Your Tuesday Briefing

About 8,500 American troops have been put on “high alert” for possible deployment.Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

U.S. troops may be deployed to Eastern Europe

The Pentagon announced yesterday that it had put 8,500 American troops on “high alert” for possible deployment to Eastern Europe, as NATO and the U.S. braced for a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine. “It’s very clear the Russians have no intention right now of de-escalating,” John F. Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said.

Most of the 8,500 troops would take part in a NATO response force that might soon be activated, Kirby said. The remaining personnel would be part of a specific U.S. response to the deepening crisis, Defense Department officials said, most likely to provide assurance to American allies in Eastern Europe who fear that Russia’s plans for Ukraine could extend to the Baltics and other countries in NATO’s so-called eastern flank.

The Biden administration continues to insist that the U.S. does not intend to go to war with Russia over the issue. Since Ukraine is not in NATO, the alliance is not bound by its treaty to come to Ukraine’s defense. But Russia’s buildup of troops on Ukraine’s border and NATO’s response have nonetheless raised the specter of a war that could escalate and widen.

NATO: Some member countries are putting their forces on standby and sending additional ships and fighter jets to Eastern Europe to reassure allies in the region, as Britain joined the U.S. in ordering families of diplomats out of Ukraine, citing “the growing threat from Russia.”

Analysis: Here how U.S. and Russian diplomats could avert a war.

A Covid-19 intensive care unit in Cremona, Italy, this month.Credit…Miguel Medina/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Omicron could lead to ‘stabilization,’ W.H.O. says

The rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus offers “plausible hope for stabilization and normalization” in the coming months, thanks to natural immunity through infections as well as vaccinations, Dr. Hans Kluge, the top W.H.O. official in Europe, said in a statement released yesterday.

Dr. Kluge warned, however, that it was too early for nations to drop their guard, with so many people unvaccinated around the world. “The pandemic is far from over, but I am hopeful we can end the emergency phase in 2022 and address other health threats that urgently require our attention,” Dr. Kluge wrote, adding, “It is far too early to relax.”

As nurses and doctors around the world struggle with Omicron cases, evolutionary biologists are engaged in a struggle of their own: figuring out how the variant came to be. Earlier variants differed from the original Wuhan version of the coronavirus by a dozen or two mutations. Omicron has 53 — 13 of which are rarely, if ever, found in other coronaviruses.

Global trends: The U.S. reported a steady decrease in cases over the past week, to a daily average of about 690,000 new cases on Sunday. Cases in Western Europe appear to be plateauing, while Eastern Europe is still facing surges.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • Britain’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, suffered a fresh blow when it emerged that a birthday celebration had been held for him while strict coronavirus restrictions were in force.

  • Germans are protesting their country’s plan to make vaccination mandatory.

  • Sarah Palin’s defamation trial against The Times was postponed after she tested positive for the coronavirus.

  • The U.N. called setbacks to schooling during the pandemic “nearly insurmountable,” and said that hundreds of millions of children worldwide, especially those in poor countries, had lost basic numeracy and literacy skills.

Crowds cheering the military takeover in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, yesterday.Credit…Malin Fezehai for The New York Times

The military seizes power in Burkina Faso

The military seized power in Burkina Faso yesterday, ousting Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, the country’s democratically elected president, after mutinous soldiers stormed his home. It is the latest in a series of military coups in sub-Saharan African countries struggling to beat back a rising tide of Islamist violence.

Kaboré had been leading Burkina Faso, a poor and landlocked country of 21 million people in Western Africa, since 2015. But he faced growing criticism from soldiers and civilians over his government’s failure to stem militant attacks that have destabilized broad parts of Burkina Faso, displaced 1.4 million people and caused 2,000 deaths last year alone.

The coup was announced on state television by a fresh-faced officer who said that the military had suspended the Constitution and dissolved the government, and that it was closing Burkina Faso’s borders until further notice. He introduced Lt. Col. Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, a top commander, as the country’s new leader.

Kaboré: The spokesman gave no indication of the president’s whereabouts, saying only that he had been captured “without bloodshed” alongside other civilian leaders and that he was being kept “in a secure place.” But there were signs that the ousted president did not go easily.


Around the World

Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times
  • Despite the risk of arrests or beatings, Afghan women are protesting the Taliban.

  • Western diplomats began talks with the Taliban in Norway over Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis. Norwegian officials said that the talks were not a recognition of the new government’s legitimacy.

  • The U.S. intervened to help thwart an attack on the United Arab Emirates, amid rising tensions between the Gulf state and Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

  • The Dutch police said that a man who had stowed himself away in the front wheel section of a cargo plane survived the flight, which landed in Amsterdam on Sunday morning.

  • Saad Hariri, a former prime minister of Lebanon, announced that he was leaving political life amid a grave economic crisis.

Other Big Stories

Credit…Henry Nicholls/Reuters
  • A British court ruled that the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can appeal a decision that would allow for his extradition to the U.S., where he would face charges under the Espionage Act.

  • The stock market had a tumultuous day, as the S&P 500 fell almost 4 percent and then fully recovered.

  • Police culture in the U.S. is being heavily scrutinized in the trial of three officers who were at the scene when George Floyd was killed.

Science and Research

  • The James Webb Space Telescope arrived at its new home nearly one million miles from Earth, where it will study light from the beginning of time.

  • A year of cash payments to poor mothers increased their babies’ brain function, a study found.

  • Researchers have begun to decipher how hippopotamuses communicate by playing recordings of “wheeze honks” to pods of the animals to see how they respond. Take a listen.

A Morning Read

Credit…Claire Thomas for The New York Times

A longstanding source of local pride and affection, Welsh mountain ponies have seen many of their traditional roles vanish. A new initiative aims to ensure their continued survival.


Disney’s pop hit

The soundtrack to Disney’s “Encanto” has hit the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s top albums chart for a second time. If you don’t live with young children, this might be surprising. If you do, you might wonder: “Only twice?”

“Encanto” is an animated movie about a family in Colombia with magical powers, featuring a soundtrack by Lin-Manuel Miranda. The songs are classic Disney fare, fused with Latin-American musical styles and Miranda’s Broadway and hip-hop sensibilities.

Leading the way is the single “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” which recently reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart — higher even than “Let It Go” from “Frozen” reached. TikTok has helped, with people singing along or acting out moments from the song for millions of viewers.

“I could look at the TikToks all day,” Jared Bush, one of the film’s directors, told The Times. “Everyone is finding a different entry point, whether it’s a specific moment or character dynamic. There’s something in it for everybody and, honestly, it’s just delicious.”


What to Cook

Credit…Ryan Liebe for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne.

Leftovers from this Singaporean chicken curry will taste even better the next day.

Life Hacks

Here’s how to clean and reuse N95 masks.

What to Read

In “Devil House,” a novel by John Darnielle, a true-crime writer moves into a house where notorious murders occurred decades earlier.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Traditional Jewish turnover (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. Times Insider covered the second life of a former New York Times printing plant.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about the Paralympian Marieke Vervoort, who underwent euthanasia in Belgium.

Tom Wright-Piersanti wrote today’s Arts and Ideas. You can reach Natasha and the team at [email protected].

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