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Your Thursday Briefing


After Mikhail Gorbachev died at 91, all eyes turned to Vladimir Putin, the leader of Russia.

Putin has called the end of the Soviet Union a “genuine tragedy” for Russia and the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” He has blamed Gorbachev, the U.S.S.R.’s final leader, for bending to the demands of a treacherous and duplicitous West.

Yesterday, Putin offered a brief conciliatory message. He called Gorbachev a “statesman” who “deeply understood that reforms were necessary” and “strove to offer his own solutions to urgent problems.”

But Putin did not mention the war in Ukraine, where he is fighting to reverse Gorbachev’s legacy.

The Kremlin: Soon after Gorbachev’s death, it became clear that he would not be venerated by the Kremlin as other former leaders had been. A column published by the state news agency said Gorbachev could “serve as an illustration that good intentions of a national leader can create hell on earth for a whole country.”

Russia’s loudest cheerleaders of the war in Ukraine are pushing for a draft. But Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, has so far chosen to avoid mass conscription.

Many are puzzled: Putin has repeatedly framed the war as an existential battle for Russia but insists on fighting the biggest land war in Europe since World War II with a Russian military that is essentially at peacetime strength.

The move appears to be strategic. Putin is trying to maintain domestic stability and prevent widespread public backlash. Even though the Kremlin released an order last week to increase the target size of the military by 137,000 service members, analysts said it appeared that Putin was still intent on adding to the ranks by aggressive recruitment, rather than by large-scale conscription.

Now, though, the debate has grown more urgent. Ukraine is gaining momentum on the southern front. And the recent killing of Daria Dugina, an ultranationalist commentator, has magnified the voices of radical hawks who believe that the Kremlin is underestimating the enemy and lulling Russian society into a false sense of security.

Other updates:


China may have committed “crimes against humanity” in its mass detention of Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim groups in its far western region of Xinjiang, the U.N.’s human rights office said yesterday.

The forceful denouncement came in a much-delayed report, released minutes before Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, was to leave office. China had pressured her not to publish it.

The report does not appear to use the word “genocide,” a designation applied by the U.S. and also by an unofficial tribunal in Britain last year.

But it treats as credible rights groups’ and activists’ claims that China has detained Uyghurs, Kazakhs and others, often for having overseas ties or for expressing religious faith. It also says that allegations of sexual and gender-based violence, including rape, “appear credible and would in themselves amount to acts of torture or other forms of ill-treatment.”

Details: The report’s release ended a nearly yearlong delay that had exposed Bachelet and her office to fierce pushback by activists and others who had accused her of caving to Beijing.

Quotable: Sophie Richardson, the China director for Human Rights Watch, described the report as “an unprecedented challenge to Beijing’s lies and horrific treatment of Uyghurs.”

After the Taliban took over Afghanistan last year, the goalkeeper of the women’s national soccer team knew she could be killed for playing her sport.

So she buried her jerseys and trophies in her courtyard and narrowly escaped to Australia. This is her story.

Inside Cristiano Ronaldo’s tumultuous year at Manchester United: When the five-time Ballon d’Or winner returned in a blaze of glory, having supposedly spurned the advances of rival Manchester City, the ambition was to elevate United from pretenders to contenders. Things didn’t go to plan. This is the inside story of how a glorious return turned sour.

Why Chelsea spent $81 million on Wesley Fofana: Despite his relative inexperience, Chelsea has made Fofana one of the most expensive defenders in history. He possesses on-field maturity, defensive ability and speed to cope with slippery opponents. The belief is he’ll shine. We’ll see.

Why Marcus Rashford must take advantage of his opportunity: Anthony Martial’s injury status, coupled with Ronaldo’s uncertain playing future, opens a slot for Rashford to be a dependable second option for United. It’s up to Rashford to take it.

The Athletic, a New York Times company, is a subscription publication that delivers in-depth, personalized sports coverage. Learn more about The Athletic.

Humpback whales have their own long-range, high-speed cultural evolution, like us. But they don’t need the internet or satellites to keep it running.

In a study published this week, scientists found that humpback songs easily spread from one population to another across the Pacific Ocean. It can take just a couple of years for a song to move several thousand miles from whales in Australia to whales in Ecuador.

“Half the globe is now vocally connected for whales,” said Ellen Garland, a marine biologist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and an author of the study. “And that’s insane.”

Researchers have uncovered a complex, language-like structure in these songs that male humpbacks gradually embellish, resulting in different melodies between populations. The songs are most likely spreading as humpbacks migrate from their breeding grounds to foraging grounds close to Antarctica, a journey where males from different populations may swim near each other.

Notably, no one is certain why the whales sing. But scientists think a new tune could help attract a mate. “These big changes jump out of the water at us, to our ears,” Dr. Garland said. “So I would assume they would be noticeable to females.”

That’s it for today’s briefing. Thanks for joining me. — Amelia

P.S. Introducing the inaugural members of The New York Times Corps, in which Times journalists provide career guidance for college students.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about the aftermath of the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

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

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