Russia-Ukraine WarAnti-Kremlin Group Involved in Border Raid Is Led by a Neo-Nazi

For Ukraine Military, Far-Right Russian Volunteers Make for Worrisome Allies

Denis Kapustin, in black, the leader of an anti-Putin group of ethnic Russians, has been identified as a neo-Nazi by the Anti-Defamation League.Credit...Finbarr O'Reilly for The New York Times

A group of fighters aligned with Ukraine, who had participated earlier this week in the most intense fighting inside Russia’s borders since the invasion, gathered the foreign and local press in an undisclosed location on Wednesday to celebrate, to taunt the Kremlin and to show off what they called “military trophies” from their incursion into their native land: Russia.

Their leader, Denis Kapustin, was proud that his force of anti-Putin Russians at one point controlled, he said, 42 square kilometers, or 16 square miles, of Russian territory.

“I want to prove that it’s possible to fight against a tyrant,” he said. “That Putin’s power is not unlimited, that the security services can beat, control and torture the unarmed. But as soon as they meet a full armed resistance, they flee.”

It was the rhetoric of a dissident freedom fighter, but there was a discordant note that emerged as clearly as the neo-Nazi Black Sun patch on the uniform of one of the soldiers: Mr. Kapustin and prominent members of the armed group he leads, the Russian Volunteer Corps, openly espouse far-right views. In fact, German officials and humanitarian groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, have identified Mr. Kapustin as a neo-Nazi.

Mr. Kapustin, who has long used the alias Denis Nikitin but typically goes by his military call sign, White Rex, is a Russian citizen who moved to Germany in the early 2000s. He associated with a group of violent soccer fans and later became, “one of the most influential activists” in a neo-Nazi splinter group in the mixed-martial-arts scene, officials in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia have said.

Mr. Kapustin has reportedly been banned from entering Europe’s visa-free, 27-country Schengen zone, but he has said only that Germany canceled his residency permit.

The fact that the group has garnered attention for its operation and revived coverage of the group’s ties to neo-Nazis is an awkward development for Ukraine’s government, particularly since President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has justified his invasion on the false claim of fighting neo-Nazis and made it a regular theme of Kremlin propaganda.

Most of the anti-Russian groups harbor long-term political ambitions to return home and overthrow the Russian and Belarusian governments.

“The Russian Volunteer Corps marches in and destroys the current government — that’s the only way,” Mr. Kapustin said earlier this year. “You cannot persuade a tyrant to leave, and any other force would be seen as invaders.”

Members of the Free Russia Legion and Russian Volunteer Corps posing for journalists this week at a news conference in northern Ukraine.Credit...Finbarr O'Reilly for The New York Times

In reality, far right groups in Ukraine are a small minority, and Ukraine has denied any involvement in the Russian Volunteer Corps or any role in fighting on the Russian side of the border. But Mr. Kapustin said that his group “definitely got a lot of encouragement” from the Ukrainian authorities.

Some on the far right in Russia long ago soured on Mr. Putin, particularly for his jailing of so many nationalists, but also for his policies on immigration and for what they perceive as granting too much power to minorities like ethnic Chechens. Since the 2014 Maidan revolution and the onset of war between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists in the eastern Donbas region, many of them have made a home in Ukraine and are now fighting on the side of their adopted country.

The Russian Volunteer Corps, also known by its Russian initials R.D.K., was one of two groups of anti-Russian fighters that conducted a cross-border attack in the Belgorod region of southern Russia on Monday, engaging enemy troops over two days of skirmishing.

The aim of the incursions, the groups say, was to force Moscow to redeploy soldiers from occupied areas of Ukraine to defend its borders, stretching its defenses ahead of a planned Ukrainian counteroffensive, a goal which aligns with the broader objectives of Ukraine’s military.

The Russian Volunteer Corps also claimed credit for two incidents in the Russian border region of Bryansk in March and April.

