Your Monday Briefing

Ukrainian soldiers at the front line in eastern Ukraine.Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Pressure mounts in Ukraine

What is perhaps Europe’s most intense security crisis since the end of the Cold War appears to be nearing a climax, with Washington warning that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could begin at any moment. Russian attack helicopters were spotted yesterday buzzing within miles of the country’s borders.

During a phone call with President Biden, Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, asked the American president to come to Kyiv to “contribute to de-escalation” and to send “a powerful signal.” Biden is likely to decline. Ukraine’s allies, including the U.S., reduced staffing at their embassies or evacuated them over the weekend.

Ukraine is now nearly surrounded by Russian and Russian-backed forces on a high level of readiness, with the start of Russian naval exercises on the Black Sea yesterday completing the noose in the south. Russian officials have said they do not intend to invade Ukraine.

Diplomacy: Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, plans to travel to Kyiv today and Moscow tomorrow. France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, is trying to leverage the chaos to reshape Europe — and bolster his re-election campaign.

Tactics: The U.S. has sought to disrupt Russia’s plans by declassifying information about them. (The Pentagon is also sending 3,000 more troops to Poland.)But the Biden administration still does not have an ambassador to Ukraine, a 13-month delay that diplomats say is impossible to explain.

View from Finland: The Finnish president, Sauli Niinisto, has carved out a vital role as interpreter between East and West. He is not optimistic about the prospects for peace in Ukraine.

Counterprotesters in Ottawa yesterday sought to block a small convoy of antigovernment demonstrators.Credit…Brett Gundlock for The New York Times

Canada opens blockaded bridge

Officials in Canada said that they had reopened the Ambassador Bridge, which has been blockaded for almost a week by truckers protesting Covid vaccine mandates, just before midnight last night. The reopening of the bridge, which links Windsor, Ontario to Detroit, raised hopes for industries, especially auto manufacturing, which have been slowed by the unrest.

In the Canadian capital of Ottawa, protests raged on: Hundreds of truckers were entering their third week of occupation of the area around Parliament Hill. There were reports late yesterday that an agreement had been broached for the drivers to pull out of some residential neighborhoods over the coming days.

Protesters and their supporters spent the weekend jamming the streets of Ottawa with dance parties, bonfires and even an inflatable hot tub. People swarmed local stores without masks, violating local coronavirus regulations, and lavished the truckers encamped in their vehicles with cash and gifts that they tossed through their windows.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • The C.D.C. released data showing that boosters lose much of their potency after about four months, raising the possibility of a fourth dose, especially for immunocompromised people.

  • People struggling with long Covid are finding it difficult to exercise, perhaps because of vascular issues.

Workers cleared snow off the tracks before the start of the men’s 4×10-kilometer relay.Credit…James Hill for The New York Times

The latest from the Winter Olympics

After more than a week of competition on courses lined with machine-made snow, a rare snowstorm hit Beijing yesterday, forcing the postponement or cancellation of at least three Olympic events. Skiers floated through fresh powder.

Here’s a look at the week ahead, the latest updates, the medal count and how to watch.

In other Olympics news:

  • Arbitrators met for six hours to determine the fate of the Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva, the 15-year-old gold medal favorite who tested positive for a banned heart medication. Delays and confusion have revealed failures of the Games’ antidoping strategy.

  • Ayumu Hirano of Japan won the halfpipe. Shaun White, the 35-year-old snowboarding legend, concluded his Olympic career with a fourth-place finish.

  • A Ukrainian athlete displayed a “no war in Ukraine” sign after his skeleton competition, despite a ban on political demonstrations.

  • An unexpected buying frenzy has emerged for Olympics memorabilia in China.

  • See photos from the ice dancing competition.


Other Big Stories

Credit…Kiana Hayeri for The New York Times
  • President Biden’s decision to divert billions of dollars in frozen assets from Afghanistan’s central bank to the American families of Sept. 11 victims has outraged Afghans.

  • Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader, is recruiting anti-Trump candidates. So far, it’s not going according to plan.

  • The Rams won the Super Bowl. Catch up on highlights here.

Around the World

Credit…Saumya Khandelwal for The New York Times
  • Much of the organic cotton that makes it to store shelves may not actually be organic at all, according to Indians who source, process and grow organic cotton.

  • Switzerland voted to ban tobacco advertisements in places where they could be seen by children under 18.

  • In a dispute that has become a flash point over minority rights, students in the Indian state of Karnataka have been told to avoid religious garments of all kinds, pending a ruling on whether schools can ban head scarves.

Animal News

  • A new report suggests that chimpanzees may use “medicines” to treat their injuries.

  • The Australian government declared the koala an endangered species.

  • Fifty years ago, China sent two pandas to the U.S. as a gesture of good will. Some now say the animals have taken on a new role: softening China’s authoritarian image.

A Morning Read

Credit…Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times

Ahead of France’s presidential elections in April, Emmanuel Macron’s top three rivals — expected to account for nearly 50 percent of the vote — are all running campaigns that fan the flames of anti-immigrant sentiment.

But France’s actual immigration lags behind that of most other European countries. And a growing number of French Muslims have chosen to leave the country, citing a glass ceiling of prejudice, nagging questions about their security and a feeling of not belonging.


Credit…via Robert Howard

An online renaissance of ski ballet

Ballet skiing — think skiers in flamboyant jumpsuits performing choreographed routines to music — made its final showing at the Olympics in 1992. Today, it lives almost exclusively online. Videos both beautiful and strange show a sport that once existed on the edge of athletic and artistic innovation.

An outlet for the rebels and romantics of the ski world, ballet skiing gave rise not just to star athletes but also to artists keen to explore the porous boundary between dance and sport.

It began as part of a larger skiing revolution, rooted in the counterculture of the 1960s and ’70s, as athletes began questioning the restrictions of traditional alpine racing — the idea that skiers should go left, right, down and nowhere else. What about skiing backward? What about jumping, spinning or launching yourself off the snow humps created by other skiers?

“We brought music to the mountains,” said Genia Fuller, 67, a ballet skiing champion of the 1970s. “To be able to put on a show in that setting, and to get people to feel what you’re feeling through the music and the movement — well, dancers know. It’s an amazing feeling.”

Read more about the heyday of ski ballet.


What to Cook

Credit…Evan Sung for The New York Times

For Valentine’s Day, spoil someone special with this can’t-fail chocolate-oozing molten cake.

What to Read

A recommendation from the novelist Olga Tokarczuk: Leonora Carrington’s “The Hearing Trumpet.” “It’s an extraordinary surrealist tale,” she says.

What to Watch

Sensational streaming picks for lovers and loathers of Valentine’s Day alike.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.

And here is today’s Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. And a brief programming note: I am on vacation for the rest of the week, but my colleagues will be filling in on this briefing.

Thanks for starting your day with The Times. — Natasha

P.S. The “Modern Love” podcast, which is based on the Times column of the same name, is back for a new season.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about the American podcast host Joe Rogan.

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

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