Conflict Intelligence Team, a group of independent Russian military analysts.

Gigantic military trucks are parked within sight of the roads, which have, strangely, remained open to public traffic.

news release to announce the redeployment of the naval landing craft closer to Ukraine, in case anybody was curious. The vessels sailed along rivers and canals connecting the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea. The ministry posted pictures.

forces for a possible incursion.

But Mr. Burns said U.S. officials were still trying to determine if the Kremlin was preparing for military action or merely sending a signal.

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Drought and Abundance in the Mesopotamian Marshes

On my most recent visit to the Mesopotamian marshes, in March, I arrived at Sayeed Hitham’s for breakfast. The pandemic had kept me away for more than a year.

The sun was just rising, the sky pink and golden. Hana, Hitham’s wife, stood smiling near the door to their reed house. “Tea is ready, bread is ready,” she said. “Come on in.”

We sat on the worn-out carpet around a glowing kerosene heater, sipping tea and dipping the flat naan Hana had just baked into hot buffalo milk. “What took you so long, Emi?” Sayeed asked with a tone of reproach. “We haven’t seen you in forever.”

battle for Mosul was raging, I took the opposite path and headed south. I was in search of another view of the country, something different from the war I’d been covering for the previous year and a half.

It was a moment of real discovery for me — one of those few times when you connect with a place, with a people.

The Mesopotamian marshes, a series of wetlands that sit near Iraq’s southeast border, feel like an oasis in the middle of the desert — which they are. The ruins of the ancient Sumerian cities of Ur, Uruk and Eridu are close at hand. The broader region, known as the cradle of civilization, saw early developments in writing, architecture and complex society.

The marshes are home to a people called the Ma’dan, also known as the Marsh Arabs, who live deep in the wetlands, mostly as buffalo breeders in isolated settlements, a majority of which are reachable only by boat. Others live in small cities on the banks of the Tigris or Euphrates rivers, which feed the marshes.

Many of the Ma’dan left decades ago, when the marshes were ravaged by war, famine and repression.

During the Iran-Iraq war, waged between 1980 and 1988, the wetland’s proximity to the Iranian border turned the area into a conflict zone, a theater for bloody battles. Later, in the early 1990s, in the aftermath of a Shiite uprising against his Baath Party, Saddam Hussein intentionally drained the region — where many of the Shiite rebels had fled — as a punishment and a way to stifle the insurrection.

The marshes turned into a desert for more than a decade, until the United States-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

By then, damage had already been done. By the early 2000s, less than 10 percent of the area’s original wetland existed as a functioning marshland.

Today, after being re-flooded and partially restored, the marshes are once again endangered — by climate change, lack of ecological awareness on a local level and, perhaps most dramatically, by the construction of dams in Turkey and Syria and upriver in Iraq.

In 2018, an extremely hot summer followed by a lack of rain caused a serious drought. In some areas, the water level fell by more than three feet.

“That’s it,” I remember thinking, as the small boat crossed the marsh where corpses of young buffaloes floated in the water. Buffalo breeders like Sayeed Hitham lost about a third of their livestock, and many had to leave when areas turned into a desert. They migrated to neighboring cities — or farther still, to the poor suburbs of Karbala, Basra or Baghdad.

But then, a few months later, the water began to rise. People returned. I photographed the renewal, just as I’d photographed drought the year before. But it felt then — it still feels now — like a sword of Damocles hung over the region.

The stakes are high, both ecologically and for the people who live here. If the already-depleted marshes dry up again, the Ma’dan may have no choice but to leave, to cast away from a peaceful enclave into a troubled land.

Still, I’ve kept coming back. Over the years, I’ve seen drought and abundance, freezing winters and burning summers. I’ve seen children born, and watched them grow up. I’ve followed Sayeed Hitham and his family as they moved around the marsh, the location of their new home dependent on the water level — and each time built out of reeds.

I’ve even gotten used to the huge water buffaloes, known locally as jamous, which represent the main source of income for most of the Ma’dan.

The buffaloes scared me at the beginning. But I’ve learned to walk through a herd of horns, to let them smell me, to pet the fluffy, friendly calves — the ones that try to lick my hand like oversized dogs.

When I outlined my progress to Sayeed, as we wrapped up breakfast, he burst into his wonderful, exuberant laughter. “You still know nothing, Emi,” he said. “You can’t even tell the mean jamous in the herd.”

Then, serious, and still smiling, he said: “It’s OK. You have time to learn.”

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Bangladesh Collision Between Cargo Ship and Ferry Leaves 27 Dead

DHAKA, Bangladesh — A collision between a cargo ship and a small ferry killed 27 people and left more than a dozen others swimming for their lives in Bangladesh late on Sunday, the latest in a long history of maritime disasters on the country’s heavily trafficked waterways.

