Good morning. We’re covering NATO’s intensifying defense, the Taliban’s abrupt reversal on girls’ education and Julian Assange’s prison marriage.
Amid talks, NATO bolsters its defenses
NATO announced on Wednesday that it would double its military presence on its eastern front. The additional four combat-ready, battalion-size units were deploying in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia.
President Biden arrived in Brussels for an extraordinary strategy session, where he will press European allies for even more aggressive sanctions on Russia.
But Europeans feel the impact of sanctions and the war more acutely than Americans, and NATO members are trying to defend Ukraine without directly engaging with Russia.
European leaders may be especially unwilling to follow the U.S. in stopping purchases of Russian oil and gas: The E.U., on average, gets 40 percent of its natural gas and a quarter of its oil from Russia. Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany, which has the largest economy in Europe, said halting such purchases would imperil “hundreds of thousands of jobs.”
Escalation: The U.S. is quietly making contingency plans in case President Vladimir Putin unleashes Russia’s stockpiles of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. Even without extreme weapons, Russia has all but obliterated everyday civilian life in Ukraine.
State of the war:
The latest Western intelligence reports indicate that Russian forces remain stalled. A senior NATO official said around 15,000 Russian soldiers might have died, more than double the Pentagon’s figure of around 7,000.
On Wednesday, the U.S. government formally concluded that Russian forces had committed war crimes in Ukraine.
The French car company Renault has halted its operations in Russia.
Wary of how Russia might react, Israel rejected requests from Ukraine and Estonia to purchase and use Pegasus, a powerful spyware tool.
Russia’s invasion has shown Germany — which swiftly began its biggest rearmament program since the end of the Cold War — to be a weak link in NATO.
Taliban reneges on girls’ schools
In an abrupt reversal, the Taliban said girls’ high schools in Afghanistan would remain closed until officials could assure their accordance with Islamic law, saying that female teachers and a religious uniform were needed. Girls’ schools were supposed to open this week.
Wednesday’s reversal is a significant blow to the Taliban’s international credibility: The move came a little more than a week before the U.N. had hoped donor countries would commit to more humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.
It could also threaten that funding. The international community has made girls’ education a central condition of foreign funding and any future recognition of the Taliban.
Context: Afghanistan is grappling with an economic collapse that has left over half of the population without sufficient food.
Details: Over one million girls had planned to return to class on Wednesday. Some did, only to be forced to go back home. “They came to my office, crying,” a principal in Kabul said.
Julian Assange marries in prison
The WikiLeaks founder wed Stella Moris, his longtime partner with whom he has two young children, at the London prison where he has been held since 2019. Supporters of the couple were encouraged to attend a “solidarity vigil” outside the facility, Belmarsh Prison.
It was not immediately clear who attended the ceremony, or if the couple was allowed to hold a reception or spend time alone afterward.
Background: Assange is fighting extradition to the United States on espionage charges. After years of court battles, Britain’s Supreme Court refused his latest appeal to prevent his extradition.
Details: In an essay in The Guardian that was published on Wednesday, Moris wrote that every aspect of the private ceremony was being intensely policed. WikiLeaks posted footage on Twitter of Moris after the ceremony.
THE LATEST NEWS
Around the World
Deep in the jungles of Belize, the skeletons of people who died as long as 9,600 years ago have been exceptionally well preserved. Their bones offer a rare glimpse into the genetic history of people in the Maya region, suggesting that intensive maize farming and agricultural technology arrived from the south.
Lives Lived: Madeleine Albright, the first woman to serve as U.S. secretary of state, rose to power and fame as a brilliant analyst of world affairs. She died at 84.
Russia-Ukraine War: Key Developments
ARTS AND IDEAS
As awareness about the climate crisis grows, so does a mounting sense of dread, especially among the young. Last year, a survey of 10,000 teenagers and young adults in 10 countries found that three-quarters were frightened of the future.
But although there is a lot of gloom, a growing number of young people are actively pushing to eschew doom.
Instead, they are confronting looming climate devastation by focusing on solutions, fighting the notion that it’s too late to turn things around. They believe that focusing solely on terrible climate news can sow dread and paralysis — and help preserve a status quo reliant on consumerism and fossil fuels.
“‘It’s too late’ means ‘I don’t have to do anything, and the responsibility is off me, and I can continue existing however I want,’” one podcaster said.