Your Monday Briefing: The Olympics Begin

Good morning. We’re covering the start of the Winter Olympics, tensions between Russia and Ukraine, and Afghanistan’s crumbling health care system.

China’s leader, Xi Jinping, opened the Beijing Games on Friday with a clear intent to celebrate his country’s increasingly assured global status.

Xi stood defiantly with Vladimir Putin, the leader of Russia, a calculated display of solidarity to show their partnership and project their growing impatience with Western censure. (President Biden and other democratic leaders critical of China’s human rights record stayed home.)

China also picked an athlete with a Uyghur name to help light the cauldron at the close of the ceremony, a choice that confronted the criticism head-on.

Covid: On Friday, 20 athletes and team officials tested positive at the airport. Here’s a map of China’s cases.

Moscow is not ready to breach Ukraine, but parts of Russia’s army appear to be in the final stages of preparation, according to a Ukrainian military assessment.

Of particular concern is the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014. In the last two weeks, Russia has deployed an additional 10,000 troops to the region.

Along much of Ukraine’s border, Russia has massed roughly 130,000 troops, in what analysts describe as a near-textbook example of a modern military making final preparations for war. U.S. officials said that’s about 70 percent of the forces Russia would need to invade.

Details: U.S. officials said that a large-scale Russian invasion could kill as many as 50,000 civilians and prompt a refugee crisis across Europe.

The country’s hospitals and clinics are struggling to hold up amid a cash shortage and a vast surge of malnutrition and disease. By one estimate, 90 percent of Afghanistan’s health clinics were likely to shut down soon.

Before the government fell in August, the health system relied on international aid. It has crumbled after the Taliban took control. Late last month, António Guterres, the United Nations secretary general, called for countries to suspend all sanctions that restricted the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Details: The country’s largest hospital nearly shut down in October, when the unpaid staff had to cut down trees for cooking fires. The U.N. predicts that 4.7 million Afghans are likely to suffer severe malnutrition this year. Children are especially vulnerable.

Quotable: “When I try to talk to people about Covid-19, they say we have no food, no water, no electricity — why should we care about this virus?” said the medical director of the only remaining Covid facility in Kabul.

Europe: Educated Afghan refugees are welcomed, but they struggle with their lives in exile. Their poorer compatriots are often shunned.

Asia and the Pacific

Has the wreckage of Captain Cook’s famous ship finally been discovered? Researchers in the U.S. and Australia disagree on whether they have found the wreck of the HMB Endeavour off the coast of Rhode Island. An Australian researcher called it “one of the most important and contentious vessels in Australia’s maritime history.”

The Saturday Profile: Randa Abd Al-Aziz, the first Black news anchor in Iraq, is part of an effort to reflect the country’s diversity on its television.

Lives lived: Lata Mangeshkar enthralled generations of Bollywood audiences as the singing voice behind many actresses’ performances. She died on Sunday at 92.

Chaos and rapid gunfire. A woman wails as she falls. Enter the Russian mercenary warriors, who will save the beleaguered villagers from jihadists.

Loosely based on a controversial 2019 mission by Russian military operatives to put down an insurgency in Mozambique, the Russian film “Granite” is the latest blockbuster that aims to retell Russia’s story in Africa.

While U.N. investigators blame the Russian private military operatives, like the Wagner Group, for driving war crimes in Africa, films like “Granite” portray Russia’s role as heroic.

“Hahaha” is how one Mozambican journalist began his commentary on the film. Writing in Carta de Moçambique, a local news site, the journalist Marcelo Mosse called the film “a kind of docudrama promoting mercenarism.” For Mosse and others, the film raises uncomfortable questions about Russia’s role in Africa.

Increasingly, countries turning away from former colonial powers have pivoted to Russia. After recent coups in Mali and Burkina Faso, street protesters in both countries waved Russian flags.

It’s not the first time Russian filmmakers have looked to mercenaries in Africa for inspiration. Last year, the film “Tourist” depicted the heroics of Russian mercenaries in the Central African Republic with the same blood, gore and clichés. Russian media has reported that the film’s production company has ties to Yevgeny Prigozhin, an oligarch who is close to President Vladimir Putin.

What to Cook

This weeknight ramen features an egg and a quick, soothing broth flavored with rich seaweed and sweet-salty miso.

What to Watch

The Worst Person in the World,” a Norwegian romantic comedy, follows a woman (played by Renate Reinsve) in her 30s trying to figure out who she wants to be.

What to Read

In Sheila Heti’s new novel, “Pure Colour,” she considers how love and art can heal.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.

And here is today’s Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. See you next time. — Amelia

P.S. Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne 70 years ago on Sunday. “In a country that lurched from the storms of Brexit into the siege of the pandemic, she has been an unmatched anchor of stability,” our London bureau chief writes in an analysis.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is on the “zero-Covid” Olympics.

Lynsey Chutel wrote the Arts and Ideas section. You can reach Amelia and the team at

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