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Russia-Ukraine War: Tech Giant Aims to Cut Ties With Russia

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A Yandex taxi driving through Red Square in Moscow in 2020.Credit...Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency, via Getty Images

The parent firm of Russia's most prominent technology company, Yandex, wants to cut ties with the country to shield its new businesses from the fallout of the war in Ukraine, a potential setback to President Vladimir V. Putin's efforts to develop homegrown substitutes for high-tech Western goods and services that have been choked off by sanctions.

Under a sweeping overhaul, the Dutch holding company of Yandex — often referred to as "Russia's Google" — would transfer its most promising new technologies to markets outside Russia and would sell its established businesses in the country, including a popular internet browser and food delivery and taxi-hailing apps, according to two people familiar with the matter who would not speak publicly because of the sensitivity of the discussions.

The company's plan aims to shield itself from its home market, and highlights the stifling impact of Western sanctions on Russia's once-thriving technology sector.

The people familiar with the matter said that the war in Ukraine has made the development of Yandex's new technologies — such as self-driving cars, machine learning and cloud services — unviable. Such businesses, which require access to Western markets, experts and technology, would fail if they remain associated with Russia, one of them added.

Yandex's Russian subsidiary would continue offering the same products in the country under the new owners, said the second person familiar with the matter.

It is not clear whether Yandex's plan will go forward. The company must obtain the Kremlin's approval to transfer Russian-registered technology licenses outside the country, one of the people said. It would also need to find buyers, most likely within Russia, for its businesses, and the overall restructuring plan would need to be approved by Yandex's shareholders.

Yandex's plan is backed by Aleksei Kudrin, Russia's chief government auditor and a longtime confidant of Mr. Putin. Mr. Kudrin, one of few prominent economic liberals left in the Russian government, is acting for the company informally, but is expected to take a managerial role in the future.

Mr. Kudrin is expected to meet Mr. Putin this week to discuss Yandex's future and other topics, said one of the people familiar with the matter. The Kremlin's spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, said on Thursday that he had no information about such a meeting.

Yandex declined to comment. Russia's Audit Chamber, Mr. Kudrin's employer, did not respond to a request for comment.

The company's restructuring plan was first reported by the Russian economic media outlet The Bell.

Western efforts to isolate Russia economically after its invasion of Ukraine have devastated the once-thriving company. The price of Yandex's shares traded in Moscow has plunged 62 percent in the past year. The company's New York-listed shares lost more than $20 billion in value before the Nasdaq stock exchange suspended their trading after Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February.

Thousands of Yandex's more than 18,000 employees have left Russia since the start of the invasion. In March, the company's deputy chief executive at the time, Tigran Khudaverdyan, defied the Kremlin line by calling it a "monstrous war" in a Facebook post.

To distance itself from the war's political fallout, Yandex in August sold its online news aggregator, which had become filled with state propaganda because of increasingly draconian Russian media laws that bar criticism of the war.

The European Union imposed sanctions against Mr. Khudaverdyan in March for Yandex's role in promoting the Kremlin's war narrative. His boss, the company's Israel-based founder, Arkady Volozh, was hit with sanctions by the bloc several months later. Both resigned from the company to allow it to continue operating in Europe.

— Anatoly Kurmanaev and Oleg Matsnev

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Cars driving through Kyiv on Wednesday after Russian missile strikes on energy facilities across Ukraine.Credit...Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

KYIV, Ukraine — Utility crews worked through the dark night in snow and freezing rain to stabilize Ukraine's battered energy grid on Thursday after another destructive wave of Russian missile strikes, restoring essential services like running water and heat in many parts of the country even as millions remained without power.

Ukrainians have expressed defiance in the face of Moscow's unrelenting campaign to weaponize winter in an attempt to weaken their resolve and force Kyiv to capitulate even as Russia heaped new suffering on a war-weary nation.

Surgeons were forced to work by flashlight, thousands of miners had to be pulled from deep underground by manual winches and people across the country lugged buckets and bottles of water up flights of stairs in high-rise apartment buildings where the elevators had stopped running.