Most of the dead were trapped inside the ferry after it was struck by the hulking cargo ship while crossing a river in central Bangladesh and then capsized, the authorities said.

The bodies of 21 passengers were recovered from the ferry after an 11-hour salvage operation to pull the vessel from the water, said Golam Sadeq, chairman of the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority. The bodies of six other passengers were recovered outside the ferry, and 19 passengers were rescued after swimming from the vessel, the authorities said.

Video taken from the riverbank showed the cargo ship plowing into the ferry, lifting it from the water and tossing passengers into the current. Hundreds of people gathered to watch the rescue operation, which was aided by local residents. The screams of relatives filled the air as they desperately sought to learn the fate of their loved ones.

drowned in June after two ferries collided in Dhaka. In 2015, a cargo ship struck a ferry east of the capital, killing 69 people. In 2014, an overloaded ferry capsized in the Padma River, killing more than 100 people.

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Fully Vaccinated Americans Can Travel With Low Risk, C.D.C. Says

Americans who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 can safely travel at home and abroad, as long as they take basic precautions like wearing masks, federal health officials announced on Friday, a long-awaited change from the dire government warnings that have kept many millions home for the past year.

In announcing the change at a White House news conference, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stressed that they preferred that people avoid travel. But they said growing evidence of the real-world effectiveness of the vaccines — which have been given to more than 100 million Americans — suggested that inoculated people could do so “at low risk to themselves.”

The shift in the C.D.C.’s official stance comes at a moment of both hope and peril in the pandemic. The pace of vaccinations has been rapidly accelerating across the country, and the number of deaths has been declining.

Yet cases are increasing significantly in many states as new variants of the coronavirus spread through the country. Just last Monday, Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the C.D.C. director, warned of a potential fourth wave if states and cities continued to loosen public health restrictions, telling reporters that she had feelings of “impending doom.”

suggested such cases might be rare, but until that question is resolved, many public health officials feel it is unwise to tell vaccinated Americans simply to do as they please. They say it is important for all vaccinated people to continue to wear masks, practice social distancing and take other precautions.

Under the new C.D.C. guidance, fully vaccinated Americans who are traveling domestically do not need to be tested for the coronavirus or follow quarantine procedures at the destination or after returning home. When they travel abroad, they only need to get a coronavirus test or quarantine if the country they are going to requires it.

coronavirus test before boarding a flight back to the United States, and they should get tested again three to five days after their return.

The recommendation is predicated on the idea that vaccinated people may still become infected with the virus. The C.D.C. also cited a lack of vaccine coverage in other countries, and concern about the potential introduction and spread of new variants of the virus that are more prevalent overseas.

Most states have accelerated their timelines for opening vaccinations to all adults, as the pace of vaccinations across the country has been increasing. As of Friday, an average of nearly three million shots a day were being administered, according to data reported by the C.D.C.

The new advice adds to C.D.C. recommendations issued in early March saying that fully vaccinated people may gather in small groups in private settings without masks or social distancing, and may visit with unvaccinated individuals from a single household as long as they are at low risk for developing severe disease if infected with the virus.

Travel has already been increasing nationwide, as the weather warms and Americans grow fatigued with pandemic restrictions. Last Sunday was the busiest day at domestic airports since the pandemic began. According to the Transportation Security Administration, nearly 1.6 million people passed through the security checkpoints at American airports.

But the industry’s concerns are far from over. The pandemic has also shown businesses large and small that their employees can often be just as productive working remotely as in face-to-face meetings. As a result, the airline and hotel industries expect it will be years before lucrative corporate travel recovers to prepandemic levels, leaving a gaping hole in revenues.

And while leisure travel within the United States may be recovering steadily, airlines expect it will still take until 2023 or 2024 for passenger volumes to reach 2019 levels, according to Airlines for America, an industry group. The industry lost more than $35 billion last year and continues to lose tens of millions of dollars each day, the group said.

the country’s government said

The C.D.C. on Thursday also issued more detailed technical instructions for cruise lines, requiring them to take steps to develop vaccination strategies and make plans for routine testing of crew members and daily reporting of Covid-19 cases before they can run simulated trial runs of voyages with volunteers, before taking on real passengers. The C.D.C.’s directives acknowledge that taking cruises “will always pose some risk of Covid-19 transmission.”

Some destinations and cruise lines have already started requiring that travelers be fully vaccinated. The cruise line Royal Caribbean is requiring passengers and crew members 18 or older to be vaccinated in order to board its ships, as are Virgin Voyages, Crystal Cruises and others.

For the moment, airlines are not requiring vaccinations for travel. But the idea has been much talked about in the industry.

Niraj Chokshi contributed reporting.

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Serbia Hails Chinese Companies as Saviors, but Locals Chafe at Costs

METOVNICA, Serbia — The well in the retired couple’s yard, their only source of clean water, began to dry up two years ago. Last year, dead fish started washing up on the banks of the river that runs by their home in a bucolic village in southeastern Serbia.

