Your Monday Briefing: Ukraine Agrees to Talks

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Good morning. We’re covering diplomacy and posturing in Ukraine, research into the pandemic’s origins and another North Korean missile test.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine agreed to talks with Russia “without preconditions” on the Belarusian border. Just before the announcement, President Vladimir Putin issued a new threat to the West, telling the Russian military to put its nuclear forces on alert.

Western powers are uniting around Ukraine. The E.U. said it would close its airspace to Russian planes and finance the donation of weapons. Turkish officials, in a reversal, labeled the invasion a “war.” Tens of thousands of people gathered across Europe — as well as thousands in Russia — to demand an end to the invasion.

In Ukraine, the fighting continues. Citizens have taken up arms: baristas, snowboarders, lawyers. On the eastern front, homes have been destroyed. The W.H.O. said that Ukraine’s hospitals are running out of oxygen.

The Ukrainian Army said it was targeting Russian supply lines while fighting to keep control of Kyiv and Kharkiv, although satellite images show a large unit of Russian forces closing in on the capital. The Russian military has begun adopting siege tactics around Chernihiv, northeast of Kyiv, an ominous forecast of a strategy that would increase civilian casualties.

Resources: Here are live updates, maps of the invasion and photos of the crisis.

Banking: The U.S. and key allies announced plans to remove some Russian banks from SWIFT, the global financial transaction system, as Russia’s economy struggles. BP, the British oil company, plans to “exit” its nearly 20 percent stake in Rosneft, the Russian state-controlled oil company.

Putin: The Russian president faces personal sanctions, but most of his wealth appears hidden. He seems to have sidelined advisers, a risky move: Authoritarian leaders rely on elite support.

Zelensky: Here’s how he rallied Ukrainians, and the world, against Putin.

China: Online opinion is mostly pro-war. But China, which sees itself as a defender of sovereign independence, is in an awkward position, potentially fraying ties between Xi Jinping and Putin.

Two extensive new studies point to a market in Wuhan, China, as the birthplace of the coronavirus pandemic.

Scientists concluded that the coronavirus was very likely present in live mammals sold in the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, an object of early suspicion, in late 2019. They suggested that the virus twice spilled over into people working or shopping there, and found no support for the so-called lab leak theory.

The pair of studies, released Saturday, have not yet been published in a scientific journal that would require peer review.

Some outside scientists who have been hesitant to endorse the market origin hypothesis said they remained unconvinced. There is no direct evidence that animals at the market had been infected with the coronavirus, and no wildlife was left there by the time Chinese researchers collected genetic samples in early 2020.

Details: Case data from the social media app Weibo from December 2019 through February 2020 pointed to a market origin for the coronavirus, with the virus then spreading to surrounding neighborhoods. The researchers ran tests that showed it was extremely unlikely that the pattern could be produced by chance.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

At 7:52 a.m. on Sunday, North Korea launched​ a ballistic missile toward the sea off its east coast, the South Korean military said. Flight data suggested that the missile was less powerful than the last one tested, four weeks ago.

After carrying out seven missile tests in January, more than in all of 2021, the North paused this month while China, its neighbor and ally, hosted the Winter Olympics.

Now, with the Games over and the Ukraine crisis erupting, North Korea might resume tests to gain more diplomatic leverage with Washington. On Saturday, it made what appeared to be its first official comment on the Ukrainian war, blaming the U.S. for its “highhandedness and arbitrariness.​”

South Korea: Many in the country will view the U.S. response to the Russian invasion as a test of its dependability as a military ally. A failure of American leadership could increase public support for South Korea having its own nuclear weapons. The missile test came just weeks before the country’s presidential election, on March 9.

World News

Brazil, known for its beach bodies, is confronting soaring obesity rates. The country has enacted new laws that enshrine protections for overweight people, including larger seats and priority at certain public places like banks.

The Saturday Profile: Asghar Farhadi, an Iranian director who has won two Oscars, deploys the mundane to convey the profound.

Lives Lived: Bappi Lahiri, India’s “Disco King,” set off a pop craze with some of the country’s biggest hits of all time, like “I Am a Disco Dancer.” He died at 69.

The internet was supposed to bring price transparency, empowering online shoppers to find the best deals.

Instead, shoppers are losing sight of what things actually cost. Retailers are shifting the lens away from prices, dangling other carrots like convenience and ease of use. And shoppers, overwhelmed by options, are finding it hard to keep track.

Now the price of household goods fluctuates, almost like cryptocurrencies or ride-hailing services. Pandemic supply chain snarls add to ambiguity. Subscription services can complicate the math. And as corporations raise prices — in part because of inflation — consumers are spending more, too.

Amazon’s algorithms keep things in swing, too. Using dynamic pricing, the tech giant changes prices millions of times a day to keep up with market conditions and compete with other sellers. That forces consumers to track price swings, not the actual cost.

What to Cook

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

P.S. Amanda Morris, The Times’s inaugural disability reporting fellow, wrote about how she is trying “to shift the way that the news media reports on and writes about disabled people.”

The latest episode of “The Daily” is on Ukraine.

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


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