Your Thursday Briefing: NATO Boosts Its Eastern Presence

We’re covering NATO’s plans to bolster its eastern troops and the Taliban’s reneged promise to open girls’ schools.

German soldiers training with a Lithuania-based NATO battlegroup this month. Credit…Andrea Mantovani for The New York Times

NATO bolsters troop presence near Ukraine

NATO’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, announced plans to double the alliance’s battlegroups on its eastern flank — in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia — hours before President Biden was set to land in Brussels for a major summit with allies.

The NATO action and the upcoming meetings are part of a coordinated effort by the West to push for tougher penalties to prevent Russia’s invasion of Ukraine from growing into a wider conflict. Biden is expected to target Russian lawmakers with new sanctions this week.

On the ground in Kyiv, Ukraine, a hail of rockets landed in a residential area near the city center, causing extensive damage but few casualties. Russia’s progress has been slow: British intelligence has suggested that the battlefield in the north of the country has stayed largely static for days. Here’s a map tracking the movement of troops in Ukraine.

Appeals abroad: In brief remarks to Japan’s Parliament, Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, appealed to the country’s memories of nuclear disaster and a chemical-weapon attack in an attempt to garner support.

Europe’s forces: Germany’s Nazi past has made it reluctant to invest in military power. After Russia invaded Ukraine, Germany revolutionized its security doctrine, but its military isn’t ready to lead.

Dissent: Russia’s failure to execute a quick takeover of Ukraine is causing some in Moscow to question the military leadership of Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president. Putin’s climate envoy was reported to have quit, becoming the senior-most Russian government official to do so because of the war.

Spyware: The Israeli government rejected requests from Ukraine and Estonia in recent years to purchase and use Pegasus, a powerful spyware tool, fearing it would damage Israel’s relationship with Russia.

The Quiapo district in Manila on Friday.Credit…Ezra Acayan for The New York Times

Across Asia, Covid rules are swiftly disappearing

Covid restrictions had largely vanished in India by the time millions of people celebrated a Hindu festival last weekend. In the Philippines, where thousands gathered at a political rally on Sunday, Covid protocols had taken a back seat.

Many Asian-Pacific countries are dismantling their yearslong Covid rules at breakneck speeds, even though the Omicron variant of the coronavirus is still raging in parts of the region. The changes are driven by a mix of medical advice, economic pressures and the sentiment of a pandemic-weary public.

New Zealand announced plans to loosen more restrictions, which had been some of the world’s toughest. And Japan, which had some of the tightest entry barriers, is considering removing quarantine requirements for foreign businesspeople and students.

The one major exception is mainland China, which continues to have strict Covid restrictions after long adhering to its “zero Covid” approach.

In other pandemic news:

  • West and Central African countries have fared better with Covid than many wealthy ones. The debate about the reasons has divided scientists.

  • Moderna said it would seek emergency authorization of its coronavirus vaccine for children younger than 6 in the U.S.

  • South Korea asked crematories to increase their capacity and funeral homes to secure more refrigerators as Covid deaths surge.

Girls attending a class after their school briefly reopened in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Wednesday.Credit…Ahmad Sahel Arman/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Taliban renege on promise to open girls’ schools

The Taliban abruptly reversed their decision to allow girls’ high schools to reopen this week, saying that they would remain closed until officials could assure their accordance with Islamic law.

Many of the over one million high-school-aged girls who had grown up in an era of opportunity for women were devastated by the news. Some found out after they had already arrived for classes yesterday. One 12th-grade student in Kabul said the decision had stamped out her last bit of hope that she could achieve her dream of becoming a lawyer.

A spokesman for the Taliban’s Ministry of Education said they had decided not to allow girls to return because of a lack of a religious uniform and female teachers, among other issues.

The move could threaten the Taliban’s ability to secure billions of dollars of humanitarian aid. It comes a little more than a week before a pledging conference where the U.N. had hoped donor countries would commit millions of dollars in badly needed assistance. Both the U.N. and the U.S. condemned the Taliban’s decision.

Elsewhere in Afghanistan: While many girls were blocked from classrooms in Kabul and elsewhere, at least two northern cities began their semesters as planned, a geographic discrepancy indicative of the Taliban’s largely erratic policymaking.


Asia Pacific

Credit…Zhou Hua/Xinhua, via Associated Press
  • Rescuers found one of the flight recorders of the Boeing 737 plane that crashed in southern China.

  • Ashleigh Barty, the top-ranked women’s tennis player, announced that she was retiring from tennis at the age of 25.

  • The founder of the Australian megachurch Hillsong resigned after an internal investigation found he had behaved inappropriately toward women at least twice over the past decade.

What Else Is Happening

  • Madeleine Albright, a child of Czech refugees who became the first woman to serve as U.S. secretary of state, died at 84.

  • A U.S. citizen wanted by the F.B.I. for assaulting police officers at the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol has been granted asylum in Belarus.

  • A Dutch publisher said it would no longer publish the best-selling book “The Betrayal of Anne Frank,” because of doubts about its conclusions. The book claimed to identify the informant who alerted Nazi police to the hiding place of Frank, the teenage diarist.

  • A deadly tornado in New Orleans damaged homes and filled streets with debris. At least one person was killed.

A Morning Read

Credit…Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Faced with a soaring divorce rate, China introduced a law last year forcing couples to undergo a 30-day “cooling off” period before finalizing their separation. The rule appears to have worked; recent government statistics show a steep drop in divorces. But the country has a much bigger challenge: Fewer Chinese citizens are marrying in the first place.


Filming Gotham (in Liverpool)

In the newest Batman movie, released earlier this month, the skyscrapers and imposing architecture of the fictional metropolis Gotham are featured prominently.

But rather than filming in New York — the city most closely associated with Gotham — “The Batman” used the streets of Liverpool as the latest backdrop for the superhero.

Gotham’s city hall is actually St. George’s Hall in Liverpool, and a statue shown outside in the movie is Benjamin Disraeli, a 19th-century British prime minister. “The Batman” is the latest in a string of movies and TV shows — fueled especially by streaming services like Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime — to bring production to Britain.

More than 80 percent of the spending on film and high-end TV productions in Britain is from American and other overseas production companies. But local authorities have also capitalized on the trend. Liverpool’s film office invested $2.6 million in six TV shows and set aside millions more for studio space.

For more on “The Batman,” check out our Anatomy of a Scene feature.


What to Cook

Credit…Joel Goldberg for The New York Times

Conchas, the Mexican sweet bread, are a seashell-shaped delight.

What to Read

In “Truly, Madly,” Stephen Galloway writes about one of the 20th century’s most glamorous, turbulent couples, Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier.

What to Listen to

Christine and the Queens, Charli XCX and Caroline Polachek, who collaborated on a new track, talked to the Times about how they navigate pop.

Now Time to Play

Play today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Sweetheart (five letters).

Here’s today’s Wordle.

And here is the Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. See you next time. — Matthew

P.S. Lynsey Addario, a Times photojournalist in Ukraine, shares her experiences on the ground and how she communicates with her subjects during difficult moments.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about the U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

You can reach Matthew and the team at

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