Your Monday Briefing: Russia Encircles Sievierdonetsk

Good morning. We’re covering Russia’s looming control over Sievierodonetsk and China’s forceful statements on Taiwan.

Ukrainian soldiers are struggling to hold off Russian forces in the east.Credit… Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Russia closes in on Sievierodonetsk

Moscow’s forces could encircle the key city of Sievierodonetsk in eastern Ukraine and cut it off within days, the governor of Luhansk said.

Ukraine has poured troops and resources into holding the city, its last holdout in Luhansk. Capturing Sievierodonetsk would give President Vladimir Putin a key victory in his bid to control the industrial Donbas region, which includes Luhansk. Civilians in Lysychansk, a neighboring city, are leaving.

Ukrainian troops in the east are suffering heavy casualties — at least 100 soldiers are dying each day — and running short on ammunition. The country’s leaders are pressing the U.S. and other Western allies for longer-range weapons as Russia targets artillery supplies: Moscow said it had destroyed American and European antitank and antimissile systems in a military warehouse in western Ukraine. Here are live updates.

Diplomacy: American efforts to expand support for Ukraine beyond the West have stalled. President Volodymyr Zelensky said he was working to shore up backing for Ukraine’s application to join the E.U.

Africa: The worst drought in four decades, and a sharp rise in food prices caused by the war in Ukraine, have left almost half of Somalia’s people facing acute food shortages.

Russification: The Kremlin began formally issuing Russian passports to Ukrainians living under occupation in the south on Saturday, even as Moscow’s forces confront a growing insurgency there.

“Taiwan independence is a dead end, a delusion,” Gen. Wei Fenghe said.Credit…Roslan Rahman/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

China’s saber rattling on Taiwan

China’s defense minister said that Beijing wouldn’t “flinch from the cost” of defending its claims to Taiwan if the island takes a decisive step toward independence.

At a regional security forum in Singapore, the defense minister, Gen. Wei Fenghe, said that China sought peaceful unification with Taiwan. But he added that “no one should ever underestimate the resolve and capabilities of China’s armed forces” and that China would “resolutely smash any schemes for Taiwan independence.”

Wei’s statements came a day after meeting with the U.S. defense secretary, Lloyd Austin. Afterward, Austin spoke to assembled leaders at the forum, and warned China against what he called “provocative and destabilizing” military activities near Taiwan.

Background: Officials and experts disagree over how imminent a military clash over Taiwan might be. But most believe that the danger is rising as China moves closer to amassing the equipment and skills needed to invade the island.

Details: Austin said the Biden administration did not support Taiwan independence and remained committed to a “one China” principle, which acknowledges — but does not endorse — Beijing’s position on Taiwan. Wei indicated that Chinese leaders did not believe such reassurances.

Muslim protestors in Uttar Pradesh threw stones at the police on Friday.Credit…Ritesh Shukla/Reuters

Muslims protest Indian comments

Two young protesters were killed in eastern India on Friday, at one of several demonstrations by Muslims across India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Maldives to protest comments by Indian government officials.

Last week, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s governing party made speculative comments on a television talk show about the relationship between the Prophet Muhammad and his youngest wife.

Those comments, and another one by a party official, prompted outrage: Seventeen Muslim nations condemned the remarks and lodged official diplomatic protests. Even Iran and Saudi Arabia, which rarely agree on anything, summoned meetings with India’s envoys in their capitals to complain.

Context: Modi has often been accused of stirring anti-Muslim sentiment or remaining silent after Hindu nationalists have attacked Muslims. But this time, India’s government raced to try to contain the growing diplomatic fallout.

Details: In Uttar Pradesh, an Indian state governed by one of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s most vociferous Hindu nationalists, the police fired tear gas and charged protesters with batons, NDTV reported. Authorities also demolished the homes of several people thought to have participated in protests, Reuters reported.

Bangladesh: The country did not condemn the comments — its leader, Sheikh Hasina, enjoys close political ties with Modi. Still, thousands took to the streets in Dhaka, the capital, to criticize the Indian officials and their own government, The Associated Press reported.


World News

Migrants traveling from Venezuela to the U.S.Credit…Alejandro Cegarra for The New York Times
  • A caravan of 6,000 migrants, many from Venezuela, set off toward the U.S. border from southern Mexico, as leaders from across the Americas met to discuss migration and other issues.

  • Jeanine Añez, Bolivia’s former president, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in a trial that has raised concerns about politicians using the courts to target opponents.

  • Burglars stole a fortune in U.S. dollars from South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa. He never reported the theft, raising questions about corruption and a lurid cover-up.

U.S. News

Thousands of people across the U.S. protested against gun violence on Saturday. Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times
  • Senators reached a bipartisan deal on gun safety measures yesterday. The provisions are more modest than Democrats had hoped for, but with commitments from 10 Republicans, the agreement could become law.

