A call between Biden and Putin
During a 50-minute phone call, Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, warned President Biden that new sanctions over Ukraine would result in a “complete rupture” between the superpowers, a Russian official said. It is unclear whether Putin intends to invade Ukraine, despite having massed 100,000 or so troops at its border.
Biden, according to a terse White House statement, “made clear that the United States and its allies and partners will respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine.” American officials declined to discuss the substance of the conversation, insisting that, unlike the Russians, they would not negotiate in public.
Intelligence officials from several Western countries in Ukraine said there has been no significant pullback of Russian troops or equipment from the border, and low-level cyberattacks — many seemingly intended to penetrate Ukrainian infrastructure — are continuing.
What’s next: Delegations from the U.S. and Russia will meet on Jan. 10, most likely in Geneva.
On the ground: As the Ukrainian government provides guidance on how to tape windows in case of an attack, people in Kyiv, the country’s capital, appear largely nonchalant.
Omicron strains France’s pandemic social contract
The deal in France was simple: Get vaccinated and get your normal life back. But the Omicron variant of the coronavirus is straining the social contract that helped drive up vaccination rates. Now, amid new urgency about booster shots, the promised normalcy has proved fleeting, and mistrust in the government is rising.
For Emmanuel Macron, the French president, the stakes are high. Macron has bet on vaccines and a health pass that allowed people to eat and socialize indoors with relative safety. Even now, facing record numbers of new cases, the government has resisted pressure from scientists to impose significant restrictions. Instead, it has shortened the delay between a second shot and a booster from six months to three.
Approval of the government’s handling of the crisis peaked in August with the introduction of the health pass but has declined in the past month, according to the polls. A push to vaccinate children ages 5 to 11 has raised new worries, with more than two-thirds of parents opposed to vaccinating their children.
Quotable: “I told myself, great, everybody’s going to get vaccinated and, in three months, we’ll all be OK, we’ll get our freedom back,” said one Frenchman who got vaccinated in order to go to the movies or visit friends. He added: “I believed. But I don’t believe anymore.”
Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.
In other developments:
Tesla’s green ambitions tested in New Caledonia
A tiny French territory between Australia and Fiji is at the center of a key test over whether Western carmakers can sidestep China’s dominance over battery power and establish sustainable practices.
Tesla, through a partnership with a large nickel mine in New Caledonia, will directly source much of the key mineral, a major step in what the company says is a broader effort to take control of its supply chain and ensure that its cars are made in an environmentally and socially responsible fashion.
If accomplished, Tesla could lead the way in setting global standards for the electric vehicle revolution, in yet another convention-defying move by the company’s founder, Elon Musk. If the effort fails, it will serve as a cautionary tale for how difficult it is to achieve true sustainability.
Sidestepping China: Most of the world’s nickel destined for electric vehicle batteries is processed in one place: China. Tesla has plans to produce batteries in Texas and Germany, which would help avoid an overreliance on China.
The shift: Some of Tesla’s cars run on batteries made with nickel processed by a Japanese company that has sourced much of its nickel from places like the Philippines, Indonesia and Madagascar, where allegations of environmental and labor breaches are rife.
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Around the World
Every year, many families in Latin America construct or purchase an “año viejo”: a human-size doll styled with old clothes that is burned on New Year’s Eve to symbolically cast off the old year and bring in the new one.
The tradition comes from Ecuador, where Indigenous populations burned effigies of feudal leaders at celebrations of the solstice. Political leaders remain regular subjects of the años viejos. (Icons of Steve Harvey, the television host, briefly became more popular after he wrongly crowned Miss Colombia the winner of the 2015 Miss Universe pageant.)