Your Wednesday Briefing: Russia Undercuts Macron

We’re covering the French president’s difficult diplomatic mission to Ukraine, and why Denmark is lifting Covid restrictions.

President Emmanuel Macron of France, right, with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine in Kyiv on Tuesday.Credit…Ukrainian Presidency, via Associated Press

Russia undercuts Macron

After meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, President Emmanuel Macron of France arrived in Kyiv to try to ease the crisis over Russia’s military buildup at Ukraine’s borders. But a statement from the Kremlin appeared to undercut his diplomatic mission.

According to news reports, French officials said that Macron had left Moscow with commitments that Russian troops would not stay in neighboring Belarus after military exercises this month, and that Russia would not conduct any new maneuvers near Ukraine in the near future.

A Kremlin spokesman rejected those reports. “In the current situation, Moscow and Paris could not make a deal. France is an E.U. and NATO member,” he said, adding, “France is not leading NATO.”

In Kyiv, where Macron met with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, the French leader said: “You must not underestimate the tension that surrounds the situation that we are living through, its unprecedented nature. I do not believe this crisis can be solved thanks to a few hours of discussions.”

Recap: Putin and Macron held a five-hour, one-on-one meeting at the Kremlin on Monday night, and then a joint news conference that went well past midnight. Putin kept his comments vague enough to keep the world guessing.

What to expect: The Ukraine crisis is here to stay, writes our Moscow bureau chief in an analysis.

Nightclubs in Denmark are reopening, and the government no longer considers Covid a “socially critical disease.”Credit…Charlotte de la Fuente for The New York Times

What ‘normal’ looks like in Denmark

Denmark has one of the world’s highest Covid-19 cases per capita, and hospitalizations have reached an all-time high. But the government has dropped all restrictions, including a mask mandate in closed spaces and on public transportation.

It may seem counterintuitive to lift restrictions, but the country’s authorities say that deaths and hospitalizations are rising much more slowly than Covid cases, and that the number of patients in I.C.U.s is at its lowest level in months.

The return to “normal” has been welcomed by Danes. On a ferry ride last week to Aarhus, Denmark’s second largest city, our reporter said that of the hundreds of passengers on board, only a handful were wearing masks.

A pandemic shift: The end of restrictions in Denmark could herald a future in which rich countries can afford “living with the virus,” as long as they have high vaccination rates, huge testing capacities and strong health data infrastructure. In Denmark, 81 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated, and 62 percent have received a booster.

Quotable: “We promised people that as soon as we could, we would open up,” Denmark’s health minister, Magnus Heunicke, said. “But if there’s a new variant, if we learn that vaccines aren’t as effective, we will not hesitate to do what’s necessary. That’s the contract.”

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused trucker protesters of undermining Canadian democracy, saying that the unrest “has to stop.” A new road blockade cut off the country’s busiest link to the U.S. Copycat protests took place in Australia and New Zealand.

  • Johnson & Johnson has quietly shut down a crucial plant producing its Covid vaccine.

Dinigeer Yilamujiang and Zhao Jiawen  at the end of the opening ceremony.Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

A Uyghur athlete at the Beijing Olympics

China selected Dinigeer Yilamujiang, 20, a little-known Uyghur athlete, to light the cauldron alongside a teammate during the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. The choice was divisive.

To many Chinese, it was a feel-good message of ethnic unity. But to Western critics, it looked as if Beijing was whitewashing its suppression of Uyghur Muslims.

Since her star turn at the ceremony on Friday, Yilamujiang has kept a low profile, avoiding press events. In her second cross-country ski event, the women’s individual sprint on Tuesday, she failed to advance out of the first round.

Mental health: The conversation started by Simone Biles at the Summer Olympics can be felt in Beijing as athletes cope with the pandemic and the unpredictable nature of this year’s Games.

New figure skating stars: For the second consecutive Winter Games, four of the six U.S. figure skaters who arrived to compete in singles events are Asian American. A few decades ago, figure skating was almost uniformly white.

The latest: Eileen Gu won gold for China in big air, her first of three freestyle skiing events. Nathan Chen of the U.S. set a world record in the men’s short program. See the best photos from Beijing.


Asia Pacific

Haridwar, one of India’s holiest cities. A group of militant monks used Haridwar as the site to call for violence against Muslims. Credit…Saumya Khandelwal for The New York Times
  • Indian extremist elements are taking their calls for anti-Muslim violence into the mainstream, enabled by political leaders and law enforcement.

  • Officials closed schools in India’s southern Karnataka State after protests erupted over a ban on hijabs, Reuters reports.

  • North Korea is building an underground base to house intercontinental ballistic missiles near China in an effort, experts say, to deter pre-emptive strikes from the United States.

  • Top lawmakers in Australia, including the prime minister, apologized to Parliament employees for a culture of sexual harassment and assault.

  • Across Taiwan, the classical melody “Für Elise” is the ubiquitous signal to bring out your trash by hand, part of a decades-old waste management policy that doesn’t allow garbage to touch the ground.

  • The ending of “Fight Club” in China was restored after an outcry over censorship.

Around the World

Electric vehicles still account for a small slice of the market. But with more options for buyers, demand is skyrocketing. Credit…Brittany Greeson for The New York Times
  • Battery-powered cars are having a breakthrough moment, in the biggest upheaval in the auto industry in a century.

  • Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, pushed back hard against his party’s characterization of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot as “legitimate political discourse,” saying the riot was a “violent insurrection.”

  • Towns in the Pacific Northwest are planning tsunami evacuation towers in the event of an offshore earthquake.

  • The 2022 Oscar nominations were dominated by “The Power of the Dog,” “Dune,” “Belfast” and “West Side Story.” Beyoncé got her first nomination.

  • Peloton’s chief executive, John Foley, stepped down as the home exercise bike company — once a pandemic boom stock — struggled to cope with waning demand.

A Morning Read

Credit…Photo illustration by Bráulio Amado

Christopher Walken, 78, works constantly and is seemingly incapable of being boring, our magazine columnist writes. The secret to his offbeat cadence and delivery? “I’ve always resented punctuation,” he said, noting that he removes or changes question marks and exclamation points when he reads a script.


A more inclusive Biennale

The Venice Biennale — the longest-running exhibition of contemporary art — features some big changes this year. For one, a majority of artists are women or gender-nonconforming. The choice was “a deliberate rethinking of man’s centrality in the history of art and contemporary culture,” Cecilia Alemani, the show’s curator, said.

Image from the “Logic Paralyzes the Heart,” to be featured in the Venice Biennale this spring.Credit…Lynn Hershman Leeson/Altman Siegel, San Francisco and Bridget Donahue, New York

The Brooklyn-based sculptor Simone Leigh is the first Black woman to represent the U.S. at the Biennale, and most of the 213 artists on display have never been in the exhibition before. Five countries are also participating for the first time: Cameroon, Namibia, Nepal, Oman and Uganda.

Among the big themes this year: identity, ecological activism and the push-and-pull relationship between humans and technology. The Korean artist Geumhyung Jeong, for example, has created robotic bodies that can be reassembled.

The Biennale opens in April and runs through November. Preview some of the art.


What to Cook

Credit…David Malosh for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Simon Andrews.

Nutty farro and earthy mushrooms form the base of this elegant gratin.


If you’re addicted to your phone, here’s how to cut back.

What to Read

Having trouble paying attention? Two books — Johann Hari’s “Stolen Focus” and Jacob Ward’s “The Loop” — dissect how technology is affecting our brains.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Eel, on a sushi menu (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. Tammy Audi joined the National desk as an enterprise editor.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is on Ukraine.

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

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