Monday Briefing: Ukraine Steps Up Sabotage

A photo Russia released last month purporting to show the site of a derailed train.Credit…Investigative Committee of Russia, via Associated Press

Ukraine steps up sabotage, targeting trains

As Russia and Ukraine each fail to make substantial advances at the front in their war, Ukraine has been turning to guerrilla tactics, including sabotage, assassinations and the targeting of Russian trains and train tunnels.

On Nov. 29, Ukrainian saboteurs placed explosives on a Russian freight train roughly 3,000 miles from the Ukrainian border, in an attempt to damage an important tunnel through the Severomuysky mountains. After an explosion rocked the tunnel, Russian officials said the blast had been caused by “the detonation of an unidentified explosive device.”Ukrainian partisans also said that they had blown up a freight train last month as it was transporting ammunition and fuel from Russian-occupied Crimea.

Russia is using similar tactics. Last month, the Polish authorities convicted 14 people on charges of sabotage under the direction of Russian intelligence, Polish officials said. Their main targets were trains transporting military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, officials said.

Elsewhere in the war:

Russia pummeled Kharkiv, an eastern Ukrainian city, with missiles and drones leading up to New Year’s Eve.

Just days after invading Ukraine, Vladimir Putin, president of Russia, signed a sweeping censorship law to silence wartime dissent. The law has led to more than 6,500 cases of people being arrested or fined, according to a Times analysis through last August.

Looking out at the U.S.S. Eisenhower in the Persian Gulf in November.Credit…US Navy, via Associated Press

U.S. sinks three Houthi boats in the Red Sea

U.S. military helicopters yesterday came under fire from Iranian-backed Houthi fighters in the Red Sea and shot back, sinking three Houthi boats and killing those aboard, U.S. Central Command said.

The episode was a significant escalation in the Houthis’ attacks in the Red Sea, where they have launched dozens of missile and drone assaults against commercial ships in response to Israel’s war against Hamas. It was the first time since the Israel-Hamas war began that the Yemen-based Houthis were known to directly target U.S. forces, which were deployed to the region to protect vessels in the waterway.

Israel: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel rebuffed growing international pressure to stop the fighting in Gaza, vowing on Saturday to continue until “absolute victory.”

Hostages: Mia Schem was held in Gaza for 55 days. Her interviews and written account offer the most detailed look at what life was like in captivity.

Plantation workers preparing pineapple crowns for planting in Bukidnon, Philippines.Credit…Jes Aznar for The New York Times

The colonial roots of Philippine poverty

Decades after the Philippines gained its independence from the U.S., tens of millions of landless Filipinos are facing desperation that stems in part from policies imposed by the powers that controlled the archipelago for centuries.

Policies engineered to make the country dependent on American factory goods have left the Philippines without a strong industrial base or the kind of factory economy that has lifted up other Asian nations. Instead, the U.S. left in place systems that favor wealthy families who control the plantations and political sphere, leaving landless people at their mercy.


Around the World

Gen. Li Shangfu, China’s former defense minister, in June at a security forum in Singapore.Credit…Caroline Chia/Reuters
  • China appointed a naval commander as its minister of defense, which could calm uncertainty after the unexplained disappearance of the previous minister.

  • Federal prosecutors asked an appeals court to reject Donald Trump’s claims that he is immune from criminal charges of plotting to overturn the 2020 election.

  • Retired U.S. officers and departing defense officials are flocking to investment firms that are pushing the government to provide more money to defense-technology startups.

Other Big Stories

  • Several major news publishers have been in talks to license content to the creator of ChatGPT, but agreement on the price and terms has been elusive.

  • Apps that remotely track and control cars are being weaponized by abusive partners.

A Morning Read

Carlos Nuñez, an inmate, with a cat he named Feita, or Ugly.Credit…Cristobal Olivares for The New York Times

In Chile’s oldest and most overcrowded prison, the men live in cages, but hundreds of cats roam free. To prison officials, the cats were a peculiarity of sorts, and mostly ignored. Then they realized something: The feline residents were not only good for the rat problem. They were also good for the inmates.

Lives lived: Tom Wilkinson, known for his performances in movies including “Michael Clayton” and “The Full Monty,” has died at 75.


When pop stars mess with the past

Musicians keep being tempted to revisit recordings they made long ago, and in 2023, flashbacks from the Beatles and Taylor Swift drew worldwide attention. New tools allow artists to put a shiny new spin on old or previously unreleased tracks, and its easier to market something familiar.

But an update isn’t necessarily an improvement, our music critic Jon Pareles writes, and most efforts from 2023 delivered diminished returns.

Of course, there’s an outlier and counterexample to leaving the past alone. This year, the Replacements released a full-length remix of the band’s 1985 album “Tim.” Jon argues that it’s the rare case where second thoughts can change things for the better.


Credit…Christopher Testani for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Cyd Raftus McDowell.

Cook: These are our Food editors’ favorite air fryer recipes.

Read: “Penning Poison,” a history of anonymous letters, reveals the ways we’ve been torturing one another, verbally, for centuries.

Watch: Jean-Luc Godard’s look at the Rolling Stones is among this month’s best documentaries to stream.

Learn: Here are 72 of our favorite facts that appeared in articles this year.

Play Spelling Bee, the Mini Crossword, Wordle and Sudoku. Find all our games here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. See you tomorrow. — Justin

P.S. After The Times announced that Tracy Bennett would become Wordle’s first editor, her life took a public turn.

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