Your Friday briefing: Biden and Putin discuss Ukraine
We’re covering a call between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin over Ukraine and a strict lockdown in a major Chinese city, now in its second week.
Biden and Putin discuss tensions around Ukraine
President Joe Biden and Russian leader Vladimir Putin had a major phone call on Thursday, speaking for the second time in less than a month about the Ukraine border crisis.
News of the call, which was requested by Putin, sparked speculation as to whether Putin was trying to defuse a situation largely of his own creation, or whether he was seeking an answer to a series of requests that, if they are not satisfied, could provide the pretext for military action in Ukraine.
Putin was likely to push Biden over a proposed treaty in which Moscow demanded assurances that Ukraine would never join NATO and that the alliance would not place offensive weapons in former Soviet states.
The discussion follows weeks of negotiations. Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, spoke with Volodymyr Zelensky, the President of Ukraine, as well as his British, French and German counterparts, to clarify that the United States will not negotiate a new European map with Russians.
And after: The delegations of the United States and Russia will meet on January 10, most likely in Geneva.
On the ground: Intelligence officials from several Western countries say there has been no significant withdrawal of Russian troops or equipment from the border, and low-level cyber attacks – many of which appear to be aimed at penetrating Ukrainian infrastructure – continue.
Related: As the Ukrainian government designates bomb shelters and provides advice on how to tape windows in the event of an attack, residents of Kiev, the country’s capital, appear largely nonchalant.
China keeps big city locked up
As a growing number of countries moved away from lockdowns, China has doubled its “zero Covid” strategy.
Xi’an, a large city of 13 million people in the northwest, recorded 1,117 infections between Dec. 9 and 29, according to the government – far less than increases in the West, but among the highest. in a Chinese city since the start of the pandemic. In response, authorities shut down the city last week, shutting down schools and most businesses and widely banning people from leaving their homes.
Xi’an is one of the largest Chinese cities to have been closed since authorities cordoned off Wuhan. Daily tests are required for many citizens, and the city has been sprayed with clouds of disinfectant for a “full scale” deep cleaning.
On social media, residents complained about having trouble ordering food, with the hashtag “Grocery shopping in Xi’an is difficult” garnering 300 million views on Weibo. Censors cut some of the posts, but officials admitted the new restrictions had contributed to logistical and personnel issues.
Here are the latest pandemic updates and maps.
In other developments:
Tesla’s green ambitions tested on the Pacific Islands
A small French territory suspended between Australia and Fiji is at the center of a key test of whether Western automakers can bypass China’s dominance of battery power and establish sustainable practices.
Tesla, through a partnership with a large nickel mine in New Caledonia, will source much of the key ore directly, a major step in the company’s larger effort to take control of its supply chain and ensure that its cars are manufactured with respect for the environment. and socially responsible fashion.
If accomplished, Tesla could pave the way for setting global standards for the electric vehicle revolution, in another convention-defying initiative from company founder Elon Musk. If the effort fails, it will serve as a warning about how difficult it is to achieve true sustainability.
Environment: New Caledonia is one of the largest carbon emitters per capita in the world. But if the Tesla Model is successful, carbon emissions would drop, with renewables fueling the nickel processing plant. But nickel has been at the heart of politics in New Caledonia for centuries, and Tesla will have to contend with this loaded history.
Bypass China: Most of the world’s nickel for electric vehicle batteries is processed in one place: China. Tesla intends to produce batteries in Texas and Germany, which would avoid over-reliance on China.
The passage: Some Tesla cars run on batteries made with nickel processed by a Japanese company that sourced much of its nickel from places like the Philippines, Indonesia and Madagascar, where allegations of violations of the environment and work are numerous.
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This year, as the world cautiously reopened, our correspondents ventured out in search of stories that would astonish, delight, provoke and enlighten. They then returned dispatches from 40 countries to six continents.
In one, our correspondent in Berlin, Melissa Eddy, told the story of a former dairy farm in Germany that has been turned into a nursing home for animals, where cows and pigs live in peace, prompting questions on our diet.
In another, our South Asia bureau chief, Mujib Mashal, who grew up in Kabul, wrote that he had returned there just before the Taliban victory, and that he had experienced the end of a era and the frightening start of another.
Read these stories and a dozen more from our list of this year’s 14 most popular dispatches.