The second group was the Free Russia Legion, which operates under the umbrella of Ukraine’s International Legion, a force that includes American and British volunteers, as well as Belarusians, Georgians and others. It is overseen by Ukraine’s Armed Forces and commanded by Ukrainian officers.

At the news conference on Wednesday, Mr. Kapustin affirmed that his group was not controlled by the Ukrainian Army, but said that the military had wished the fighters “good luck.” There had been “nothing further than encouragement” from the Ukrainian part, he said.

“Everything we do, every decision we make, beyond the state border is our own decision what we do. Obviously we can ask our comrades and friends for their assistance in planning,” he continued. “They would say ‘yes, no’ and this is the kind of encouragement, help I was talking about.” That claim could not be independently verified.

Andriy Chernyak, a representative of Ukraine’s military intelligence service, defended Kyiv’s willingness to allow the group to fight on its behalf.

“Ukraine definitely supports all those who are ready to fight the Putin regime,” he said, adding: “People came to Ukraine and said that they want to help us to fight Putin’s regime, so of course we let them, same as many other people from foreign countries.”

Ukraine has called the incursions an “internal Russian crisis” given that the members of the group are Russians themselves.

Some analysts dismissed the significance of the R.D.K. as a fighting force even as they warn of the dangers they pose. Michael Colborne, a researcher at Bellingcat who reports on the international far right, said he was hesitant even to call the Russian Volunteer Corps a military unit.

“They are largely a far-right group of neo-Nazi exiles who are undertaking these incursions into Russian-held territory who seem far more concerned about making social media content than anything else,” Mr. Colborne said.

“Ukraine definitely supports all those who are ready to fight the Putin regime,” said Andriy Chernyak, a representative of Ukraine’s military intelligence service.Credit...Finbarr O'Reilly for The New York Times

Some other members of the R.D.K. photographed during the border raid also have publicly embraced neo-Nazi views. One man, Aleksandr Skachkov, was arrested by the Ukrainian Security Services in 2020 for selling a Russian translation of the white supremacist manifesto of the shooter in Christchurch, New Zealand, who killed 51 mosque worshipers in 2019. Mr. Skachkov was released on bail after spending a month in jail.

Another member, Aleksei Levkin, who filmed a selfie video wearing the R.D.K. insignia, is a founder of a group called Wotanjugend that started in Russia but later moved to Ukraine. Mr. Levkin also organizes a “National Socialist Black Metal Festival,” which began in Moscow in 2012 but was held in Kyiv from 2014 until 2019.

Pictures posted online by the fighters earlier this week showed them posing in front of captured Russian equipment, with some wearing Nazi-style patches and equipment. One patch depicted a hooded member of the Ku Klux Klan.

Mr. Colborne said the images of Mr. Kapustin and his fighters could damage Ukraine’s defense by making allies wary they could be supporting far-right armed groups.

“I worry that something like this could backfire on Ukraine because these are not ambiguous people,” he said. “These are not unknown people, and they are not helping Ukraine in any practical sense.”

Mr. Kapustin, who in addition to speaking Russian speaks fluent English and German, told reporters he did not think being called “far right” was an “accusation.”

“We have never concealed our views,” he said. “We are a right, conservative, military, semipolitical organization,” he said.

Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Andrew E. Kramer and Oleg Matsnev contributed reporting.

Evan Gershkovich, the American reporter Russia accuses of spying, appeals the extension of his detention.

Evan Gershkovich, 31, appearing in court in April after being arrested in late March and accused of espionage.Credit...Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press

Evan Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal reporter jailed in Russia on espionage charges, has appealed a court decision earlier this week that extended his detention by more than three months, The Journal confirmed on Friday.

Mr. Gershkovich, 31, had already spent nearly two months in Moscow’s Lefortovo jail, known for harsh conditions, when a court on Tuesday extended his detention through Aug. 30. While the decision had been widely expected, The Journal noted in a statement at the time that it was “deeply disappointed” and would continue to demand his immediate release. The appeal was filed on Thursday, The Journal said.

