symbol of the sovereignty of Canada.” But beavers don’t immediately conjure up warm feelings among all Canadians.

Property owners struggle to keep their land from being flooded by the industrious creatures, and their dams sometimes lead to dangerous highway washouts. This week, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Saskatchewan found a pile of fence posts that had been reported as stolen incorporated into a beaver dam.

please email me directly and include your contact information and where you live. Please don’t labor over the note, I’ll be interviewing everyone who has a story that will fit with the article.


caught up with some of its artists. For one aerialist, Dan found that “the long pause had undermined his confidence, since he couldn’t rehearse his airborne routines. When he recently started retraining, he said, he discovered that he had lost his ‘muscle memory’ and felt afraid to be in the air.” Also be sure to check out this video presentation of the artists getting back to the unique line of work.

  • Four months after President Biden canceled the Keystone XL pipeline, Canada is again at odds with the United States over another pipeline.

  • A prepandemic pregnancy means that Mandy Bujold, a top ranked boxer from Canada, may miss the Tokyo Olympics because of selection rule changes.

  • Tom Wilson, a Toronto native who plays for the Washington Capitals, is the talk of the N.H.L. for all the wrong reasons right now. Ben Shpigel reports that Wilson is the teammate that everyone wants and the opponent that everyone loves to hate. And Victor Mather has previewed the upcoming N.H.L. playoffs.

  • Jon Pareles writes that a new recording by the singer Allison Russell, a native of Montreal, delves into some dark places in her past and is “an album of strength and affirmation, not victimization.”


  • A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported about Canada for The New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.


    How are we doing?
    We’re eager to have your thoughts about this newsletter and events in Canada in general. Please send them to nytcanada@nytimes.com.

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    Covid in Hamburg: How Small Businesses Are Coping

    Shops in Hamburg, Germany, have been pushed to the brink by lockdowns and curfews in the pandemic and the uncertainty of when a return to something like normal may happen.

    Jack Ewing and

    Germany is known for luxury cars, machine tools and other goods that have protected the overall economy from the worst effects of the pandemic. But Germany is also a nation of shopkeepers, small operations whose employees are often from the same family.

    These businesses have been pushed to the brink of existence by lockdowns, quarantines and other restrictions that often change from day to day. Vaccines are in short supply and intensive care units are filling up, prompting Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government to impose a nationwide curfew last month in areas with high infection rates.

    In the port city of Hamburg, retailers are improvising to try to survive.

    Théodora Vezo, the owner of a boutique that bears her name, took customers by appointment and changed her window displays of clothing and accessories much more often.

    German Retail Association said they feared bankruptcy.

    More than two-thirds of Ms. Bouquet’s hat sales used to come from theater productions, which are at a standstill. “That was the last straw,” Ms. Bouquet said. Her revenue fell by about half last year. While she will continue to make hats to order for theater customers in her atelier, she said, she closed the storefront permanently in February.

    Paula Haase contributed reporting.

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    U.K. and France Send Naval Ships to Channel Island in Tense Fishing Dispute

    LONDON — An ugly spat over post-Brexit fishing rights has erupted into a stranger-than-fiction maritime standoff between Britain and France, as naval ships from both countries converged on Thursday in the waters off the island of Jersey, where dozens of French fishing boats were threatening to blockade a port.

    Prime Minister Boris Johnson dispatched two British Navy vessels, the H.M.S. Tamar and the H.M.S. Severn, on Wednesday evening as a “precautionary measure,” according to his office.

    On Thursday, France deployed two naval patrol boats near Jersey, about 14 miles off the coast of France to “ensure the safety of navigation” as well as the “safety of human life at sea” in case the situation deteriorated, according to a spokeswoman for the French maritime authorities in charge of the English Channel.

    The naval deployments escalated a dispute that has simmered for weeks, after French fishing crews accused the local authorities in Jersey of imposing burdensome new requirements to allow them to continue to fish in Jersey’s coastal waters, following Britain’s split with the European Union in January.

    Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands, is not part of the United Kingdom but is a crown dependency, a special status that gives it self-governing rights, including its own legislative assembly, as well as fiscal and legal systems.