The State Border Service of Ukraine suspended operations at checkpoints on the borders with Hungary and Romania on Thursday because of power outages, and Ukraine's national rail operator reported delays and disruptions across a network that has served as a resilient lifeline for the nation over nine months of war.

Families charged their phones, warmed up and gathered information at centers set up in towns and cities during extended power outages. The police in the capital, Kyiv, and in other cities stepped up patrols as the owners of shops and restaurants flipped on generators, or lit candles, and kept working.

"The situation is difficult throughout the country," said Herman Galushchenko, Ukraine's energy minister. But by 4 a.m., he said, engineers had managed to "unify the energy system," allowing power to be directed to critical infrastructure facilities.

In Moldova, Ukraine's western neighbor, whose Soviet-era electricity systems remain interconnected with Ukraine's, the grid was largely back online after the country experienced "massive power outages," the infrastructure minister said on Twitter. "We move on, stronger and victorious," the minister, Andrei Spinu, wrote.

The barrage of Russian missiles on Wednesday killed at least 10 people and injured dozens, Ukrainian officials said, in what appeared to be one of the most disruptive attacks in weeks. Since Oct. 10, Russia has fired around 600 missiles at power plants, hydroelectric facilities, water pumping stations and treatment facilities, high-voltage cables around nuclear power stations and critical substations that bring power to tens of millions of homes and businesses, according to Ukrainian officials.

The campaign is taking a mounting toll. The strikes on Wednesday put all of Ukraine's nuclear power plants offline for the first time, depriving the country of one of its most vital sources of energy.

"We expect that nuclear plants will start working by the evening, so the deficit will decrease," Mr. Galushchenko said.

Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, the top commander of Ukraine's Armed Forces, said Ukrainian air defenses shot down 51 of the 67 Russian cruise missiles fired on Wednesday and five of 10 drones.

President Volodymyr Zelensky, speaking Wednesday night at an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council, decried what he called a Russian campaign of terror.

"When the temperature outside drops below zero and tens of millions of people are left without electricity, heat and water as a result of Russian missiles hitting energy facilities," he said, "that is an obvious crime against humanity."

In an interview with the Financial Times published Thursday, Mr. Zelensky said Ukraine's resolve to regain all of its territory would not be weakened by Russian attacks on its energy system.

In Kyiv, around one in four homes still had no electricity on Thursday afternoon, and more than half of the city's residents had no running water, according to city officials. Service was gradually being restored, city officials said, and they said they were confident that the pumps that provide water to some three million residents would be restored by the end of the day.

Dmytro Saharuk, executive director of Ukraine's largest private energy investor, DTEK, said power had been restored to about 30 percent of Kyiv's residents but would only be available for about two or three hours per day as the system is restored. He said all of the city's critical infrastructure had been restored.

Transit was suspended in the southern port city of Odesa on the Black Sea so that the limited energy supply could be directed to getting water running again. In the Lviv region in Ukraine's west, where millions displaced from their homes by fighting, power and water have fled, services were largely restored.

The national energy utility, Ukrenergo, said that given the "significant amount of damage" and difficult working conditions, repairs in some regions may take longer than others.

"There is no reason to panic," the utility said in a statement. Critical infrastructure would all be reconnected, it said.

Power was slowly coming back to the key southern city of Mykolaiv. By 9 p.m. local time, it had been restored in about half the city. The long avenues were eerie and deserted, with the streetlights off, and in many buildings a lone light burned somewhere inside, most likely a flashlight. But many people there didn't seem that bent out of shape.

"They want us to suffer," said Anhelina Peresunko, a manager at a hotel sitting in a lobby lit by flickering candles on Wednesday night when the power disappeared. "But I'm not worried. Not at all. We charge all our power banks and our phones. We are always preparing ourselves."

Jeffrey Gettleman contributed from Mykolaiv.