The White House has said that Mr. Gershkovich is “wrongfully detained,” which effectively means the United States considers him a political prisoner. Russia has so far provided no evidence to back up the espionage charges, and the United States, The Journal and several press freedom groups have vehemently rejected them as spurious.

Mr. Gershkovich’s parents, Ella Milman and Mikhail Gershkovich, were admitted to the court building on Tuesday and were able to see their son for the first time since he was arrested on March 29, while on a reporting trip in the city of Yekaterinburg in central Russia. Ms. Milman wore a button with the phrase “Free Evan” — a rallying cry of the campaign for his release.

Lindsey Graham, on a visit to Kyiv, insists U.S. support is firm despite Republican campaign rhetoric.

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina speaking at a news conference in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, on Friday. Credit...Alina Smutko/Reuters

KYIV — Across Ukraine, two coming events loom large.

The first is an anticipated military offensive that Ukrainians hope can strike a significant blow in driving the Russian invaders from their land. The second is an American presidential election, which they fear could undermine what has so far been robust and solid bipartisan support for military and economic assistance.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a conservative Republican from South Carolina, traveled to Kyiv on Friday for the third time since Russia launched its full-scale invasion 15 months ago to assure President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine that, whatever rhetoric may emanate from Republican candidates on the campaign trail, the U.S. Congress remained firmly committed to the Ukrainian cause.

After discussing an expected military offensive with Ukrainian leaders on Friday, Mr. Graham said he was convinced that the war was not a “stalemate” and that “the Russian military is about to have holy hell unleashed on them.”

“The damage done to the Russian military has been beyond my expectations,” he said at a news conference in the ancient heart of Kyiv, standing at a table filled with microphones in front of the burned-out carcasses of Russian tanks and armored vehicles. “They have been taking a beating. And their ability to generate forces and go on the offensive doesn’t exist.”

The question soon to be resolved, he said, is whether the Russians have the ability to hold the territory they have taken.

“I leave here incredibly optimistic that Russian-held territory will begin to fall in the coming days and weeks,” he said. “My hope is the gains on the battlefield, which are coming, will inspire Congress and our allies to do more.”

But he made clear that he was aware of Ukrainian concerns that U.S. support might fade as the presidential campaign kicks off in earnest, with the leading candidates from his own party expressing skepticism about continuing to spend billions of taxpayer dollars assisting Ukraine.

“I am here to tell the Ukrainian people that we will be electing a new president in 2024, but the Congress, in a bipartisan fashion, is fully committed to making sure Russia loses,” he said.

Former President Donald J. Trump — the leading candidate for the Republican nomination — has drawn criticism for repeatedly voicing admiration for Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin. When asked at a recent live town hall on CNN whether he wanted Ukraine to win the war, Mr. Trump said he did not think about the conflict “in terms of winning and losing,” but rather “in terms of getting it settled” to stop the loss of life on both sides. The war has brought death to tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians and many Russian soldiers, and has caused widespread devastation to parts of Ukraine.

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a Republican who announced his candidacy this week, has described Russia’s war in Ukraine as a “territorial dispute” that does not represent a “vital” national security issue for the United States.

“This is not a territorial dispute,” Mr. Graham said in a clear rejection of Mr. DeSantis’s stance, though he avoided mentioning any possible Republican nominee by name.

He also pushed back against an idea spread by some conservative Republicans who subscribe to Mr. Trump’s “America First” ideology: that American foreign policy should be focused on the dangers posed by China rather than investing in helping Ukraine fight the Russians.

“If you are running for president, as a Republican or Democrat, I don’t know how you can make the argument that we are stronger against China if we pull the plug on Ukraine. That makes zero sense. What I want the Chinese to see is that invading a neighbor is not as easy as it looks.”

