Your Wednesday Briefing: Russia’s Military Drills

We’re covering Russia’s military drills and relaxed rules for E.U. travelers.

Russian soldiers during a military exercise at the Golovenki training ground in the Moscow region.Credit…Alexei Ivanov/Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, via Associated Press

Ukraine diplomacy stalls as Russia holds military drills

Russia on Tuesday announced a flurry of military drills across its vast territory, spanning from the Pacific Ocean to its western flank near Ukraine. They include joint drills with the Chinese fleet in the Arabian Sea.

The announcement followed a series of military moves made by the U.S. and NATO this week aimed at deterring a Russian incursion into Ukraine.

Russia is blaming the U.S. for the escalation and insists that it has no plans to invade Ukraine. The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, said the U.S. and NATO were orchestrating “information hysteria” about Ukraine by reporting “lies” and “fakes.”

Military moves: Russia’s drills involved tanks, drones, paratroopers and ships. In a part of Belarus close to Ukraine, Russian troops disembarked heavy-duty armored vehicles and other equipment before joint drills with Belarusian forces. In Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, Russian tanks launched planned shooting exercises.

Diplomatic moves: Nonmilitary solutions remain possible.

Gas worries: The U.S. is working with Middle Eastern, North African and Asian gas suppliers to bolster supplies to Europe in case Russia cuts off fuel shipments.

On the front lines: Soldiers in Ukraine are anxious about how and when a war with Russia might start.

Passengers last month at the Berlin Brandenburg airport in Germany.Credit…Clemens Bilan/EPA, via Shutterstock

E.U. to loosen Covid travel rules for residents

The European Union will relax its travel rules for residents vaccinated against the coronavirus, as well as those who can prove recent infection.

The bloc recommended on Tuesday that E.U. residents traveling through the 27 member states who have been vaccinated in the past nine months or recovered from the coronavirus should not face additional restrictions like testing or quarantine.

The new rules, set to go into effect Feb. 1, were the latest indication that the bloc is accepting Covid as a part of everyday life, a day after the W.H.O. said that the spread of the Omicron variant could change the pandemic from overwhelming to manageable.

“Omicron offers plausible hope for stabilization and normalization,” Dr. Hans Kluge, the W.H.O. director for Europe, said.

But the bloc recommended additional restrictions for people who are not vaccinated or have not recovered from the virus, and who are coming from high-risk areas. To encourage booster shots, the bloc also said that proof of two-dose vaccinations would expire after nine months. So far, slightly over 40 percent of the bloc’s residents have received an extra dose.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

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

  • Experts advising the Israeli government recommended offering a fourth vaccine dose to people 18 and over.

  • Covid cases have emerged in China’s Olympics bubble.

  • Twenty-three people aboard an Australian aid ship headed for Tonga tested positive for Covid.

  • The International Monetary Fund reduced its estimated global growth rate for 2022 to 4.4 percent from 4.9 percent, citing economic slowdowns in China and the U.S.

U.S. and Syrian-Kurdish forces in the city of Hasaka, Syria, on Monday.Credit…Ahmed Mardnli/EPA, via Shutterstock

Fighting spreads between Syrian forces and ISIS

Fighting between a Kurdish-led, U.S.-backed militia and Islamic State militants spilled into neighborhoods around an embattled prison in northeastern Syria on Tuesday.

The Sinaa prison in the city of Hasaka holds 3,500 ISIS prisoners. The evidence of a resurgence of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq is mounting by the day, and the prison is at the center of the biggest confrontation between the American military and ISIS in three years.

ISIS militants have been trying to break out the prisoners since Thursday. They used suicide bombers to blow open the gates and seized control of about a quarter of the facility.

By Tuesday, ISIS attackers still controlled part of the prison, even after the U.S. sent in ground troops and air support for the Kurdish-led forces trying to take it back.

Background: The prisoners include boys as young as 12 — some of the thousands of foreign children brought to the Islamic State caliphate in Syria by their parents.


Asia Pacific

Thousands of Afghans waited outside Kabul’s airport in August.Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times
  • Afghan counterterrorism squads trained by the C.I.A. — among the last allies to be evacuated before the Taliban took over their country in August — are still waiting to reach the U.S.

  • Why is North Korea launching so many missiles? Kim Jong-un, the country’s leader, may be trying to gain Washington’s attention as the U.S. focuses on other global issues.

  • A U.S. Navy fighter jet accident in the South China Sea injured seven American sailors and led to the pilot ejecting from his F-35 jet on Monday.

  • Here’s how Australia’s prime minister lost control of his WeChat account.

  • Rafael Nadal beat Denis Shapovalov to reach the Australian Open semifinals. Nadal is two wins away from setting a record for Grand Slam singles titles.

Around the World

Drivers were stuck on the main Athens ring road on Monday. The heavy snowfall lasted more than 12 hours.Credit…Stelios Misinas/Reuters
  • A rare snowstorm in Greece had emergency services scrambling to rescue people stranded in their cars in Athens.

  • Mayors around the U.S. are trying to incorporate cryptocurrency into governing and public projects.

  • An M.I.T. scientist was cleared of charges that he hid links to China. But the damage has lingered.

  • The first time anyone from the Syrian regime was judged guilty of its crimes was in a German court. Here’s what the historic verdict means for Syrians, and global human rights.

  • 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 Morning Read

Horses are much-loved pets and companions throughout Wales.

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 by giving them new jobs.


Mirabel, center, voiced by Stephanie Beatriz, is the non-magical member of the Madrigal family in “Encanto,” the new animated Disney film.Credit…Disney

Disney’s pop hit

The soundtrack to Disney’s “Encanto” has hit the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s album chart for a second time. If you don’t live with young children, this may be surprising. If you do, you may 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 salsa, bachata, hip-hop and Broadway. (A Times review called the film “brilliant.”)

Leading the way is the single “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” which reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart yesterday. That makes it Disney’s biggest hit in decades, outperforming “Let It Go” from “Frozen.” TikTok has contributed to its success, with people singing along or acting out moments from the song. “I could look at the TikToks all day,” Jared Bush, one of the film’s directors, told The Times.

For more: The Wall Street Journal explained what it took to translate “Bruno” into more than 40 languages.


What to Cook

Credit…Ryan Liebe for The New York Times

Leftovers from this Singaporean chicken curry — part of the multicultural feast of Lunar New Year on the island nation — will taste even better the next day.

What to Watch

In “Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes,” a time-travel comedy by Junta Yamaguchi, a cafe owner and his friends discover a portal that allows them to see two minutes into the future.

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: Awards show host (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. — Melina

P.S. The Times announced new members of our editing residency program.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about Boris Johnson’s scandals.

Tom Wright-Piersanti wrote the Arts and Ideas section. You can reach Melina and the team at [email protected].

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