Your Thursday Briefing

Russia has responded to the West’s escalating arms shipments and economic penalties by halting national gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria as well as threatening further unspecified retaliation. It was the toughest response yet against the U.S.-led alliance that Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, has accused of waging a proxy war following its invasion of Ukraine. Follow the latest updates.

The cutoff was clearly a warning sign that Germany — hugely dependent on Russian gas — could be next. Russia is sending a message that it could bring considerable pain to Europe without firing a shot. European natural gas prices surged as much as 28 percent yesterday, and the euro’s value fell to its lowest point against the dollar in five years.

The E.U. had been preparing for the possibility that Russia might halt natural gas deliveries, said Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president. Nonetheless, she said, the Russian move was an attempt “to use gas as an instrument of blackmail.” Poland and Bulgaria will receive gas from E.U. countries but have ample supply for now.

Defense: The stated reason for halting gas deliveries was the refusal by Poland and Bulgaria to pay in rubles, a new requirement Russia announced last month, despite the fact that its foreign contracts generally call for payment in dollars or euros. Compliance would subvert the E.U.’s financial sanctions on Russia and help prop up the battered ruble.

There is growing concern in Washington and European capitals that the conflict in Ukraine could soon escalate into a wider war — spreading to neighboring states, to cyberspace and to NATO countries suddenly facing a Russian cutoff of gas. Over the long term, such an expansion could evolve into a more direct conflict reminiscent of the Cold War.

Talk of a diplomatic resolution or even a cease-fire — attempted at various points by the leaders of France, Israel and Turkey, among others — has died out, and both Ukrainian and Russian forces are digging in for the long haul. There are other factors that risk broadening the conflict, including probable applications by Sweden and Finland to join NATO.

The U.S. defense secretary has called for an effort to degrade the capability of the Russian military to prevent further invasions. At the same time, the Russians are reminding the world of the might of their nuclear arsenal with increasing frequency. These signals seem intended to drive home the point that the West should not push too far.

Analysis: Germany has long sought to avoid provoking Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, said Ulrich Speck, a German analyst. There is a concern in Berlin that “we shouldn’t push Putin too hard against the wall,” he added, “so that he may become desperate and do something truly irresponsible.”

Anger and anxiety over a harsh lockdown in Shanghai, now in its fourth week, has posed a rare challenge for China’s powerful propaganda apparatus, which is central to the Communist Party’s ability to stifle dissent.

As the Omicron variant continues to spread across the country, officials have defended their use of widespread, heavy-handed lockdowns, pushing a triumphalist narrative of their Covid response. But as people grow more conscious of the life-or-death costs of that approach, an alternate story of rage, frustration and despair is finding an audience.

The anger, if not contained, could pose the biggest political test for China’s leadership since the outbreak began. China’s leader, Xi Jinping, has staked his legitimacy on the successful control of the pandemic, a message that has only been amplified ahead of this fall, when he is expected to claim an unprecedented third term.

Consequences: The harsh measures in Shanghai have led to food shortages, delayed medical care, shoddy quarantine conditions and even physical fencing around residents’ homes. Critical videos and posts have been censored by officials, who have instead inundated state media with positive stories — only fueling the anger from citizens.

In other pandemic news:

A $25 million giveaway and 30,000 unopened letters: In 1970, the 21-year-old margarine heir Michael James Brody Jr. announced he would give away his fortune to anyone who asked. Thousands wrote in to claim it.

A disco ball revival is underway, writes Lia Picard for The Times. After being relegated to kitschy party décor or retro bars, disco balls can now be found adorning weddings, TikTok home décor videos and housewares stores that span the gamut from high- to low-end.

According to Etsy, searches for “disco ball” increased nearly 400 percent during the past three months compared with the same time period last year. “People are looking for ways to celebrate again,” said Matthew Yokobosky, who curated the 2020 exhibit “Studio 54: Night Magic” at the Brooklyn Museum. “They’re looking for moments of joy.”

Though mirror balls are often associated with the 1970s, they were used in 1920s nightclubs as an inexpensive way to create atmosphere, Yokobosky said. “You have a disco ball, you shine a light on it, and suddenly the entire room is covered in dots of light that are moving,” he added. “So you get a lot of bang for your little disco ball.”

Read more about the return of the disco ball.

That’s it for today’s briefing. See you tomorrow. — Natasha

P.S. Join us on May 2 for a live conversation with Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, about the long-term impact of the war in Ukraine. You can R.S.V.P. here.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about a school prayer case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

You can reach Natasha and the team at

Source link