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Your Thursday Briefing

A Russian soldier taking a photo on his mobile phone at the Mariupol theater in April.Credit…Alexander Nemenov/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Russia lays blame with fallen troops

Amid anger in Russia over a deadly New Year’s Day strike in Makiivka on Moscow’s forces, official blame has fallen on the targeted soldiers themselves, with the suggestion that their cellphone use enabled Ukrainian forces to home in on their location using intercepted calls. The troops were using the phones despite a ban, the Russian Ministry of Defense said.

Russian soldiers’ use of open cellphone lines in Ukraine has been a known vulnerability for its military, often revealing forces’ positions. Intercepted calls have revealed the disarray and discontent in Russia’s ranks. Some Russian lawmakers and military bloggers pushed back against the blame, calling it an attempt by the military to avoid faulting commanders.

The British Defense Ministry said that the attack had showed how “unprofessional practices contribute to Russia’s high casualty rate,” noting the possibility that ammunition had been stored near the makeshift barracks, creating secondary explosions, contributing to the damage.

Details: The strike by Ukraine in Makiivka, using U.S.-supplied guided rockets, hit a vocational school that Russian soldiers had been using as a barracks. Estimates of the number of casualties range from 89, according to the Russian Defense Ministry, to “about 400,” according to the Ukrainian military. The claims could not be independently verified.

In other news from the war:

  • Russian officials have denied assertions of abuses against civilians, despite widespread evidence of sexual violence by Russian troops documented by Ukrainian and international investigators.

  • Kyiv says its forces have killed or wounded more than 1,000 Russian soldiers in a series of pinpoint attacks. Russia has confirmed only one of three waves of strikes.


Prime Minister Rishi Sunak arrives to deliver his first major domestic speech of the year in London on Wednesday.Credit…Pool photo by Stefan Rousseau

Rishi Sunak’s promises to Britain

With Britain’s health system and its economy both in acute distress, Rishi Sunak, the prime minister, delivered in a sweeping speech a series of promises to restore the country to prosperity and well-being, challenging Britons to hold him personally to account. “No tricks, no ambiguity,” he said. “We’re either delivering for you or we’re not.”

Sunak made five promises: to cut inflation in half, to reignite the economy and to reduce waiting times in emergency rooms, as well as to cut public debt and to stop the flow of migrant boats across the English Channel. But some of the most pressing problems, like an overwhelmed health system, defy easy solutions and may not be solved simply by more funding.

Budget strains and a cost-of-living crisis have prompted widespread labor unrest, with nurses walking off hospital wards and railway workers shutting down trains. The government is expected to announce new anti-strike legislation, but Sunak conceded the difficulty of making deals with a number of unions, even though polls show that Britons generally support the workers.

Forecast: The British economy is also likely to deteriorate further before it bottoms out and begins to recover. Sunak acknowledged that sobering reality, noting that many Britons were looking ahead to 2023 with “apprehension.”

Response: The leader of the opposition Labour Party, Keir Starmer, is scheduled to make a speech on his agenda today. Labour has a polling lead of more than 20 percentage points over the Conservatives.


Pope Benedict XVI lay in state in St. Peter’s Basilica on Wednesday.Credit…James Hill for The New York Times

Pope Benedict’s complicated legacy

About 200,000 people paid their respects to Benedict XVI, the pope emeritus, during the three days his body was lying in state in St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican officials said. He will be buried today, after a funeral liturgy that will largely resemble that for a sitting pope, with some changes to the prayers.

Benedict leaves behind a complex legacy. A report last year commissioned by the Catholic Church in Munich accused him of mishandling cases of sexual abuse by priests. Benedict apologized for any “grievous faults” but denied any wrongdoing.

To supporters, he is the leader who first met with victims and forced the church to finally face its demons, change its laws and get rid of hundreds of abusive priests. But to critics, he protected the institution over the victims in its flock, failed to hold even a single bishop accountable for shielding abusers and did not back up his words with action.