But most disturbing of all for Verica Zivkovic and her husband, Miroslav, are the ever-widening cracks in the walls of the house they built after moving to the countryside more than a decade ago to raise goats.

“We came here for the peace and quiet,” said Ms. Zivkovic, 62, but that all changed when a Chinese company arrived.

In 2018, the company, the Zijin Mining Group, took control of a money-losing copper smelter in the nearby city of Bor and began blasting away in the nearby hills in search of copper and gold.

pro-democracy group Freedom House downgraded Serbia in 2019 from “free” to “partly free,” citing a tightening grip on politics, civil liberties and the media.

In January, 26 members of the European Parliament demanded a review of the “growing impact of China’s economic footprint in Serbia,” including “reckless projects with potentially devastating multiple impacts on the wider environment as well as surrounding population.”

The roots of Serbia’s tilt toward China date to 1999, during the Kosovo war, when U.S. warplanes mistakenly bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, killing three Chinese journalists. On that site now stands a huge Chinese cultural center. A marble memorial stone outside bears inscriptions in Serbian and Chinese hail China’s “martyrs.”

But memories of shared suffering at American hands have faded in places like Bor, site of the Chinese-owned smelter.

Pollution from the Bor plant skyrocketed to many times the legally permitted level in 2019 and 2020, setting off a series of street protests and prompting Zijin Mining’s general manager in Serbia to tell his managers last October that he was “very dissatisfied” with the “frightening” level of pollution, according to leaked minutes of the meeting.

He blamed the bad publicity, which he said had damaged “the government of the People’s Republic of China,” on “people who are in favor of the West and receive support” who “have stood in opposition to our work.”

Bor’s mayor, Aleksandar Milikic, a Vucic loyalist, initially dismissed the protests as the work of political agitators.

But, apparently worried about losing votes, he announced last year that he would file a court case against Zijin for negligence. It is not clear whether he actually did so. The mayor declined to be interviewed. Zijin Mining did not respond to requests for comment.

Milenko Jovanovic, an air pollution expert, said he was fired in November from Serbia’s Environmental Protection Agency after raising concerns about dangerously high levels of sulfur dioxide and arsenic in the air around Bor.

The government, he said, rejected anything that might upset China and its investors. “It lets them do whatever they want to do,” he said.

A court in Belgrade ruled this month that Mr. Jovanovic had been unfairly dismissed and ordered that he be given his job back.

Activists concede that air pollution levels in Bor have fallen since protests, but say that the main danger has now shifted to towns and villages to the south, where hundreds of Chinese workers brought in by Zijin are developing one of the world’s biggest unexploited copper deposits, and digging for gold.

The earth around the new mine trembles from blasting work and the heavy trucks, driven by Chinese workers, that rumble along roads adorned with China’s red national flag. Rivers and streams are discolored by effluent.

The government has added to public anger by issuing expropriation orders so that Zijin can build access roads and expand its mine. Dragan Viacic, a farmer, said he had received a letter from Serbia’s finance ministry informing him that he must sell 13 acres of his land at a fraction of the market price.

“They said this was necessary in the public interest but in reality this is just the interest of the Chinese,” he said.

In Metovnica, a village near the mine, Mr. Zivkovic and his wife used to have 25 goats but, with no clean water on hand after their well dried up, they now keep just one.

“Why don’t we have any water anymore? Why are there no fish in the river?” The answer, he said, is Zijin Mining Group.

Pointing to fissures radiating across the wall of his house that appeared last year after Chinese miners started using explosives, Mr. Zivkovic said: “It was a tiny crack at first but then it spread.”

Confident that it has the support of Mr. Vucic and his officials, the mining company and other Chinese ventures in Serbia have mostly ignored complaints and shrouded their operations in secrecy.

Sasa Stankovic, an environmental activist and elected member of the Bor regional council, said he had tried unsuccessfully to contact Zijin to discuss pollution levels. The copper smelter in Bor, he said, had been hazardous to health for decades, but the dangers jumped sharply after Zijin arrived and ramped up production.

Bor now accounts for a stunning 80 percent of Serbian exports to China, repeating a pattern widely seen in Africa of Chinese firms extracting natural resources for shipment back to China.

At Slatina, a village down the road, Miodrag Zivkovic, a local farmer stood on a rickety bridge over the Bor River, its waters thick with sludge and garbage, and said: “We didn’t go to the Chinese mine but the mine came to us.”

All the same, he said, given the few jobs available in the region, his son would still like to get work at the smelter, which pays relatively well. “Everyone here needs a salary and is ready to risk everything,” he lamented.

Cao Li contributed reporting from Hong Kong and Monika Pronczuk from Brussels.

