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Good evening. This is your Russia-Ukraine War Briefing, a weeknight guide to the latest news and analysis about the conflict.
NATO said Russian forces were “not withdrawing but repositioning” around Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital.
President Vladimir Putin’s domestic approval ratings have soared since the war began, according to an independent poll.
The International Red Cross said that a humanitarian corridor to Mariupol could open tomorrow.
Russian forces are withdrawing from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and a nearby city, Ukraine’s state-run energy company said.
Follow our live updates.
Russia desperately needs revenue from oil and gas sales to fund its war in Ukraine. Its Western opponents are trying to squeeze the Kremlin’s finances but are also vulnerable to price spikes and shortages. That dynamic is setting off a complicated chain of moves and countermoves that could affect the course of the war.
President Biden today announced that the U.S. would release up to 180 million barrels of oil from its strategic reserve to dampen the war’s impact on fuel prices. The move would represent the largest release from the reserve since it was established in the early 1970s as an emergency stockpile.
The U.S., Britain and Canada have stopped importing oil from Russia, the world’s third-largest oil producer after the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. Many oil companies and shippers have voluntarily stopped buying Russia’s energy products. That has produced a deficit so far of about three million barrels a day for global supplies — a gap that the release of U.S. reserves would not completely fill.
U.S. gasoline prices have risen nearly $1.50 a gallon over the last year, undercutting consumer confidence and fueling inflation. The cost of diesel, the fuel used by most farmers and shippers, has gone up even faster, threatening Western economies and pressuring supply chains.
OPEC and its allies, including Russia, today rejected calls to boost oil output and stuck with their plan of modest production increases.
Meanwhile, European leaders pushed back against President Vladimir Putin’s threat to shut off supplies if all natural gas deliveries from Russia were not paid for in rubles. The Kremlin tried to defuse the standoff by detailing a plan that would allow European customers to keep paying in euros through Gazprom Bank, which could then convert the payments into rubles.
With Russia’s invasion now entering its second month, beleaguered Ukrainians have turned into a nation of spy-catchers, our correspondent Valerie Hopkins writes.
They are on the lookout for “dyversanti” — saboteurs and diversionary groups working for Russia who mix into the civilian population, sow confusion and mistrust and possibly even alert the enemy to potential targets.
With millions of Ukrainians displaced, there are many more unfamiliar faces on the streets, and fearful civilians are seeing spies everywhere. An app, eVorog, a play on words that means “there is an enemy,” asks people to report any suspected military activity. It has received more than 200,000 submissions in a month.
The fear is not imaginary: During the first month of the war, Ukraine’s intelligence agency, the S.B.U., said it dismantled 20 saboteur groups and apprehended 350 saboteurs. In one case, an amateur pilot was detained for providing information to Russian security services about a military airport.
But high tensions can also lead to false accusations: In Ukraine’s Ternopil region, two groups of men grew so suspicious that they reported each other to the police.
Valeriy, an actor and amateur photographer who settled in the western city of Lviv after fleeing his home in Kyiv, was stopped and questioned by the local police. Someone had reported him as he strolled around the city photographing its squares, churches and other landmarks, though he was eventually released.
“There is a fine line between paranoia and vigilance,” Valeriy said. “At the end of the day, if it’s the former, it’s just inconvenient for an innocent person. If not — then someone dies.”
Hundreds of Syrian fighters are en route to join Russian forces in Ukraine, including at least 300 soldiers from an elite unit of the Syrian army, our colleagues Ben Hubbard, Hwaida Saad and Asmaa al-Omar report.
The state of peace talks. Pessimism about Russia’s willingness to tame its attacks in Ukraine is growing amid mixed signals from Kremlin officials on peace talks and reports of new strikes near Kyiv and Chernihiv, where Russia had vowed to sharply reduce combat operations.
A humanitarian corridor. A humanitarian corridor to allow people to leave the besieged city of Mariupol, and let aid  inside, appeared to be close to being implemented. The International Red Cross said the corridor could begin on April 1.
Rising energy prices. OPEC and its allies, including Russia, decided to stick with its plan of modest monthly increases in oil input. In response to rising oil prices, President Biden announced he would release up to 180 million barrels of oil from emergency reserves over the next six months.
Putin’s advisers. U.S. intelligence suggested that President Vladimir V. Putin had been misinformed by his advisers about the Russian military’s struggles in Ukraine. The Kremlin later dismissed the assessment as a “complete misunderstanding” of the situation in Moscow.
A first contingent of soldiers has arrived in Russia for military training, and recruiters have been drawing up lists of thousands of interested mercenaries to be vetted by the Syrian security services and then passed to the Russians.
The Syrian fighters are effectively returning the favor to Moscow for helping President Bashar al-Assad of Syria crush rebels in an 11-year war, according to two people monitoring the flow of mercenaries.
The 300 soldiers are from the 25th Division of the Syrian Army, known as the Tiger Forces, which has worked closely with Russian officers. The Russians have offered them $1,200 a month for six months with a $3,000 bonus when they return to Syria.
Their families are promised $2,800, plus $600 a month for one year, if their loved ones are killed in combat, according to a Syrian government ally.
Some Syrians feel loyalty to Russia because of its support for al-Assad, according to Bassam Alahmad of Syrians for Truth and Justice, an advocacy group that has researched the Syrian mercenary trade. Others sign up to fight because they simply need the money.
“Some people don’t mind fighting, but there are groups that are definitely taking advantage of people’s needs,” Alahmad said. “The result is the same: People are paying this price. People are participating in wars that aren’t theirs.”
In Ukraine
About 80 percent of the apartment buildings in Izyum, a front-line town in eastern Ukraine, are in ruins, its mayor said.
President Volodymyr Zelensky urged Australian lawmakers to impose harsher sanctions on Russia and to send more military support.
Ukraine has lost at least $1.5 billion in revenue from grain exports since the war began.
Diplomacy
The Kremlin played down talk about a possible meeting between the Ukrainian and Russian presidents in April.
Turkey said that it expected to host a meeting of the foreign ministers of Ukraine and Russia in the coming weeks.
Around the world
The U.S. leveled new sanctions on Russian tech companies that were helping the country evade sanctions and were used by Russia’s defense sector.
Governments in Europe have drafted guidelines to help teachers facing tough questions about the war from worried children.
We also recommend
The Lviv Opera House performed a short ballet about Ukraine’s plea to impose a no-fly zone over the country. You can watch it here.
In today’s episode of the “Sway” podcast, two journalists — one Ukrainian, one Russian — talk about the impact of Putin’s misinformation campaign.
Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Carole
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