Your Wednesday Briefing: Russia Undercuts Macron

Your Wednesday Briefing: Russia Undercuts Macron

We’re covering the French president’s difficult diplomatic mission to Ukraine, and why Denmark is lifting Covid restrictions.

After meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, President Emmanuel Macron of France arrived in Kyiv to try to ease the crisis over Russia’s military buildup at Ukraine’s borders. But a statement from the Kremlin appeared to undercut his diplomatic mission.

According to news reports, French officials said that Macron had left Moscow with commitments that Russian troops would not stay in neighboring Belarus after military exercises this month, and that Russia would not conduct any new maneuvers near Ukraine in the near future.

A Kremlin spokesman rejected those reports. “In the current situation, Moscow and Paris could not make a deal. France is an E.U. and NATO member,” he said, adding, “France is not leading NATO.”

In Kyiv, where Macron met with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, the French leader said: “You must not underestimate the tension that surrounds the situation that we are living through, its unprecedented nature. I do not believe this crisis can be solved thanks to a few hours of discussions.”

Recap: Putin and Macron held a five-hour, one-on-one meeting at the Kremlin on Monday night, and then a joint news conference that went well past midnight. Putin kept his comments vague enough to keep the world guessing.

What to expect: The Ukraine crisis is here to stay, writes our Moscow bureau chief in an analysis.

Denmark has one of the world’s highest Covid-19 cases per capita, and hospitalizations have reached an all-time high. But the government has dropped all restrictions, including a mask mandate in closed spaces and on public transportation.

It may seem counterintuitive to lift restrictions, but the country’s authorities say that deaths and hospitalizations are rising much more slowly than Covid cases, and that the number of patients in I.C.U.s is at its lowest level in months.

The return to “normal” has been welcomed by Danes. On a ferry ride last week to Aarhus, Denmark’s second largest city, our reporter said that of the hundreds of passengers on board, only a handful were wearing masks.

A pandemic shift: The end of restrictions in Denmark could herald a future in which rich countries can afford “living with the virus,” as long as they have high vaccination rates, huge testing capacities and strong health data infrastructure. In Denmark, 81 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated, and 62 percent have received a booster.

Quotable: “We promised people that as soon as we could, we would open up,” Denmark’s health minister, Magnus Heunicke, said. “But if there’s a new variant, if we learn that vaccines aren’t as effective, we will not hesitate to do what’s necessary. That’s the contract.”

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

China selected Dinigeer Yilamujiang, 20, a little-known Uyghur athlete, to light the cauldron alongside a teammate during the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. The choice was divisive.

To many Chinese, it was a feel-good message of ethnic unity. But to Western critics, it looked as if Beijing was whitewashing its suppression of Uyghur Muslims.

Christopher Walken, 78, works constantly and is seemingly incapable of being boring, our magazine columnist writes. The secret to his offbeat cadence and delivery? “I’ve always resented punctuation,” he said, noting that he removes or changes question marks and exclamation points when he reads a script.

The Venice Biennale — the longest-running exhibition of contemporary art — features some big changes this year. For one, a majority of artists are women or gender-nonconforming. The choice was “a deliberate rethinking of man’s centrality in the history of art and contemporary culture,” Cecilia Alemani, the show’s curator, said.

The Brooklyn-based sculptor Simone Leigh is the first Black woman to represent the U.S. at the Biennale, and most of the 213 artists on display have never been in the exhibition before. Five countries are also participating for the first time: Cameroon, Namibia, Nepal, Oman and Uganda.

Among the big themes this year: identity, ecological activism and the push-and-pull relationship between humans and technology. The Korean artist Geumhyung Jeong, for example, has created robotic bodies that can be reassembled.

The Biennale opens in April and runs through November. Preview some of the art.

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