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Russian forces have almost completely left the region around Ukraine's capital and are now turning to the east, as evidence of atrocities committed by Russian troops mounts. The U.S. announced more economic punishment in response as European leaders considered additional sanctions on Russian energy. Nick Schifrin reports from Brussels, where Secretary of State Antony Blinken is meeting with NATO.
Russian military forces have almost completely left the region surrounding Ukraine's capital, Kyiv, according to American officials. They are now turning toward Ukraine's east and a new and brutal fight to come.
Meantime, evidence of possible atrocities committed by Russian forces mounts throughout newly freed areas of Northern Ukraine. In Brussels, European Union leaders met to consider a ban on Russian coal, while Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with alliance leaders at NATO.
Our Nick Schifrin travel to Brussels with Blinken. And he begins our coverage of the war.
And a warning:
Some images in this report are disturbing.
The apocalyptic aftermath of Bucha remains an unaltered hellscape. Residents, survivors walk past entire city blocks that no longer exist, clutching water that a month of horror made precious.
Today was the first time in four weeks 57-year-old Vladym Zaborylo and his wife left their basement shelter. They passed discarded Russian uniforms, Russian ammunition and Ukrainian soldiers who helped save them.
Vladym Zaborylo, Bucha Resident (through translator):
Honestly, it's the first time I have seen something like this. I served in the army, but something like this? I have never witnessed it. I just can't understand. Why do they need to kill civilians? I don't get it.
Those who died in Bucha are still being buried.
Serhii Lahovskyi and another Bucha resident lost their closest friend, Igor. And, in war, friends try to provide the dead some dignity. They bury Igor in a dirty carpet in a hastily dug hole on the side of the road. But they gave him a final resting place, even if friends and parents will never understand.
Serhii Lahovskyi, Bucha Resident (through translator):
His father came and asked for his son was. He went to his mother's to bring some food and disappeared. What for? Why have these beasts shot him?
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia should bear proportionate punishment.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukrainian President (through translator):
After what the world saw in Bucha, sanctions against Russia must be commensurate with the gravity of the occupiers' war crimes.
Authoritarian states cannot be allowed to trample on the rights of democratic countries.
In Brussels today, Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Australian and European counterparts.
Antony Blinken, U.S. Secretary of State: It's really good to be back, except I feel like we have never left.
For a two-day meeting at NATO headquarters, as the U.S. announced more economic punishment on Russia, a ban on all new investment in Russia, additional sanctions on Russia's largest private bank, SberBank, blocking any transaction with U.S. institutions, a restriction Russian debt payments, and sanctions on President Putin's eldest two daughters, as well as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's wife and daughter.
At the European Parliament today, leaders discussed blocking Russian coal imports, the first time they have targeted Russia's energy sector.
E.U. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen predicted more energy sanctions would follow.
Ursula von der Leyen, President, European Commission:
Now we have to look into oil. And we will have to look into the revenues that Russia gets from the fossil fuels.
But E.U. leaders have been divided over an embargo on Russian oil and gas. Germany is resisting immediate moves. Eastern flank allies such as Lithuania and Poland have already announced they will stop importing Russian natural gas.
Tomasz Szatkowski, Polish Ambassador to NATO: We cannot continue feeding the Russian war machine, regardless of the E.U. decisions. We are going to phase out Russian oil very soon too, Russian coal immediately. And we are ready to phase out Russian gas by the end of the year.
We spoke to Polish Ambassador to NATO Tomasz Szatkowski today in Brussels.
We're also calling on our partners, on our allies to do the same. And, I mean, unity is absolutely key when it comes to NATO strength, but unity should not be going down to the lowest common denominator.
That lowest common denominator met NATO members decided not to send arms to Ukraine as an alliance and instead sent arms as individual countries. The argument was, NATO didn't want to antagonize Russia.
Szatkowski says that fear was overblown.
E.U. is financing hundreds of millions of — worth of military assistance to Ukraine, and nobody is retaliating with nuclear weapons. So, I mean, I think the risks are overstated.
Today, a senior defense official said Russian units had completed their withdrawal from around Kyiv. Western officials tell "PBS NewsHour" they expect Russians to redeploy to the east and will be ready to launch a large offensive within two weeks.