    Dozens of French fishing boats have massed near the port of St. Helier, the capital of Jersey, threatening to block access to it. A French government official warned earlier this week that France could cut off the power supply to Jersey, which is delivered through underwater cables from France.

    The dispute, which flared unexpectedly on the eve of regional elections in Britain, presented Mr. Johnson with a tailor-made opportunity to flex British military muscles in defense of British fishing rights, which were a sticking point throughout the difficult trade negotiations between Britain and the European Union.

    “The prime minister underlined his unwavering support for Jersey,” a spokesman for Downing Street told the British news media on Wednesday. Mr. Johnson, the spokesman said, called for a “de-escalation in tensions” and said any blockade would be “completely unjustified.”

    Relations between Britain and France had already soured on a range of issues as Britain and the European Union divorced. President Emmanuel Macron of France raised doubts about the efficacy of a coronavirus vaccine developed at the University of Oxford and produced by AstraZeneca, a British-based drugmaker, prompting charges of “vaccine nationalism.”

    In December, Mr. Macron briefly cut off access to freight shipments to and from Britain to prevent a fast-spreading variant of the virus that originated in Britain from leaping across the English Channel. The British tabloids pounced.

    “Kick in the Baubles,” said a headline in the Sun, suggesting that France was conspiring to ruin the Christmas holiday for people in Britain. “Monsieur Roadblock Gives Way,” said a headline in the Daily Mail after Mr. Macron agreed to lift the ban, subject to a virus testing program for truck drivers.

    Fishing was one of the thorniest issues when Britain negotiated its new trade agreement with the European Union, which came into force in January. The deal ended decades during which Britain’s fishing fleet was under the same system as France, with their catches negotiated regularly among the member countries.

    Many in Britain’s fishing industry supported Brexit because they believed that for decades, they had been forced to share too much of the fish caught in Britain’s coastal waters with continental crews.

    But the agreement sealed by Mr. Johnson and negotiators in Brussels just before Christmas was a disappointment to British fishing communities, who had been promised a “sea of opportunities” by Brexit supporters.

    Instead, the increase in annual quotas for British fishing crews was initially modest. And because Britain has left Europe’s single market for goods, British fish and shellfish require more documentation and checks when sent to markets in continental Europe, making them more difficult and expensive to export.

    The trade agreement also addressed the complicated issue of fishing around Jersey. The island has the right to impose its own licensing requirements and has left French fishermen complaining of difficulties in receiving the authorization they need to fish in waters they have worked for decades.

    Fishing rights have long provoked acute tensions between Britain and its neighbors. From the 1950s to the 1970s, Britain was embroiled in a confrontation with Iceland that became known as the “cod wars.” At its peak, 37 Royal Naval vessels were mobilized to protect British trawlers in disputed waters.

    While these clashes have not mutated into broader military conflicts, analyst and diplomats said there was always a risk of accidental escalation. Others said it served to show the loose ends left by the Brexit process.

    “This is the kind of old-fashioned dispute that the European Union was created to prevent,” said Simon Fraser, the former top civil servant in Britain’s Foreign Office. “When you leave the European Union, you risk reopening them.”

    “It’s also an extraordinarily retrogressive thing to be fighting over fish in the English Channel, at a time when we’re hosting the G-7 summit and trying to talk about a new global role for Britain,” Mr. Fraser said.

    Constant Méheut contributed reporting from Paris.

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    Netflix film ‘Army of the Dead’ will be released in theaters first, as cinemas and streaming adapt.

    In the clearest sign yet that theaters are softening their stance toward Netflix, Cinemark, the country’s third-largest chain, announced on Tuesday that it would show the streaming service’s upcoming zombie flick, “Army of the Dead” from director Zack Snyder, in more than 250 of its theaters on May 14, a week before the film will become available online.

    The movie will also open in a smattering of regional chains like Harkins Theatres, Landmark Theatres and Alamo Drafthouse, bringing its total theater count to about 600 — the largest theatrical release yet for a Netflix film.

    Last year, when the pandemic was raging and the majority of theater chains were closed, Netflix and Cinemark tested the release strategy in a handful of theaters with three Netflix films: “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Midnight Sky” and “The Christmas Chronicles 2.” The results were encouraging enough for them to try a wider release at a time when the majority of the country’s theaters have reopened.