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Australia’s Worst Floods in Decades Quicken Concerns About Climate Change

WINDSOR, Australia — Kelly Miller stood in her doorway on Monday, watching the water rise to within a few inches of the century-old home where she runs an alternative medicine business. The bridge nearby had already gone under in some of Australia’s worst flooding in decades, along with an abandoned car in the parking lot.

“It’s coming up really quickly,” she said.

Two massive storms have converged over eastern Australia, dumping more than three feet of rain in just five days. In a country that suffered the worst wildfires in its recorded history just a year ago, the deluge has become another record-breaker — a once-in-50-years event, or possibly 100, depending on the rain that’s expected to continue through Tuesday night.

Nearly 20,000 Australians have been forced to evacuate, and more than 150 schools have been closed. The storms have swept away the home of a couple on their wedding day, prompted at least 500 rescues and drowned roads from Sydney up into the state of Queensland 500 miles north.

Shane Fitzsimmons, the resilience commissioner for New South Wales — a new state position formed after last year’s fires — described the event as another compounding disaster. Last year, huge fires combined into history-making infernos that scorched an area larger than many European countries. This year, thunderstorms have fused and hovered, delivering enough water to push rivers like the Hawkesbury to their highest levels since the 1960s.

Scientists note that both forms of catastrophe represent Australia’s new normal. The country is one of many seeing a pattern of intensification — more extreme hot days and heat waves, as well as more extreme rainfalls over short periods.

It’s all tied to a warming earth, caused by greenhouse gases. Because global temperatures have risen 1.1 degrees Celsius, or about 2 degrees Fahrenheit, over preindustrial levels, landscapes dry out more quickly, producing severe droughts, even as more water vapor rises into the atmosphere, increasing the likelihood of extreme downpours.

“There is a very strong link between global warming and that intensification in rainfall,” said Andy Pitman, director of the ARC Center of Excellence for Climate Extremes at the University of New South Wales. “There’s good scientific evidence to say extreme rain is becoming more extreme due to global warming.”

Australia’s conservative government — heavily resistant to aggressive action on climate change that might threaten the country’s fossil fuel industry — has yet to make that link.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has offered funds for those forced to flee, and several dozen areas have already been declared disaster zones.

“It’s another testing time for our country,” he told a Sydney radio station, 2GB, on Monday.

Windsor may become one of the places hardest hit. Over the weekend, the Hawkesbury rose rapidly by more than 30 feet, and it is expected to peak in the next day or so at 42 feet.

With rain continuing to fall, emergency workers wearing bright orange went door to door on side streets with waist-deep puddles where the road dipped.

In and around the historic downtown, many of the businesses close to the river stayed shut on Monday, with a few putting sandbags by their doors. The central meeting place seemed to be at the foot of the Windsor Bridge, where television crews and crowds in rubber boots marveled at the view.

The new Windsor Bridge, which opened just a few months ago as a “flood-proof” replacement for an older bridge, was completely underwater.

It was built 10 feet higher than the bridge it replaced, but the river flowed over it as if it did not exist. A red flashing light on the top of a buried yellow excavator offered the only hint of the old bridge, or what had once been solid ground.

Cameron Gooch, 46, a diesel mechanic from a town nearby, said he saw huge trees speeding downriver toward the coast a day earlier. The water seemed to have slowed down, he said, becoming a giant bathtub with water held in place and rising slowly from tributaries.

“That’s the problem,” he said. “It’s just going to keep building up.”

A few feet away, Rebecca Turnbull, the curator of Howe House, a home and museum built in 1820, put handwritten notes on the furniture that would need to be removed if the water surged a few more feet.

She pointed to a line drawn on the doorway of a room that smelled of damp old wood.

“This is where the water came up to in 1867,” she said.

Like many others in Windsor, she said she doubted the river would reach quite that high this time around. But that didn’t bring much solace to those closer to the rising brown sludge.

Rachael Goldsworthy, who owns a home and real estate business just behind Ms. Miller’s naturopathic clinic — it’s a few feet higher on the hillside — said she saw a new Mercedes washed downstream the night before after a man had parked in a small puddle and then went into a grocery store to buy a roast chicken. In just minutes, the rising water carried the car away.

On Monday, she tried to help Ms. Miller find a few milk crates — the only defense for some of the heavy furniture that could not be moved out.

Inside, Ms. Miller and her son collected oils and other products that she would normally be selling, with plans to put them in a truck or a storage unit. The antique flowered carpet was still dry, and she’d taped up the toilets to keep the septic system from backing up into the house.

She said she didn’t have flood insurance because she couldn’t afford it. So all she could do was learn from YouTube videos about how to fight a flood.

“We’re trying to work out how to save what we can,” she said. “We don’t want to lose everything.”

Yan Zhuang contributed reporting from Melbourne, Australia.

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