Your Friday Briefing
A Ukrainian soldier on the frontline in Popasna, eastern Ukraine, on Wednesday.Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times
Russia mulls a response to the U.S.
After the U.S. and NATO presented a written response to Russia’s demands regarding Ukraine, the Kremlin warned that there was “not much cause for optimism.” As fears of a Russian attack on Ukraine grow by the day, Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, is taking his time to study the response, his spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, said. “We won’t rush to any conclusions,” he added.
Replying to a question about whether Russia would be satisfied with the Western responses, Peskov revealed little about Putin’s eventual response. “There is not much cause for optimism,” he said. “But I would continue to refrain from making any conceptual evaluations.”
Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, sounded a similarly negative note, saying in comments published on his ministry’s website that the American document contained “no positive reaction” to Russia’s main demands.
A shooting raises tensions: A national guard soldier in Ukraine opened fire at an aerospace and rocket factory in the eastern part of the country, killing five people. There was no immediate sign, however, that the shooting was related to the military buildup in the region.
Mixed signals: The German government drew ridicule after it announced that it would send 5,000 helmets to help Ukraine defend itself. Critics saw it as another sign of the reticence the country has shown regarding the growing crisis.
Related: China’s foreign minister chided the U.S. and NATO, saying that Russia’s “reasonable security concerns should be taken seriously.”
Russia’s upgraded military: Under Putin’s leadership, Russian forces have been overhauled into a modern sophisticated army that now provides leverage in the Ukraine crisis.
Fears of a lost generation in India
For years, India has counted on its young people as a wellspring of future growth, with education as a conduit. But after two years of the pandemic, it is looking more like a lost generation. Now, undereducated and underemployed people in India could turn into a burden for the country, consuming resources like no-cost medicine and food subsidies.
Since the start of the pandemic, hundreds of millions of students across India have received little to no in-person instruction, with schools intermittently shut down for more than a year. As pandemic restrictions are lifted, then reimposed, schools are often the first places to close and the last to reopen.
In South Asian countries including Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, the repercussions of the pandemic can be dire: Girls are entering into child marriages, and boys have abandoned their education to work. “It is tragic, because education is the only path leading out of darkness and the miseries of rural poverty,” said a priest who works closely with rural communities in India.
Quotable: “In India, the numbers are mind-numbing,” said Poonam Muttreja, the head of the Population Foundation, an advocacy group in New Delhi. “Gender and other inequalities are widening, and we’ll have much more of a development deficit in the years to come.”
Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.
In other developments:
A coronavirus case at a site for the Beijing Olympics has been linked to the German team.
Boys aged 12 to 15 have a small but increased risk of heart problems after receiving a second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, Israeli researchers reported.
Hong Kong will cut its quarantine requirement to 14 days, down from 21.
Limits on the number of people allowed to visit nursing homes in England are being lifted.
A #MeToo moment shakes Israel’s ultra-Orthodox
For Israel’s ultra-Orthodox population, Chaim Walder, a prolific author of children’s books, was at once a soul healer, role model and media star. His being accused last November of sexual assault and abuse of women and children came as a shock; the following month, a special rabbinical court said it had heard convincing accusations of abuse involving 22 women and girls.
The accusers have remained anonymous, but the court said their cases were likely to constitute only a fraction of Walder’s “evildoing” over decades, and called on him to repent. Instead, on Dec. 27, the same day that the police said they were opening an investigation, Walder killed himself on the grave of his son, leaving a note protesting his innocence.
Initially, a few leading rabbis appeared to essentially blame the accusers for his death. Activists on the fringes of ultra-Orthodox society responded with a highly unusual campaign to support the victims. Over time, respected rabbis openly condemned him. But weeks after his death, it was apparent that the campaign had only limited impact.
Analysis: The fallout found some common ground with the #MeToo movement, said Israel Cohen, a leading ultra-Orthodox political commentator. Walder and Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, another figure accused of sexual misconduct, were high-profile enough to be compared, in Haredi terms, with the likes of Harvey Weinstein or Jeffrey Epstein, he said.
