Your Monday Briefing

U.S. soldiers in a military exercise in Latvia in March.Credit…Valda Kalnina/EPA, via Shutterstock

A potential pivot on Ukraine

President Biden is considering sending thousands of troops, warships and aircraft to the Baltics and Eastern Europe in response to Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine. The move would signal a major pivot for his administration, which until recently was taking a restrained stance on Ukraine, out of fear of provoking Russia into invading.

Senior Pentagon officials on Saturday presented Biden with several options, one of which includes sending 1,000 to 5,000 troops to Eastern European countries, with the potential to increase that number tenfold if the situation deteriorates. Biden is expected to make a decision as early as this week, officials said.

In a highly unusual public statement, backed by U.S. officials, the British government said over the weekend that the Kremlin appeared to be developing plans to install Yevgeniy Murayev, a former member of Ukraine’s Parliament, as leader of a pro-Kremlin puppet government. Moscow has deployed more than 100,000 Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders.

Explainers: Here are the basics of the conflict and one way a war might start.

Chernobyl: Ukraine has initiated a defensive strategy for the isolated zone around the power plant, which lies on the shortest path between Russia and Kyiv. Its security forces are patrolling one of the most radioactive places on Earth.

The White House bet that the pandemic would follow a straight line.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Biden’s pandemic fight

President Biden took office last January with a 200-page coronavirus response strategy, promising a “full-scale wartime effort” rooted in science and competence, with vaccines at its core. In a July 4 address, after a successful vaccine rollout, he announced that the U.S. had moved “closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus.”

But soon after his speech, it was discovered that vaccinated people could spread the virus, calling into question the Biden administration’s almost single-minded focus on vaccination as the path out of the pandemic. Though Biden’s approach put the U.S. in a far better place to combat the virus than it was in a year ago, there have been key setbacks, according to interviews with scores of current and former administration officials, public health experts and governors:

  • The White House bet that the pandemic would follow a straight line, and it was unprepared for the threat of variants, even after clear warning signals from the rest of the world.

  • The administration lacked a sustained focus on testing, leaving Americans struggling to find tests that could quickly determine if they were infected.

  • Rather than forcing Americans to become vaccinated, Biden tiptoed around an organized Republican revolt over masks, mandates, vaccine passports and even the vaccine itself.

Latest news: Speaking yesterday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s top medical adviser, said that cases in the U.S. could soon fall to manageable levels. New coronavirus cases have started to fall nationally, but deaths continue to rise.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • Nervous Olympians are quarantining and shunning friends to avoid getting Covid-19 before the Winter Games next month.

  • Mink farms threaten to become a source of new coronavirus variants — and an object lesson in how “spillback” can make deadly diseases even deadlier.

  • Here’s what we know about the course of an Omicron infection.

Tear gas was fired yesterday in the capital of Burkina Faso.Credit…Malin Fezehai for The New York Times

Gunfire rattles Burkina Faso’s capital

Gunfire erupted at military bases in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, and in two other cities just before dawn yesterday as part of an attempted mutiny by soldiers angered by their government’s failure to halt a wave of Islamist militant attacks. Hours later, the government issued a statement denying that a coup was underway.

Soldiers have retained control of the bases and demanded sweeping changes to the campaign against Islamic militants, badly undermining the government’s authority. Riot police officers fired tear gas in central Ouagadougou to prevent a crowd of young demonstrators from reaching a traditional protest site. The demonstrators were calling for the ouster of Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, the president.

By nightfall a state of uneasy calm had fallen across the city, with a smaller number of protesters gathered outside a major military base, urging the mutinying soldiers to seize power outright. There was no sign of the president.

Context: The mutiny comes a few months after Kaboré changed the military leadership in what analysts saw as an attempt to quell opposition in the armed forces. This month, the government arrested a dozen soldiers on suspicion of conspiring against the government.


Around the World

Credit…Hogir Al Abdo/Associated Press
  • U.S. attack helicopters struck a prison in Syria under siege from ISIS. At least 700 child detainees are being held at the prison.

  • In Greece, a string of deadly assaults on women has pushed domestic abuse into the spotlight.

  • A fire at a nightclub in Cameroon’s capital, Yaoundé, in the early hours yesterday left at least 16 people dead and eight others seriously injured.

  • Few Christians remain in a once-vibrant community in Idlib. The city, in the only territory in Syria still controlled by rebels, is ruled by Islamists.

Other Big Stories

Credit…Kevin Frayer/Getty Images
  • Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader, is staging the Winter Olympics on his terms — despite existing and new obstacles, including an unending pandemic and mounting international concern over China’s authoritarian behavior.

  • The diplomat and lawyer who helped write the treaty used around the world to guide restitution claims of Nazi-looted art faces a difficult case.

  • Sarah Palin is suing The Times over an editorial. The case could challenge a fundamental piece of American press freedom.

What Else Is Happening

  • The French adventurer Jean-Jacques Savin was found dead near the Azores, the Portuguese archipelago, as he was trying to row solo across the Atlantic.

  • A video of a YouTuber’s plane crash has drawn doubt from aviation experts, who question whether the crash was a publicity stunt.

A Morning Read

Credit…via Gucci

What do we wear in the metaverse? Dressing for a virtual world is going to be both enormously liberating and potentially very, very messy.

Lives Lived

Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who was one of the world’s most influential Zen masters, died on Saturday at 95. Look back on some of his remarks.


Credit…Richard Bord/WireImage

Remembering Thierry Mugler

Thierry Mugler, the outrageous, genre-busting designer who dominated European runways in the late 1980s and early 1990s, died yesterday at 73. No cause of death was given.

Mugler was one of the principal architects of a late-’80s aesthetic that married S&M and high fashion — latex, leather and curves. His silhouette was a kind of inverse triangle with giant shoulders and a nipped waist, and his early muses included Grace Jones and Joey Arias. He had a longstanding creative collaboration with David Bowie.

But Mugler’s ability to mine pop culture and his unabashed embrace of gay iconography overshadowed his spectacular tailoring and construction technique, ghettoizing him at a time when the AIDS epidemic had become a political battleground.

“The outwardness of designers embracing being gay wasn’t then a thing,” said Paul Cavaco, who during Mugler’s heyday was the fashion director of Harper’s Bazaar. “People knew but you didn’t really talk about it. It was considered not chic. And here he was sending drag queens like Lypsinka down the runway.”

In 2019, 17 years after he left his brand, he made something of a comeback: Cardi B showed up to the Grammys looking like a Disney princess in a flesh-toned bodice. A few months later Kim Kardashian wore a Mugler-designed dress at the Met Gala that made her every curve appear to have been drenched in high fructose corn syrup. The viral looks introduced him to millions of new fans.


What to Cook

Credit…Linda Xiao for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Simon Andrews.

Garnish this butternut squash and green curry soup with basil, peanuts and slices of lime.

Vegans Assemble

Plant-centric travel is no longer as fringe as it once was.

What to Read

In “Lost in the Valley of Death,” by Harley Rustad, an experienced trekker seeking enlightenment disappears into a hiker’s Bermuda Triangle.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: “Scooby-Doo” character in a turtleneck (five letters).

And here is the Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. Thanks for joining me. — Natasha

P.S. Astead Herndon, a national politics reporter for The Times, discussed voters who believe the “big lie” about the 2020 U.S. election on WNYC’s “On the Media.”

The latest episode of “The Daily” is on Novak Djokovic and Australian immigration policies.

You can reach Natasha and the team at [email protected].

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