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Doctors operating on a 13-year-old patient at a hospital in Kherson, Ukraine, on Tuesday.Credit...Bernat Armangue/Associated Press

KYIV, Ukraine — The surgeons had made the long incision down the middle of the child's chest, cut the breastbone to spread the rib cage and reach the heart when the lights went out at the Heart Institute in Kyiv.

Generators kicked on to keep life-support equipment running on Wednesday night as nurses and surgical assistants held flashlights over the operating table, guiding the surgeons as they snipped and cut, working to save a life under the most trying of conditions.

"The electricity went out completely in the operating room," said Borys Todurov, the institute's director, who posted a video of the procedure online to illustrate the difficulties doctors are facing.

"So far we are coping on our own," he said. "But every hour is getting harder. There has been no water for several hours now. We continue to do only emergency operations."

Russia's attacks on Ukraine's energy grid are taking a growing toll on the nation as the damage adds up. After each strike, repairs become more challenging, blackouts can last longer and the danger for the public increases.

The scene in the Kyiv hospital echoes those in medical facilities around the country, a vivid illustration of the cascading toll Russia's attacks are having on civilians far from the front lines.

Two kidney transplant operations were being performed at the Cherkasy Regional Cancer Center in central Ukraine when the lights went out, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of the Ukrainian president's office, said on the Telegram messaging app. The generators were switched on, and the transplants were successful, he said.

"Ukrainian doctors are invincible!" he said.

In the central city of Dnipro, an aeronautics and industrial hub with a population of around one million people, the strikes caused Mechnikov Hospital to lose power, a first since the war began, doctors said.

"We've been preparing for this moment for two years," said one doctor, who requested anonymity because the doctor was not authorized to talk to the news media.

The hospital's I.C.U. and operating rooms are working on generators, the doctor added, but the living quarters are without power.

Christopher Stokes, the head of Doctors Without Borders in Ukraine, said that the strikes on infrastructure were putting "millions of civilians in danger." They can feed a vicious loop, in which people living without heat and clean water are more likely to need medical care but that care itself is harder to deliver.

"Energy cuts and water disruptions also will affect people's access to health care as hospitals and health centers struggle to operate," he said.

At the Kyiv hospital, surgeons donned headlamps and continued to work in the dark. The operation was a success, Mr. Todurov said.

"Thanks to all the staff for their well-coordinated and selfless work," he said. "In this unusual situation, we did not lose a single patient."

Marc Santora reported from Kyiv, and Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Dnipro, Ukraine. Natalia Yermak contributed reporting from Dnipro.

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An oil tanker moored within sight of the headquarters of Gazprom, Russia's state-owned energy corporation, in St. Petersburg, Russia, in September.Credit...Anatoly Maltsev/EPA, via Shutterstock

Diplomats from the European Union were expected to try again on Thursday to agree on final details of a policy to help limit Russia's revenue from oil, after a setback the day before to efforts led by the United States and Ukraine's allies to curb the flow of cash financing Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Officials from all 27 member nations met late into the evening without settling on a top price that traders, shippers and other companies in the supply chain could pay for Russian oil sold outside the bloc. The policy must be in place before an E.U. embargo on Russian oil imports kicks in on Dec. 5.

The embargo applies only in the 27-nation bloc. So to further limit Russia's financial gains, the group wants to cap how much buyers outside the region pay for Russian oil. That crude could only be sold outside Europe and would have to be below the agreed-upon price. Russia has repeatedly said it will ignore the policy and analysts have said it would be difficult to enforce.

The United States and Europe have imposed sanctions on Russia since the start of the war, cutting the country off from financial markets, and making oil, its biggest export, essential to financing the war in Ukraine. At stake is a complex and fraught effort among Ukraine's allies to limit the Kremlin's revenues from oil exports while averting a shortage of the fuel, which would force prices up and compound a cost-of-living crisis around world.

The E.U. ambassadors have been asked to set a price from $65 to $70 per barrel, and to be flexible about enforcing the limit.

