Your Friday Briefing

A Ukrainian soldier in Donetsk, Ukraine.Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Russia closes in on Ukraine

The Kremlin is tightening its military vise on Ukraine, as thousands of Russian troops yesterday began 10 days of exercises in Belarus. Ukraine also warned of upcoming Russian naval drills so extensive that they would block shipping lanes. Aside from Belarus, satellite images revealed deployments of Russian military equipment and troops in Crimea and western Russia.

In Moscow, Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, dismissed his talks with his British counterpart as a conversation of a “mute person with a deaf person,” asserting again that the West was not seriously addressing Russia’s most pressing concerns. Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, said negotiations were continuing, and added that he planned to speak by phone in the coming days with Emmanuel Macron, the French president.

President Biden has warned Americans in Ukraine to leave. He would not send troops to rescue remaining U.S. citizens in the event of an invasion and risk direct conflict with Russian forces. “That’s a world war when Americans and Russia start shooting at one another,” he said.

Related: Kyiv is encouraging the arming of nationalist paramilitary groups to thwart a Russian invasion. But they could also destabilize the government if it agrees to a peace deal they reject.

A ceremony in Derry, Northern Ireland, last month to mark the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday.Credit…Charles Mcquillan/Getty Images

Upheaval in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland is undergoing a momentous political shift: Polls suggest that Sinn Fein, with its vestigial ties to the paramilitary Irish Republican Army and fervent commitment to Irish unification, will become the largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly after elections scheduled for May.

Nearly a quarter century after the Good Friday Agreement, Brexit has scrambled Northern Ireland’s politics. A significant factor is the North’s trade status in the wake of Britain’s departure from the E.U. Governed by a complex legal arrangement known as the Northern Ireland Protocol, goods passing between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain now require border checks.

The fallout from Brexit has left unionists angry and divided, and it has tilted the political landscape in favor of Sinn Fein, which opposed Brexit and seeks ever closer ties between the north and south of Ireland. If Sinn Fein does win the largest number of seats, the Democratic Unionists would have to learn how to coexist in a government with a Sinn Fein representative as first minister.

Analysis: “This does feel like a critical juncture,” said Katy Hayward, a professor of politics at Queen’s University in Belfast. “We can’t avoid the fact that 100 years after its creation, Northern Ireland has fundamentally changed.”

News from London: Cressida Dick, the commissioner of the city’s Metropolitan Police Service, announced that she would step down, under pressure from Sadiq Khan, the mayor, over reports of bullying, misogyny and racism on the force.

Coronavirus vaccinations in Johannesburg in December.Credit…Shiraaz Mohamed/Associated Press

Africa can learn to live with the virus, W.H.O. says

Nearly two years after Africa recorded its first coronavirus infection, the W.H.O.’s regional director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, said that the agency was confident the continent could handle the next phase of the pandemic: learning to live with the virus, despite only about 10 percent of Africa’s population being fully vaccinated.

Four major coronavirus waves have swept through Africa since 2020, driven by successive variants of the virus. Although the first wave lasted 29 weeks, the most recent Omicron-driven surge lasted just six weeks before subsiding, she noted. Along the way, Moeti said, health care services had learned to respond faster to each new surge than the one before.

Africa has overall reported fewer cases per capita than other regions, though testing rates in Africa have also been low. African nations needed to scale up their ability to distribute vaccine doses to poor or isolated communities, Moeti said. Shipments of doses have increased in recent weeks, but the authorities have struggled with supply chain bottlenecks.

Quotable: “If the current trends hold, there is light at the end of the tunnel,” Moeti said. “As long as we remain vigilant and we act intensively, particularly on vaccination, the continent is in track for controlling the pandemic.”

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • There is growing alarm that anti-vaccine protests in Canada are threatening the country’s economy and trade with the U.S., its biggest trading partner.

  • Prince Charles tested positive for the coronavirus for a second time. He had recent contact with his mother, Queen Elizabeth II.

  • Infections and hospitalizations are falling in the U.S., but unevenly.


