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A service member of pro-Russian troops stands guard next to a combat vehicle, with the symbol "Z" seen on its side, in Mariupol, Ukraine.

REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

What We're Watching: A rare win for Putin, Chile drafts constitution, North Korea's COVID catastrophe

Putin enjoys rare win in Ukraine

This week brought more bad news for Vladimir Putin and his invasion. Ukrainian fighters have pushed Russians back from the city of Kharkiv, the fight for the Donbas appears to have stalled, and Russian commentators are becoming more open about their country’s military failures on the internet and even on state-controlled TV. But the surrender of hundreds of Ukrainian fighters from a Mariupol steel plant gives Russia a genuinely important win. First, it clears away the final obstacle to establishing a land bridge that connects Russian-occupied Crimea with the Russian border. Second, it’s a big propaganda win for Putin, who insists the war is aimed partly at “de-Nazifying” Ukraine. Many of those who surrendered belong to the Azov Battalion, a group with a history of ultra-nationalist, white-supremacist politics. Ukraine’s government says it hopes the now-captive troops can be traded for captive Russians, but Russia’s parliament may ban any release of Azov prisoners. Ultimately, Putin will decide their fate. Are they most valuable to him as trophies, or as pawns who provide him with an opportunity to appear magnanimous?

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US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi meets Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv.

EYEPRESS via Reuters Connect

What We're Watching: Pelosi in Kyiv, Indian scorcher, Modi tours Europe

Pelosi visits Ukraine — will Biden go next?

Over the weekend, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi became the highest-level US official to visit Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion. Pelosi met with President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday amid growing pressure from Kyiv for President Joe Biden to travel to the country, which Zelensky feels would be a symbolic show of US support for Ukraine. Biden has so far been non-committal, but Pelosi's trip is arguably more significant at this time, given that Biden wants the US Congress to approve $33 billion in additional aid for Ukraine. Meanwhile, a long-awaited operation was underway to evacuate 100,000 people trapped in a steel plant in Mariupol, the only part of the besieged Ukrainian port city not yet occupied by the Russians. The UN is coordinating safe passage with the Red Cross for the evacuees to reach Zaporizhzhia.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky holds a press conference at a metro station in Kyiv.

EYEPRESS via Reuters Connect

What We're Watching: Zelensky meets top US officials, Indonesia hoards palm oil

US officials visit Kyiv

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky spent Sunday waiting for a visit from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the highest-level American delegation to visit Kyiv since the Russian invasion began. Zelensky reportedly told the senior US officials that Ukraine needs more powerful weapons to resist the Russians. After the meeting, Blinken announced that the US would reopen its embassy in Ukraine (in the western city of Lviv) and pledged more military funding to Ukraine in addition to the $800 million in military support Biden announced on Thursday, which included heavy artillery, ammunition, and tactical drones. But Kyiv is also asking for long-range air defense systems and fighter jets. The Americans have rebuffed similar earlier requests and blocked NATO allies like Poland from supplying Soviet-era warplanes to avoid risking a direct military confrontation with Russia. Meanwhile, Ukraine is trying to set up humanitarian routes for escape from the besieged port city of Mariupol, where an estimated 100,000 people remain stuck with little food, water, or heat.

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson

REUTERS/Toby Melville

What We're Watching: Boris in trouble, Shanghai eases lockdown, Mariupol's last stand

Is Boris still in the woods?

Few politicians have benefited as much from the war in Ukraine as British PM Boris Johnson, who was facing potentially career-ending crises before the Russian invasion. Chief among them was “partygate,” the scandal over him and his staff attending social gatherings during COVID lockdowns. Johnson was fined for the breach — a legal first for a sitting PM — but his pro-Ukraine advocacy has helped galvanize Brits who are now more concerned by Russian aggression, as well as the rising cost of living. So is Johnson out of the woods? Not quite. Labour Party leader Keir Starmer has called for a vote in the House of Commons Thursday on whether a special committee should investigate claims that Johnson misled parliament. British ministerial code dictates that MPs caught lying are expected to resign. The person who usually enforces this rule is … the PM, but Johnson says he has no intention of stepping down, and it’s unlikely enough Tory lawmakers would back his ouster. Still, the optics are poor for the Conservative Party: MPs will have to go on the record in support of a PM who has a disapproval rating of 65%.