Legal matters: Some of those claiming abuse have filed a civil suit, against not just a priest accused of molesting several boys but also the Archdiocese of Munich and Benedict. Before his death, the pope emeritus had hired a large international law firm and had said he planned to defend himself in a trial set to start this year.

THE LATEST NEWS

Around the World

Credit…Illustration by Max Guther
  • The Amazon rainforest may be releasing more carbon than it absorbs, in part tbecause of decomposing plant matter. If trends continue, it would have devastating consequences for the climate.

  • Europe saw the warmest start to the year ever measured. The weather has caused ski resorts to close trails.

  • The E.U. “strongly encouraged” its member nations to require negative Covid-19 tests for passengers traveling to the region from China.

  • The North Korean state media carried photos of a girl identified as Kim Jong-un’s daughter, prompting growing speculation about the leader’s succession plans.

Other Big Stories

Credit…Shuran Huang for The New York Times
  • Representative Kevin McCarthy has lost six votes in a row amid a revolt by far-right members of the Republican Party, leaving the House without a speaker. It is scheduled to return today.

  • E.U. regulators ruled that ad practices by Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, were unlawful, and fined it $414 million.

  • Rick Singer, the mastermind of the “Varsity Blues” college admissions scandal, was sentenced to three and a half years in prison.

  • A video showing dozens of vehicles moving in on a pair of big cats in a Kenyan game reserve highlights the risks to endangered animals from “aggressive tourism.”

A Morning Read

Credit…Kareem Elgazzar/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

The N.F.L. contains the ready-made interpersonal drama of reality television and the narrative allure of a best-selling novel. But sometimes, as when Damar Hamlin collapsed during a game, it can feel more like a horror film, as athletes put themselves at risk of tremendous harm.

SPORTS NEWS FROM THE ATHLETIC

A $200 million dollars-a-year Saudi deal: Cristiano Ronaldo’s transfer to Al Nassr was negotiated by Ricardo Regufe, his right-hand man, rather than Jorge Mendes, his agent for nearly 20 years.

Statement from the U.S. men’s soccer coach: Gregg Berhalter acknowledged he kicked his now-wife in the legs during an argument 31 years ago. An independent investigation is ongoing.

Two Scott Stallings, one Masters invitation: The 37-year-old journeyman golfer was expecting a formal invitation to Augusta National. It went to a 60-year-old realtor instead.

ARTS AND IDEAS

Escaping the #MeToo movie formula

Amanda Hess, a critic for The Times, was hardly thrilled to attend the screening of “Women Talking,” a film based on the true events of the rapes of more than 100 women and girls in a Bolivian Mennonite community that were revealed in 2009.

“It felt as if I had spent the last five years watching accounts of sexual violence get spun into tabloid spectacles,” she writes. “This had made me cynical, then bored. I knew what happened when women talked.” Instead, she found herself riveted by a film that was by turns tragic and hilarious, rationing her way through a soon-empty plastic packet of tissues.

In a growing genre of movies inspired by the #MeToo movement, two very different films stand out: “Women Talking” and “Tár,” a portrait of a despotic, world-famous conductor heading for a fall. “Both are so wonderfully destabilizing,” Amanda writes, “they manage to scramble our cultural scripts around sexual violence, cancel culture, gender, genius and storytelling itself.” Read more about the movies.

Related: Films as different as the biopic “Till” and the thriller “Resurrection” use lengthy monologues to give female characters the chance to truly be heard.

PLAY, WATCH, EAT

What to Cook

Credit…David Malosh for The New York Times

These creamy white beans braised in olive oil and tomatoes are a pantry-friendly dinner.

What to Read

Take a literary tour through Tokyo, with the novelist Hiromi Kawakami as your guide.

What to Listen to

Take five minutes to fall in love with Sun Ra, the experimental jazz musician.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: “Orinoco Flow” singer (four letters).

And here are today’s Wordle and the Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.


That’s it for today’s briefing. Thanks for joining me. — Natasha

P.S. David French is joining Times Opinion as a columnist.

“The Daily” is on Russia’s military failures.

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

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