Other Big Stories

Credit…Jason Andrew for The New York Times
  • The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack has found gaps in official White House call logs from that day.

  • Bad news is piling up at SoftBank after a crucial deal fell through. The company’s profits have plunged, and investors are growing increasingly wary that its big bets haven’t paid off.

  • Emmanuel Macron, the French president, pledged to build more nuclear reactors to cut carbon emissions.

  • Inflation in Europe is expected to peak early this year. In the U.S., prices are climbing at their fastest pace in 40 years.

Olympics Updates

Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
  • Riding in his fifth and final Winter Olympics and searching for his fourth gold medal, the U.S. snowboarder Shaun White finished just shy of the podium in men’s halfpipe.

  • A question on the minds of many: Why are the winners holding stuffed animals instead of medals?

  • Researchers are still figuring out how to enable athletes in skeleton, the face-first Olympic sled race, to go even faster.

  • Olympics officials are still holding off on handing out medals in the team figure skating event that Russia won while they investigate an unspecified “legal issue.”

  • Here are the latest updates, the medal count (as well as who’s really winning) and how to watch.

What Else Is Happening

  • Latvia will award 40 million euros, about $46 million, to the country’s Jewish community “to eliminate the historical unjust consequences” resulting from the Holocaust.

  • A court ordered Uganda to pay $325 million in reparations to the Democratic Republic of Congo for its role in conflicts in the resource-rich Ituri Province.

  • Did the Black Death really kill half of Europe? New research suggests otherwise: Some regions of Europe suffered devastating losses, some held stable, and others even boomed.

A Morning Read

Credit…Shelby Tauber for The New York Times

How did Amelia Earhart’s long-lost helmet come to spend the better part of a century in a closet somewhere in Minnesota? And was it, in fact, the aviator’s helmet at all?

Separately, another riddle solved: What was this 1,500-year-old terra-cotta pot used for?

Lives Lived

Luc Montagnier, the French virologist who shared a Nobel Prize in 2008 for discovering the virus that causes AIDS, died on Tuesday at 89.


A strong and successful game of Wordle

Regular players of the game Wordle fall into two camps: those who start with the same tried-and-tested openers each time, like “TEARY” or “CRANE,” and those who take a more sporadic approach: “LAMPS,” “DUVET,” “ANGRY.”

The first group believe themselves to be canny, strategic players; members of the second, of which your briefing writer is one, think the first camp is probably somehow cheating. (Please do not email me about this.)

But let’s backtrack: What is Wordle? The game, which has taken the internet by storm and which was acquired by The Times this year, asks users to guess a five-letter word. Players are limited to six guesses, and one puzzle, per day. Yellow squares indicate you have guessed one of the five letters, while green squares indicate you’ve guessed a letter in its correct place. The game is a kind of love letter from its creator, Josh Wardle, to his lexicon-loving girlfriend.

There are thousands of five-letter words in the English dictionary, but it takes only one to win. And though luck does play a role, it’s worthwhile to choose your first words judiciously — ones with many vowels, for instance — or to consider employing other resources, like pen and paper or even a database. We have more tips for success.

Once you’ve figured out the word, claim your bragging rights by sharing your score on social media or in a group text via those ubiquitous green-and-yellow boxes, with no fear of spoilers. (You can play here, if you haven’t already.)


What to Cook

Credit…Kate Sears for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne.

Welcome the weekend with this extra-lemony meringue pie. (Here are more tips on getting the lofty egg whites of your dreams.)

Fashion (Turn to the Left)

The line between streetwear and fashion has effectively disappeared, our critic writes.

What to Watch

The new documentary “Ronnie’s” tells the story of a venue that reshaped London’s jazz scene.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Where Bengali and Gujarati are spoken (five letters).

And here is the Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. See you next week. — Natasha

P.S. The Times won a duPont award for “Day of Rage,” a documentary on the Capitol riot.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about why U.S. governors are changing their minds on mask mandates.

You can reach Natasha and the team at [email protected].

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