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Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to a question at a press conference in the Kazakh capital of Astana, September 16, 2004.

REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

NATO added seven former Soviet bloc countries 20 years ago

Twenty years ago this week, then-President George W. Bush welcomed seven former communist countries into NATO: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.

This marked the largest expansion of NATO to date and it pushed the alliance further eastward to Russia’s doorstep, laying the rhetorical groundwork for one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s many justifications for invading Ukraine in 2022.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attends a press conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, on June 28, 2023.

REUTERS/Alina Smutko

Ukraine extends its reach ... and to some strange places

With the frontlines stuck, and its conventional munitions dwindling, Kyiv is looking to expand its reach against Russian interests – both near and far.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky gives a speech at the World Economic Forum.

Hannes P. Albert/dpa via Reuters

Zelensky fights for funding

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is in many ways battling two wars at once – one against Russian invaders, and another to maintain financial and military support from Western allies. Lately, he’s been facing a deadlock in both.

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Marina Kudriavtseva teaches her pupils in the dark in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Marina Kudriavtseva

Marina and the children

Today, as we mark one full year of war in Ukraine, we step beyond our coverage of presidents, soldiers, diplomats, and weapons to speak with a person working inside the conflict to build a better future in the most direct way possible.

Marina Kudriavtseva is a teacher of small children. She lives and works in Kyiv. (Her responses have been translated from Ukrainian.)

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Members of of the Armed Forces of Ukraine prepare amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, near Bahmut, Ukraine.

REUTERS/Marko Djurica

What We're Watching: A looming Russian offensive, Biden’s State of the Union, Lasso’s losses

Ukraine prepares for Russian assault amid troubling rumors

The Institute for the Study of War, a military think tank based in Washington, DC, has forecast that Russia will launch a major military offensive in eastern Ukraine in the coming weeks. (Russia remains much less likely to again send troops from Belarus toward Kyiv because Ukrainian troops are now even better armed and positioned in the north than when they routed Russian forces last spring.) Ukrainian intel officials say Vladimir Putin has ordered Russian forces to capture the full territory of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts by the end of March, and Ukraine’s defense minister has warned that Russian forces may have mobilized a lot more soldiers than has been widely reported in Western media. Preparations for a Russian offensive and a possible Ukrainian counteroffensive come at a tricky moment for Ukraine. Rumors are flying that President Volodymyr Zelensky may replace Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov following the ministry’s suspected involvement in a corruption scheme involving overpayment for food – though Reznikov has not been personally implicated. We’ll be watching to see what happens next, but Zelensky has not yet publicly addressed the conflicting reports.

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Ukrainian servicemen on the frontline.

Reuters

What We’re Watching: Armored combat vehicles for Ukraine, Biden’s border move, Bibi’s team vs. High Court, Assad’s new friends

New foreign weapons head to the Ukrainian battlefield

Both Russia and Ukraine have been using weapons supplied by allies to real effect. Iranian-made drones have allowed Russia to inflict significant damage on Ukrainian cities, infrastructure, and civilians, and Tehran may also soon help Russia with missiles. North Korea may be providing weapons as well. On the other side, Ukraine has made effective use of US-supplied, highly mobile, precision-guided HIMARS rocket systems to hit long-range Russian targets with remarkable accuracy. This weapon made news again this week with an attack on a barracks that killed dozens, perhaps hundreds, of Russian soldiers with a single strike. The Biden administration also said last month that it would supply a Patriot missile battery to Ukraine. Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has pressed Germany and France to provide battlefield weapons that his generals say they need. This week, France announced it will supply Ukraine with several dozen "light battle tanks" (the term tank being debatable) and the US and Germany followed suit, confirming on Thursday that they will send armored combat vehicles to Ukraine and that Berlin will dispatch an additional Patriot. The new Western support — a big shift in policy — signals to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin that Ukraine’s friends remain committed to its defense and unintimidated by Russian efforts to raise the stakes.

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Israel's PM Benjamin Netanyahu with other members of the new Israeli parliament after their swearing-in ceremony in Jerusalem.

Reuters

What We’re Watching: Bibi’s big plans, Lula’s tough choice, US-bound travel from China, Zelensky's plan, Santos' unraveling

Meet Israel's new government

When Israel’s new government is sworn in on Thursday, it will be the most right-wing coalition in Israel’s history. Led by Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, whose right-wing Likud Party reaped the most votes in last month’s race, the bloc is made up of two ultra-Orthodox parties as well as right-wing and far-right parties. To get coalition partners on side, Netanyahu made several overtures to Religious Zionism, a far-right alliance that finished third in the polls, including agreeing in principle to annex the disputed West Bank and applying Israeli sovereignty to the settlements. Still, Bibi, a fluent politician, hedged his bets, saying that the timing and implementation of such a policy would depend on the PM’s judgement. What’s more, the coalition agreement includes 1.6 billion shekels ($450 million) annually for development and building roads in the West Bank, while also plans for legislation allowing business providers to refuse service based on their religious beliefs – broadly seen as a measure to legalize discrimination against the LGBTQ community. Bezalel Smotrich, the ultra-nationalist head of Religious Zionism and incoming finance minister, penned an op-ed in theWall Street Journal titled “Israel’s New Government Isn’t What You’ve Heard” in which he pushed back against claims that the new government will undermine the independent judiciary, but many Israelis are worried.

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An image of the victims of the Uvalde school shooting displayed at a House hearing on gun violence on Capitol Hill.

Jason Andrew/ Reuters

What We’re Watching: United States of Guns, Ukrainian strategy, Iran censured

The United States of Guns

The US House of Representatives kicked off a grueling two-day hearing on gun violence in America on Wednesday, just two weeks after a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, claimed the lives of 19 children and two teachers. Miah Cerrillo, 11, whose classroom was attacked, recounted how she painted herself with a classmate’s blood and played dead. Kimberly Rubio, whose daughter Lexi was killed, recalled how she ran miles barefoot looking for her daughter that fateful day. The hearing is part of the Congressional debate on how to respond to a spate of recent deadly shootings, most notably in Uvalde, as well as at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, where Black Americans were targeted by a white supremacist. Senate Democrats, in coordination with the White House, are working on narrow legislation that could get the support of at least 10 Republicans needed to pass. Proposals center on addressing mental health issues in young males and incentivizing states to introduce their own “red-flag laws” to remove guns from dangerous owners. The Democrat-controlled House, meanwhile, has advanced a bill with eight gun-control measures – including banning large-capacity magazines – but it's unlikely to pass the Senate, where Dems hold a razor-thin majority. It’s a busy week for the House, which will also launch hearings on the Jan. 6 riots on Thursday. Check out what Eurasia Group's lead US analyst, Jon Lieber, has to say about how the Dems hope to use these hearings to gain an edge in the midterms here.

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