Your Tuesday Briefing: 8,500 Troops on ‘High Alert’

We’re covering Western plans in case of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the world’s “new phase” of the pandemic.

U.S. soldiers participated in a NATO military exercise in Latvia last March.Credit…Valda Kalnina/EPA, via Shutterstock

U.S. troops on ‘high alert’ as West weighs Ukraine defenses

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has put 8,500 American troops on “high alert” for possible deployment to Eastern Europe, as NATO and the U.S. braced for a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Pentagon announced on Monday.

Most of the 8,500 troops would take part in a NATO response force that might soon be activated, said John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman. The remaining personnel would be part of a specific U.S. response, most likely to assure Eastern European allies fearful that Russia’s plans for Ukraine could extend to the Baltics.

“It’s very clear the Russians have no intention right now of de-escalating,” Kirby said at a news conference on Monday. “What this is about, though, is reassurance to our NATO allies.”

It comes as NATO said Monday that member countries were putting their forces on standby and sending additional ships and fighter jets to Eastern Europe.

Background: The Biden administration had been taking a restrained stance on Ukraine out of fear of provoking Russia. Now that talks have failed, and President Vladimir Putin of Russia has ramped up threatening actions toward Ukraine, officials are changing the strategy.

Explainers: Here are the basics of the conflict and one way a war might start.

A Covid intensive care unit in Cremona, Italy, this month.Credit…Miguel Medina/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

W.H.O.: Omicron spread could lead to ‘stabilization’

The pandemic is entering a “new phase” globally, and the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus offers “plausible hope” for a return to normalcy in the coming months, the top W.H.O. official in Europe said in a statement released Monday.

Dr. Hans Kluge, the director for the W.H.O.’s European region, warned that it was too early for nations to drop their guard. But he said that between vaccination andimmunity through infection, “Omicron offers plausible hope for stabilization and normalization.”

His comments echoed the optimism of Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s Covid adviser.

Dr. Fauci said on Sunday that while there would be pain in the weeks ahead, especially as Omicron moves through the unvaccinated, the hope was that the continued spread of Omicron would not disrupt society to the same degree as other variants.

Global trends: The U.S. reported a steady decrease in cases over the past week, to a daily average of about 690,000 new cases on Sunday. Cases in Western Europe appear to be plateauing, while Eastern Europe is still facing surges.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • China lifted a monthlong lockdown on the 13 million residents of the city of Xi’an.

  • South Korea urged people to avoid travel for the Lunar New Year holiday.

  • The U.N. called setbacks to schooling during the pandemic “nearly insurmountable,” hitting numeracy and literacy skills hard in low- and middle-income countries.

Tires burning in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, on Monday.Credit…Malin Fezehai for The New York Times

Military seizes power in Burkina Faso

The military announced Monday that it had seized power in the West African nation, suspending the Constitution and ousting the democratically elected president hours after mutinous soldiers surrounded his home. Here’s the latest.

President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, 64, had been leading Burkina Faso since 2015. He faced growing criticism over a lack of solutions to the Islamist insurgents wreaking havoc in recent years. The violence has displaced 1.4 million people; 2,000 were killed last year.

The coup was announced on state TV late Monday by a junior army officer who said the army had seized power in response to the “exasperation of the people.” Lt. Col. Paul-Henri Damiba, a senior military officer, sat next to him and was introduced as the new head of state.

Bigger picture: The past year has seen a flurry of coups in sub-Saharan Africa, the greatest concentration in years, including in Guinea, Sudan, Chad and Mali.


Asia Pacific News

Shouting down a heckler at the women’s rights protests in Kabul in October.Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times
  • Despite the threat of arrest or beating, Afghan women are protesting the Taliban.

  • Western diplomats began talks with the Taliban in Norway over Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis. Norwegian officials said the talks were not a recognition of the new government’s legitimacy.

  • Pakistan appointed its first female Supreme Court judge, Reuters reported: Justice Ayesha Malik.

U.S. News

The Houthi rebels fired two missiles at a base in Abu Dhabi where 2,000 Americans are stationed, U.S. and Emirati officials said.Credit…Yahya Arhab/EPA, via Shutterstock
  • The U.S. intervened to repel an attack on the United Arab Emirates, amid rising tensions between the Gulf state and Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

  • Police culture is being heavily scrutinized in the trial of three officers over the killing of George Floyd.

  • Sarah Palin, a former Alaska governor, is suing The New York Times over an editorial in a case that could affect American press freedoms. The trial was delayed after Palin tested positive for the coronavirus.

Around the World

Syrian Democratic Forces said they had recaptured one of the three prison buildings in a dawn raid.Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
  • U.S. troops joined Syrian Kurdish forces in a fight to regain control Monday of a prison in Syria where Islamic State fighters are holding hundreds of teenage hostages.

  • The Dutch police said that a man who had stowed himself away in the front wheel section of a cargo plane had survived the flight, which landed in Amsterdam on Sunday morning.

  • Saad Hariri, a former prime minister of Lebanon, announced on Monday that he was leaving political life amid a grave economic crisis.

  • A British court ruled that the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange could appeal a decision that would allow for his extradition to the U.S., where he would face charges under the Espionage Act.

A Morning Read

Credit…Sucuk und Bratwurst

What do we wear in the metaverse? Dressing for a virtual world is going to be enormously liberating. It could also be very, very messy.


Credit…Jens Kalaene/EPA, via Shutterstock

Remembering Thierry Mugler

Thierry Mugler, the outrageous, genre-busting designer who dominated European runways in the late 1980s and early 1990s, died at 73. No cause of death was given.

Mugler was one of the principal architects of a late-’80s aesthetic that married S&M and high fashion — latex, leather and curves. His silhouette was a kind of inverted triangle with giant shoulders and a nipped waist, and his early muses included Grace Jones and Joey Arias. He had a longstanding creative collaboration with David Bowie.

But Mugler’s ability to mine pop culture and his unabashed embrace of gay iconography overshadowed his spectacular tailoring and construction technique, marginalizing him at a time when the AIDS epidemic had become a political battleground.

“The outwardness of designers embracing being gay wasn’t then a thing,” said Paul Cavaco, who was a fashion director of Harper’s Bazaar during Mugler’s heyday. “People knew but you didn’t really talk about it. It was considered not chic. And here he was sending drag queens like Lypsinka down the runway.”

In 2019, 17 years after he left his brand, Mugler made something of a comeback: Cardi B showed up to the Grammys looking like a Disney princess in a flesh-toned bodice. A few months later Kim Kardashian wore a Mugler-designed dress at the Met Gala that made her every curve appear to have been drenched in high-fructose corn syrup. The viral looks introduced him to millions of new fans.


What to Cook

Credit…David Malosh for The New York Times

These pork chops with a jammy mustard glaze go well with potatoes and a green salad.

What to Watch

If you’re interested in alien invasions, vivid dreamscapes or adorable cats, this collection of sci-fi streaming picks may be right for you.

Life Hacks

Here’s how to clean and reuse N95 masks.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Recording artist’s overseer (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. Times Insider covered the second life of a former New York Times printing plant.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about the Paralympian Marieke Vervoort, who underwent euthanasia in Belgium.

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

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