Biden warns Putin against threatening Ukraine
In a tense, two-hour video conference yesterday, President Biden warned Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader, that an invasion of Ukraine would result in heavy economic penalties for Russia and lead NATO to reposition its troops in Europe. It could also end Russia’s hopes of completing the Nord Stream II gas pipeline to Europe, he said.
It is too early to tell whether the much-anticipated conversation will alleviate the immediate crisis in Ukraine, where roughly 70,000 Russian troops have massed, with more equipment and personnel arriving every day. Not surprisingly, both sides portrayed their leaders as resolute. Here are five takeaways from the call.
The potential penalties for Russia include blocking Russian companies’ access to global capital markets and financial penalties aimed at the Russian elite. The most extreme step would be to cut off Russia from the global financial settlement system called SWIFT.
A $400 million global vaccine program
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 for poor and wealthy countries, experts said: The longer the virus circulates across the world, the more dangerous its variants can become.
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 help countries manufacture vaccines locally. The new funds are in addition to $1.3 billion already committed.
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:
Britain tightened travel restrictions on visitors as hundreds more cases of the Omicron variant were found there.
A report in South Africa found that Omicron seems to dull the power of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine but also hinted that people who had received booster shots might be better protected.
The U.S. surgeon general warned of a “devastating” mental health crisis, made worse by the pandemic, among young people.
Ethiopian government makes gains in civil war
Ethiopian forces recaptured two strategic towns — Dessie and Kombolcha — from rebel fighters this week, the government said, the latest in a string of victories that signaled that the government was regaining its footing on the battlefield after months of major defeats in a 14-month civil war. The fighting has claimed thousands of lives and has displaced upward of two million people.
The towns are on a crucial highway that connects the landlocked nation to the ports of neighboring Djibouti in the east, where the majority of Ethiopia’s exports and imports are handled. The towns are also on an artery that connects to the highway running south to the capital.
The recent claims of battlefield victories amount to a reversal of fortune for the government. Just a month ago, Abiy Ahmed, the Ethiopian prime minister, declared a state of emergency, and he later went to the battlefront himself to help stave off the Tigrayan rebels who were advancing on the capital, Addis Ababa.
Quotable: “Nothing will stop us,” Abiy said on Monday. “The enemy will be destroyed.”
Intervention: Because of the continuing conflict, at least 9.4 million people are in need of food assistance across northern Ethiopia. Urgent calls for a cease-fire and efforts by the U.N. and African and Western countries to start political dialogue have yet to yield any results.
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Other Big Stories
Masked men, a metal bar, an arrested teammate: The assault on a top women’s soccer player in France made headlines. But new details, including marital infidelity and menacing phone calls, cast doubt on the original story.
Ten firsts of 2021
We rounded up 21 things that happened for the first time this year, some surprising trends, others serious events. Here’s an excerpt, or see the full list.
1. The World Trade Organization was led by an African woman.
2. A purely digital artwork sold at auction for millions.
3. A human brain was wirelessly connected to a computer via a transmitter device.
4. Mexico elected its first transgender lawmakers.
5. The world’s first 3-D-printed school opened in Malawi.
6. El Salvador became the first country to make Bitcoin a national currency.
7. NASA’s Perseverance rover made oxygen on Mars.
8. National Geographic cartographers recognized the Southern Ocean as the world’s fifth ocean.
9. SpaceX launched the first all-civilian crew into space.
10. Sales of zero-emission vehicles surpassed diesel sales in Europe.
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That’s it for today’s briefing. Thanks for joining me. — Natasha
P.S. Time magazine named “Sway,” Kara Swisher’s Times Opinion podcast, one of this year’s 10 best podcasts.
The latest episode of “The Daily” is about prosecuting school shootings.
You can reach Natasha and the team at email@example.com.