Your Friday Briefing: Ardern’s Exit
Jacinda Ardern faced numerous crises in office, including the 2019 Christchurch terrorist attack and the coronavirus pandemic.Credit…Kerry Marshall/Getty Images
Ardern bows out
After more than five years in power, Jacinda Ardern said that she would resign as New Zealand’s prime minister in early February, before the end of her second term. In a surprise announcement, she said that she no longer had “enough in the tank” to do the job.
New Zealand’s youngest prime minister in 150 years, Ardern, 42, became a global emblem of liberalism. Her pronounced feminism and emphasis on a “politics of kindness” set her apart from her more bombastic male counterparts.
But she faced deepening political challenges at home, with an election looming in October. Her Labour Party has been lagging behind the center-right National Party in polls for months. This weekend, the party will elect a new leader, but Ardern has no obvious successor.
Quotable: “I believe that leading a country is the most privileged job anyone could ever have, but also one of the more challenging,” Ardern said. “You cannot and should not do it unless you have a full tank, plus a bit in reserve for those unexpected challenges.”
Analysis: The pandemic may have been her undoing, our Sydney bureau chief writes. Her administration’s reliance on extended lockdowns hurt the economy and spurred an online backlash. Threats against her increased as she became a target for those who saw vaccine mandates as a rights violation.
U.S. hits its debt limit
The U.S. reached its $31.4 trillion debt cap yesterday, which is the total amount it can borrow. The country is now gearing up for a bitter partisan battle over raising the cap.
Failure to do so could be catastrophic. It would mean that the U.S. would not be able to pay its bills and may be unable to meet its financial obligations, possibly even defaulting on its debt. That could plunge the U.S. into a deep recession and has the potential to cause a global financial crisis.
The Treasury Department said it would begin a series of accounting maneuvers, known as “extraordinary measures,” which are designed to keep the U.S. from breaching the limit. Janet Yellen, the Treasury secretary, also asked lawmakers yesterday to raise or suspend the cap to delay a default.
The State of the War
- Helicopter Crash: A helicopter crashed in a fireball in a Kyiv suburb, killing a member of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s cabinet and more than a dozen other people, and dealing a blow to Ukraine’s wartime leadership.
- Western Military Aid: Kyiv is redoubling its pleas to allies for more advanced weapons ahead of an expected new Russian offensive. The Netherlands said that it was considering sending a Patriot missile system, and the Biden administration is warming to the idea of providing the weapons that Ukraine needs to target the Crimean Peninsula.
- Dnipro: A Russian strike on an apartment complex in the central Ukrainian city was one of the deadliest for civilians away from the front line since the war began. The attack prompted renewed calls for Moscow to be charged with war crimes.
Politics: Newly empowered House Republicans are poised to again leverage the debt limit to make demands on President Biden. Biden, for his part, has said he will not negotiate over the limit, and that lawmakers should lift it, with no strings attached, to cover spending that the previous Congress has authorized.
What’s next: The extraordinary measures should allow the government to keep paying workers and others through early June. It’s unlikely that the crisis will find a resolution smoothly or soon, and months of partisan brinkmanship loom.
Will Ukraine get more tanks?
Lloyd Austin, the U.S. defense secretary, will lead a meeting of officials from about 50 countries at a U.S. air base in Germany today that will focus on how to provide Ukraine the weapons it needs, including advanced Western tanks.
Ukraine is redoubling its pleas for more advanced weapons, like tanks and air defense missiles, ahead of an expected Russian springtime offensive that could be decisive in the war.
At the meeting, the U.S. is expected to announce plans to send Ukraine nearly 100 Stryker combat vehicles, as part of a roughly $2.5 billion weapons package, officials said. Britain has committed to sending 14 Challenger battle tanks.
Now, all eyes are on Germany. The country has been under pressure to supply or authorize the export of its Leopard 2 tanks, which are among the most coveted by Kyiv. Austin met with Germany’s new defense minister, Boris Pistorius, yesterday to try to reach an agreement over sending the tanks to Ukraine.
Quotable: “In a war like it is being fought, every type of equipment is necessary,” Adm. Rob Bauer, a senior NATO official, said. “And the Russians are fighting with tanks. So the Ukrainians need tanks as well.”
THE LATEST NEWS
Around the World
Over one million people went on strike across France to protest a plan to raise the legal retirement age to 64 from 62.
Alec Baldwin will be charged with involuntary manslaughter after the fatal shooting on the “Rust” film set, prosecutors announced.
A stampede outside an Iraqi soccer stadium killed at least one person. Fans were angry to discover that they had been sold fake tickets.
The only H.I.V. vaccine in advanced trials has failed. Progress could be set back by five years, experts said.
In another upset at the Australian Open, Casper Ruud of Norway — the No. 2 seed — lost to an unseeded American, Jenson Brooksby.
The Week in Culture
“All Quiet on the Western Front,” a German-language remake set in World War I, leads the BAFTA nominees.
The British Museum and Greece are getting closer to a deal on returning the so-called Elgin Marbles to Athens.
Yukihiro Takahashi was a leading figure in Japan’s pop scene for nearly 50 years, most prominently with the Yellow Magic Orchestra. He died at 70.
A Morning Read
On hundreds of small islands scattered off South Korea’s coast, communities rely on government-run hospital ships that bring free medical services. The ships have been around for decades, but their necessity has increased in recent years as the population ages.
The means of supplying medical help for older citizens has become a growing concern in East Asian countries and beyond the region.
SPOTLIGHT ON AFRICA
A tiger rivets South Africa
South Africa is never boring. At the moment, there’s an energy crisis and plenty of political drama. But people here had something more unusual to talk about this week: A tiger on the loose in a residential area south of Johannesburg.
Sheba, an eight-year-old female, escaped from her enclosure on a private farm in the Walkerville area last weekend. The news spread panic in the neighborhood and gripped South Africans throughout the nation. Sheba mauled a 39-year-old man, and killed two dogs and a pig. Even with a police helicopter circling over the area, she evaded searchers until the early hours of Wednesday morning, when she was shot and killed.
South Africa is a nature lover’s paradise, but every now and again two worlds collide. In 2021, a lost hippopotamus turned up in northern Johannesburg and wandered through backyards, cooling itself in swimming pools until it was captured. In Pringle Bay, a vacation spot outside Cape Town, troops of baboons terrorized visitors last year. — Lynsey Chutel, a Briefings writer in Johannesburg.
PLAY, WATCH, EAT
What to Cook
For Lunar New Year, here are some easy, festive wonton recipes.
What to Read
Paul Theroux suggests books to take you through Boston.
What to Watch
Li Xiaofeng’s film “Back to the Wharf” turns a crime story into an allegory about the moral cost of China’s modernization.
What to Listen to
Tracks by Miley Cyrus and Vagabon are among the 13 new songs on our playlist.
Where to Go
Check out Seoul’s hidden, cozy cocktail bars.
Now Time to Play
Play the Mini Crossword, and a clue: Happen (five letters).
Here are the Wordle and the Spelling Bee.
You can find all our puzzles here.
That’s it for today’s briefing. Best wishes to those who are celebrating Lunar New Year on Sunday. — Amelia
P.S. Paul Mozur will be our new global technology correspondent. Congratulations, Paul!
“The Daily” is about why the U.S. is sending weapons to Ukraine.
We’d welcome your feedback. You can reach us at [email protected].