The benchmark for the price of Russian oil, known as the Urals blend, has traded from $60 to $100 per barrel in the past three years. In the past three months, the price is trading from $65 to $75 per barrel.

Despite the delays in determining a price, countries from the Group of 7 have been trying to prepare participants in the energy markets for how the price cap will work. It will place the burden of carrying out and policing the policy on the businesses that help sell the oil. Those global shipping and insurance companies are mostly based in Europe. Most tankers transporting Russian oil are Greek-owned, according to maritime data. And London is home to the world's biggest maritime insurance companies.

Some E.U. diplomats, especially those from Poland and other staunch Ukraine allies, said that the price range proposed by the G7 was too high and that the cap should be set much lower in order to hurt Russian revenues, according to several E.U. diplomats directly involved in or briefed on the talks. They asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

Greece, Cyprus and Malta, which have serious stakes in the policy because of their large maritime industries, asked for an even higher cap. That would have put the price above current trading levels, easing the pressure on businesses based there. Some even sought compensation for possible loss of income for their maritime businesses.

France, Germany and Italy, the three E.U. nations that are members of the Group of 7 industrialized countries driving the Russian oil price cap, argued in favor of the price range presented and the softer enforcement mechanisms, advocating the U.S. position that those were necessary to avert a supply crunch.

The European Union embargo on Russian oil that kicks in on Dec. 5 also includes a ban on European services to ship, finance or insure Russian oil shipments to destinations outside the bloc, a measure that would disable the infrastructure that moves Russia's oil to buyers around the world.

The price cap, though, would allow these European shipping providers to ignore the embargo as long as they ship the Russian crude outside the bloc at a price below the cap. Enforcing this would be left to the companies. Otherwise, they would be held legally liable for violating sanctions.

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Working this month to repair a damaged transformer at an electrical substation caused by a missile strike in central Ukraine.Credit...Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

KYIV, Ukraine — Standing before a map of Europe's energy grid a few weeks ago, the head of Ukraine's energy utility marveled at the complexity of what he called the largest interconnected machine humankind had ever devised.

Think of the Ukrainian power grid like a nation's roadways, Volodymyr Kudrytskyi, the head of the utility, Ukrenergo, said after waves of repeated Russian strikes had caused rolling blackouts in parts of the country. The latest barrage, on Wednesday, left millions without power the following day.

Russian forces have been blasting the highways, offramps, on-ramps, side streets and country lanes for weeks. But there are still other back roads that can be used to move around the country. Engineers have been able to use these to push energy to keep the grid stable.

But Mr. Kudrytskyi, like other Ukrainian officials, acknowledged that the country was in uncharted territory, with its energy grid deliberately targeted and its energy utility company working in real time to repair a complex system as more missiles rain down.

Najmedin Meshkati, a professor of engineering and international relations at the University of Southern California, has studied the cascading effects damage to one part of the power grid can have on the overall network.

"The electricity grid is a complex web of interconnected and interdependent elements — electricity generation, transmission and distribution," he said. "When there is no slack or excess supply capacity, it is also very tightly coupled; a small ripple effect could cascade into a serious disturbance."

And the relentless nature of the strikes adds to the challenges of engineers trying to keep things stable and essential services running.

The day before the latest wave of missile strikes this week, Mr. Kudrytskyi said that it was very hard to predict what would happen because there are so many factors involved, including the success of Ukrainian air defenses and the speed at which repairs can be carried out.

"A lot depends on the state of the power system at the specific moment of the hit, for example, what was the level of consumption at that moment," he said during a news conference.

"I want to note: It is far from a fact that a blackout awaits us," he said. "The Ukrainian power system has already demonstrated its resilience many times."

But he said that he was under no illusions and that utility workers were preparing for worst-case scenarios.

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Police officers and soldiers near a residential building that was hit by a Russian missile on Wednesday in Vyshhorod, a suburb of Kyiv.Credit...Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

Addressing an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine called Russia's war strategy a "formula of terror," while the American ambassador accused the Kremlin of a "cowardly and inhumane" plan to freeze Ukrainians this winter.

