Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters
Seeking a win for Victory Day
Russian forces aimed their firepower at key points along the eastern front today, launching missiles at a strategic urban target and mounting a final, potentially bloody push to seize the last Ukrainian bastion in the port city of Mariupol.
The push is part of an apparent effort to secure a propaganda win that President Vladimir Putin can celebrate on Monday, Russia’s Victory Day — a holiday that celebrates the Soviet Union’s vanquishing of Nazi Germany, and honors the 27 million Soviets who died in World War II.
This year’s holiday will take place as Russian state television broadcasts bellicose messages about supposed Nazis in Ukraine, my colleagues Dan Bilefsky and Anton Troianovski report.
Today, Russian forces took aim at the eastern city of Kramatorsk with airstrikes, gutting a large apartment complex and a store selling bras and underwear. Ukrainian and Western officials say that in the coming days Russia’s military may seek to encircle or capture the city, a key target.
My colleague Michael Schwirtz reported from a chaotic and bloody field hospital near Kramatorsk, where “the front is swinging this way and that,” as one army medic said.
To the south in Mariupol, Russian forces breached Ukrainian defenses around the Azovstal steel plant, where fighters in underground bunkers are all that stand in the way of Moscow declaring control over the ruined city. The two sides were fighting “heavy, bloody battles” in the plant’s subterranean labyrinth of bunkers and fallout shelters, a Ukrainian commander said.
Mariupol is a potent symbol: a predominantly Russian-speaking city and the last bastion of the Ukrainian military’s Azov regiment, whose origins in a far-right military group, the Azov Batallion, have lent a veneer of credibility to Mr. Putin’s false narrative that Ukraine is overrun by “Nazis.”
The Russian government is already using Mariupol to channel national pride into support for its invasion.
Vladimir Solovyov, a hawkish state television host, traveled to Mariupol this week and was shown on görüntü holding court in the city clad in military fatigues, later telling viewers that local residents “wanted to touch me and hug me.”
One of Putin’s most powerful aides, the deputy chief of staff Sergei Kiriyenko, also visited the city this week to unveil a statue of “Grandma Anya” — a Ukrainian woman whom invasion proponents have cited to argue that some Ukrainians are greeting Russian troops as liberators. Kiriyenko, in his speech, evoked the May 9 holiday and called Anya “a living symbol of the continuity of generations. Continuity in the fight against Nazism and fascism.”
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The U.S. is helping Ukraine kill Russian generals
The U.S. provided detailed intelligence that has allowed Ukrainians to target and kill many of the Russian generals who have died in action in the Ukraine war, according to senior American officials.
My colleagues Julian E. Barnes, Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt uncovered a classified effort by Biden administration officials to provide real-time battlefield intelligence to Ukraine, including the location and other details involving the Russian military’s mobile headquarters.
Russia-Ukraine War: Key Developments
In Mariupol. Russian soldiers breached Ukrainian defenses around the Azovstal steel plant, as Moscow’s forces mounted a final push to seize the port city. Gaining full control of Mariupol would allow President Vladimir V. Putin to claim a victory days before a highly symbolic Russian holiday.
Victory Day concerns. There are growing fears among Western officials that Mr. Putin may use the Russian holiday on May 9, which commemorates the Soviet Union’s triumph over Nazi Germany, to turn what he calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine into explicit, all-out war.
Targeting Russian generals. The United States has provided real-time intelligence to Ukraine that has allowed them to target and kill many of the Russian generals who have died in the war, according to senior American officials. Ukrainian officials say they have killed approximately 12 Russian generals.
Russian oil embargo. The European Union unveiled a plan to halt imports of Russian crude oil in the next six months and refined oil products by the end of the year. If approved as expected, it would be the bloc’s biggest and costliest step yet toward ending its own dependence on Russian fossil fuels.
The administration has sought to keep much of the battlefield intelligence secret, out of fear that Putin will see it as an escalation and provoke a wider war.
But the intelligence sharing — part of a stepped-up flow in U.S. assistance that includes heavier weapons and tens of billions of dollars in aid — demonstrates how quickly the early American restraints on support for Ukraine have eased.
Ukrainian officials said they have killed about 12 generals on the front lines, a number that has astonished military analysts.
“There’s a significant amount of intelligence flowing to Ukraine from the United States,” Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate panel on Tuesday. “We have opened up the pipes.”
Not all the strikes have been carried out with American intelligence. Perhaps most significantly, U.S. intelligence did not assist in a strike over the weekend in eastern Ukraine near a location that Gen. Valery Gerasimov, Russia’s highest-ranking uniformed officer, had visited, according to multiple American officials. The U.S. prohibits itself from providing intelligence about the most senior Russian leaders, officials said.
What else we’re following
China has ordered a “stress test” of its economy to prepare for the possibility of U.S. and Western sanctions that have hamstrung Russia.
The U.S. and NATO are preparing security assurances for Finland and Sweden if, as expected, they apply to join the alliance.
Natural gas prices are surging, but U.S. producers are returning money to shareholders instead of increasing their output, The Wall Street Journal reports.
The E.U.’s Aviation Safety Agency warned that commercial flights are in danger of being accidentally shot down by missiles fired in the war in Ukraine, Reuters reports.
Russians designated as foreign agents by the government are under pressure to flee the country.
President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, a close Putin ally, departed from Kremlin talking points when he said the conflict in Ukraine “has dragged on.”
Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow — Adam