Your Wednesday Briefing – The New York Times

Peace talks between Russia and Ukraine provided a sign of progress yesterday, even as an imminent end to suffering remained elusive. Ukrainian officials have said the country is ready to declare itself permanently neutral and give up the prospect of joining NATO.

He was also willing to discuss Russia’s territorial claims in return for “security guarantees” from a group of other nations. Further talks should follow.

Russia said it would “significantly” reduce its military activity around kyiv to “increase mutual trust”. But he seems determined to conquer more territory in eastern Ukraine, where Russia has installed two small breakaway states that Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has recognized as independent but no other nation has officially recognized. .

Western officials and security analysts have warned against taking at face value Moscow’s statements about its goals in Kyiv or elsewhere. President Biden said he would not draw any conclusions about the intentions of Russia and its military forces “until I see what their actions are.” Sanctions against Russia would remain in place, he said.

Tolls: The war cost Ukraine $564.9 billion in damage and lost economic activity, about three times its pre-war gross domestic product. There is as yet no reliable estimate of civilian casualties in Ukraine, and around four million people have fled the country, along with around six million internally displaced people.

Story: The Times’ Carlotta Gall covered the rebellion in Chechnya nearly 30 years ago. In Kyiv, she sees echoes of Russia’s brutal siege tactics and targeting of civilians.

In other wartime news:

Olaf Scholz, Germany’s new chancellor, recently broke with the country’s post-war pacifism, promising to give the nation the resources and muscle to lead on security issues in Europe. Those responsible for this change – the biggest change in foreign policy in Germany since World War II – are all women.

Christine Lambrecht, the Minister of Defense, oversees a rearmament program of 100 billion euros, or about 110 billion dollars. Annalena Baerbock, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, draws up Germany’s first national security strategy. And Nancy Faeser, in charge of internal security, organizes the reception of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees.

As war rages in Ukraine, this is the first time women have held all three national security posts in Germany, putting them at the forefront of a cultural and strategic revolution in their country. “Security is in the hands of strong women in this government,” Scholz said when presenting his cabinet to the country in November, the first including as many women as men.

Context: Scholz’s conservative predecessor, Angela Merkel, made history when she became the first female chancellor in 2005. Germany’s current foreign and interior ministers are the first women to hold these posts.

A Palestinian gunman killed five people in the ultra-Orthodox Israeli suburb of Bnei Brak last night, the latest in a string of attacks this month. The attack, outside Tel Aviv, was the fifth in less than two weeks, bringing the total death toll in recent days to 11 – the highest number of people killed by militants in such a short period in Israel for several years.

The attack heightened fears of an even more intense outbreak of violence over the next month, as the rare convergence of three major religious holidays – Ramadan, Passover and Easter – is expected to further heighten tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. . The Israel Police said it would begin to focus on counterterrorism and street presence, reducing other activities and extending the length of its shifts.

In a statement, Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, condemned the shooting. Hamas, the Islamist group that is the de facto authority in the Gaza Strip, welcomed the attack but did not directly claim responsibility.

A Hamas official said it was a response to a summit held this week in Israel where four Arab foreign ministers met for the first time on Israeli soil for a diplomatic meeting.

Shooter: The attacker was a Palestinian from the northern West Bank who was jailed for six months several years ago for arms trafficking and membership in a terror group, according to reports in Israeli media. He was shot by police shortly after the attack.

Amid a series of crises, including the resignation of its leader, Brian Houston, above, Hillsong, once an evangelical powerhouse and cool Christian leader, dropped nine of its 16 US churches in a matter of weeks.

Hours before Will Smith slapped Chris Rock, Beyoncé delivered the night’s first big Oscars moment – summed up by a Twitter post like “Beyoncé looking like a high fashion tennis ball, that’s amazing.”

The singer opened the 94th Academy Awards on Sunday with her highest-profile TV performance in nearly two years, singing “Be Alive,” her first Oscar-nominated song from the tennis biopic “King Richard,” surrounded by dozens of dancers. and an orchestra dressed in their own vibrant neon yellow look.

Georgian designer David Koma, who lives in London and was the creative director of fashion house Mugler, was the architect of this look. “The color was the first thing we decided to go for,” he said. “Then it was more about the silhouette and what the dress was supposed to look like.”

The eye-catching design is steeped in technical expertise, with Beyoncé’s dress material made from upcycled sheer sequins, Koma said. This is not the first time that he has been inspired by tennis, which he has practiced since his childhood. “Over the years I have worked with many different tennis players,” he said, noting the “strength” and “power” of the sport. He added: “How can this not be inspiring?”

The slap: Our reviewer Wesley Morris saw deeper nuances in the episode between Smith and Rock: Amid a celebration of Black achievement, Smith’s Oscar win turned into a defeat.

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