Mr. Zelensky had called for the meeting after an unusually heavy barrage of Russian missiles on Wednesday killed at least 10 people and cut Ukrainian civilians off from power, heat and water in the capital and other cities.

Speaking by video link, the Ukrainian president detailed the attacks, including the death of a 2-day-old baby in a missile strike on the maternity wing of a hospital.

"Today is just one day but we have received 70 missiles. This is the Russian formula of terror," he said, adding, "This is an obvious crime against humanity."

The U.S. ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, took aim at President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

"It seems that Putin is determined to reduce Ukraine's energy facilities to rubble," she said. "Putin's motive could not be more clear and more coldblooded. He is clearly, clearly weaponizing winter to inflict immense suffering on the Ukrainian people. He has decided if he can't seize Ukraine by force, he will freeze the country into submission."

"Having struggled on the battlefield, Moscow is now adopting a cowardly and inhumane strategy that punishes Ukrainian men, women and children," she added.

As he has at previous Security Council meetings, the Russian ambassador, Vasily A. Nebenzya, gave a distorted account of the war of aggression that Mr. Putin started, once again casting it as a battle between Russia and Western powers like the United States. He blamed Ukraine and the NATO countries arming it for the damage to Ukrainian cities.

Ukraine's backers "are conducting a proxy war with Russia," he said. He added, "Western countries are trying to consolidate their geopolitical hegemony using the bodies of Ukrainians."

Mr. Nebenzya also protested Mr. Zelensky's video address, insisting that he should be allowed to speak at the meeting only in person.

Mr. Zelensky argued, as he has in the past, that the structure of the Security Council must change for it to have any power to affect the outcome of the conflict. That is because Russia, as one of five permanent member nations, wields veto power, making it impossible to reach the required unanimous vote to take action against the Kremlin.

"In your midst you have representatives of a state that does not offer anything but terror, instability and disinformation," Mr. Zelensky told the council. "This is a dead end, when the instigator of this war, when the party responsible for this terror, is blocking any attempt on behalf of the Security Council to exercise its mandate."

Illustrating Russia's isolation, none of the nations that addressed the Security Council spoke in Moscow's defense, while a dozen condemned it in vehement terms.

There was even implied criticism from the ambassadors of China and India — major players seen as being at least somewhat aligned with Russia — who spoke against strikes on civilian infrastructure, though they refrained from specifying who did the striking and who was struck.

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AGM-88 air-to-surface missiles off the coast of Virginia in October.Credit...Samuel Corum/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

An American-made missile fired by Ukrainian forces wounded three civilians in eastern Ukraine in September, according to residents and debris recovered from the scene, a rare instance where U.S.-supplied weapons were linked to civilian casualties in the nine-month conflict.

The strike — from an AGM-88B High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile, which is fired from a fighter jet against ground targets like radar and air-defense systems — happened on Sept. 26 around 6 p.m. in the city of Kramatorsk, residents said. The industrial city in the Donbas region has been the site of constant missile and artillery attacks since Russia's invasion in February.

As its ground war in Ukraine has bogged down, Moscow has kept up a punishingly heavy missile and drone barrage that has destroyed critical civilian infrastructure and killed or wounded many Ukrainian civilians. In response, Ukraine has had to rely heavily on air defense systems, some of them newly sent from Western allies.

The make and origin of the thousands of bullets, artillery shells and missiles fired on the front lines can sometimes be impossible to verify. But New York Times journalists were able to gather and identify distinct metal fragments left behind at the site of an earlier strike, providing a window into where the billions of dollars of United States' military aid sent to Ukraine can sometimes land.

An employee of The New York Times contributed reporting.

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Pope Francis at the Vatican on Wednesday.Credit...Yara Nardi/Reuters

Pope Francis on Wednesday compared the war in Ukraine to the "terrible Holodomor genocide" of the 1930s, when the policies of the Soviet dictator, Joseph Stalin, caused a devastating famine in Ukraine.