    “Zack Snyder fans will love seeing the action in an immersive, cinematic environment with larger-than-life sight and sound technology,” Justin McDaniel, Cinemark’s senior vice president of global content strategy, said in a statement.

    “We are thrilled to offer consumers the opportunity to watch this highly anticipated film in theaters and on Netflix,” Netflix’s head of distribution, Spencer Klein, said in a statement.

    “Army of the Dead” stars Dave Bautista (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) and centers on a group of mercenaries who travel to Las Vegas to pull off a casino heist in the middle of a zombie apocalypse.

    While neither company would say whether this was part of a larger agreement involving more films, the two did say they “anticipate there will be more to come.”

    The pandemic forced theaters and studios to re-evaluate how movies are distributed in theaters and on streaming platforms. Traditionally, theaters pushed for an exclusive 72-day window between when a film was released and when it could become available for at-home viewing, whether through streaming or video-on-demand services. But so many movies debuted in the home because of the pandemic, and audiences have become used to having that option, forcing Hollywood to adjust to a new reality.

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    Love or Spycraft: What Landed an American Teacher in a Cuban Prison?

    Her family believes that Ms. López fell for an old love and was taken in by him.

    James Cason, a former top U.S. official in Cuba, said most Cuban diplomats are known to be spies for their government, particularly those posted in the United States.

    “She had to know what she was getting into, marrying a Cuban diplomat,” Mr. Cason said. “Here in Miami, if you marry a Cuban diplomat, you’re considered a traitor, basically.”

    Cuban court documents are unequivocal: Mr. Milanés had been a Cuban intelligence agent. And, the court records say, he confessed that to her after they married on Christmas Eve 2007.

    By that time, Mr. Milanés lived in Cuba. He was not allowed to leave the island, so his wife spent the next decade visiting him during long weekends and school breaks. According to Cuban court records, Mr. Milanés was an alcoholic who depended on her financially.

    In January 2017, Ms. López received a cryptic call from her husband, asking her to come to Cuba, her lawyer, Mr. Poblete, said.

    Mr. Milanés had been caught on a boat in Baracoa, on the eastern coast, trying to flee Cuba, according to a person familiar with the case who was not authorized to speak publicly about it. He had called his wife from custody, luring her to the island.

    Ms. López flew to Havana and was arrested in the airport, on her way back.

    “I don’t care if he had a gun to his head,” Mr. Peralta said of her husband. “That’s your wife. What kind of man are you to throw your wife under the bus?”

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    After a Year of Loss, South America Suffers Worst Death Tolls Yet

    If the world doesn’t stop the region’s surging caseload, it could cost us all that we’ve done to fight the pandemic, said one health official.

    Julie Turkewitz and


    BOGOTÁ, Colombia — In the capital of Colombia, Bogotá, the mayor is warning residents to brace for “the worst two weeks of our lives.”

    Uruguay, once lauded as a model for keeping the coronavirus under control, now has one of the highest death rates in the world, while the grim daily tallies of the dead have hit records in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Peru in recent days.

    Even Venezuela, where the authoritarian government is notorious for hiding health statistics and any suggestion of disarray, says that coronavirus deaths are up 86 percent since January.

    As vaccinations mount in some of the world’s wealthiest countries and people cautiously envision life after the pandemic, the crisis in Latin America — and in South America in particular — is taking an alarming turn for the worse, potentially threatening the progress made well beyond its borders.

    abandoned on sidewalks and new burial grounds cut into thick forest. Yet even after a year of incalculable loss, it is still one of the most troubling global hot spots, with a recent surge in many countries that is even more deadly than before.

    longest schools closures and largest economic contractions in the world.

    Inequality, a longstanding scourge that had been easing before the pandemic, is widening once again, and millions have been tossed back into the precarious positions they thought they had escaped during a relative boom. Many are venting their anger in the streets, defying official pleas to stay home.

    “They’ve taken so much from us that we’ve even lost our fear,” read a sign held by Brissa Rodríguez, 14, at a protest with thousands of others in Bogotá on Wednesday.

    recent essay. “I want to think that the worst is over. But that turns out, I believe, to be counter-evident.”

    devastated by the virus in mid-2020. But the second wave there was worse than the first.

