Your Thursday Briefing

The U.S. and NATO gave formal responses yesterday to Russia’s demands that NATO pull back forces from Eastern Europe and bar Ukraine from ever joining the alliance. The U.S. response “sets out a serious diplomatic path forward should Russia choose it,” the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said.

Russia has insisted for weeks that the U.S. provide written responses before the Kremlin decides on its next course of action and has asserted that it has no plans to invade Ukraine. Blinken said he expected to speak in the coming days with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, once Russian officials are “ready to discuss next steps.”

The document has not been released publicly, but Blinken said it proposed “reciprocal transparency measures regarding force posture in Ukraine, as well as measures to increase confidence regarding military exercises and maneuvers in Europe” and nuclear arms control in Europe. The U.S. would not rule out future membership in NATO for Ukraine, he added.

Sanctions against Putin: President Biden said on Tuesday that economic sanctions against Russia could target Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader, personally, drawing a dismissive response from the Kremlin. Although Putin is believed to have amassed a great deal of personal wealth, it’s highly unlikely that any of it is in the U.S. A travel ban, experts said, would also have a limited effect.

An enormous and growing backlog of patients in Britain’s free health service has led to delays or diversions in planned care, in part because of the pandemic — a largely unseen crisis within a crisis. The problems are likely to have profound consequences that will be felt for years.

In England, nearly six million procedures are currently delayed, up from 4.6 million before the pandemic, according to the N.H.S. — and most likely representing almost one-tenth of the population. Hundreds of thousands more people haven’t yet been referred for treatment, and many ailments have simply gone undiagnosed.

Experts say that severe staffing shortages this winter and the wildfire spread of the Omicron variant have almost certainly made the situation worse. Public health experts now worry that even if the pandemic eases and relieves some of the immediate burden, the pandemic and delayed care could do lasting harm to the health system, as well as to patients.

A troubling picture: A recent report from the parliamentary health committee revealed record waiting lists, high caseloads and severe staffing shortages. It warned that a major expansion of the labor force was needed in health care but that the government was not doing enough to recruit and train.

Related: The Times would like to speak to people in Britain who are facing tighter financial conditions as inflation reaches its highest point in 30 years. Get in touch with our team here.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:


Justice Stephen Breyer, the senior member of the Supreme Court’s liberal wing, has announced his plans to retire, providing President Biden a chance to make good on his pledge to name a Black woman to the court. Democrats, who control the Senate by a narrow margin, may have to act quickly ahead of the midterms.

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Justice Leondra Kruger of the California Supreme Court and Judge J. Michelle Childs, a Federal District Court judge, are among the leading candidates to succeed Breyer.

Five years ago, a chunk of Antarctic ice more than 100 miles long broke off from the Antarctic ice shelf. The resulting iceberg drifted north into warmer waters, where it has finally met its end near the island of South Georgia in the South Atlantic.

Because the ice was already floating, its melting did not contribute to sea-level rise — though scientists will be studying its effects on the ecosystem around the island for some time.

A four-ton part of a SpaceX rocket that has been orbiting the Earth for years is expected to crash into the moon soon, potentially creating a 65-foot crater on impact. While numerous spacecraft sent to the moon have crashed there, this appears to be the first time that something from Earth not aimed at the moon will end up there.

The collision is predicted for 12:25 p.m. G.M.T. on March 4. While there is still some uncertainty regarding the exact time and place, the rocket piece is not going to miss the moon, said Bill Gray, developer of Project Pluto, a suite of software used to calculate the orbits of asteroids and comets.

The part, the upper stage of a SpaceX rocket, helped launch a deep-space observatory in February 2015. But because it needed all of its propellant to do so, the part ended up in a very high, elongated orbit around Earth. Its motion is now determined primarily by the gravitational pull of the Earth, the moon and the sun, with a nudge of pressure from sunlight.

Astronomers will get one more look next month before the rocket stage swings out beyond the moon and then heads in to hit its far side, out of sight of anyone from Earth. NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will not be in a position to see the impact live, though it will later pass over the expected impact site and take photographs of the fresh crater.

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