After meeting with Mr. Graham, the Ukrainian president said he was “grateful to the entire American society” and members of Congress for their strong bipartisan support.

“We are very grateful for this,” Mr. Zelensky said.

A Russian strike on a medical complex killed at least two people, Ukrainian officials say.

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Fire heavily damaged a clinic in Dnipro, Ukraine, after a Russian strike hit the building.CreditCredit...Mykola Synelnykov/Reuters

KYIV, Ukraine — A Russian missile strike hit a hospital complex in central Ukraine on Friday morning, killing at least two people and injuring more than two dozen others, including two children, Ukrainian officials said.

As rescue workers raced to pull survivors from the rubble and firefighters battled to contain the blaze caused by the attack, President Volodymyr Zelensky called the strike on the medical facility in the city of Dnipro an “inhuman” act of barbarism.

Serhii Lysak, the head of the region’s military administration, said a 57-year-old man and a 69-year-old man who was “just passing by” had been killed. He said at least 31 people had been injured, including eight medical workers.

A three-story building at the hospital complex was leveled, Ukrainian officials said. Other buildings, including a veterinary clinic on the facility’s grounds, suffered extensive damage.

Ukraine’s human rights commissioner, Dmytro Lubinets, posted graphic videos of bloodied victims being pulled from the rubble. The attack on a medical facility, he said, was further evidence that “Russia is at war with the civilian population.”

The central Ukrainian city of Dnipro is a hub for Ukrainian soldiers wounded in battle, usually a first stop before they are transported to other hospitals around the country. It was not clear if any Ukrainian soldiers were being treated at the facility that was hit on Friday or were injured in the attack.

Mr. Zelensky called the strike a “crime.”

“There can be no military purpose in this,” he said in a statement. He shared a video that showed black smoke billowing out of one building, which had its roof entirely shorn off.

The missile strike came just hours after yet another night of Russian aerial bombardments, which Ukraine’s military said involved 17 missiles and 31 attack drones aimed at targets across the country. Ukraine’s Air Force said on Friday morning that it destroyed 10 cruise missiles and 23 attack drones.

At least five of the cruise missiles and six of the attack drones were shot down over the Dnipro region.

“It was a really difficult night,” Mr. Lysak said. At least two homes, two private enterprises and a gas station were all damaged as result of the attack, he said. An employee at a gas station was injured, Mr. Lysak said, but no other casualties were reported from the overnight strikes.

Ukraine also launched aerial attacks at Russia on Friday.Russia’s southern Belgorod region was hit on Friday with artillery fire, mortar shells and drones, local authorities said. Drones also struck in Krasnodar, a Russian city in an area next to the annexed Crimea Peninsula, authorities there said on the Telegram messaging app.

Two missiles apparently launched by Ukraine hit the Azovstal Steel Plant in the Russian-held city of Mariupol, which was the site of a monthslong battle last year, the Russian state news agency Tass reported, quoting occupation authorities.

There were widespread internet outages on Friday in Crimea and other parts of Russian-occupied Ukraine, including the Zaporizhzhia region, the internet monitoring group NetBlocks said.It remained unclear if the cause was sabotage or some sort of equipment failure.

Russian forces blow up a dam, in the latest apparent use of flooding as a tactic of war.

Credit...Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

POKROVSK, Ukraine — Russian forces have blown up the dam on a river in eastern Ukraine, sending water levels rising in what Ukraine’s military on Friday said was an effort to flood its supply lines downstream.

The missile strike Thursday afternoon on the floodgates of the Karlivka dam in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region marked what appeared to be the latest use of flooding as a tactic in the 15-month-long war. The rivers that crisscross Ukraine present some of the few natural barriers between Russian and Ukrainian forces, and both sides have used them to block advances or sought to target the other’s pontoon bridges.

Roiling torrents of water flowed from the destroyed dam, according to video footage shared on Thursday by the head of Ukraine’s military administration in the region, Pavlo Kyrylenko, on the Telegram messaging app. He said the local authorities had evacuated 26 people from homes and that villages downstream on the Vovcha River were put on flood alert.