THE LATEST NEWS
Around the World
U.S.-backed forces in Syria are still fighting the Islamic State at a prison in Hasaka, despite earlier claims by the militia that it had regained full control of the complex. Above, Kurdish soldiers searching for escaped prisoners.
Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, insisted that he was “absolutely not” delaying publication of a career-threatening report into parties held in Downing Street during lockdown.
North Korea has performed six missile tests this month, suggesting that its leader, Kim Jong-un, is trying to force the Biden administration to engage with him.
China censored the end of the 1999 movie “Fight Club” on an online streaming platform.
News From the U.S.
A Tennessee school board banned the teaching of “Maus,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust, because it said the book was inappropriate for students. Above, the author of “Maus,” Art Spiegelman.
The U.S. defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, ordered the military to improve efforts to prevent civilian deaths after reports of several botched airstrikes.
President Biden vowed to name a successor for Justice Stephen Breyer by the end of February. He called the retiring Supreme Court jurist “a model public servant.”
The U.S. economy grew at the fastest rate in decades in 2021, with the gross domestic product rising by 1.7 percent, after adjusting for inflation, in the final three months of 2021 and 5.7 percent for the full year.
What Else Is Happening
At the Australian Open, the top seed, Ashleigh Barty, defeated Madison Keys in straight sets to become the first Australian to reach the women’s final since 1980.
Botticelli’s “The Man of Sorrows” was auctioned at Sotheby’s for $45.4 million.
Scientists have created a process that helps grown African clawed frogs regrow missing limbs, an ability they have as tadpoles.
A Morning Read
Dozens of Swedish musicians make a living exclusively from writing tracks for K-pop — without speaking more than a few words of Korean.
“Swedes seem to have an emotional understanding of us Koreans,” Michelle Cho, a Korean songwriter, said. “They write melodies that seem to really hit our emotions.”
ARTS AND IDEAS
A string of coups in Africa
It’s never a good sign when a soldier in fatigues appears on television in a live broadcast — as took place in Burkina Faso this week, above, after soldiers ousted the democratically elected president. It was the fourth coup in Africa in less than a year, after similar takeovers by the military in Mali, Guinea and Sudan.
The success of these coups points to a shift in the African political landscape: an erosion of democratic norms, said Faith Mabera, a senior researcher at the Institute for Global Dialogue in Johannesburg. The coronavirus pandemic, and its accompanying economic struggle, is another big factor, she added. Daily hardships have taken their toll on people, even when recorded deaths are lower on the continent compared with other regions.
Other everyday concerns can determine whether the public will support a coup. In Burkina Faso, for example, the ever-present threat of an Islamist insurgency fueled unease. In Mali, where two coups occurred within a year, citizens seem to have resigned themselves to a military-led government after a civilian government failed to provide basics, like a working economy, peace and security.
Mali and Burkina Faso are part of the Sahel region, where soldiers have been trained and well equipped by France, the U.S. and other countries as part of an intervention against terrorism. The soldier who declared himself the new leader of Guinea was trained by American Green Berets.
Coup plotters have also been emboldened by a lack of consequences. “There’sa failure of regional bodies and international partners to actually anticipate and respond to an evolving coup playbook,” Mabera said.
PLAY, WATCH, EAT
What to Cook
A well-seasoned veggie burger, built with a mix of vegetables and grains, tends to be more interesting and delicious than high-tech meat analogues.
What to Watch
Adrien Brody plays a community do-gooder with a not-so-pristine past in “Clean,” an action film directed by Paul Solet.
Do Neti pots really work? Here’s what the science says.
Now Time to Play
Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Move like honey (four letters).
And here is the Spelling Bee.
You can find all our puzzles here.
That’s it for today’s briefing. See you next week. — Natasha
P.S. Our travel editor joined “NBC News Now” to talk about the new 52 Places list.
The latest episode of “The Daily” is about the U.S. Supreme Court.
Lynsey Chutel wrote the Arts and Ideas section. You can reach Natasha and the team at [email protected].