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Your Thursday Briefing: Ukraine’s State of Emergency

todayFebruary 23, 2022

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We’re covering the world preparing for possible war in Ukraine and China’s inward focus under Xi Jinping.

In its most dire assessment yet, the Pentagon said on Wednesday that 80 percent of the 190,000 Russian troops and separatist forces in or near Ukraine are in combat-ready positions, and that a full-scale military assault is most likely imminent. Here are the latest updates.

Ukrainians braced for all-out war as officials prepared to declare a 30-day state of emergency and mobilized military reservists. Government websites, including that of the Foreign Ministry, were brought down by a hack.

Australia and Japan on Wednesday joined the U.S., European allies and other nations in announcing sanctions on Russia. Among those who face financial and travel penalties are Russia’s defense minister, the chief of staff to President Vladimir Putin and other members of Putin’s inner circle.

Officials said more sanctions were to come. The Biden administration is preparing a ban on American technology exports to Russia if it escalates the conflict.

Response: Putin remained defiant, saying in a video message that “the interests of Russia and the security of our citizens are unconditional for us.” Russia’s ambassador to Washington said that Russia would not “revise its foreign policy under a threat of restrictions.”

What’s next: The E.U. is preparing for large numbers of displaced people from Ukraine if a full-on conflict breaks out. Leaders will hold an emergency summit in Brussels on Thursday.

Newsletter: Sign up for a nightly update on the Ukraine crisis.

The vaccine, made by the European companies Sanofi and GSK, is a conventional inoculation and is not based on mRNA. It received billions of dollars for development from Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s vaccine accelerator.

The shot showed 58 percent efficacy against symptomatic disease in its Phase 3 clinical trial. The number is lower than results for mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna in initial trials, but it is “in line with expected vaccine effectiveness in today’s environment dominated by variants of concern,” Sanofi and GSK said in a statement.

Details: The best target for Covid vaccines is a protein called spike. While the mRNA vaccines contain the genetic instructions for making the protein, the Sanofi-GSK vaccine uses a slightly modified version of the protein itself to stimulate an immune response.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

Modern China was built on global connections: sending young people, companies and future leaders to soak up the outside world.

Now, emboldened by its transformation — and its most dominant leader in decades, Xi Jinping — the country is shunning artistic and intellectual ideas from abroad.

Officials are restricting English education and foreign teachers. Regulators have punished companies for raising money overseas. Xi has pushed traditional Chinese literature and art, and warned artists against imitating Hollywood. Under new rules, TV credits even have to specify whether actors or crew members have foreign citizenship.

The number of foreigners living in Beijing and Shanghai has dropped by nearly one-third in the past decade. The government, citing the coronavirus pandemic, is no longer freely issuing most passports, the physical symbol of an interconnected world.

Quotable: “There’s no more integration and exchange between different cultures,” said Zhang Jincan, the owner of Dusk Dawn Club, a live-music venue in Beijing.

Asia Pacific

The swamps of the Congo Basin are home to one of the planet’s greatest natural resources, peatlands that store an immense amount of carbon if they are left untouched. Now, the guardians of the world’s biggest network of tropical peatlands are asking why they aren’t being paid more to keep it intact.

Koreans will vote for the next president on March 9, in an election that has been described as one of the most contentious in decades. I caught up with Choe Sang-Hun, The Times’s Seoul bureau chief, to talk about what voters want and how they view corruption allegations against the main candidates: Lee Jae-myung of the ruling, progressive Democratic Party and Yoon Suk-yeol of the opposition, conservative People Power Party.

This election is being described as “the election of the unfavorables.” What is the mood among voters?

Yes, it is called a contest between the unlikable because the two main candidates and their families have been embroiled in a series of scandals. It’s also because South Korean politics is more polarized than before and there is intense negative campaigning.

There are corruption allegations against both front-runners, from shamans to controversial development deals. How do Koreans feel about those issues?

In general, people seem embarrassed and distraught by the endless flow of allegations. But it also depends on whom you talk to. The country is deeply divided along the partisan line.

What are some of the major worries for South Koreans that the candidates are focusing (or not focusing enough) on?

Housing prices and how to make homes more affordable. How to protect small private business owners who have been hit the hardest during the pandemic. The widening income gap. How to eradicate corruption.

Polling seems to show that neither Lee nor Yoon is widely beloved. How did they end up being the front-runners?

South Korean politics has always been led by, and divided between, the two main political parties that represent the progressives and conservatives, although the parties have changed their names frequently. Lee has been a popular mayor and provincial governor and bills himself as a leader who can deliver results. Yoon had been a star prosecutor under the government of President Moon Jae-in until the two fell apart.

What to Cook

That’s it for today’s briefing. Tell us what you think about this newsletter in this short survey. Thank you! — Melina

P.S. David Gelles will join the Climate desk to cover the intersection of business and climate policy.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about Vladimir Putin’s logic for invading Ukraine.

You can reach Melina and the team at

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Ukraines parliament approves nationwide state of emergency

Politicians in Ukraine have approved a nationwide state of emergency amid fears of an all-out Russian invasion. The parliament approved Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s decree that imposes the measure for 30 days starting on Thursday. The state of emergency allows authorities to impose restrictions on movement, block rallies and ban political parties and organizations “in the interests of national security and public order”. The move follows Russian President Vladimir Putin’s […]

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