Russian forces have “constantly bombarded” the dam for months, Mr. Kyrylenko wrote on Telegram, before scoring a direct hit on its floodgates.

“Civilians will suffer primarily from these actions,” he said.

The flooding inundated an area of intense Ukrainian military operations near the front line. The military closed the area downstream of the dam, citing security concerns.

“Russia is predictable in its actions,” Maj. Serhiy Tsekhotsky, a spokesman for Ukraine’s 59th Brigade, which operates in the area, said in an interview. “They do the same thing again and again.”

Both Ukraine and Russia have throughout the war used rivers and their crossings to stymie the other side’s advances.

In the first days of the war, the Ukrainian military blew up the gates of a dam to flood the Irpin River valley to the north of Kyiv, blocking one route into the capital for Russian tank columns and buying time to prepare defenses, but flooding several dozen homes in the area.

Last September, Russian forces fired a volley of missiles at a dam near the city of Kryvyi Rih in central Ukraine, blowing up one of two floodgates in what Ukrainian officials said was an effort to wash out Ukrainian military pontoon crossings downstream on the Ingulets River. Ukraine needed the pontoon crossings, which were also attacked by Russian artillery and aerial bombardments, for a counteroffensive that eventually succeeded in driving Russian forces out of the city of Kherson.

In an indication of the value of that dam as a military target, Russia fired seven of its most sophisticated Iskander and Kinzhal rockets at the floodgates. But only one of the two floodgates was damaged, local officials said at the time, resulting in a more gradual release of water from a reservoir than if the strike had destroyed both.

The pontoon crossings downstream were not affected, but the water level in the Ingulets River rose by two meters and inundated neighborhoods in Kryvyi Rih.

Ukraine’s government has repeatedly warned of the risk that Russia will blow up a major hydroelectric dam on the Dnipro River to release water from the Kakhovka Reservoir. Ukrainian officials have suggested that the goal of such a strike would be to flood riverside communities and Ukrainian military sites downstream or to create an emergency at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which draws cooling water from the reservoir.

Russian forces, who occupy the eastern bank of the river at the site of the Kakhovka dam and control the floodgates, have already for unclear reasons manipulated the water level in the reservoir, according to Ukrainian officials.

Over the winter, the water level in the reservoir dropped to its lowest level in four decades, depriving Ukrainian towns upstream of water supplies. During a period of high snowmelt in the spring, Russia’s military allowed water to accumulate to what Ukrainian officials said were levels so high they posed dangers to the integrity of the dam.

Altimetry data — which uses satellites to measure height — published last week by Theia, a French earth data provider, showed water levels at the reservoir have reached a 30-year high, increasing the possibility of flooding in the area and signaling a lack of regulation.

Explosions again echo over Russian-occupied Berdiansk, a local official says.


Explosions were reported over the Russian-occupied city of Berdiansk for the second time in less than a week, an occupation official said on Friday, as the tempo of strikes deep behind the front lines appeared to gather pace ahead of a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Russian forces have turned the port city of Berdiansk into a military stronghold, using it as a base for soldiers and a transit point for supplies, according to military analysts.

Although details about individual explosions are often impossible to independently confirm, recent strikes in Berdiansk and other areas beyond the range of precision weapons, suggest that Ukraine’s military may be using new, long-range missiles to reach targets further inside occupied territory than it was able to even a few weeks ago.

Vladimir Rogov, a Russian occupation official in southern Ukraine, said that several loud explosions had echoed across Berdiansk overnight and claimed that Russian air defenses thwarted a Ukrainian attack. “Shrapnel flew over the private sector of the city and damaged residential buildings,” he wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

GeoConfirmed, one of several volunteer groups that closely track battlefield movements in Ukraine, posted images on Twitter showing a large fire and said impacts had been recorded in Berdiansk.