    While the data is far from conclusive, initial studies indicate that P.1 is more transmissible than the initial virus, and is associated with a higher death rate among younger patients and patients without pre-existing conditions. It can also reinfect people who have already had Covid, though it’s unclear how often that occurs.

    37 countries, but appears to have spread most thoroughly through South America, said William Hanage, an epidemiologist at Harvard University.

    Across the region, doctors say that the patients coming into hospitals are now far younger and far sicker than before. They’re also more likely to have had the virus already.

    In Peru, the National Health Institute documented 782 cases of likely reinfection in the first three months of 2021 alone, a surge from last year. Dr. Lely Solari, an infectious disease doctor with the institute, called this “a very significant underestimate.”

    Official daily death tolls have exceeded previous records in recent days in most of South America’s biggest countries. Yet scientists say that the worst is yet to come.

    Our World in Data, a project at the University of Oxford. Several of its neighbors have achieved half that, or less.

    the first in the world to record more than 100 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants.

    The actual death toll is far higher, because many of the dead have not been included in the official count of coronavirus patients.

    government study in the capital, Lima, found that 40 percent of residents had coronavirus antibodies. Officials said the population had reached such a high level of immunity that a second wave might not be so bad. The government opted not to impose a lockdown during Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.

    jumped the line to get vaccinated first. More recently, multiple government agencies have begun investigating whether some health workers have asked for bribes in exchange for access to scarce hospital beds.

    “It was that or let her die,” said Dessiré Nalvarte, 29, a lawyer who said she helped pay about $265 to a man who claimed to be the head of the intensive care unit at a hospital in order to get treatment for a family friend who had become sick.

    The crisis has plunged nations like Peru into grief, ripping at the social fabric. This month, thousands of poor and newly poor Peruvians began to occupy empty swaths of land in southern Lima, with many saying that they were doing so because they had lost their livelihoods amid the pandemic.

    Rafael Córdova, 50, a father of three, sat on a square drawn in the sand that marked his claim to land overlooking the Pan-American Highway and the Pacific Coast.

    Before the pandemic, he explained, he was supervisor in the human resources department of a local municipality, and had a grip — or so he thought — on stability.

    Then, in May, he became sick with Covid and was fired. He believes his bosses let him go because they feared that he would sicken others, or that his family would blame them if he died.

    He now struggles to pay for minutes on the one family phone so that his children can do class work. Meals are small. Debts are mounting. “Today I went to the market and bought a bag of fish bones and made soup,” he said.

    He says he has lost an aunt, a sister-in-law and a cousin to Covid, as well as friends. In June, his wife, who had also had Covid, gave birth to twins prematurely. One daughter died days after birth, he said, and the second died about a month later. He had no money for a proper burial.

    “I left the hospital with my daughter in a black plastic bag and got in a taxi and went to the cemetery,” he said. “There was no Mass, no wake. No flowers. Nothing.”

    When he heard about the occupation, he said he was three months behind on rent and feared eviction. So he made a run for the hill, pitching a tent that became his new home.

    “The only way they’ll get us out of here,” he said, “is if we’re dead.”

    A week later, the police arrived, set off tear gas — and booted him and thousands of others from their camp.

    Reporting was contributed by Isayen Herrera in Caracas, Venezuela; Sofía Villamil in Bogotá, Colombia; and Daniel Politi in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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    Brexit Trade Deal Gets a Final OK From E.U. Parliament

    BRUSSELS — The European Parliament has voted by a large margin, in results released Wednesday morning, to give the European Union’s final approval to a Brexit deal already beset by difficulties, complaints and a court challenge.

    The vote was 660 in favor, with five against and 32 abstentions.

    While the outcome was never really in doubt, the Parliament expressed considerable concerns about the trustworthiness of the current British government to carry out in good faith the two key documents of Brexit: the Withdrawal Agreement and the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, which was just approved.

    The latter agreement, which governs trade and customs issues and provides for zero tariffs and zero quotas, has been applied conditionally since the beginning of the year. It was finished on Christmas Eve and was ratified by the British Parliament on Dec. 30. But a negative vote by the European Parliament would have killed it, producing the “no deal Brexit” that neither side favored.

