Your Tuesday Briefing: Balloon Tensions Escalate
A Chinese spy balloon floated over the U.S. for a week before a jet shot it down on Feb. 4.Credit…Randall Hill/Reuters
The balloon dispute escalates
Diplomatic tensions between the U.S. and China escalated as the U.S. tried to explain its downing of three unidentified flying objects over the weekend and China accused the U.S. of sending its own unauthorized high-altitude balloons over Chinese airspace.
A White House official said the flying objects had posed a threat to civilian aircraft even though the military had not identified their purpose. The objects were not sending out communications signals, and there was no indication that Americans on the ground were in danger, he said.
In a jab at Washington, China’s foreign ministry said that it was “common” for U.S. balloons to illegally enter the airspace of other nations and that U.S. high-altitude balloons had flown over China without permission more than 10 times since last year. The U.S. denied the claim.
The latest exchange is yielding insights into China’s ambitions for balloons in “near space,” a part of the atmosphere that is too high for most planes to stay aloft in for very long and too low for space satellites. Chinese strategists see near space as an arena of the growing great-power rivalry in surveillance: Both planes and satellites are vulnerable to detection, blocking and attacks.
What’s going on up there? It is not clear if there are suddenly more objects flying over North America, but since the spy balloon was detected, the U.S. and Canadian militaries have become hypervigilant in flagging some objects that might previously have been allowed to pass.
A week after a powerful earthquake hit Turkey and Syria, leaving more than 35,000 dead, more than one million people remained homeless in Turkey, struggling to survive in the ruins of cities and under extreme cold.
There is a desperate need for temporary housing. People have erected tents and makeshift shelters in parks, sidewalks and the courtyards of mosques. Turkey’s national emergency management agency has distributed a huge quantity of tents, but the sheer scale of the disaster means many still lack shelter.
Safe buildings? Some housing complexes in Turkey, supposedly built to modern seismic codes, fell because of the quake while others nearby remained standing. The inconsistent damage has increased scrutiny of construction regulations.
The State of the War
- Free Russia Legion: Russian soldiers repelled by President Vladimir V. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine have taken arms against their home country — and they’re engaged in some of the war’s most heated fighting.
- In the East: The Wagner private military company said its fighters had seized a village outside Bakhmut, as Moscow’s forces continue a brutal campaign that has nearly encircled the strategic city.
- Wagner’s Founder: Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the once secretive tycoon who has Mr. Putin’s support, is confounding Moscow’s Kremlin-allied elite by starting to dabble in politics alongside waging war in Ukraine.
- Russian Aerial Barrage: Ukrainian utility crews were working to repair new and significant damage to the country’s energy grid, officials said, after Russia unleashed a major wave of missiles and attack drones.
Syria waits: While aid is flowing into Turkey, relatively little has reached parts of northwestern Syria, which is controlled by the opposition fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Much of the aid sent to Syria, which has been at war for nearly 12 years, has not always contained the most urgently needed supplies, such as food.
U.N. meets: The U.N. Security Council met yesterday to discuss opening up more border crossings from Turkey to Syria. “We have so far failed the people in northwest Syria,” Martin Griffiths, the U.N. aid chief, said after visiting the border. “They rightly feel abandoned.”
In a sign that Bakhmut, in eastern Ukraine, could soon fall to Russia, Ukraine said it would no longer allow aid groups and civilians to enter into the city. The order could be a prelude to Ukraine’s retreat from Bakhmut, which has been the center of heavy fighting for months.
Russian fighters now appear to have surrounded the city on three sides. Ukraine said the one remaining road that its forces use to enter the city was under Russian fire. Street fighting is raging in several neighborhoods. One analytical group based in Poland said Bakhmut could fall as soon as this week.
The war, which is almost a year old, appears to be entering a new phase. Russia has intensified its missile attacks and is amassing large numbers of poorly trained troops in the east. Ukraine, which is waiting for Western tanks and other weaponry, must defend itself against the Russian assault without exhausting the resources it needs to mount an offensive of its own.
Financial lifeline: I.M.F. officials will meet with Ukrainian officials this week after reports that Ukraine is seeking a multibillion-dollar loan to help it deal with the war’s devastating financial impact.
THE LATEST NEWS
Around the World
Cambodia’s prime minister ordered the shutdown of the Voice of Democracy, one of the country’s last independent news outlets.
In one of Jerusalem’s largest protests, about 100,000 Israelis demonstrated against the right-wing government’s plans to overhaul the judicial system.
Ford Motor plans to build a $3.5 billion electric-vehicle battery factory in the U.S. using technology licensed by CATL, a Chinese company that is the world’s No. 1 maker of electric-car batteries.
The Super Bowl
Kansas City beat Philadelphia: 38-35. Here’s how it secured a comeback.
Rihanna performed for the first time in years at halftime and revealed that she’s pregnant.
The Australia Letter: Here’s how two players, Jordan Mailata and Arryn Siposs, made it to the N.F.L.
Other Big Stories
The Webb telescope has spotted a distant spiral galaxy with an eerie resemblance to our own Milky Way.
A report by an expert panel in Portugal found that more than 4,800 children may have been sexually abused by priests and other members of the Catholic Church since 1950.
A woman used the identities of dozens of dead people to defraud the U.S. government of more than $45,000.
A Morning Read
Invader, an anonymous street artist, has installed around 1,500 mosaics across Paris. His work is still technically illegal; the fear of being arrested is why he took a pseudonym.
But some Parisians consider the mosaics to be part of the fabric of the city. Many have formed volunteer teams to repair the damaged ones and replace the missing artwork.
ARTS AND IDEAS
The U.S. faces a housing crisis. There aren’t enough new homes to make housing affordable. Soaring interest rates and material costs, combined with a shortage of available land and skilled labor, have led to a decline in construction.
Tiny homes could offer a solution. Last year, the National Association of Home Builders reported that the median size of new family homes in the U.S. had dropped. It is expected to keep shrinking. Builders are exploring new models, like mini prefab houses or kitchens “like Swiss Army knives” — not bigger, but better equipped.
The shift requires a reimagining of the American dream of a single-family house, as well as an overhaul of policies to create more apartments and micro homes. But Americans seem open to the idea. In a recent survey about compromises buyers would make to afford a home, the leading answer — cited by 45 percent of respondents — was living in a smaller house.
PLAY, WATCH, EAT
What to Cook
Out of tofu? Make mapo potato.
What to Read
Here are some old and new books about love.
What to Watch
“Hannah Ha Ha” explores the aimlessness of young adulthood, as a 25-year-old struggles to find meaningful work.
What to Listen to
In the Modern Love podcast, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman stops suppressing her gay desires.
Now Time to Play
Play the Mini Crossword, and a clue: Noble gas below xenon (five letters).
Here are the Wordle and the Spelling Bee.
You can find all our puzzles here.
That’s it for today’s briefing. See you next time. — Amelia
P.S. Did the poet Geoffrey Chaucer invent Valentine’s Day? Or is it a celebration of a Roman orgy? The Times looked at the various theories.
“The Daily” is about U.S. plans to retire several of its warships.
You can always reach me at email@example.com. I read every note!