Ukrainska Pravda, a Ukrainian news outlet, said there were reports that a supply depot had been targeted.

The Ukrainian military did not comment on Berdiansk specifically, saying in a morning update that the Air Force “delivered five strikes targeting enemy manpower and equipment clusters.” It did not provide further details.

After a Ukrainian strike in Berdiansk on Sunday, local Russian officials claimed that Kyiv was using newly acquired long-range missiles supplied by Britain to target the city. They claimed to have shot down nearly all of them, with one falling “on the outskirts of the city,” destroying a “canteen.”

The Ukrainian military claimed after that strike that it successfully hit “the headquarters of one of the occupiers’ units in the city of Berdiansk.”

It was not possible to verify the claims, but the location of the reported attacks was notable in that it appeared to fit a pattern in recent weeks of an increase in precision missile strikes deep inside Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine that have been reported by local Russian proxy leaders, exiled Ukrainian officials and residents.

For most of the 15-month war, Russian military installations in much of the occupied territories were out of reach of Ukrainian missiles as Kyiv’s Western allies declined to provide precision long-range missiles. That changed with the delivery of American-made HIMARS, short for High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, last summer.

Military analysts said the weapons — which have a range of about 50 miles — helped reshape the battlefield ahead of Ukraine’s successful counteroffensives in the northeastern Kharkiv region and southern Kherson region last year.

Russian forces have since moved key command and control centers, ammunition depots and other key installations deeper into occupied territory to places like Berdiansk, according to military analysts, Ukrainian officials and satellite data.

On May 11, Britain said it was providing Ukraine with long-range missiles, called Storm Shadows, which have a range of more than 155 miles — putting nearly every corner of Ukraine occupied by Russia within striking distance.

“The missile provides Ukraine with an improved capability to hold at risk high-value targets in occupied territory, such as Russian airfields, logistics hubs and command-and-control nodes, some of which have hitherto been beyond the range of Western-supplied guided weaponry,” wrote Timothy Wright, a military analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, in an analysis earlier this month.

He noted that it remained to be seen how capable Russian air defenses would be in countering the threat.

On May 18, the British defense secretary, Ben Wallace, told CNN that the new weapons had been used “successfully” in Ukraine, without going into detail.

The United States condemns a deal allowing Moscow to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus.

A photo released by the Russian government shows Russia’s defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, left, with his Belarusian counterpart, Victor Khrenin, in Minsk, Belarus, on Thursday.Credit...Russian Defense Ministry

The Russian and Belarusian defense ministers on Thursday signed an agreement laying out how to store Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus, Russian state media reported, as Moscow moved ahead with a plan to deploy tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of its close ally.

President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus said on Thursday in Moscow that the relocation of the weapons had begun, but did not say whether any had already arrived in his country, the Belarusian state news agency Belta reported.

The signing of the agreement comes some two months after President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said he would be able to position nuclear weapons in Belarus by the summer, a claim analysts widely saw at the time as bluster intended to put pressure on the West.

The agreement is “the latest example of irresponsible behavior that we have seen from Russia since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine over a year ago,” the State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters on Thursday.The United States saw no reason to adjust its nuclear posture and had seen no signs that Russia was preparing to use a nuclear weapon, he added.

The Russian state news service, Tass, reported that Russia’s defense minister, Sergei K. Shoigu, met with his Belarusian counterpart, Viktor Khrenin, in Minsk on Thursday. It cited the Russian Defense Ministry as saying that the two signed documents formalizing “the procedure for keeping Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons in a special storage facility” in Belarus.

Mr. Putin has repeatedly issued veiled threats of the use of nuclear weapons since launching the full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year. U.S. officials say they have seen no evidence that Russia is moving or intends to employ its nuclear weapons but worries remain.

Even if Russia were to move some of its nuclear assets to Belarus, it would not seriously change the nuclear threat since Russia can already target a broad range of territory from within its own borders.