The pontiff's comparison of Moscow's attacks on civilian targets in Ukraine to Stalin's decision to let millions in Ukraine starve represents one of his strongest condemnations yet of the Russian invasion.

"Let us pray for peace in the world, and for an end to all conflicts, with a special thought for the terrible suffering of the dear and martyred people of Ukraine," Pope Francis said during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square. "And let us think of war-torn Ukraine."

The pontiff then asked that people join Ukraine this Saturday in commemorating "the terrible Holodomor genocide, the extermination by hunger of 1932-33 artificially caused by Stalin."

"Let us pray for the victims of this genocide and let us pray for all Ukrainians, the children, the women and the elderly, the babies who are today suffering the martyrdom of aggression," he said.

Ukrainian historians argue that Stalin, as head of the Soviet Union, used a famine brought on by the Soviets' forced collectivization of farms to crush Ukrainian aspirations for independence. The famine began in Kazakhstan and southern Russia but was most devastating in Ukraine, where entire villages were left to starve.

The pope, in previous comments, has called Ukrainian victims of the war martyrs, but the comparison with the Holodomor appeared to be his strongest yet.

In the early months of the conflict, Francis upheld the Vatican's longstanding policy of not taking sides, even as he deplored the violence, with the goal of facilitating a peace agreement.

Yet he has recently stepped up and sharpened his rhetoric. He has urged the faithful to pray for "martyred" Ukraine, and has begged President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to stop the "spiral of violence and death."

The pope has also often warned against the reckless risk of using nuclear weapons and uncontrollable global consequences that would cause, a clear reference to Mr. Putin's statements suggesting the use of nuclear weapons was a possibility.

For months after the Feb. 24 invasion, the pope appeared to walk a fine line. He studiously avoided naming Mr. Putin, or even Russia itself, as the aggressor, even as he called for the violence to stop and raised his voice against "unacceptable armed aggression" and the "barbarism of killing children."

His neutrality, however, drew criticism from Ukraine, especially when he said that Daria Dugina, a 29-year-old Russian ultranationalist close to Mr. Putin who had supported the invasion, was assassinated in August. Francis called her an "innocent" victim.

"The madness of war," Francis said at the time. "The innocent pay for war — the innocent! Let us think about this reality and say to each other, 'War is madness.'"

Ukraine's foreign minister summoned the Vatican's ambassador to Ukraine to express "profound disappointment."

After that, Francis changed tack. On Aug. 30, the Vatican for the first time said that Russia was the aggressor in war, condemning Moscow's invasion in strong terms.

"As for the large-scale war in Ukraine, initiated by the Russian Federation, the interventions of the Holy Father Pope Francis are clear and unequivocal in condemning it as morally unjust, unacceptable, barbaric, senseless, repugnant and sacrilegious," the Vatican said in the statement.

During the early month of the conflict, the pope had also avoided criticism of the war's chief religious backer and apologist, Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church. His position changed in May, when he warned Kirill not to "transform himself into Putin's altar boy," and urged him to instead work for peace.

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An American Patriot surface-to-air missile system at a military training center in Torun, Poland, in October.Credit...Tytus Zmijewski/EPA, via Shutterstock

WARSAW — When a missile slammed into a Polish village just a few miles from Ukraine last week and killed two local residents, fears surged that Russia had attacked a NATO country and threatened a global conflagration — until it turned out that it was probably a wayward Ukrainian air defense missile that had fallen into Poland by accident.

Just how risky the situation remains, however, was put into focus this week when Poland announced that it had accepted a German offer of Patriot air defense systems and would deploy them "near the border" with Ukraine.

Poland, like the United States, has provided steadfast support to Ukraine since Russia invaded in February, supplying weapons and unwavering diplomatic backing, but it has no desire to get into a war with Moscow.

Still, even though the new missiles from Germany will not be fully operational for years, by which time the war in Ukraine may well be over, Poland's plans to deploy them close to the conflict zone signals growing worries that its own security may be at risk, and that the war next door could spread, by accident or by design.

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