    The European Parliament had delayed its vote to protest Britain’s handling of Northern Ireland and the protocol that governs trade on the divided island. Britain’s actions are the source of a legal complaint filed by the European Commission, the executive branch of the bloc, after Britain unilaterally extended grace periods for not conducting checks on goods being transported between Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain.

    put it bluntly on Twitter. “We will vote in favor of the post-Brexit T.C.A.,” he wrote referring to the trade agreement. “But we are concerned about its implementation, because we do not trust Boris Johnson’s government.”

    There were numerous worries expressed about Britain misusing or undermining the complicated arrangements on fishing rights as well as the Northern Ireland protocol.

    David McAllister, a German legislator who is half Scottish, said some of the problems encountered so far were from teething issues, but some derived from “the kind of Brexit the U.K. has chosen for itself,” which will mean increasing divergence from the European Union single market. That by itself will require continuing discussion, he said, as well as working through areas left out of the Brexit deal, including financial services and foreign and security policies.

    Brussels was committed to work on practical solutions between Northern Ireland, Ireland and mainland Britain, he said. “But the protocol is not the problem, it is the solution. The name of the problem is Brexit.”

    Asking the Parliament to ratify the deal, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, promised that Brussels would use the dispute and enforcement mechanisms in the deal to ensure compliance by Britain. If Britain failed to honor its commitments, she said, she would not hesitate to impose punitive tariffs.

    “The agreement comes with real teeth — with a binding dispute settlement mechanism and the possibility for unilateral remedial measures where necessary,” she said. “We do not want to have to use these tools. But we will not hesitate to use them if necessary.”

    Britain voted to leave the European Union nearly five years ago, in a referendum in June 2016. The complications of Brexit, and the continuing struggles over its implementation, have served if nothing else to end talk in the rest of the European Union about making a similar exit.

    Monika Pronczuk contributed reporting.

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    For U.K.’s Johnson, Plenty of Mud but Will It Stick?

    LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson has long had a weakness for a funny line, even in the face of an unfunny problem like the pandemic. When coronavirus cases first spiked last spring, he promised that a lockdown would “squash the sombrero.” When he spoke to businesspeople about an emergency plan to manufacture ventilators, he joked that it could be called “Operation Last Gasp.”

    Now, Mr. Johnson stands accused of something darker: declaring at a tense meeting last fall that he would not bow to pressure to impose yet another lockdown, even if it meant letting “the bodies pile high in their thousands.”

    He has denied the claim, made by anonymous sources to multiple British newspapers. But the papers, as well as the BBC, are not backing down from their reporting. The dispute has called into question not just Mr. Johnson’s credibility, which is regularly in doubt, but also his humanity, which is usually not.

    pay for the costly refurbishment of his Downing Street home, and of trying to shut down an investigation of who leaked plans for a lockdown when it became clear that the probable leaker was a friend of his fiancée, Carrie Symonds.

    “Boris Johnson has a serious problem with Cummings going rogue because everything we know about Dominic Cummings is that he is a loose cannon,” said Matthew Goodwin, a professor of politics at the University of Kent and an expert on the British right. “You don’t want him in the opposition camp.”

    While the backbiting and knife fighting have riveted Britain’s political class, some analysts question whether it resonates much beyond the hothouse precincts of Westminster. Britons, they say, are more swayed by their country’s robust vaccine rollout and their ability to buy a pint at the pub after a year of grinding lockdowns. Plus, after decades on the political stage, Mr. Johnson’s foibles are hardly new.

    As Mr. Goodwin put it, “The fact that he is seen as a bit of a clown and a bit of a buffoon is priced in.”

    when he and his family violated proscriptions against leaving home during the first lockdown and traveled hundreds of miles from London to Durham, an incident that corroded the public’s faith in the coronavirus rules.

    Mr. Johnson stood by his adviser, but Mr. Cummings was forced out several months later after losing an internal struggle, and the rift between the two men now seems bitterly personal. Mr. Johnson is reported to have called newspaper editors himself last week to accuse his former aide of leaks about the government.

    build a narrative of sleazy dealings, cronyism and lying that inflicts real damage on a government that has overcome its succession of mistakes in its handling of the pandemic, largely thanks to the vaccine rollout.