The goal? Capture Mariupol, where the suffering remains unending, and connect to land seized across the south. To try and prevent that, the U.S. last night announced $100 million more in military aid, for a total of $1.7 billion since the invasion. But Poland and other eastern flank allies are pushing for more.
Ukraine will need more advanced weaponry, sort of systems of higher end. They have been provided by allies with very effective defensive basic level weaponry. But now they will need to replenish their stocks of artillery systems, tanks, as you have said, air defense systems.
The U.S. and allies are also sending more troops to Eastern Europe, but their numbers are still relatively low. The eastern flank is pushing NATO leaders for a more permanent presence.
We definitely need a — I mean, see a need to bolster defense, both qualitatively and quantitatively, and change its nature, indeed, from trip wire into something some people call forward defense.
We need to move from a symbolic posture into something that is meaningful.
That might be more likely after the horrors of Bucha. And, in the meantime, there's a demand for accountability.
We need to target those who are responsible. And this is, first of all, the leadership.
This is something on which we just cannot go back to the businesses as usual to — I mean, because this is — otherwise, we will send a signal that this is something you can do, you can conduct, and then just be treated as normal partner. So, that would be basically an encouragement to repeat those actions.
U.S. and European officials are helping Ukraine collect evidence of Russian war crimes.
Accountability, Judy, is always difficult, but especially so when the crime scene remains a battlefield.
And, Nick, do we know exactly what the NATO foreign ministers, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, are expected to talk about tomorrow, six hours of meetings?
Well, one of the main things that they will be talking about is the presence of Dmytro Kuleba, the foreign minister of Ukraine.
He's expected to be here early tomorrow, will receive a warm welcome from Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, will have many meetings with his foreign minister counterparts who are here in Brussels. He will also hold a press conference.
And that is a rare thing, for NATO to be willing to give the mic over to a nonmember. And he's expected to call for more, call for an E.U. ban on Russian ships accessing European ports, also ban on Russian trucks, and, of course, a gas and oil embargo, a demand that President Zelenskyy in Kyiv just a few minutes ago repeated.
He will also attend an interesting meeting, Judy. He will address not only NATO's 30 members, but other non-NATO members, including four Asian allies and Finland and Sweden. Those are two Northern European countries that are not in NATO, but are currently having historic conversations about whether they will join NATO in the coming months.
Finally, the foreign ministers will also talk about how to deter Russia in the short term, and that means really new battle groups, new soldiers, more forces sent to Southeastern Europe. This is a place, Judy, around the Black Sea along Ukraine's borders that NATO hasn't really been focusing on. At least, it wasn't before the Russian invasion.
And, Nick, beyond the short term, based on your reporting, what are these officials expected to be thinking about, talking about with regard to deterring Russia in the long term?
Yes, there are crucial questions about more forces.
You heard Poland's ambassador calling for more forces in Eastern — in Eastern Europe, more than a trip wire, more than just a series of Western forces who could basically call the cavalry in order to respond to anything that Russia does, questions of increased readiness of those forces.
What would they be able to do if Russia were to cross the border? How quickly would they be able to redeploy and resupply with more forces from the West? Crucial questions about air defense as well, a lot of need in Eastern Europe that simply doesn't exist right now to deter Russian missiles.
But, of course, Judy, one of the larger challenges that these ministers will have will be to maintain alliance unity. It's one thing for the alliance to have unity over the first five weeks or so of this war. But as officials fear this war will last for months, perhaps years, that unity will become increasingly a challenge.
Nick Schifrin, who is reporting on these meetings from Brussels tonight, where it is late.
Thank you, Nick.
And a note:
Our coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is supported in partnership with the Pulitzer Center.
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Nick Schifrin is the foreign affairs and defense correspondent for PBS NewsHour, based in Washington, D.C. He leads NewsHour's foreign reporting and has created week-long, in-depth series for NewsHour from China, Russia, Ukraine, Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya, Cuba, Mexico, and the Baltics. The PBS NewsHour series "Inside Putin's Russia" won a 2018 Peabody Award and the National Press Club's Edwin M. Hood Award for Diplomatic Correspondence. In November 2020, Schifrin received the American Academy of Diplomacy’s Arthur Ross Media Award for Distinguished Reporting and Analysis of Foreign Affairs.
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