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NATO bolsters presence in East, as Biden is poised to increase pressure on Russia


By Dan Bilefsky


As the war in Ukraine is poised to enter its second month, the United States and its allies are marshaling a united front against President Vladimir Putin of Russia, pushing for tougher sanctions and moving to deploy more forces to Europe’s eastern flank, even as they seek to prevent the war from metastasizing into a wider conflict.


President Joe Biden is set to land in Brussels on Wednesday evening and is expected to announce sanctions on Russian lawmakers before meeting with NATO allies and the European Union. He will then travel to Poland later in the week, a trip suffused with symbolism as anxious allies in Eastern and Central Europe fear the Russian leader’s efforts to reclaim a sphere of influence lost at the end of the Cold War.


In a sign that this effort was already underway, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday that the alliance would double the number of battle groups in its eastern flank by deploying four new battle groups in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia, a significant bolstering of NATO’s presence in the region.


In recent days, Ukrainian forces have retaken ground in the northwestern suburbs of Kyiv, the capital, and around the southern Black Sea port of Mykolaiv, according to military analysts. Their advances have reinforced the sense that Russia is struggling in its efforts to overtake the country.


On Tuesday night, Russia’s top spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, told Christiane Amanpour on CNN that he refused to rule out the possibility of using nuclear weapons, a move that highlighted what is at stake in the war. He added that they could be used only in the event of an “existential threat” to Russia. The U.S. called those comments “reckless.”


In other major developments:


— In Kyiv, a hail of rockets landed in a residential area near the city center, causing extensive damage but few casualties. They appeared to be from a Russian Grad multiple rocket launcher, the first time such weapons have struck the heart of the Ukrainian capital. The use of a multiple rocket system to fire into a civilian area would be a further indication that Russian troops have artillery within range of the city center.


— The Ukrainian military Wednesday warned of signs that Russian and Belarusian military equipment was being moved across Belarus and accumulating along the Ukrainian border.


— Putin’s climate envoy Anatoly Chubais was reported to have become the senior-most Russian government official to quit over the war.


— In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city and a major target of Russian bombardment, a cellist performed a somber Bach suite on a debris-strewn street. The cellist, Denys Karachevtsev, said he hoped his widely shared video would draw aid and attention for his “heroic” hometown.

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