Your Wednesday Briefing: Russia Moves Toward Annexation

Russian bombs damaged an apartment building in Bakhmut, a city in eastern Ukraine.Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Russia pushes for annexation

Officials installed by Moscow in four occupied Ukrainian regions announced plans to hold “referendums” on formally joining Russia, according to state news media. The votes will begin on Friday and last for five days.

The moves are widely seen as a prelude to annexation and a potential escalation of the war. They are also a sign of Moscow’s growing desperation.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine announced efforts to secure recently retaken eastern territory, even as he underlined the importance of continuing to make rapid gains to deny Russia “any foothold on Ukrainian soil.” Annexation — even if unrecognized by the international community — would send a signal that Moscow was prepared to defend the territory as if it were Russia, potentially with nuclear warheads.

“Encroaching on the territory of Russia is a crime, the commission of which allows you to use all the forces of self-defense,” Dmitri Medvedev, the former Russian president and an ally of Vladimir Putin, posted on Telegram. Here are live updates.

Details: On Monday, Russia’s propaganda apparatus launched what appeared to be a scripted display meant to show that the upcoming referendums stemmed from a grass-roots desire by the residents. In the space of 36 hours, the “Luhansk People’s Republic” and the “Donetsk People’s Republic” both announced referendums. Yesterday, the occupation authorities of Kherson and Zaporizka — two southern areas — followed suit.

Context: Russia set an annexation precedent when it took control of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014. That came after a referendum that was widely dismissed as a sham in the West, but which Putin has used to justify his threat that he was ready for war if Ukraine sought to retake the peninsula by force.

Reaction: The U.S. called the planned votes a “sham.” On social media, Russian hawks, who have been criticizing the Kremlin, celebrated the developments as a possible turning point.

António Guterres, the U.N. secretary general, spoke of “cascading crises.”Credit…Dave Sanders for The New York Times

‘We cannot go on like this’

World leaders began addressing the annual session of the U. N. General Assembly at a time of grave upheaval, fueled by the war in Ukraine, climate change and a food crisis.

In his opening remarks yesterday, António Guterres, the U.N. secretary general, delivered one of his most blunt speeches ever to world leaders and made demands for collective action.

“We cannot go on like this,” he said. “We have a duty to act. And yet we are gridlocked in colossal global dysfunction.”

Guterres said that the world was in peril and geopolitical divides were undermining international law, trust in democratic institutions and international cooperation. “Let’s have no illusions,” he said. “We are in rough seas.”

Ukraine: Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the leader of Turkey, cast himself as a mediator, after saying in an interview that Russia should return all Ukrainian territory it has captured. Emmanuel Macron, France’s leader, called Russia’s invasion a return to “imperialism.”

A police motorcycle burned during a protest over the death of Mahsa Amini in Tehran.Credit…West Asia News Agency, via Reuters

Protests sweep Iran

Antigovernment protests erupted in cities across Iran on Monday after a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, died in the custody of the country’s morality police.

The demonstrations, led mostly by women, broke out in more than a dozen cities and on university campuses. Security forces fired on the crowds in Kurdistan, Amini’s home province, killing four people, rights groups said.

Crowds called for an end to the Islamic Republic and chanted for the death of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has been ill in recent weeks. Several women removed their hijabs, burning them and waving them in defiance. In Tehran, people chanted “we will fight and take our country back.”

The protests reflected the frustration of many Iranians struggling under oppressive rule and economic hardship.

Background: Amini died on Friday. She had been arrested three days earlier after being accused of violating Iran’s hijab law, which requires women to cover their hair and wear loosefitting robes.

Quotable: “We are witnessing a nationwide reaction,” said Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran, an advocacy group, who drew comparisons to the reaction to the murder of George Floyd in the U.S.


Asia Pacific

Internally displaced people in Pakistan gathered to receive free food near their makeshift camp.Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
  • Hundreds of people in Pakistan have died in recent weeks from flood-related diseases, including malaria and dengue fever, and officials fear infections could spread, Reuters reports.

  • Australian officials are investigating the deaths of 14 young sperm whales that were found beached on an island, The Associated Press reports.

  • Authorities in Hong Kong arrested a man who played a harmonica during Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral for sedition, The Guardian reports.

Around the World

People kayaked through the flooded streets of Puerto Rico.Credit…Erika P. Rodríguez For The New York Times
  • Hurricane Fiona grew stronger yesterday, as parts of the Turks and Caicos Islands, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico faced potentially life-threatening flash flooding. Here’s a map of the storm’s path.

  • Egypt’s economy, which relies heavily on imported goods and foreign borrowing, has been badly battered from disruptions caused by the war in Ukraine and Covid-19.

  • The U.S. Justice Department charged 47 people with stealing $240 million from pandemic aid programs intended to feed children in Minnesota.

What Else Is Happening

  • A lithium mine in Quebec could help make electric cars in North America more affordable, but the metal is difficult to extract and China dominates lithium battery production.

  • Britain faces a grim political landscape after burying Queen Elizabeth II.

  • Health data in the U.S. is a mishmash of faxes, emails and hand-typed spreadsheets, undercutting the country’s ability to respond to outbreaks.

  • Researchers discovered that a small Australian spider uses a Cirque du Soleil-worthy tactic to prey on fierce ants.

A Morning Read

Lucía Solís, a sixth-generation producer of viche, sold the liquor at one of the largest celebrations of Afro-descendant culture in Latin America last month.Credit…Federico Rios for The New York Times

Colombia is reclaiming viche, a cane sugar liquor invented by formerly enslaved people. Long banned, it is now a symbol of the country’s often ignored Afro-Colombian culture.


A conviction, overturned

Adnan Syed walked out of a courthouse in Baltimore on Monday.Credit…Ting Shen for The New York Times

A judge in Baltimore overturned the murder conviction of Adnan Syed yesterday, whose case was at the center of the first season of the hit podcast “Serial.” Syed served 23 years in prison after receiving a life sentence for the murder of his high school classmate and onetime girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, in 1999.

Syed, who was 17 at the time of Lee’s death, has steadfastly maintained his innocence, and questions about whether he had received a fair trial drew widespread attention when “Serial” debuted in 2014. But it wasn’t until this month that prosecutors recommended that his conviction be overturned and that he be granted a new trial because, they said, “the state no longer has confidence in the integrity of the conviction.” The judge gave prosecutors 30 days to proceed with a new trial or drop the case.

Sarah Koenig, the host of “Serial,” spoke about the ambiguities of the case and the influence of the podcast with our newsletter, The Morning.

“This kid goes to prison for life at 18, based on a story that wasn’t accurate,” Sarah said. “That’s what we wanted people to think about: Even setting aside the question of Adnan’s guilt or innocence, are we OK with a system that operates like that?”

Listen to a new episode of “Serial” about the overturned conviction.


What to Cook

Credit…Bryan Gardner for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne.

Make these mussels with white beans, garlic and rosemary. It’s easier than you think.

What to Read

The canine behavioral expert Alexandra Horowitz adopted a puppy during the pandemic. “The Year of the Puppy,” chronicles her observations about her dog’s development.


Gen Z’s jeans are unzipped and unbuttoned.

Now Time to Play

Play today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Fake (four letters).

Here are today’s Wordle and 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. Jack Nicas, our Brazil bureau chief, spoke to The Times about how he manages to cover five countries.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is on the overturned conviction of Adnan Syed.

You can reach Amelia and the team at [email protected].

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