Your Friday Briefing: Russia Voices Pessimism About U.S. Response

We’re covering Moscow’s response to the U.S. diplomatic moves on Ukraine, and fears of a lost generation in India after two years of pandemic school closures.

Russian T-72B3 tanks during drills this month in the Rostov region in southern Russia.Credit…Associated Press

Russia is pessimistic on the U.S. response to demands

After the U.S. and NATO presented a written response to Russia’s demands regarding Ukraine, the Kremlin warned that there was “not much cause for optimism.” President Vladimir Putin is taking his time to study the response as fears of a Russian attack on Ukraine grow by the day.

“All these papers are with the president,” Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, told reporters. “There will of course be some time needed to analyze them — we won’t rush to any conclusions.”

Peskov did not discuss much about the content of the response, referring only to what U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken shared on Wednesday. “There is not much cause for optimism,” Peskov said, replying to a question about whether Russia would be satisfied with the Western responses. “But I would continue to refrain from making any conceptual evaluations.”

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, sounded a similarly negative note, saying in comments published on his ministry’s website that the American document contained “no positive reaction” to Russia’s main demands.

What’s next: Officials on all sides say there is still a chance for diplomacy to resolve the crisis. President Biden was to speak with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine on Thursday. Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, will speak by phone with Putin today.

A shooting raises tensions: A national guard soldier in Ukraine opened fire at an aerospace and rocket factory in the eastern part of the country, killing five people. There was no immediate sign, however, that the shooting was related to the military buildup in the region.

Russia’s upgraded military: Under Putin’s leadership, Russian forces have been overhauled into a modern sophisticated army that now provides leverage in the Ukraine crisis.

Remote education has been offered widely in India, but four out of 10 students lack internet access. Credit…Atul Loke for The New York Times

Covid stunts education in India

For years, India has been counting on its vast pool of young people as a wellspring of future growth. Now, after two years of the pandemic, it is looking more like a lost generation, crushing the middle-class dreams of families looking for opportunities for their children.

Hundreds of millions of students across India have received little to no in-person instruction, with schools intermittently shut down since the start of the pandemic. As pandemic restrictions are lifted, then reimposed, schools are often the first places to close and the last to reopen.

The repercussions can be especially dire in South Asia. Girls are entering into child marriages, and boys have abandoned their education to work.

Until the pandemic, India was pulling millions of people out of poverty, pinning its hopes of greater economic growth on education. Now, the undereducated and underemployed people could turn into a burden for India, consuming resources like no-cost medicine and food subsidies.

Quotable: “In India, the numbers are mind-numbing,” said Poonam Mattreja, the head of the Population Foundation, an advocacy group in New Delhi. “Gender and other inequalities are widening, and we’ll have much more of a development deficit in the years to come.”

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • A coronavirus case at the Beijing Olympics has been linked to the German team.

  • Boys aged 12 to 15 have a small but increased risk of heart problems after receiving a second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, Israeli researchers reported.

  • Hong Kong will cut its quarantine requirement to 14 days, down from 21.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s directive comes after the U.S. Congress moved to restrict some military funding.Credit…Yuri Gripas for The New York Times

The U.S. military wants safer air wars

The U.S. defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, ordered the military to improve efforts to prevent civilian deaths after reports of several botched airstrikes.

A new directive outlines steps intended to change how commanders think about their jobs and to make preventing civilian harm a core part of their missions. The directive follows a series of investigations by The Times into U.S. airstrikes, revealing systemic failures to prevent civilian deaths in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq.

Other military news: U.S.-backed forces in Syria are still fighting the Islamic State at a prison in Hasaka, despite earlier claims that the forces had regained full control of the complex.


Asia Pacific

Ashleigh Barty beat Madison Keys to move to the final.Credit…Loren Elliott/Reuters
  • The top-ranked Ashleigh Barty defeated Madison Keys in straight sets at the Australian Open to become the first Australian to reach the women’s final since 1980. She’ll play Danielle Collins of the U.S.

  • The Open is testing technology that translates tennis into 3-D sound for fans with limited vision. You can listen here.

  • China censored the end of the movie “Fight Club” on an online streaming platform.

  • North Korea has performed six missile tests this month, suggesting that its leader, Kim Jong-un, is trying to force the Biden administration to engage with him.

Around the World

Jordanian soldiers patrolling along the border with Syria in 2017.Credit…Jordan Pix/Getty Images
  • Jordanian troops killed 27 people they described as armed drug smugglers, who were trying to cross the border from Syria under cover of a snowstorm.

  • Botticelli’s “The Man of Sorrows” was auctioned at Sotheby’s for $45.4 million.

  • The U.S. economy grew 1.7 percent in the fourth quarter, a 6.9 percent annual rate and its largest one-year jump since 1984.

  • A Tennessee school board voted unanimously to ban “Maus,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust, from being taught in its classrooms because it contained swear words.

A Morning Read

The iceberg A68a in the South Atlantic in December 2020.Credit…Corporal Phil Dye/RAF/Ministry of Defense, via Associated Press

Five years ago, a chunk of ice more than 100 miles long broke off from the Antarctic ice shelf. The iceberg drifted north into warmer waters, where it has finally met its end near the island of South Georgia in the South Atlantic. Here is what new research tells us about its journey and potential effects.


Members of the military announcing the takeover on state television on Monday in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.Credit…Malin Fezehai for The New York Times

A string of coups in Africa

It’s never a good sign when a soldier in fatigues appears on television in a live broadcast.

That’s what happened this week in Burkina Faso after soldiers ousted the democratically elected president. It was the fourth coup on the continent in less than a year, after similar takeovers by the military in Mali, Guinea and Sudan.

The success of these coups points to a shift in the African political landscape: an erosion of democratic norms, said Faith Mabera, a senior researcher at the Institute for Global Dialogue in Johannesburg.

One big factor behind this backslide is the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to economic struggle in Africa, Mabera said. Daily hardships have taken their toll on citizens, even when recorded deaths are lower on the continent compared with other regions.

Other everyday concerns can determine whether the public will support a coup. In Burkina Faso, for example, the ever-present threat of an Islamist insurgency fueled unease. In Mali, where two coups occurred within a year, citizens seem to have resigned themselves to a military-led government after a civilian government failed to provide basic conditions, like a working economy, peace and security.

Mali and Burkina Faso are part of the Sahel region, where soldiers have been trained and well-equipped by France, the U.S. and other countries as part of an intervention against terrorism. The soldier who declared himself the new leader of Guinea was trained by American Green Berets.

Coup plotters have been emboldened by a lack of consequences. “There’s also a failure of regional bodies and international partners to actually anticipate and respond to an evolving coup playbook,” Mabera said.


What to Cook

Credit…Ryan Liebe for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne.

Chap chye, or braised cabbage and mushrooms, is a hearty plate for the Lunar New Year.

What to Watch

Adrien Brody plays a community do-gooder with a not-so-pristine past in “Clean,” an action film directed by Paul Solet.


Do neti pots really work? Here’s what the science says.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Bring to the dressing room (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. Our travel editor joined NBC News Now to talk about the new 52 Places list.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about the U.S. Supreme Court.

Lynsey Chutel wrote the Arts and Ideas section. You can reach Melina and the team at [email protected].

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