Your Wednesday Briefing: More Aid to Ukraine

Good morning. We’re covering Europe’s plan to increase aid to Ukraine and Shanghai’s move to ease pandemic restrictions.

A day after the European Union agreed to punish Russia with an oil embargo, European leaders announced a 9 billion euro aid package for Ukraine and moved to tackle the backlog of Ukrainian crops that is threatening a global food crisis.

The deal to ban a vast majority of Russian oil imports by the end of the year exempts Hungary, whose leader, Viktor Orban, has friendly ties with President Vladimir Putin of Russia.

As European leaders wrapped up a two-day summit in Brussels, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said the developing global food crisis was “only the fault of Russia,” which has seized or blockaded all of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, preventing 22 million tons of grain from leaving.

Russia’s foreign minister will visit Turkey next week to discuss possibly releasing the grain.

On the ground: Fighting raged in Sievierodonetsk on Tuesday as Russian troops advanced toward the center of the city, which is the last in the Luhansk region of east Ukraine to remain outside Russian control.

The military: A new Russian commander, Gen. Aleksandr Dvornikov, was sent to Ukraine in April to oversee a refocused invasion. U.S. officials say he is repeating the same mistakes in the campaign in eastern Ukraine that forced Russia to abandon its push to take the entire country.

Finances: European officials are pressing the U.S. to seize more than $300 billion worth of Russian central bank assets and give that money to Ukraine. But that could be illegal, U.S. officials warn, and may discourage other countries from relying on the U.S. as a haven for investment.

During World War II, the U.S. built many of the airports and hospitals still in use across the Pacific, but the infrastructure has mostly been left to decay. China has stepped in with ambitious plans, Damien Cave, our Sydney bureau chief, writes in an analysis.

China’s interest in the Pacific Islands starts with maritime real estate. Chinese fishing fleets dominate the seas, and China plans to add ports, airports and other infrastructure. Beijing has recently signed a security deal with the Solomon Islands that gives it the power to send security forces to quell unrest or protect Chinese investments, and possibly to build a port for commercial and military use.

In Fiji and the Solomon Islands, the U.S. is trying to step up its game, but it is still far behind.

On the ground: Many Pacific Island nations do not welcome the great-power competition. But what they do want, and what China seems better at providing right now, is consistent engagement and capacity building.

Quotable: “The United States doesn’t have a significant presence in the Pacific at all,” Anna Powles, a senior lecturer in security studies at Massey University in New Zealand, said. “I’m always shocked that in Washington they think they have a significant presence when they just don’t.”

Some 25 million residents in China’s biggest city have spent much of the past two months confined to their homes. That will change starting today, when shops, malls, parks and other public venues reopen and public transportation service is restored.

Some shops and services have been reopening since mid-May as Covid infections in the city began to fall, but it could take weeks before restrictions are lifted in all neighborhoods. About 640,000 residents are still under lockdown orders because of recent infections in their area.

Testing requirements will stay in place: People who want to use public transportation or enter many public places will have to show a negative Covid test result received within the past 72 hours. But Shanghai’s lockdown has weighed on China’s growth, and city leaders appear eager to restore business and consumer spending.

Cases: China confirmed 97 new cases on Monday, the first time since early March that the nationwide daily count fell below 100. Many of the people who tested positive were already in quarantine.

Civilian deaths have spiked in Mali since Russian mercenaries of the Wagner Group began operating alongside its military. A Times investigation identified sites where people were killed and thrown into mass graves during a raid on a town in central Mali in late March. Mali has been fighting armed militants for decades, but the military junta asked the Wagner Group to move in after relations with France soured.

Cuba’s amateur boxing program is the best in the world: Fighters have won 15 Olympic medals since 2012 — five at the Tokyo Games alone — compared with nine for the U.S. during that time.

Now, 60 years after the island nation outlawed professional sports in 1962, Cuban boxers are stepping into the prize fighting chase. In May, Cuba’s communist government blessed a move to allow boxers to fight professionally.

The move expands opportunities for competition. But money also matters. The national team’s base salary is just 3,500 Cuban pesos a month, the equivalent of a dollar a day, while each Olympic gold medal earns a fighter the equivalent of $300 per month for life.

Under a deal with Golden Ring, a Mexican promotional company, boxers will keep 80 percent of the net pay from each fight. The remainder will be divided among coaches, medical staff and the national federation.

The athletes interviewed by The Times seemed pleased with the new arrangement, saying they hoped the deal would stem a wave of defections that has risen in their sport in recent years.

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