Your Thursday Briefing

A Ukrainian soldier this week on the front line of Katerynivka, in eastern Ukraine. Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Russia and Iran’s show of unity against the U.S.

At a meeting in Moscow yesterday, Vladimir Putin and Ebrahim Raisi, the leaders of Russia and Iran, sought to showcase tightening bonds between two countries with a common adversary: the U.S. Now is the time to take on “the power of the Americans with an increased synergy between our two countries,” Raisi told Putin.

The meeting comes as the U.S. prepares for a potential invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Speaking at the White House, President Biden said that he expected Putin to act imminently, even if it did not amount to a full-scale invasion of the country. “My guess is he will move in,” he said. “He has to do something.” This map shows how Russian troops are threatening Ukraine.

Antony Blinken, the U.S. secretary of state, will meet with Russia’s foreign minister on Friday. He warned that Russia could attack Ukraine “on very short notice” and warned of “confrontation and consequences for Russia” if it were to do so. Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister, disputed the assertion. “We will not attack, strike, invade, quote unquote, whatever, Ukraine,” he said.

Aid for Ukraine: It was not clear if Blinken had offered concrete measures to help Ukraine, but the Biden administration has approved an additional $200 million in defensive security aid. That money comes in addition to $450 million in such aid that the U.S. provided Ukraine in the last fiscal year.

Tourists watching the sunset on Lanzarote, Spain, one of the Canary Islands.Credit…Samuel Aranda for The New York Times

Despite Omicron, tourists flock to Spain

The Omicron variant of the coronavirus has sent infections and hospitalizations soaring in Spain. Yet tourists remain undeterred, in part because unlike some of its neighbors, Spain does not require a negative test to enter the country. And its message to tourists has remained largely the same as before the surge in cases: Please come.

Like other countries, Spain is trying to balance how much economic pain it can tolerate as it tries to keep its people safe. Before the pandemic, tourism accounted for roughly 12.4 percent of the country’s economic output. Memories of recent financial ruin are especially raw. The Spanish economy contracted more than 11 percent in 2020 — the worst decline since the Civil War of the 1930s.

Though Spain has introduced some restrictions, the government has indicated that it is not likely to impose more. Pedro Sánchez, the prime minister, said that the country should accept that the virus had become a fact of life. “We are going to have to learn to live with it as we do with many other viruses,” he said.

By the numbers: Western European countries now have some of the highest infection rates in the world. In Spain, new cases rocketed from an average of fewer than 2,000 a day in early November to more than 130,000 daily in the past week.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • Almost all remaining Covid restrictions in England will end starting next week.

  • The Biden administration will make 400 million nonsurgical N95 masks available, free of charge, across the U.S.

Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s former prime minister.Credit…Claudio Furlan/LaPresse, via Associated Press

Berlusconi angles for Italy’s presidency

Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s billionaire former prime minister, is working hard to persuade lawmakers to vote for him for the country’s presidency next week, despite an unusual résumé for a job resting on moral authority. This career-culminating position as the country’s head of state could allow him to wash away decades of stains — his allies say unjustly thrown mud — and rewrite his legacy.

The Italian presidency is a seven-year position usually filled by a figure of unimpeachable integrity and sobriety. The current holder, Sergio Mattarella, is a quiet statesman whose brother was murdered by the mob. Mario Draghi, the prime minister and a titan of European politics, is yet another contender.

But Berlusconi’s conflicts of interest, judicial problems and past behavior, including a conviction for tax fraud and investigations over mob links, made him less than an excellent candidate, said Emma Bonino, a veteran Italian politician who once ran for the office herself. “I don’t think he would give a good image of our country in the world,” she said.

Official remarks: Behind the scenes, Berlusconi is working the phones and laying on the charm, upping his Christmas-gift game from ties to framed oil paintings. Amid speculation that he might drop out of the race, he issued a statement: “I haven’t decided. I’m an optimist.”


Around the World

Credit…Tonga Geological Services, via Reuters
  • The explosion of the Hunga volcano, near Tonga, appeared to be the world’s largest such event in three decades. Tongans now face weeks of being digitally cut off from the world, as the country awaits repairs for an undersea cable that connects it to the internet.

  • The Israeli police evicted two more Palestinian families from their homes in a flash-point area of East Jerusalem.

  • New footage obtained by The Times shows the botched U.S. drone strike that killed 10 civilians in Afghanistan in August.

  • Well over 90 percent of Taiwan’s people trace their roots to mainland China, but more than ever, they are embracing an identity that is distinctly Taiwanese.

News From Europe

Credit…Norwegian Polar Institute and Emily Geyman et al., Nature
  • Using more than 5,500 photos of the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard from the 1930s, scientists are creating digital models of glaciers there to see how they have changed.

  • A court in Ukraine ruled that Petro Poroshenko, a former president, could be released while awaiting trial, declining a request from the government to arrest him.

  • Eighteen people were convicted by a Belgian court in the case of a human trafficking operation that resulted in the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants in 2019.

From the U.S.

  • Democratic senators pleaded today for the passing of far-reaching federal voting rights protections, and party leaders announced that they would mount a long-shot effort to establish an exception to the filibuster to pass it.

  • President Biden, in his first news conference in 10 months, suggested he would break up his climate and social spending bill to improve its chances of passing.

  • The New York attorney general accused the Trump Organization of repeatedly misrepresenting the value of its assets.

A Morning Read

Credit…Riccardo Antimiani/EPA, via Shutterstock

It was heralded as the real estate deal of the century: a 30,000-square-foot 16th-century villa in downtown Rome complete with a masterpiece painted on its ceiling — by Caravaggio — at a cool asking price of 471 million euros, or $533 million.

Yet when the Villa Aurora went up for auction on Tuesday, there were no offers at the minimum bidding price. Now, an online petition is calling on Italy’s culture ministry to buy the villa, which returns to the block on April 7, with its price slashed by 20 percent to a mere €377 million.

Lives Lived

André Leon Talley, a larger-than-life fashion editor who went from the racially segregated U.S. South to the front rows of Paris couture, died at 73.


Credit…Cedrine Scheidig for The New York Times

The man who makes clowns cry

Philippe Gaulier has taught clowns for about half a century. Alumni of his school who have weathered his process — which is characterized by blunt, flamboyantly negative feedback — include Sacha Baron Cohen, Emma Thompson and Kathryn Hunter.

The criticisms might include “You sound like overcooked spaghetti in a pressure cooker” or “You are a very good clown for my grandmother.” He frequently focuses on the eyes. “If you are funny,” he told me, “you have funny eyes.”

Compared to other clowning teachers, Gaulier, who is French, does not emphasize technique or physical virtuosity. He aims for something more intangible, a sense of play onstage. The most important quality in a clown is keeping things light and present and, as he says with the utmost respect, stupid.

Finding “your idiot,” as he calls it, is the essence of clowning. “A clown is a special kind of idiot, absolutely different and innocent,” he said. “A marvelous idiot.”


What to Cook

Credit…Chris Granger

The dish has the feel of chicken cacciatore, but its use of olives, salami and fennel brings more complexity.

What to Read

“Last Resort” is an entertaining debut novel about an aspiring author’s ethically questionable path to publication.

Phys Ed

Should you be exercising in the morning or the evening? New research suggests we can use the timing of our workouts to achieve specific health goals.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Spanish boys (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. Bryan Washington and Ligaya Mishan are The New York Times Magazine’s newest Eat columnists.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about voting rights in the U.S.

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

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