Your Wednesday Briefing: Biden and Putin Speak on Ukraine

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Blame: In his address, Putin claimed that Western nations had “started the war” in Ukraine — an assertion that Biden flatly rejected in Warsaw. “President Putin chose this war. Every day the war continues is his choice,” Biden said. He accused the Russian leader of committing atrocities on a vast scale.

A long war: Putin showed no sign that he would change course. He sidestepped Russia’s battlefield struggles and used his speech to lay out a plan for a long war to come. He promised changes to the education system, and to science and technology policy, to help Russia outlast Western sanctions. And he pledged that fighters would receive two weeks of leave every six months.

Other developments:

  • A Russian attack in Kherson killed at least six people at a bus station. Russia is also shelling northern areas to tie up Ukrainian troops who might otherwise defend against attacks in the south.

  • Wang Yi, China’s most senior foreign policy official, met with Putin in Moscow after a tour of Europe. The visit showed Beijing’s fragile position as it seeks to mend ties with the E.U. without alienating Russia.

Authorities in the conservative Islamic kingdom are meting out harsher punishments than ever to people who criticize the government. Many Saudis are deeply disturbed by the crackdown.

Take the case of Saad Almadi, a 72-year-old Saudi American living in Florida who, in 2015, criticized Mohammed bin Salman on Twitter. Seven years later, Almadi was arrested during a visit to Saudi Arabia and sentenced to 16 years in prison. After he appealed, his sentence was lengthened to 19 years.

Ten years ago, Almadi’s account may have prompted a warning or an interrogation. Saudi prosecutors now argue that posts that are critical of the government, including Almadi’s, support terrorism or other views that threaten its security.

Context: Until recently, prison sentences longer than 20 years were rare in the kingdom, and Saudis with American citizenship or ties to local elites, like Almadi, would have been able to draw on connections to protect themselves. “One of the merits of Mohammed bin Salman is that he’s created equality of injustice for all,” said a Saudi lawyer who lives in exile in Germany.

In his nearly eight months in office, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has adopted the Philippines’ most muscular foreign policy in close to a decade. Driven by the territorial dispute that the Philippines has with Beijing, Marcos is making the Philippines the linchpin of the U.S. effort to counter China with a stronger military presence in Asia.

Last week, Marcos summoned the Chinese ambassador after a Chinese vessel directed a military-grade laser at a Philippine ship. It was the first time in years that a Philippine president had personally lodged such a protest. Marcos has granted the U.S. military access to four new defense sites and the U.S. has said it will restart joint patrols of the South China Sea, which the Philippines had suspended.

Marcos also has concerns about a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan. He has said that “it’s very hard to imagine a scenario where the Philippines will not somehow get involved.” The Times reports that three of the new sites soon opening to the U.S. military face Taiwan — and one is bordering the South China Sea. Manila could grant the U.S. access to additional sites in the coming months, despite anger from China.

Subic Bay: The Philippines ordered the U.S. in 1991 to leave its naval base there, then its largest overseas, but the U.S. may be invited back.

New editions of Roald Dahl’s books, including “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” have been rewritten to cut potentially offensive language. The changes prompted widespread criticism from prominent literary figures and others, including Salman Rushdie.

When Morioka, Japan, was featured on our annual 52 Places to Go travel list, the choice became national news. Our writer Craig Mod was interviewed by journalists from nearly 20 Japanese media outlets. They asked: Why Morioka? It’s just another midsize city. What’s the fuss?

After returning to Morioka for a visit, Craig wrote about his controversial travel recommendation. (He’s now something of a local celebrity there.)

“I’ve become sensitive to cities and towns with strong socioeconomic foundations that elevate their residents, enabling them to live rich, full and creative lives,” Craig wrote. “Cities that feel — to distill it to a single word — healthy.”

Morioka, which is just a few hours north of Tokyo by high-speed rail, offers a combination of kindness, cuisine, walkability and history. And young people come back to take over their parents’ businesses. “Morioka enables its residents to thrive,” Craig wrote.

Tamarind cream pie is bright and bittersweet.

“Trust the Plan” tracks the rise of the QAnon conspiracy theory.

The Australian drama “Lonesome” depicts characters who feel most comfortable communicating through sex.


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