Good morning. We’re covering Russia’s struggling military campaign, Australia’s halting recovery from bush fires and a Covid-19 protest at Peking University.
Russia scales back its charge east
After a series of military setbacks, Moscow now appears to be focusing on a narrow objective: widening its holdings in Ukraine’s eastern region of Donbas. But even there Russia may be forced to scale back its ambition to take most of eastern Ukraine, according to the Institute for the Study of War.
Russia still controls the wide swath of southern Ukraine it seized early in the war, including Kherson, and continues to impose a naval blockade that is strangling the Ukrainian economy. But Russia has not secured a major strategic gain in the east.
On Sunday, the Ukrainian military released a video purporting to show a small group of soldiers reaching the Russian border near Kharkiv — a powerful symbolic moment. Russian forces had to retreat from the city, Ukraine’s second-largest, earlier this month.
NATO: The alliance is preparing to fast-track admission for Finland and Sweden, which formally announced that they will seek membership. On Monday, NATO forces from 14 countries held a large, long-planned military exercise on Russia’s doorstep in Estonia, a tough Kremlin critic.
Australia’s bush fire reckoning
In late 2019 and early 2020, fires tore through southeastern Australia. Barely one in 10 families in the affected region of southeastern Australia have finished rebuilding, local government data shows. Most have not even started.
The halting recovery efforts could have profound political import. The ruling conservative coalition holds a one-seat majority in Parliament and is already expected to lose some urban seats.
The once-conservative rural towns south of Sydney could also defect. Angered by a lack of government support after the bush fires, they may vote for the opposition Labor party in the Australian election on Saturday.
Background: The record-setting “black summer” bush fires killed 34 people, destroyed 3,500 homes and burned more than 60 million acres over two months.
Analysis: Our Sydney bureau chief, Damien Cave, spoke to the Climate Forward newsletter about climate’s role in the Australian election.
The U.S.: Half of all addresses in the lower 48 states are at risk of wildfire damage. Climate change will make the U.S. even more combustible.
Students are upset that they cannot order food and are required to isolate, while teachers and their families can leave the campus freely. On an online forum, one student called the policy contradictory. Another said it was “a joke indeed.”
May 16, 2022, 9:12 p.m. ET
In response to student frustrations, the authorities tried to put up a wall separating students from faculty and staff. More than 200 people left their dorms to protest.
Reaction: The government quickly moved to censor videos and photos from the brief protest, which quickly spread on China’s internet.
Analysis: Peking University, which has a history of occasional organized unrest, holds a special place in Beijing’s cultural and political life. The demonstration underscores a growing challenge for officials, who must assuage anger while fighting the highly infectious Omicron variant.
In other news:
Evidence is growing that Covid-19 has mutated to infect people repeatedly, sometimes within months, a potentially long-term pattern.
THE LATEST NEWS
Here are live updates from the Saturday mass shooting in upstate New York.
A Morning Read
Nuns are joining TikTok, offering a window into their cloistered experiences. “We’re not all grim old ladies reading the Bible,” one said.
Lives lived: Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma single-handedly elevated the santoor, a 100-string instrument little known outside Kashmir, into a prominent component of Hindustani classical music. He died last week at 84.
Russia-Ukraine War: Key Developments
ARTS AND IDEAS
Long before the pandemic, many rolled their eyes at companies that purported to be focused on keeping workers feeling happy: tech companies with ball pits and slides, banking firms with lunch buffets and frozen rosé.
Now, as corporate America trundles back to long-dormant office spaces, companies are in hot pursuit of similar gimmicks like a Lizzo concert at Google and beer tastings at Microsoft.
There’s a lot of social science research to suggest that happiness does lead to productivity and profit. But it’s not cheap: A “happiness M.B.A.” program for senior leaders is $18,000, not to mention the costs of so-called perks.
However, many workers prefer flexibility over a one-off rave. Instead of fomenting genuine happiness, the corporate carrots carry a whiff of pandering, a transparent attempt to turn feelings into productivity.
“People are trying to get everything back to ‘normal,’ but the truth is, normal was terrible for some people,” a program officer at a global foundation said. “Why not just give people what they actually want?”
PLAY, WATCH, EAT
What to Cook
That’s it for today’s briefing. See you next time. — Amelia
P.S. The Pentagon’s press secretary praised a Pulitzer-winning Times investigation into U.S. airstrikes, saying a free press should hold the government to account.
The latest episode of “The Daily” is on the racist theory fueling mass shootings in the U.S.
You can reach Amelia and the team at [email protected].