Your Thursday Briefing: Blinken Visits Ukraine

We’re covering U.S. efforts to shore up Ukraine and Britain’s lifting of Covid restrictions.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine. Credit…Pool photo by Alex Brandon

U.S. warns Russia could invade Ukraine ‘on very short notice’

Before a meeting tomorrow with Russia’s foreign minister in Geneva, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Russia could attack Ukraine “on very short notice” and warned of “confrontation and consequences for Russia” if it does.

Blinken made the remarks in Kyiv, Ukraine, where he landed Wednesday morning to meet with Ukraine’s president in a show of support.

Russia has positioned around 100,000 troops along its western border with Ukraine, although estimates vary. “We know that there are plans in place to increase that force even more on very short notice,” Blinken said, “and that gives President Putin the capacity, also on very short notice, to take further aggressive action against Ukraine.”

No to Russian demands: Blinken said he would not provide Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with a written response to Russia’s demands on Eastern European security. The meeting in Geneva may be one of the last chances for a diplomatic path to averting what U.S. officials fear is an imminent Russian attack on Ukraine.

Aid for Ukraine: It was not clear if Blinken offered concrete measures to help Ukraine, but the Biden administration has approved an additional $200 million in defensive security aid for Ukraine. That money comes in addition to $450 million in such aid that the U.S. provided Ukraine in the last fiscal year.

Latest Russian response: “We will not attack, strike, invade, quote unquote, whatever, Ukraine,” Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said Wednesday.

Related: A court in Ukraine ruled that former President Petro Poroshenko could await trial while released, declining a request from the government to arrest him.

Britain’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, announced on Wednesday that masks would no longer be required in many settings. Credit…Mary Turner for The New York Times

Britain to lift almost all Covid rules

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that almost all remaining Covid restrictions in England would end starting next week as he battles to stanch a devastating loss of support over accusations that he lied about parties at Downing Street during lockdowns.

Johnson’s announcement on Wednesday appeared to be an effort to win over the nearly 100 Conservative lawmakers who rebelled against him when he imposed the measures last month. The stream of disclosures about the Downing Street parties has emboldened the lawmakers to push for a no-confidence vote that could topple Johnson.

The changes to Covid policy mean that face masks won’t be required on public transit or in school classrooms; workers would be encouraged to return to the office; and vaccine certificates or proof of recovery from a recent infection won’t be required to enter large events.

“We will trust the judgment of the English people,” Johnson said. “We are the first to emerge from the Omicron wave.”

The latest: A member of Johnson’s Conservative Party defected to Labour on Wednesday and said he had submitted a letter calling for a no-confidence vote. Johnson is insisting that he won’t resign.

Covid numbers: Cases in Britain remain high, but were down 39 percent in the most recent seven-day period compared with the previous week.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • Japan announced emergency measures in Tokyo and 12 other prefectures because of a rise in Omicron cases.

  • The Biden administration will make 400 million nonsurgical N95 masks available, free of charge, across the U.S.

“We are Taiwanese in our thinking,” said Lee Yuan-hsin, right, with her husband and daughter. Credit…Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

What it means to be Taiwanese

Well over 90 percent of Taiwan’s people trace their roots to mainland China, but more than ever, they are embracing an identity that is distinctly Taiwanese.

Beijing’s strident authoritarianism — and its claim over Taiwan — has only solidified Taiwan’s identity, now central to a dispute that has turned the Taiwan Strait into one of Asia’s biggest potential flash points.

Most residents do not want to be absorbed into a Communist-ruled China, but they don’t want to push for formal independence and risk war either. China’s leader, Xi Jinping, sees Taiwan’s independent streak as dangerous, and he has sent military jets to buzz the island on a near-daily basis.

Growing trend: Surveys show that more than 60 percent of Taiwan’s 23 million people identify as solely Taiwanese, three times the proportion in 1992. Only 2 percent identify as Chinese, down from 25 percent three decades ago.


Around the World

Israeli officials said the expropriation and evictions were necessary to make way for building a school for Jewish and Arab students with learning difficulties.Credit…Ammar Awad/Reuters
  • Israeli police evicted two more Palestinian families from their homes in a flashpoint area of East Jerusalem.

  • New footage obtained by The Times shows the botched U.S. drone strike that killed 10 civilians in Afghanistan in August.

  • President Biden will take stock of the first year of his presidency during a news conference as lawmakers clash over a voting rights bill.

  • The New York State attorney general accused Donald Trump’s family business of possible fraud by repeatedly misrepresenting the value of its assets. She is seeking to question former President Trump and two of his children under oath.

Asia Pacific

The Hunga volcano erupted off the coast of Tonga on Friday.Credit…Tonga Geological Services, via Reuters
  • The explosion of the Hunga volcano, near Tonga, appeared to be the world’s largest in three decades. It probably won’t cool the climate as other eruptions have, but other effects on weather and radio transmissions are likely.

  • The repair process for an undersea cable that connects Tonga to the internet is not expected to arrive until next month.

  • A prominent member of an Indonesian militant group was sentenced to 15 years in prison for the 2002 Bali bombings, which killed 202 people, Reuters reports.

  • At the Australian Open, the No. 17 seed, Emma Raducanu, who is making her first appearance at the tournament, beat Sloane Stephens.

A Morning Read

“Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto,” the only known ceiling painting by Caravaggio.Credit…Riccardo Antimiani/EPA, via Shutterstock

During an auction this week, there were no offers at the asking price of 471 million euros for Villa Aurora, a 30,000-square-foot house in Rome with a masterpiece on its ceiling: A fresco by Caravaggio. An online petition is calling on the culture ministry to buy the villa, which returns to the block on April 7, with its price slashed by 20 percent to a mere 377 million euros.

Lives lived: André Leon Talley, an editor and fashion industry force who went from the racially segregated U.S. South to the front rows of Paris couture, died at 73.


Experts question whether the evidence in a new book, “The Betrayal of Anne Frank,” was strong enough to name a suspect.Credit…Agence France-Presse, via Getty Images

Who betrayed Anne Frank?

The question is one that visitors to the Anne Frank House museum in Amsterdam frequently ask.

New clues about who gave away the teenage diarist’s hiding location to the Nazis hadn’t surfaced in decades, but Pieter van Twisk, a Dutch media producer, was sure that modern crime-solving technologies could crack the case. Six years ago, he assembled a dozen researchers into a sort of cold case team to investigate.

Their new book, “The Betrayal of Anne Frank,” made headlines this week after naming a Jewish notary, Arnold van den Bergh, as a suspect. But many World War II and Holocaust experts doubt their methods and conclusion.

Van den Bergh wasn’t new to historians as a suspect. Anne’s father received an anonymous note that said he had alerted the Nazis to their hide-out. Experts say the new information they found needs to be investigated, but for now, “there’s absolutely no basis for a conclusion,” Ronald Leopold, the Anne Frank House’s executive director, said.

Here’s our review of the book.


What to Cook

Credit…Linda Xiao for The New York Times

This soothing broth comes together quickly with the help of umami-rich kombu.

What to Read

In “Kingdom of Characters,” the historian Jing Tsu tells the story of how scholars, activists, librarians and ordinary citizens adapted Chinese writing to the modern world and how China itself became modern.

Fashion Trends

Milan men’s wear is returning to live fashion shows, where labels have been using joyfully and absurdly maximalist designs as a kind of escape from the grim reality of the coronavirus pandemic.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Rack up (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. Bryan Washington and Ligaya Mishan are The New York Times Magazine’s newest Eat columnists.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about voting rights in the U.S.

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

Back to top button