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Local resident gather in a courtyard near a block of flats damaged in the southern port city of Mariupol.

REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

What We're Watching: Battle of Donbas, Turkish attack on Kurds in Iraq, violence in Delhi

The Battle of Donbas begins

In eastern Ukraine, the Battle of Donbas, the much-anticipated storm of destruction expected in the war’s next phase, has begun, President Volodymyr Zelensky announced on Monday. Heavy fighting is reported in the Luhansk, Donetsk, and Kharkiv regions. In other parts of Ukraine, and beyond its borders, millions are watching to see what happens next. Will Russian soldiers make quick gains on the ground? The Kremlin is wondering why it’s taking so long to seize control of the port city of Mariupol and finally declare a big battlefield victory. Residents of Kyiv and Lviv are waiting to see whether deadly Russian artillery strikes on their cities are short-term payback for Russia’s loss of its Black Sea flagship or something that will continue. In nearby countries – Lithuania, for example – locals are worried about the war potentially spilling over borders. Russians, meanwhile, are waiting to see how much economic damage Western sanctions will inflict, and the nearly 5 million Ukrainians who’ve fled their country and the estimated 7 million more who have been displaced internally are waiting to see whether and when they can return home.

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A torn flag of Ukraine hung on a wire in front of a destroyed apartment building in Mariupol.

REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

What We’re Watching: All eyes on Mariupol, IMF to the rescue, Shanghai mulls easing lockdown

Mariupol's last men standing

As President Volodymyr Zelensky predicted, Ukraine’s remaining fighters in Mariupol ignored Moscow’s deadline to surrender on Sunday. Zelensky has warned that he'll call off peace talks if Russia carries out threats to kill these defenders. After a seven-week siege, Russia is close to capturing the strategic southeastern port city. This would help form a land bridge from mainland Russia to Crimea and boost Russia’s efforts to gain control of eastern Ukraine. The Kremlin recently decided to concentrate on the Donbas in the second phase of its invasion. But Russia continued to also strike the capital, Kyiv, over the weekend and hit Lviv in western Ukraine with missiles on Monday. Is this a response to Friday’s sinking of the Moskva, the flagship of Russia's Black Sea fleet? The EU, meanwhile, is preparing its next round of sanctions, and Zelensky’s economic adviser estimates that Ukraine will need at least $1 trillion for its economy to recover from the war with Russia. Where will it get the money? Keep reading ...

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Pro-Russian troops inspect streets in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine.

REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

What We’re Watching: Mariupol on the brink, Pakistan’s new leader, Finland’s NATO bid

Is Mariupol on the brink?

The fight for the strategic southeastern Ukrainian port of Mariupol continues to rage. Unconfirmed reports late Monday pointed to the possible use of chemical weapons dropped by a Russian drone. US and British officials said they were monitoring reports of the possible chemical attack. The fate of Mariupol is critical for the next phase of the war. If Russia is able to take the city, it would be able to do two things: establish a land bridge to Crimea and punch northward as part of a broader effort to encircle Ukrainian forces fighting in the Donbas. As Russia now points its army towards a full-fledged assault on eastern Ukraine, Kyiv has warned of the bloodiest land battles in Europe since World War II and pleaded for more military assistance from the West.

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Mariupol residents evacuate from the embattled city to Russia.

Mikhail Tereshchenko/TASS via Reuters Connect

What We’re Watching: Mariupol filtration camps, Egyptian bread prices, Europe kicks Russian energy habit

Connecting Russia’s bloody dots in Ukraine

For now, the very worst Ukraine war-related horrors the outside world is hearing about are coming from Mariupol, a port city of 430,000 on the Sea of Azov that has the misfortune to lie between the Russian-controlled territories of the Donbas in Ukraine’s east and Crimea on its southern Black Sea coast. The Russian military is determined to connect the two regions at the expense of all trapped in their path. For now, Mariupol is the one major Ukrainian city where Russian soldiers have entered in large numbers and where deadly firefights empty city streets.

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