The U.S. government estimates Russia has about 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons, which aredelivered by aircraft, short-range missiles and even artillery rounds and are intended destroy troops and weapons on the battlefield. They have a short range and a much lower yield than nuclear warheads on long-range strategic missiles designed to destroy entire cities.

U.S. public opinion remains firm against Russia’s invasion but is divided on arming Ukraine, a new poll finds.

A group of people gather in support of Ukraine outside of the White House this month.Credit...Sarah Silbiger for The New York Times

While a bipartisan majority of the American public believes Russia’s war in Ukraine is unjustified, support for providing Ukraine with weapons has dropped over the past 12 months, according to a new poll released this week by the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and NORC at the University of Chicago.

The poll, which was conducted in mid-April and released on Wednesday, adds to findings from earlier this year that showed public support for arming Ukraine weakening. In the most recent poll, 50 percent of Americans strongly favored or somewhat favored the United States’ sending weapons, down from 61 percent in mid-April 2022.

Public support for imposing economic sanctions on Russia and accepting Ukrainian refugees into the United States has also declined, the poll found. Only support for sending government funds to Ukraine, as opposed to weapons, has remained largely unchanged since roughly a year ago.

Still, a strong majority of Americans — some 70 percent — disapproved of Russia’s invasion. There are partisan differences: 82 percent of Democrats said they believed that Russia’s actions were an unjustified attempt to gain territory, versus 69 percent of Republicans, the Harris School of Public Policy said.

The findings reflect a difference between Americans’ principles and what they are willing to pay for, said Sibel Oktay, a nonresident senior fellow of public opinion and foreign policy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Though a “huge majority” of the public said they felt that Russia’s actions were unjustified, the crucial question is whether they are “willing to send the tax dollars or send significant portions of U.S. resources to the Ukrainians to undermine these Russian efforts,” she said.

The results also suggested that Americans might not feel their country has as much of a stake in the war today as it did a year ago, Dr. Oktay said. She added that these were important signals for the Biden administration to heed in its domestic messaging about the United States’ interests in the conflict.

While a small group of congressional Republicans has been clamoring against sending further aid to Kyiv, the Biden administration has repeatedly vowed to back Ukraine for the long haul. On Sunday, at the Group of 7 summit in Japan, President Biden announced a new $375 million military aid package that includes ammunition and artillery for Ukraine’s armed forces. He also told Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, that “together with the entire G7, we have Ukraine’s back, and I promise we’re not going anywhere.”

Stretched Russian forces would have to fill the gap if Wagner fighters pull out of Bakhmut.

A drone image of the destruction in Bakhmut taken while embedded with the 93rd Mechanized Brigade of the Ukrainian Army. The leader of the Wagner military group said his forces had begun to withdraw from the city on Thursday.Credit...Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

The capture of the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut by the Wagner paramilitary group has given Moscow a rare and very costly victory. But it has also exposed the Russian Army’s dependence on a brutal mercenary force commanded by an unpredictable leader.

That leader, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, an ally of President Vladimir V. Putin, announced on Thursday that Wagner forces would begin withdrawing from Bakhmut, raising questionsabout whether Russia’s military can hold the city, especially if Ukraine begins its long-anticipated counteroffensive.

“Now the Russian General Staff will have to find enough reserves to fill the resulting gap,” Dmitri Kuznets, a war analyst for Meduza, a Russian news website, said in response to written questions. “This is in addition to fending off the Ukrainian offensive, which will also require a significant number of reserves.”

Mr. Prigozhin said Thursday that his fighters would “get rest and get ready,” before receiving “a new task” to perform in Ukraine. It is not clear how many Wagner troops remain in Bakhmut.

American officials estimated in December that Wagner had about 50,000 fighters in Ukraine, including 10,000 experienced volunteers and 40,000 former prisoners who were granted pardons in exchange for military service.