    Though Mr. Johnson became prime minister less than two years ago, his Conservative Party has been in power since 2010. Analysts pointed to an earlier era when, having been in power for more than a decade, the Conservative government of Prime Minister John Major was ground down by scandals and crises.

    “There is a warning from history, from the 1990s, when the government failed to contain repeated allegations of sleaze,” Mr. Goodwin said, noting that it set up the Labour Party for its largest victory in recent history.

    Some analysts predicted the public would be forgiving of Mr. Johnson’s outburst about the lockdown because they, too, found the repeated restrictions burdensome and because no one believes he would actually welcome thousands of deaths. They would also take into account his own ordeal with the virus and his decision to order another severe lockdown after Christmas.

    “People can be cross because they are tired,” said Andrew Gimson, one of Mr. Johnson’s biographers. “He was exhausted and he’d been through a near-fatal illness, from which he had not fully recovered when he made that remark.”

    Others, however, predicted that the flap over Mr. Johnson’s refurbishment of his apartment would throw a harsh spotlight on his sense of impunity, lack of transparency and unwillingness to make do with the perks offered a prime minister.

    Mr. Johnson already has access to an annual public grant of £30,000 ($41,600) to upgrade his quarters. Newspaper reports say he augmented that with funds from a Conservative Party donor because Ms. Symonds wanted to get rid of the furniture used by his predecessor, Theresa May, which had been described as being in the style of the British department store, John Lewis.

    The government insists Mr. Johnson paid for the upgrade out of his own pocket, though it is unclear whether he repaid money from the donor. However it was financed, the couple’s apparent disdain for John Lewis-style décor may sit badly with ordinary people, for whom the store is a symbol of bourgeois prosperity.

    “Johnson has always stayed one step ahead of the sheriff,” Mr. Powell said. “But at some stage in No. 10, you can’t get away with lies that can be proven to be lies.”

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    Alarm in Ukraine as Russian Forces Mass at Border

    MARIUPOL, Ukraine — There are the booms that echo again, and parents know to tell their children they are only fireworks. There are the drones the separatists started flying behind the lines at night, dropping land mines. There are the fresh trenches the Ukrainians can see their enemy digging, the increase in sniper fire pinning them inside their own.

    But perhaps the starkest evidence that the seven-year-old war in Ukraine may be entering a new phase is what Capt. Mykola Levytskyi coast guard unit saw cruising in the Azov Sea just outside the port city of Mariupol last week: a flotilla of Russian amphibious assault ships.

    Since the start of the war in 2014, Russia has used the pretext of a separatist conflict to pressure Ukraine after its Westward-looking revolution, supplying arms and men to Kremlin-backed rebels in the country’s east while denying it was a party to the fight.

    Few Western analysts believe the Kremlin is planning an invasion of eastern Ukraine, given the likely backlash at home and abroad. But with a large-scale Russian troop buildup on land and sea on Ukraine’s doorstep, the view is spreading among officials and wide swathes of the Ukrainian public that Moscow is signaling more bluntly than ever before that it is prepared to openly enter the conflict.

    “These ships are, concretely, a threat from the Russian state,” Captain Levytskyi said over the whir of his speedboat’s engines as it plied the Azov Sea, after pointing out a Russian patrol boat stationed six miles offshore. “It is a much more serious threat.”

    Many Ukrainian military officials and volunteer fighters say that they still find it unlikely that Russia will openly invade Ukraine, and that they do not see evidence of an imminent offensive among the gathered Russian forces. But they speculate over other possibilities, including Russia’s possible recognition or annexation of the separatist-held territories in eastern Ukraine.

    Ukrainians are awaiting President Vladimir V. Putin’s annual state-of-the-nation address to Russia on Wednesday, an affair often rife with geopolitical signaling, for clues about what comes next.

    “I feel confused, I feel tension,” Oleksandr Tkachenko, Ukraine’s culture and information policy minister, said in an interview.

    Mr. Tkachenko listed some invasion scenarios: a three-pronged Russian attack from north, south and east; an assault from separatist-held territory; and an attempt to capture a Dnieper River water supply for Crimea.

