Your Wednesday Briefing
A crude oil terminal near the port city of Nakhodka, in eastern Russia.Credit…Tatiana Meel/Reuters
Asia buys up Russian oil
A surge in demand from Asia for discounted Russian oil is making up for the significantly lower number of barrels being sold to Europe, dulling the effects of the West’s sanctions.
Most of the additional oil has gone to two countries: China and India. China’s imports of Russian oil rose 28 percent in May from the previous month, while India has gone from taking in almost no Russian oil to buying more than 760,000 barrels a day.
The oil is being sold at a steep discount because of the risks associated with sanctions imposed to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. Still, soaring energy prices have led to an uptick in oil revenue for Russia, which took in $1.7 billion more last month than it did in April.
Details: The ruble cemented its unlikely status as the world’s best-performing currency, rising to new multiyear highs this week on earnings from oil and gas exports.
More news from the war in Ukraine:
The Ukrainian government made an urgent plea for the hundreds of thousands of people living in Russian-occupied southern Ukraine to evacuate in advance of a Ukrainian counteroffensive.
The U.S. attorney general, Merrick Garland, made a surprise trip to Ukraine to announce the appointment of a prosecutor to lead American efforts in tracking Russian war criminals.
American officials say the arrival of new weapons systems will help Ukraine hang on to its territory.
Bridges are critical in the battle for the Donbas region. Shelling has mostly destroyed them, but that didn’t stop one woman from walking across a bridge to buy some basics.
The Nobel Peace Prize put up for auction by a Russian journalist to help Ukrainian refugees sold for $103.5 million to an anonymous buyer.
A train strike in Britain
Britain was hobbled on Tuesday by its largest railway strike in three decades — setting off what union and government leaders warned could be a summer of labor unrest.
Last-ditch talks between the transport union and the rail operator collapsed Monday night, and hundreds of trains ground to a halt for the first of three planned days of strikes, throwing travel plans for tens of millions of Britons and visitors into chaos. Most trains will also probably be halted on Thursday and Saturday, with disruptions rippling across the system for the entire week.
The main railway union is demanding a pay raise in line with the increase in cost of living. The strikes are a major test for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who called on the unions to compromise on their demands at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has kept ridership and ticket revenue well below normal levels.
Looking ahead. With soaring food and fuel prices and wages that are failing to keep pace, Johnson is likely to face other restive workers across multiple industries. Teachers, airline employees and criminal defense lawyers are among those who have threatened to walk off the job.
China’s expanding surveillance capabilities
Phone-tracking devices are now everywhere in China — as are more than half of the world’s nearly one billion surveillance cameras, analysts estimate. The police there are creating some of the largest DNA databases in the world. And the authorities are building upon facial recognition technology to collect voice prints from the general public.
Times reporters spent over a year analyzing more than a hundred thousand government bidding documents, revealing that China’s ambition to collect a staggering amount of personal data from everyday citizens is more expansive than previously known.
The analysis found that the police chose locations to maximize the data their facial recognition cameras could collect, such as places where people eat, shop and travel. In one bidding document from Fujian Province, the police estimated that there were 2.5 billion facial images stored at any given time.
The authorities are using phone trackers to link people’s digital lives to their physical movements. In one case, documents revealed that the police bought phone trackers with the hope of detecting a Uyghur-to-Chinese dictionary app, which would identify phones likely belonging to members of the oppressed Uyghur ethnic minority.
For more: Here are the four biggest takeaways from the Times investigation.
THE LATEST NEWS
A new Chinese study about the relatively low risks of the Omicron variant for severe illness has reignited discussion about the country’s “zero Covid” policy.
Jihadist rebels killed 132 civilians in the West African nation of Mali over the weekend, the government said.
The United States has begun giving Covid-19 vaccinations to children 6 months to 5 years old, the final group of Americans to gain access to the shots.
Other Big Stories
The governing coalition in Israel dissolved Parliament, plunging the country back into paralysis and throwing a political lifeline to Benjamin Netanyahu, above center, the right-wing prime minister who left office one year ago.
Next up for Gustavo Petro, Colombia’s new president: proving he can carry out the major reforms he promised.
The head of the Texas State Police said the police response to the shooting last month in Uvalde was “an abject failure” that ran counter to decades of training.
What Else Is Happening
An explosive report from BuzzFeed raised more questions about whether TikTok exposes the personal information of Americans to Beijing, putting President Biden’s China policy under a new spotlight.
A jury in California found that Bill Cosby sexually assaulted Judy Huth in 1975, when she was a 16-year-old girl.
Documenta, the international contemporary art exhibition in Germany, said it would remove a work after diplomats and lawmakers said it contained antisemitic images.
Jumbo Floating Restaurant, a mainstay of Hong Kong for decades, capsized and sank in the South China Sea.
A Morning Read
For a brief, shining moment last summer, Wasabi the Pekingese was the most celebrated dog in America, after winning the best in show trophy at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. But a new champion will be crowned today, which raises the question: Once a dog like Wasabi reaches the pinnacle of success, what does he do next?
ARTS AND IDEAS
You’re still on mute
It has been almost 28 months since offices shut down at the beginning of the pandemic. More than enough time to buy a ring light, hang some art on the walls and figure out the mute button. But as Emma Goldberg, a Times business reporter found, many people have still not adapted.
Plenty of people have kept working from home with a certain level of flippancy, as though any day might herald a sweeping return back to cubicles and commutes.
At the end of 2021, three million professional roles in the U.S. went permanently remote. Many other workers have been in limbo, going back to the office either part time or waiting for a return-to-office plan that won’t be postponed. The confusion and ambivalence people feel can make it hard to invest in making a remote work setup feel permanent.
Last week Sujay Jaswa, a former Dropbox executive, did a video shoot with the camera aimed toward the ceiling. “His business philosophy does not include pulling off a decent zoom,” Room Rater, a Twitter account that scores video call backgrounds, wrote.
PLAY, WATCH, EAT
What to Cook
Spaghetti al limone with shrimp spotlights the power of tarragon, particularly against the sweetness of shrimp and the bright acidity of lemon.
What to Read
In her new book, “The Last Resort,” Sarah Stodola tours seaside resorts and catalogs some of the damage they can do.
What to Watch
Here’s a list of some of the best movies on Amazon Prime Video right now.
Now Time to Play
Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and a clue: Largest continent (four letters).
And here’s today’s Wordle and the Spelling Bee.
You can find all our puzzles here.
That’s it for today’s briefing. Thanks for joining us. — Jonathan and Matthew
P.S. This week 50 years ago, Irish Republican Army men in Belfast’s Crumlin Road jail ended a 36-day hunger strike.
The latest episode of “The Daily” is about the red-hot American property market.
You can reach Jonathan, Matthew and the team at [email protected].