Your Thursday Briefing: West Doubts Russia’s Claims

Your Thursday Briefing: West Doubts Russia’s Claims

We’re covering Western skepticism about Russia’s troop pullback and Hong Kong’s worst-ever Covid outbreak.

After Russia seemed to step back from a military confrontation with Ukraine, the U.S. and NATO said on Wednesday that they were still looking for proof that President Vladimir Putin was open to a diplomatic resolution and was pulling back troops from Ukraine’s borders.

Russia has deployed more than 150,000 troops that the U.S. says could invade Ukraine at any moment, but Putin said on Tuesday that he had ordered a withdrawal and was ready to continue negotiations on security in Eastern Europe.

“Unfortunately there’s a difference between what Russia says and what it does,” Antony Blinken, the U.S. secretary of state, said. “And what we’re seeing is no meaningful pullback. On the contrary, we continue to see forces — especially forces that would be in the vanguard of any renewed aggression against Ukraine — continuing to be at the border, to mass at the border.”

The NATO secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, echoed the U.S. assessment, saying that Russia remained capable “of a full-fledged invasion of Ukraine without any warning time.” He added that the alliance was drawing up plans for new combat units in central and southeastern Europe.

Russia’s Defense Ministry announced more troop withdrawals, releasing a video that showed a train loaded with armored vehicles crossing from Crimea into mainland Russia.

Closer look: A U.S. missile base in Poland is at the heart of an issue animating the Kremlin’s calculations over whether to go to war against Ukraine.

Putin’s table: The white oval behemoth, where the Russian president has met with leaders, has become the subject of analysis, countless memes and, now, a disagreement between two furniture makers who both say they built it.

For much of the past two years, Hong Kong boasted of having the coronavirus largely under control. But since the Omicron variant slipped into the city late last year, health officials have found the virus increasingly difficult to contain.

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, acknowledged Tuesday that the epidemic had “outgrown our capacity.”

Context: The city’s flailing response has exposed a crucial weakness in its ability to handle the coronavirus. Unlike other places, Hong Kong cannot choose to live with the virus; Beijing continues to demand local elimination.

The numbers: Researchers have warned that by summer, the latest wave could kill nearly 1,000 people — more than four times the number that have died of Covid in Hong Kong over the past two years.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

Labor unions in Japan have not been a welcoming place to women. Sexism, wage discrimination and sexual harassment at work have been ignored, leaving many to give up on the movement. A woman at the helm of Rengo, Japan’s largest union association, is aiming to change that.

Tomoko Yoshino, who was appointed president of Rengo in October, hopes to prove that unions can be strong allies for Japanese women. Her first major test will come this spring as Japan’s unions gear up for their annual salary negotiations.

“The fact that I want to make gender equality a part of all of Rengo’s activities has gotten a lot of attention,” Yoshino said, adding that it had put pressure on member organizations to “demonstrate real results.”

Context: Japan has one of the world’s worst records on gender equality, placing 120th out of 156 countries in a ranking by the World Economic Forum, even after years of government promises to help women “shine.”

Asia Pacific

Older Asian American actors have often been limited to playing frail grandparents. The director Les Waters saw them as much more, and his showcase “Out of Time” features five performers delivering monologues on themes like memory, parenthood and identity — all written by Asian American playwrights.

“This is to say: ‘Older people in the theater exist,’” Waters said. “We’re here, we’re underused and we have experience.”

Last weekend, the Orlando Museum of Art in Florida unveiled 25 paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat. The works could be worth more than $100 million. But some experts believe they’re fakes.

The museum says Basquiat created the artworks in 1982, painting on cardboard, and sold the collection for $5,000. Aaron De Groft, the museum’s director, said he had “no doubt these are Basquiats,” citing a handwriting expert, an art professor and a deceased member of a now-dissolved Basquiat authentication committee.

Basquiat made more than 2,000 works before he died in 1988. “Anybody with the right attitude and the right amount of money could purchase something from the painter, who was constantly in need of cash to support his various habits,” Phoebe Hoban wrote in her biography of the artist.

But the art dealer Larry Gagosian, who lived above Basquiat’s studio, said he found the museum’s story “highly unlikely.” Neither he nor Basquiat’s studio assistant knew of these 25 paintings. There are other discrepancies: One of the works is painted on a box with a FedEx label that the company didn’t use before 1994.

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