  • The Jan. 6 committee laid out a road map for prosecuting Donald Trump. Here are five takeaways. More hearings begin at 10 a.m. eastern today (that’s 10 p.m. in Hong Kong). Here’s how to watch.

  • Democratic officials have expressed doubts about whether President Biden should run for re-election.

What Else Is Happening

  • These are the secret Pentagon photos of the first prisoners at Guantánamo Bay.

  • Poland’s abortion ban has had unintended consequences: Doctors are sometimes afraid to remove fetuses or to administer cancer treatment to save women’s lives.

  • Teenagers and adults under 25 make up roughly 43 percent of the U.S. transgender population, a new report estimates.

  • NASA will fund a study looking into U.F.O.s.

A Morning Read

The church in Laguna Woods, Calif., where the shooting happened.Credit…Mark Abramson for The New York Times

David Chou and Pastor Billy Chang were born in the 1950s in Taiwan. Chou’s parents, who had fled the mainland, saw Taiwan as forever a part of China; Cheng’s family had lived on the island for centuries, and he grew to believe that Taiwan had its own identity.

Their worlds — neighboring but separate — collided when Chou allegedly opened fire in Cheng’s church this May, killing a doctor and injuring five other people.

The Saturday Profile: Ganesh Devy is racing to document India’s languages (and its 12,000 years of history) as the government pushes a Hindi-first agenda.

Russia-Ukraine War: Key Developments

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On the ground. A Ukrainian official said that Russia could soon mount a push to completely encircle the city of Sievierodonetsk. Capturing the city would give the Kremlin a key victory in its bid to control all of the eastern Donbas region, where Moscow’s forces are pressing their advantage in numbers and longer-range weapons to wrest momentum in the grinding war.

In the south. The Kremlin is trying to deepen its hold on occupied territory in the south, restoring rail links and other key infrastructure. But there are some indications that Moscow is struggling to govern the southern areas, amid attacks by a nascent insurgency made up of Ukrainian civilians and former soldiers and a possible health crisis in Mariupol.

Short on weapons. Ukraine has been making desperate pleas for the West to speed up the delivery of heavy weapons, as its troops find themselves badly outgunned. The Russian forces, meanwhile, appear to be running low on precision missiles. This shortage has led the Russians to resort to inefficient weapons systems that are less precise but can still cause major damage, according to Britain’s Defense Ministry.

E.U. membership for Ukraine. The European Union is evaluating Ukraine’s application to become a candidate to join its 27-member bloc. The decision, which is expected in late June, will test the E.U. as it tries to figure out ways to bind vulnerable countries like Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia to Europe without creating security risks.

Prisoners of war. Russian investigators said they had opened more than 1,100 cases into “crimes against peace” committed by the Ukrainian government, paving the way for what could turn into a mass show trial of hundreds of Ukrainian service members. Two Britons and a Moroccan who had fought for the Ukrainian armed forces, meanwhile, were sentenced to death by a court in Russia-occupied eastern Ukraine after being accused of being mercenaries.


How plastic became ‘vegan leather’

Once, there was “pleather.” Now, the fashion industry has rebranded the inexpensive, petroleum-based material as “vegan leather,” meant to suggest environmental virtue.

The marketing masterstroke comes from an influential rating system that ranks plastic products like vegan leather and polyester — which are made from fossil fuels — as more environmentally sound than natural fibers like cotton, wool and leather.

The system, named the Higg Index, is on its way to becoming a de facto global standard. It was introduced in 2011 by some of the world’s largest fashion brands and retailers as an effort to help shrink their environmental footprint.

But some experts question whether the index accurately reflects factors like methane emissions from fossil fuels or microplastics shed by fabrics. (The fashion industry is responsible for as much as 8 percent of the world’s emissions of carbon dioxide, the U.N. estimates, more than international flights and maritime shipping combined.)

Nor is it clear that using vegan leather cuts down on waste. Americans, for instance, still eat lots of beef, and in 2020 a record number of hides from slaughtered cattle went to landfills.


What to Cook

Credit…Chris Simpson for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Frances Boswell.

These buttery almond cookies melt in your mouth.

What to Read

Our editors recommend these ten new books.

What to Watch

“Lost Illusions,” an adaptation of a Balzac novel, shows the brazen immorality of 19th-century Parisian literary life.

Now Time to Play

Play today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Strength (Five letters).

Here are today’s Wordle and today’s Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. See you next time. — Amelia

P.S. Kevin Quealy will be The Upshot’s next editor.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is on Chesa Boudin’s recall in San Francisco.

You can reach Amelia and the team at [email protected].

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