Your Thursday Briefing: U.S. Responds to Russia

We’re covering the U.S. response to Russia’s security demands and the recapture of a Syrian prison from ISIS.

A delivery of defensive equipment provided by the U.S. arrived in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday.Credit…Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

U.S. responds to Russia’s demands

The U.S. and NATO gave formal responses on Wednesday to Russia’s demands that NATO pull back forces from Eastern Europe and bar Ukraine from ever joining the alliance. The U.S. response “sets out a serious diplomatic path forward should Russia choose it,” the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said.

Russia has insisted for weeks that the U.S. provide written responses before it would decide on its next course of action, while asserting that it had no plans to invade Ukraine. Blinken said he expected to speak in the coming days with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, once Russian officials are “ready to discuss next steps.”

The document has not been released publicly, but Blinken said it proposed “reciprocal transparency measures regarding force posture in Ukraine, as well as measures to increase confidence regarding military exercises and maneuvers in Europe” and nuclear arms control in Europe.

Blinken added that the response “reiterates publicly what we’ve said for many weeks” and that the U.S. would not rule out Ukraine’s membership in NATO in the future.

Sanctions against Putin: President Biden said on Tuesday that economic sanctions against Russia could target President Vladimir Putin personally, drawing a dismissive response from the Kremlin. Although Putin is believed to have amassed a great deal of personal wealth, it’s highly unlikely that any of it is in the U.S. A travel ban, experts said, would also have limited impact.

Diplomacy: Envoys from France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine met in Paris on Wednesday, but expectations of a breakthrough were low.

Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces on Tuesday at a prison in Hasaka, Syria. Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Kurdish militia retakes Syrian prison from ISIS

A Kurdish-led militia that had been fighting Islamic State members for control of a Syrian prison regained full control on Wednesday. The Kurdish-led group’s forces besieged the remaining ISIS militants into surrender, bringing to an end one of the most audacious attacks by Islamic State fighters in three years.

ISIS had attacked the prison, in the northeastern city of Hasaka, in a bid to free thousands of the group’s fighters taken captive as the caliphate fell apart, as well as about 700 boys whose families had joined the Islamic State. Officials deemed the boys dangerous, but human rights activists said their detention could violate international law and potentially radicalize them, creating a new generation of jihadists.

The prison siege highlighted a growing ISIS comeback.

Covid testing after Omicron cases were detected in Porto Alegre, Brazil, last week.Credit…Diego Vara/Reuters

After Omicron, another variant?

Global Covid surges caused by the Omicron variant appear to be cresting in some nations — particularly in Western Europe, the U.S. and South Africa — but new cases are still climbing in regions with low vaccination rates.

The vaccine gap could set the stage for another dangerous variant, according to the World Health Organization.

“The fact remains that more than three billion people haven’t received their first dose yet, so we have a long way to go,” Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, the agency’s Covid-19 technical lead, said this week.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the W.H.O., said that the emergency phase of the pandemic was still very much here.

“It’s dangerous to assume that Omicron will be the last variant or that we are in the endgame,” Tedros said at a W.H.O. executive board meeting on Monday. “On the contrary, globally, the conditions are ideal for more variants to emerge.”

Data: New daily cases remain at record highs globally, averaging about 3.4 million — an increase of more than 30 percent over two weeks, according to a Times database.

The divide: In low-income countries, only 10 percent of the population has received at least one vaccine dose. In high- and upper-middle-income countries, 78 percent have.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • Pfizer and BioNTech have begun a study of an Omicron-specific vaccine.

  • European nations are diverging in their Omicron approaches. Austria and England are throwing out many rules. Poland and Germany are tightening them.

  • South Korea is saving P.C.R. tests for high-risk groups.


Asia Pacific

Children with the Aboriginal flag at a demonstration in Sydney, Australia, on Wednesday.Credit…Steven Saphore/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
  • The Australian government bought the copyright to the Aboriginal flag, drawing criticism that ownership of the design belonged with Indigenous communities.

  • Ispace, a Japanese company, is pushing ahead with plans to launch a private moon lander by the end of 2022 — a year packed with other lunar missions.

  • Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s former president, all but vanished after violent protests this month. But his legacy has allowed the country’s wealth to remain concentrated in the hands of a few.

  • Fans and tennis players are shifting the spotlight back on Peng Shuai, months after the Chinese tennis star accused a former vice premier of sexual assault.

  • In women’s singles at the Australian Open, the unseeded Madison Keys will play Ashleigh Barty, the No. 1, in the semifinals. The tennis world is changing, writes our columnist, and may soon be free of the shadow cast by the biggest stars.

Around the World

Justice Stephen Breyer was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1994 by President Bill Clinton.Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times
  • Justice Stephen Breyer, the senior member of the U.S. Supreme Court’s three-member liberal wing, will retire, providing President Biden a chance to make good on his pledge to name a Black woman to the court.

  • Fed up with the failure of their government, and of France, to stop Islamist violence, some citizens of Burkina Faso are calling on Russia to intervene after a coup this week.

  • A Palestinian American who died this month after he was detained by Israeli soldiers suffered a heart attack as a result of injuries sustained while in custody, according to an autopsy report obtained by The Times.

  • The prospects of a U.S. Coast Guard rescue of 38 people believed to be part of a “human smuggling venture” appeared bleak, after their boat capsized off the coast of Florida.

  • Boeing reported a bruising $4.2 billion loss in the final three months of last year from prolonged delays in making and delivering its 787 Dreamliner jet.

Morning Reads

Songwriters signed to EKKO, a Korea-based music publisher with studios in Stockholm, are highly sought after. Credit…Felix Odell for The New York Times

Sweden’s song writers once dominated U.S. pop. Now, they’re writing for K-pop, even if they don’t speak Korean. For some Koreans, the reason is actually quite simple: Swedes write melodies that are so catchy, fans want to sing them at stadium shows and in karaoke bars.

Lives lived: Frank Dutton, one of South Africa’s most lauded police officials, took on apartheid’s crimes. He died at 72.


At Sophia Square in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday.Credit…Sean Gallup/Getty Images

How do you say Kyiv?

It is perhaps not the most important question regarding the international maelstrom currently brewing in Ukraine — but it is a common one, with an unexpectedly political answer: How do you pronounce the capital’s name, Kyiv?

Many Russian speakers favor the two-syllable “key-EV.” But the preferred pronunciation among Ukrainians is less commonly heard among English speakers. Marta Jenkala, who teaches Ukrainian language at University College London, has a tip: “It helps if you smile a little bit to say it, especially on the first syllable,” she said.

In 2019, Yuri Shevchuk, a lecturer in Ukrainian at Columbia University, told The Times that native Ukrainians stress the first vowel, and pronounce it like the “i” in “kid” or “lid.” The second vowel, pronounced as a separate syllable, sounds like the “ee” sound in “keel.”Listen to a recording here.

Andrii Smytsniuk, a Ukrainian who teaches Ukrainian and Russian at the University of Cambridge, would argue that people should pronounce it in a Ukrainian way “that is as close to the original as possible.” A good analogue is people’s names, he said, adding, “I think it makes sense to pronounce someone’s name the way the person would pronounce it.”


What to Cook

Credit…Kate Sears for The New York Times

Roasted mushrooms, sweet potatoes and poblano chiles become a comforting filling for this vegetarian burrito in just 30 minutes.

What to Watch

Mahershala Ali plays not one but two main characters in the sci-fi drama “Swan Song” — a dying man and his clone.


Why does alcohol mess with your sleep? It has to do with sleep fragmentation.


Our columnist tried the Oura Ring, a health-monitoring device worn on a finger as if it were a piece of jewelry, and found it was too flawed to recommend.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Happy tail movements (four letters).

And here is today’s Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. See you next time. — Melina

P.S. Mohammed Hadi, who has worked in Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore and New York, has been named as The Times’s new deputy business editor.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about Covid and partisanship in the U.S.

Natasha Frost wrote the Arts and Ideas section. You can reach Melina and the team at [email protected].

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