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Pro-Russian troops ride through the city of Lysychansk in Luhansk, Ukraine.

REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

What We’re Watching: Russia captures Donbas province, Sri Lanka runs out of fuel, Argentine economic jitters

Russia takes Luhansk

President Vladimir Putin declared victory in Ukraine's eastern Luhansk province on Monday, a day after Ukrainian forces withdrew from their last bastion of resistance there. Luhansk is one of two provinces — along with Donetsk — that make up the Donbas region, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting the Ukrainian army since 2014. Capturing Luhansk will free up the Kremlin's military resources to attack Donetsk, about half of which is now under Russian control. Seizing the entire Donbas would be a big win for Russia that some analysts predict might lead to Putin declaring a unilateral ceasefire. Over time, the Russian leader may hope this will dampen Western support for Ukraine and for sanctions against Russia. For his part, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky recognized the defeat but vowed to continue fighting to reclaim the territory. Although that seems unlikely in the near term, perhaps Zelensky is buying time so he can secure more weapons from his Western allies to mount a counter-offensive against the Russians. Now that the war increasingly looks like it's headed to a deep freeze in the Donbas, both sides are signaling that they intend to play the long game.

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Russia's President Vladimir Putin attends a ceremony to present state awards for outstanding achievements on Russia Day in Moscow.

Sputnik/Mikhail Metzel via Reuters

What We’re Watching: Putin’s progress, Italy’s right turn, a not-so-great Iraqi resignation

Putin’s progress

It’s been a positive few days for Russia’s president and his war on Ukraine. Russian forces appear close to capturing the strategically important city of Severodonetsk, bringing them a step closer to control of the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. If they can accomplish that, Putin may well move to annex the entire area. Ukrainian officials have called urgently for faster delivery of heavy weapons to counter superior Russian firepower, but plunging stock markets in Europe and the US will strengthen the arguments in the West from those who oppose continued large-scale financial and military help for Ukraine. A new report from the independent Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air finds that higher global oil prices and a loophole that allows Europe to receive boycotted Russian oil via India have kept Russia’s oil revenue relatively high. Meanwhile, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to insist he will block the admission of Finland and Sweden into NATO. Though concessions might change his mind, there’s no guarantee he’ll back down. Russia’s military gains are incremental, and they will come at a great cost to Russia’s economic future. But for now, momentum is with the Kremlin.

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Macron's Speech Weakens The West | Quick Take | GZERO Media

Macron's speech weakens the West's unity against Putin

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi, everybody. Happy Monday, and a Quick Take to start off your week. I am Ian Bremmer. And the latest in the Russia war. Over the weekend, French President Emmanuel Macron, calling on NATO, the international community, as we occasionally call it, though a narrower version thereof, not to humiliate Putin and Russia in the war. And furthermore, Macron saying that he is willing to, interested in, wants to, facilitate negotiations after the fighting concludes between the West and Russia. There's a lot going on here.

I consider it a problematic public statement because it implies that the West is not holding together well. And therefore, that if Putin can hang on, that there is more of a divide to take advantage of that there wasn't really in the first two, three months of the fighting since February 24th. I will say that privately, the German government is very much of a piece with the French government in wanting to try to find a way to bring the war to an end as soon as possible. And if that means sort of giving up some negotiating space to Putin and pressuring the Ukrainians to give up some additional territory beyond what was taken before February 24th, then so be it.

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A man holds a bicycle while standing near a building destroyed in Rubizhne, a town in Ukraine's Luhansk region.

REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

What’s Ukraine’s “strongest position” 100 days into the war?

On Friday, Russia’s war in Ukraine — or at least the latest, most egregious phase of it — will be 100 days old. If Vladimir Putin thought that the invasion would be, as the old Russian saying goes, “a short, victorious war,” he was spectacularly wrong.

But as the war enters its fourth month, debates are stirring again in Europe and the US about what the proper extent and aims of support for Ukraine really should be. The New York Times editorial board last week urged the White House to be more specific. A few days later, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger kicked up a hornet’s nest of criticism by calling at Davos for immediate negotiations on returning to the “status quo ante.” Meanwhile, European leaders have been working the phones — without success — to try to open a way for Ukraine-Russia talks as well.

One reason these debates are so frothy is this: deciding how to help Ukraine achieve victory will require defining what that even looks like.

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Watch For A Shifting War Narrative | Quick Take | GZERO Media

Europe’s oil sanctions and a shifting Russian war narrative to come

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi everybody. Ian Bremmer here and I am back in New York City with a Quick Take to kick off the week. And the big news, a hundred days in just about continues to be, yes, the Russian war in Ukraine. And most importantly, in the last 24 hours, the sixth round of sanctions agreement coming from the Europeans, most importantly, essentially an oil boycott.

Now there's a lot of back and forth on what exactly this means because the Hungarians, with Viktor Orban, much more aligned with the Russian president and also very dependent on energy from Russia, was extremely obstreperous and basically refused to participate in the deal. So they got an extension and that extension is temporary but undefined.

What that basically means is that the boycott is on oil that's transferred through ships as opposed to by pipe. And that means that a bunch of the East Europeans will be excluded from it, will still be buying Russian oil. But the reality is, two thirds of all the oil that Europe gets from Russia is already going to be cut out. And if you add to that, what the Germans and the Poles are doing, their pledges to wind down their own pipeline imports by the end of the year, you're talking about 90% of Russian crude to Europe is now going to be boycotted. That's a very big deal. That's a very big cost, billions and billions of dollars, to the Russians every year. Some of that they'll be able to sell at a discount to other countries around the world. Some of it they won't because there's going to be a challenge when most of the ships that they can get the oil out come from Europe and they need to be insured as well. And all of that is under direct sanction. It means the Russians are going to have a very hard time.

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Ukraine’s Stronger Hand & Putin’s Missed Opportunity | GZERO World

Ukraine’s stronger hand and Putin’s missed opportunity

The Russian military is terrorizing local populations in in eastern Ukraine to force President Volodymyr Zelensky to negotiate after Russia has seized territory in the Donbas region.

Will it work? Perhaps, but Ukraine's objectives have changed, US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul tells Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

A month ago, President Volodymyr Zelensky was willing to talk about Ukrainian neutrality and even the size of the country's military.

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Podcast: The Ukraine war is destroying Putin’s reputation


Listen: Michael McFaul knows a thing or two about Russia and Putin from his days as the former US ambassador in Moscow. As Putin's Victory Day speech illustrated, Russia hasn't moved on much since 1945, McFaul tells Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast. But if the West goes too far, there's a much bigger risk: World War III. McFaul says that Putin signaled in his nothing-burger speech that Russia is ready to gobble up another chunk of Ukraine in the Donbas region, and explains why that gives Ukraine a stronger hand at the negotiating table.

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Putin Couldn’t Declare Victory in Ukraine – So He Changed the “War” Objectives | GZERO World

Putin couldn't declare victory in Ukraine - so he changed the "war" objectives

For Michael McFaul, Vladimir Putin's May 9 Victory speech was a "nothing burger."

But there was something in there that signals his intentions in Ukraine, the former US ambassador to Russia tells Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

McFaul says Putin changed the "phraseology" he's been using for the last two months when referring to the Donbas, where perhaps he now knows he can't prevail.

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