    Russia, for its part, has done little to hide its buildup, insisting that it has been massing troops in response to heightened military activity in the region by NATO and Ukraine.

    Ukrainian officials deny any plans to escalate the war, but there is no question that President Volodymyr Zelensky has taken a harder line against Russia in recent months.

    Mr. Zelensky has closed pro-Russian TV channels and imposed sanctions against Mr. Putin’s closest ally in Ukraine. He has also declared more openly than before his desire to have Ukraine join NATO, a remote possibility that the Kremlin nevertheless regards as a dire threat to Russia’s security.

    Interviews with frontline units across a 150-mile swath of eastern Ukraine in recent days underscored the fast-rising tensions in Europe’s only active armed conflict. Officials and volunteers acknowledge apprehension over Russia’s troop movements, and civilians feel numb and hopeless after seven years of war. At least 28 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in fighting this year, the military says.

    “We live in sadness,” said Anna Dikareva, a 48-year-old postal service worker in the frontline industrial town of Avdiivka, where people scarcely flinch when shells explode in the distance. “I don’t want war, but we won’t solve this in a peaceful way, either.”

    For much of last year, a cease-fire held.

    Mr. Zelensky, a television comedian elected in 2019 on a promise to end the war, negotiated with the Kremlin for step-by-step compromises to ease the hardships of frontline residents and look for ways out of a conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people. But Russia’s insistence on policies that would essentially give it a say in eastern Ukraine’s future was unacceptable to Kyiv.

    “The hope that Zelensky had to solve this issue, it didn’t happen,” said Mr. Tkachenko, the information minister and a longtime associate of the president.

    Instead, the fighting has picked up again.

    The Ukrainians’ labyrinths of trenches and fortifications along the roughly 250-mile front is by now so well established that in one tunnel near Avdiivka, the soldiers put up multicolored Christmas lights to spruce up the darkness. The town lies just a few miles north of the city of Donetsk, the separatists’ main stronghold.

    At their hillside battle position, overlooking a separatist position in a T-shaped growth of trees, the soldiers described the sound of separatist drones they said carried land mines dropped about a mile behind the line. Since December and January, they said, sniper fire from the other side increased, and they could see the separatists digging new trenches.

    The lettering above the skull on their shoulder patches read: “Ukraine or death.”

    “The enemy has activated lately,” said one 58-year-old soldier, nicknamed “the professor,” who said he would not give his full name for security reasons.

    In Avdiivka, a volunteer unit of Ukraine’s ultranationalist Right Sector keeps a pet wolf in a cage outside the commander’s office. The commander, Dmytro Kotsyubaylo — his nom de guerre is Da Vinci — jokes that the fighters feed it the bones of Russian-speaking children, a reference to Russian state media tropes about the evils of Ukrainian nationalists.

    Both sides have accused each other of increasing numbers of cease-fire violations, but Mr. Kotsyubaylo said that — to his regret — his fighters were allowed to fire only in response to attacks from the separatist side.

    On the video screen above his desk, Mr. Kotsyubaylo showed high-definition drone footage depicting the quotidian violence taking place just 400 miles from the European Union’s borders. In one sequence, two of his unit’s mortar rounds explode around separatist trenches; a naked man emerges, sprinting. In another, an explosion is seen at what he said was a separatist sniper position; the clearing smoke reveals a body coated with yellow dust.

    Asked what he expects to happen next, Mr. Kotsyubaylo responded: “full-scale war.”

    Mr. Kotsyubaylo said he believed Russia’s troop movements north and south of separatist-held territory were a ruse meant to draw Ukrainian forces away from the front line. He said he expected Russia instead to launch an offensive using its separatist proxies in the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics,” allowing Mr. Putin to continue to claim that the war is an internal Ukrainian affair.

    “If Russia wanted to do it in secret, they would do it in secret,” Mr. Kotsyubaylo said of the massing troops. “They’re doing everything they can for us to see them, and to show us how cool Putin is.”

    Under the peace plan negotiated in Minsk, Belarus, in 2015, both sides’ heavy weaponry is required to be positioned well behind the front line.

