Your Wednesday Briefing

Russia announced a flurry of military drills yesterday across its vast territory, from the Pacific Ocean to the country’s western flank near Ukraine, including joint drills with the Chinese fleet in the Arabian Sea. The announcement followed a series of military moves made by the U.S. and NATO this week aimed at deterring a Russian incursion into Ukraine.

In a part of Belarus close to Ukraine, Russian troops disembarked from heavy-duty armored vehicles and other equipment before joint drills with Belarusian forces. In Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, Russian tanks started planned shooting exercises. Separately, researchers noticed an uptick in social media posts accusing Ukraine of plotting a genocide against ethnic Russians.

Russia is blaming the U.S. for the escalation and insists that it has no plans to invade Ukraine. The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, said that the U.S. and NATO were orchestrating “information hysteria” about Ukraine by reporting “lies” and “fakes.” For now, nonmilitary diplomatic solutions remain possible.

Europe: The U.S. is working with Middle Eastern, North African and Asian gas suppliers to bolster supplies in case Russia cuts off fuel shipments. But as Germany wavers on tough measures, its allies have begun to ask questions about what price Berlin is prepared to pay to deter Russia, and even about its reliability as an ally.

The E.U. recommended yesterday that residents traveling through the 27 member states who have been vaccinated in the past nine months, who have recovered from the coronavirus or who have a recent negative test should not face additional restrictions like testing or quarantine when traveling within the bloc.

The new rules, set to go into effect Feb. 1, were the latest indication that the bloc was accepting Covid as a part of everyday life. They came a day after the W.H.O. had said that the spread of the Omicron variant could change the pandemic from overwhelming to manageable.

But the bloc recommended additional restrictions for people who are not vaccinated or have not recovered from the virus and who are coming from high-risk areas. To encourage booster shots, the bloc also said that proof of two-dose vaccinations would expire after nine months. So far, slightly over 40 percent of E.U. residents have received an extra dose.

Context: The British government said on Monday that it would lift testing requirements for vaccinated travelers starting Feb. 11. Ireland took a similar step on Jan. 6, and Spain has kept its borders open without a testing requirement, even as it tightens some domestic restrictions in response to rising cases.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:


An audacious attack on a prison housing thousands of former ISIS fighters in Syria that swelled into the biggest confrontation in years between ISIS and the U.S. military and its allies. A series of deadly strikes against military forces in neighboring Iraq. And, in December, a horrific video that showed the beheading of an Iraqi police officer.

Evidence of a resurgence of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq is mounting by the day, nearly three years after the militants lost the last patch of territory of their so-called caliphate, which once stretched across both countries. Many of the attacks have taken place in disputed territory claimed by both the Iraqi Kurdish government and Iraq’s central government.

The attacks in Iraq have also highlighted a lack of coordination between Iraqi government forces and the Peshmerga, the forces of the Iraqi Kurdistan region. Iraq has also struggled to deal with Iraqi citizens who are relatives of ISIS fighters and who have been placed in detention camps — which are now feared to be breeding grounds for radicalization.

Analysis: “It’s a wake-up call for regional players, for national players, that ISIS is not over, that the fight is not over,” said Kawa Hassan of the Stimson Center, a Washington research institute. “It shows the resilience of ISIS to strike back at the time and place of their choosing.”

From the region: In a German court last week, someone from the Syrian regime was found guilty in connection with its crimes. Here’s what the verdict means for Syrians and for global human rights.

Lunar New Year, which starts Feb. 1 this year, is celebrated in Singapore primarily by members of the Chinese diaspora, who make up three-quarters of the population. During two weeks of festivities, the island nation’s ethnic diversity shines through its colorful and distinctive food culture.

Frank Dutton, one of South Africa’s most lauded police officials, took on apartheid’s crimes. He died at 72.

It is perhaps not the most important question regarding the international maelstrom currently brewing in Ukraine — but it is a common one, with an unexpectedly political answer: How do you pronounce the capital’s name, Kyiv?

Many Russian speakers favor the two-syllable “key-EV.” But the preferred pronunciation among Ukrainians is less commonly heard among English speakers. And Marta Jenkala, who teaches Ukrainian language at University College London, has a tip: “It helps if you smile a little bit to say it, especially on the first syllable,” she said.

In 2019, Yuri Shevchuk, a lecturer in Ukrainian at Columbia University, told The Times that native Ukrainians stress the first vowel, and pronounce it like the “i” in “kid” or “lid.” The second vowel, pronounced as a separate syllable, sounds like the “ee” sound in “keel.” And the V is also pronounced differently, like the end of the word “low.” Listen to a recording here.

Andrii Smytsniuk, a Ukrainian who teaches Ukrainian and Russian at the University of Cambridge, he would argue that people should pronounce it in a Ukrainian way “that is as close to the original as possible.” A good analogue is people’s names, he said, adding, “I think it makes sense to pronounce someone’s name the way the person would pronounce it.”

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