For many supporters of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Wagner group, with its harsh discipline and agile decision-making, has become a model for what the Russian Army, plagued by cumbersome bureaucracy, should look like.

Mr. Prigozhin has criticized Russia’s military leadership repeatedly. But Wagner and the Russian Army are also dependent on each other. While Mr. Prigozhin has some of the best assault troops fighting on the Russian side, the defense ministry holds vastly more weapons supplies, much to Mr. Prigozhin’s recent frustration.

In Ukraine, the Wagner group has sometimes served as an emergency force for Russia, engaging in battle when the situation appeared desperate. Weeks into the Russian invasion, Wagner troops helped capture the eastern town of Popasna, eventually allowing Russia to make further advancesin the Donbas region. And Wagner’s grueling, bloody campaign in Bakhmut also allowed regular Russian forces to focus elsewhere, including on training additional troops and fortifying defenses.

Mr. Kuznets said that if Wagner troops are redeployed in Ukraine, they would likely be sent to areas surrounding Bakhmut or in southern Ukraine, an area that could be a focus of a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

While the Russian military leadership might prefer not to rely on Wagner for assistance again, he said, Moscow’s lack of sufficient troops makes Wagner’s eventual redeployment in Ukraine “inevitable.”

The Battle for Bakhmut, in photos.

Credit...Tyler Hicks/The New York Times, Daniel Berehulak/The New York Times, Tyler Hicks/The New York Times and Finbarr O'Reilly for The New York Times

Even for those who witnessed the battle for Bakhmut, the longest and likely the deadliest clash of the war in Ukraine, words often failed.

Soldiers who fought in the shell-racked city strained to articulate the carnage. The reek of the trenches around the city and the unceasing howl of shellfire, they said, recalled the Battle of Verdun in 1916, which lasted 300 days and was one of the bloodiest of World War I.

By the time the Russians declared “victory” on Saturday, relentless bombardment had turned former shops and homes to charred ruins. As Ukraine shifted focus to the fighting on the outskirts, President Volodymyr Zelensky acknowledged that the city was gone, saying “Bakhmut is only in our hearts.”

It was an arc of destruction captured by photographers from The New York Times over the past year.

Here’s what to know about Russia’s capture of Bakhmut in Ukraine.

Ukrainian troops firing toward Russian positions near Bakhmut in March.Credit...Daniel Berehulak/The New York Times

Russia has declared victory in its devastating, nearly yearlong assault on Bakhmut, and its Wagner mercenaries have begun to withdraw. Ukraine, whose forces have made small gains on the outskirts, has signaled that it is now focused on making it difficult for Moscow to hold onto the city.

Whatever comes next, Ukraine’s setback in Bakhmut is a significant moment in Russia’s invasion, its first military success since last summer. Ukraine says a small number of its soldiers are still in the eastern city, but Kyiv has all but conceded that the intense and bloody defense of the city is over.

After Moscow launched its assault on Bakhmut, the city became the scene of the war’s deadliest and most prolonged urban combat in Europe since World War II, with tens of thousands of casualties estimated on both sides.

While military analysts say that Bakhmut holds little strategic significance, Moscow and Kyiv have remained firm in their justifications for fighting there, each viewing the battle as vital for weakening the other.

The Russian public appears to be souring on war casualties, analysis shows.

An abandoned Russian tank in a forest north of Kharkiv, Ukraine, in January.Credit...Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Public sentiment in Russia over war casualties has been turning more negative during the intense fighting in recent months in eastern Ukraine, according to a new analysis.

U.S. officials have highlighted the huge numbers of Russian troops killed and wounded in Bakhmut, Ukraine, in recent months, which they estimate to be more than 100,000. The city has become the scene of the most intense urban combat in Europe since World War II.

Those losses appear to be affecting public opinion. FilterLabs AI, which uses messages on the Telegram app, posts on social media and discussions on internet forums to track Russian public sentiment on a range of topics, has found that views on war casualties have become increasingly negative since late February.