    Ukraine’s artillery is now stationed in places like a Soviet-era tractor yard in an out-of-the-way village reached by treacherous dirt roads an hour’s drive from Mariupol. Col. Andrii Shubin, the base commander, said he was ready to send his artillery guns and his American-provided weapon-locating radar trucks to the front as soon as the order came.

    Ukrainian officials say that they are not repositioning troops in response to the Russian buildup, and that any current troop movements are normal rotations.

    On Monday, dozens of tanks and armored vehicles could be seen on the move in the southwest of the government-controlled area of eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region. Soldiers relaxed on cots at a village train station under graffiti that used an obscenity to refer to Mr. Putin.

    Around the region, from Mariupol’s fashionable waterfront to the shrapnel-scarred streets of Avdiivka, many residents said they were so exhausted from the war that they did not even want to consider the possibility that the fighting will flare up again.

    Lena Pisarenko, a 45-year-old Russian teacher in Avdiivka, said she had never stopped keeping an emergency supply of water on hand in pots and bottles all over her apartment and her balcony. During the shelling at the height of the war, she created a ritual to keep her children calm: They would play board games and drink tea while three candles burn down three times. Then it was time for bed.

    Another woman passing by, Olga Volvach, 41, said she was paying little mind to the recent escalation in shelling.

    “Our balcony door isolates sound well,” she said.

    Maria Varenikova contributed reporting from Mariupol, Ukraine.

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    With Afghan Decision, Biden Seeks to Focus U.S. on New Challenges

    WASHINGTON — President Biden’s decision to pull all American troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11 was rooted in his belief that there is no room for continuing 20 years of failed efforts to remake that country, especially at a moment when he wants the United States focused on a transformational economic and social agenda at home and other fast-evolving threats from abroad.

    Though Mr. Biden would never use the term, getting out of Afghanistan is part of his own version of “America First,” one that differs drastically from how his predecessor, Donald J. Trump, used the phrase. His years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and as vice president convinced him that the United States-led effort in Afghanistan was destined to collapse of its own weight.

    Time and again during the Obama administration, Mr. Biden lost arguments to reduce the American presence to a minimal counterterrorism force. But after less than three months as president, Mr. Biden came to the determination that only a full withdrawal — with no link to political conditions on the ground — would wrench America’s attention away from the conflict of the past two decades in favor of the very different kinds he expects in the next two.

    He has defined his presidency’s goals as releasing the country from the grip of a virus that is morphing into new variants, seizing an opportunity to bolster economic competitiveness against China and proving to the world that American democracy can still rise to great challenges.

    annual worldwide threat assessment published by his intelligence chiefs on Tuesday morning, as word of his decision leaked, explicitly warned that “the Afghan government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay” if the American-led coalition withdraws. Administration officials said that raised the specter of something akin to the 1975 fall of Saigon, after the United States gave up on another ill-considered war.

    But Mr. Biden’s decision makes clear his belief that contending with a rising China takes precedence over the idea that with just a few more years in Afghanistan, and a few more billions of dollars, the United States could achieve with a few thousand troops what it could not achieve with hundreds of thousands and the more than $2 trillion already poured into two decades of warfighting and nation building.

    After Mr. Biden declared at a news conference last month that “We’ve got to prove democracy works,” he went on to describe a foreign policy that was focused on restoring America’s reputation for getting big things done. “China is outinvesting us by a long shot,” the president noted, “because their plan is to own that future.”

    Indeed, no one celebrated the American involvement in Afghanistan, or Iraq, more than the Chinese — conflicts that kept Americans up at night worrying about casualties and taking control of distant provinces, while Beijing focused on spreading its influence in regions of the world where America was once the unquestioned dominant power.

    Afghanistan’s stability deeply in jeopardy. If there is no terrorist attack launched from Afghan territory again, no echo of Sep. 11, 2001, Mr. Biden may well have been judged to have made the right bet.

    In the end, the argument that won the day is that the future of Kenosha is more important than defending Kabul. And if Mr. Biden can truly focus the country on far bigger strategic challenges — in space and cyberspace, against declining powers like Russia and rising ones like China — he will have finally moved the country out of its post-9/11 fixation, where counterterrorism overrode every other foreign policy and domestic imperative.

    That would be a real change in the way Americans think about the purpose of the country’s influence and power, and the nature of national security.

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