Your Wednesday Briefing: A U.S. Push to Isolate Russia

A U.S. push in Central Asia

The U.S. secretary of state met with the president of Kazakhstan in Astana at the start of a new effort to isolate Russia as Belarus’s leader began a state visit to China — the latest examples of dueling diplomacy related to the war in Ukraine.

Antony Blinken, the top U.S. diplomat, is urging five Central Asian countries that were part of the former Soviet Union — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan — not to help Russia evade sanctions imposed by the West over its invasion of Ukraine. The countries have strong ties to Russia, but leaders there have made comments reflecting concerns about maintaining their sovereignty.

One of Russia’s staunchest allies, President Aleksandr Lukashenko of Belarus, arrived in Beijing for talks with China’s leader, Xi Jinping. The U.S. has suggested that China was preparing to supply military aid to Russia, a claim rejected by the Chinese government.

U.S. officials said they viewed Lukashenko’s visit as another sign of China’s growing engagement with Russia. Blinken’s trip to Central Asia follows recent visits to Kyiv by President Biden and U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen that were intended to shore up support for Ukraine.

Context: China is trying to present itself as a neutral observer while maintaining close ties with Russia, a precarious balancing act. Beijing’s position has alienated European leaders who might have helped invigorate China’s economy following years of pandemic lockdowns.

Other news from the war:

The promised torrent of tanks from European nations to Ukraine now seems like more of a trickle.

Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, warned that the situation in the eastern city of Bakhmut was “getting more and more difficult.”

China moves to erase ‘zero Covid’

China’s ruling Communist Party is trying to rewrite the public’s memory of “zero Covid,” the country’s strict lockdown policy. Analysts say the move is aimed at quashing any resentment over the enormous price China paid in economic loss and trauma to enforce its coronavirus restrictions.

In a decree that was published after a recent meeting of top officials, a newly triumphant narrative has emerged in which the country’s Covid response was a “miracle in human history” and “completely correct.” China’s official messaging acknowledges none of the extremes of “zero Covid,” nor does it mention the chaos that ensued after the policy’s abrupt dismantling in early December, which left hospitals unprepared for an explosion in new infections.

Instead, the party has declared that its efforts led China to a “decisive victory” over the virus. The term “zero Covid” itself, once ubiquitous, has vanished from the party’s rhetoric.

The State of the War

Analysis: The government’s messaging is in line with efforts to restore the public’s confidence, both in the party’s leadership and in the country’s future. But the aftermath of the pandemic may be especially challenging for the party to bury, as feelings of whiplash, grief and frustration simmer just beneath the surface for many Chinese residents.

Nigeria’s opposition calls for a rerun

Three days after Nigeria held its most wide-open presidential election in years, two opposition parties called for the vote to be canceled and rerun, saying it was compromised by vote rigging and violence.

The call came as vote counting showed that the candidate of the governing party appeared to be taking the lead. With about one-third of the 36 states reporting results, Bola Tinubu, the candidate of the governing All Progressives Congress party, had won 44 percent of the vote.

Many polls had predicted a win for Peter Obi, the so-called youth candidate of the little-known Labour Party. But early results showed Obi had just 18 percent of the vote, while Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party also trailed behind Tinubu with 33 percent.

Response: A spokesman for Tinubu’s party campaign council rejected the accusations of vote rigging. Independent observers raised concerns about whether the election was fair, but stopped short of accusing the governing party of rigging it.

Context: Many Nigerians had looked to the election to put the country back on track after eight years of rule by Muhammadu Buhari, a military dictator turned democrat. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, has struggled with economic and security crises under his leadership.


Asia Pacific

Japanese prosecutors accused the advertising giant Dentsu, a driving force behind the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, of illegally conspiring to evade the public bidding process.

Hong Kong’s leader said the city would lift its Covid mask mandate, ending one of the last such policies in the world.

Wendy’s, the American burger chain, is coming to Australia. Like other American imports, it might need to change its name.

Around the World

A shipwreck off Italy’s coast that killed at least 63 people has made it clear that the E.U.’s consensus against migrants has hardened.

After accusations of misconduct and mismanagement, the president of France’s soccer federation stepped down yesterday.

U.S. News

The Supreme Court’s conservative majority seemed deeply skeptical of the legality of the administration’s plan to wipe out more than $400 billion in student debt.

Jazz Pharmaceuticals exploited a safety requirement to prolong its monopoly on a narcolepsy drug that has generated more than $13 billion in revenue.

Nearly two dozen dead whales have washed ashore on the East Coast since early December, in part because of collisions with cargo ships.

A Morning Read

Sake is booming in the U.S., The Times’s wine critic writes. Exports of the fermented product of rice from Japan are soaring, and breweries and specialty stores have opened in the U.S. to quench the growing thirst. Here’s a guide to sake basics.


Should acting awards be gender-neutral?

At the Screen Actors Guild Awards Sunday in Los Angeles, there was at least one red-carpet question without an easy answer: Should awards shows eliminate separate acting categories for men and women?

The debate over gender-neutral acting prizes has gained steam as more nonbinary actors have given acclaimed performances and, in some cases, chosen to withdraw from awards consideration rather than compete in a gendered category. “Right now, you need to choose,” said August Winter, a nonbinary actor, referring to awards that separate categories for men and women. “And I don’t think people should be put in that position.”

Others worry that gender-neutral categories could mean fewer nominations — or that women could be shut out of awards consideration entirely.

“I’m not sure what the solution is,” said Sarah Polley, director of the Oscar-nominated film “Women Talking.” “But it certainly can’t stay the way it is, because it is excluding people from being recognized.”


What to Cook

This vegetarian tteokbokki features a base of butter-fried shallots, a layer of melted cheese and a crunchy blanket of raw cabbage.

What to Read

These three science fiction and fantasy novels offer a welcome break from reality.

What to Listen To

The experimental pop duo 100 gecs turns toward rock for its second album.

Now Time to Play

Play the Mini Crossword, and a clue: Paramour (5 letters).

Here are the Wordle and the Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. Have a great day. — Dan and Mariah

P.S. Here’s how The Times has covered the war in Ukraine, one year in.

“The Daily” is about why so many buildings have collapsed in Turkey.

We’d like your feedback! Please email thoughts and suggestions to [email protected].

Source: Read Full Article