Your Wednesday Briefing

We’re covering President Biden’s virtual meeting with Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, and an American investment in a global vaccination program.

After speaking with Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Biden was expected to hold a call with European allies.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Biden warns Putin against threatening Ukraine

President Biden spoke with President Vladimir Putin of Russia via video chat and warned him that there would be economic consequences if he continued to increase Russia’s troop presence around Ukraine, according to the White House.

The meeting came at a high-stakes moment as tens of thousands of Russian troops have gathered along the Ukrainian border, raising fears of an invasion. Biden has tasked himself with protecting Ukraine, a democratic ally whose security U.S. officials have promised to defend.

Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, declined to go into detail about the consequences facing Russia.

“I will look you in the eye and tell you as President Biden looked President Putin in the eye and told him today that things we did not do in 2014, we are prepared to do now,” Sullivan said. In 2014, Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

On the ground: Ukrainian soldiers have seen little evidence of escalation, but after eight years in the trenches, they wearily anticipate that the Russian military will come sooner or later.

Related: U.S. officials told Congress that Germany had agreed to shut down its gas pipeline that runs through Russia if Putin’s troops invade Ukraine, according to Reuters.

A health care center in Juba, South Sudan.Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

A $400 million global vaccine program

Amid rising fears of the Omicron coronavirus variant and criticism of Western vaccine hoarding, the U.S. announced a plan to spend $400 million to deliver vaccines globally and help “overcome vaccine access barriers.”

The proposed spending is an important step, public health experts said, for both poor countries and wealthy countries. The longer the virus circulates across the world, the more dangerous its variants can become.

“It’s not nearly enough to vastly ramp up global vaccination, but it’s a milestone,” Lawrence Gostin, a Georgetown University law professor who specializes in public health, said.

Three-quarters of the money will go toward administering vaccines in remote territories and helping countries with vaccine policies and supply chain logistics, officials said. The rest will be used to target surges in cases and to help countries manufacture vaccines locally.

The new program comes amid criticism that Covax, the U.N.-backed multibillion-dollar alliance, has not met its goal to acquire doses for poor countries after months of missteps and disappointments.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other virus developments:

  • Researchers in South Africa, where the Omicron variant is spreading quickly, say it may cause less serious Covid cases than other forms of the virus, but it is unclear whether that will hold true.

  • New Covid pills are coming soon.

  • Britain tightened travel restrictions on visitors as hundreds more cases of the Omicron variant were found there.

A vigil for Jamal Khashoggi in front of the Saudi Embassy in Washington in 2019.Credit…Sarah Silbiger/Reuters

An arrest connected to the Khashoggi killing

The French police arrested a Saudi man thought to be involved in the assassination of the dissident writer Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, but the authorities warned that they were still verifying his identity.

The man, Khalid Alotaibi, 33, was arrested at the Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport north of Paris just before he was to board a flight for Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Turkey had issued an international arrest warrant because a man by that name is accused of being a member of the team that killed Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

A Saudi official said the arrest was a case of mistaken identity.

The Turkish trial of the Khashoggi killing has moved slowly, primarily because Saudi Arabia has refused to hand over any of the accused. Alotaibi, who would probably be extradited to Turkey if his identity was confirmed, would be the first of the murder suspects to be tried in person outside Saudi Arabia.

Context: In February, President Biden allowed the release of a report that concluded that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia had approved the plan to capture or kill Khashoggi. The Saudis have insisted that it was a rogue operation.


Asia Pacific

A man sold vegetables at a market in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in October.Credit…Allison Joyce/Getty Images
  • Farmers in Sri Lanka said a ban on chemical fertilizers caused a sharp drop in crop yields and spiraling prices that have worsened the country’s economic woes.

  • The death toll from a volcanic eruption last weekend in Indonesia rose to 34, as rescuers tried to dig out survivors buried under ash.

  • As the U.S. prepares to host a “summit for democracy” this week, China has countered with an improbable claim: It’s a democracy, too.

  • Chinese government officials are stepping in to help restructure Evergrande, the indebted property giant, a move that has reassured investors.

  • Several countries have signaled plans to protest China’s human rights abuses at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, but it’s unclear how many will declare a diplomatic boycott as the U.S. did.

Around the World

  • As the clean energy revolution upends the lock of fossil fuels on the global economy, dealmakers and hustlers converge on a five-star hotel in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

  • Ethiopia’s government said it recaptured two strategic towns from rebel fighters, the latest in a string of victories after months of defeats in the yearlong civil war.

  • Olaf Scholz will be sworn in today as Germany’s ninth postwar chancellor. He is hoping to win back working-class voters who have defected to the populist far right.

  • Lawmakers in Chile legalized same-sex marriage, a landmark victory for activists that underscores a profound shift in the country’s politics over the last decade.

A Morning Read

The assault of a French soccer player in a Paris suburb lasted only a minute.Credit…James Hill for The New York Times

The assault of a top women’s soccer player in France made headlines, with masked men, a metal bar, and a teammate arrested. But as details emerge — about marital infidelity; about accusations implicating other members of the team; about reports of menacing phone calls to players disparaging the victim before she was attacked — the truth is elusive.


Benedict Cumberbatch in “The Power of the Dog,” left, Kristen Stewart in “Spencer” and Ariana DeBose in “West Side Story.”Credit…From left: Kirsty Griffin/Netflix; Pablo Larrain/Neon; Niko Tavernise/20th Century Studios

The best movies of 2021

The Times’s chief film critics, A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis, put together their picks — films that, in the words of Scott, “reward your attention, engage your feelings and respect your intelligence.” Here’s a selection.

“Summer of Soul,” a music documentary by Questlove, features footage from a series of open-air concerts in Harlem in 1969 along with interviews with musicians and audience members. It’s “a shot of pure joy,” Scott writes.

Dargis recommends watching “The Power of the Dog,” Jane Campion’s long-awaited western, especially on the big screen. “Like all the movies I love, ‘The Power of the Dog’ got under my skin,” she writes. “I watched it, fell into it, felt it. And like all the movies I care most about, it is far more than the sum of its finely shaped story parts.”

With “West Side Story,” Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner — and an energetic young cast of Jets and Sharks — pulled off a surprising cinematic coup. “Respecting the artistry and good intentions of the original stage musical, they turned it into something urgent, modern and exciting,” Scott writes.

Read more about the year’s best movies.


What to Cook

Credit…Johnny Miller for The New York Times

Andouille sausage, white beans and collard greens are not typically used in pasta, but this dish may become part of your regular rotation.

What to Read

“The Anomaly,” by Hervé Le Tellier, about the mysterious fate of a flight from Paris to New York, marries high entertainment with serious literature.


How many hours of sleep do we need? Not too much, not too little.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Abate (five 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. — Matthew

P.S. Ellen Barry, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Times correspondent, is joining the Science desk to report on mental health.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about prosecuting school shootings.

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

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