Your Thursday Briefing: A Russian Military Shake-Up

Ukrainian soldiers fired a howitzer into a Russian-controlled town on Monday.Credit…Nicole Tung for The New York Times

A shake-up in Russia’s military

Russia again reshuffled its military command in Ukraine as its forces struggle to make progress in the east. It replaced its top commander with a Kremlin insider who helped to orchestrate the invasion.

Gen. Sergei Surovikin, who is being replaced, was appointed just three months ago. His appointment ended months of disjointed military structure and followed a successful Ukrainian counteroffensive that drove the Russians out of much of the Kharkiv region.

Under Surovikin, the Russian military largely switched to a defensive mode, allowing it to reduce the military failures that had characterized the first half year of the war. Russia shifted its strategy and began launching missile and drone attacks against Ukraine’s energy grid. But Russian forces have struggled in the continuing offensive for Ukraine’s east. For weeks, the front lines have been largely static.

Analysts said that the replacement of Surovikin, a respected commander, with Gen. Valery Gerasimov, a Kremlin apparatchik, showed that President Vladimir Putin remained focused on projecting stability rather than improving Russia’s military outlook. And some nationalist military bloggers compared the reshuffle to a game of musical chairs among Moscow’s ineffectual military old guard.

Quotable: “They have taken someone who is competent and replaced him with someone who is incompetent, but who has been there a long time and who has shown that he is loyal,” a senior researcher at the RAND Corporation said.

Soledar: Ukraine says it is still fighting for this town outside Bakhmut, a key city in the eastern Donbas region, despite the Wagner Group’s claim that its mercenaries had taken the town.

The police inspected the damage to Brazil’s Supreme Court after the riot.Credit…Victor Moriyama for The New York Times

Brazil targets riot funders

As the Brazilian authorities investigate the attack on government buildings by thousands of Jair Bolsonaro’s supporters, they are now zeroing in on the political and business elites who they believe funded, organized and aided the rioters.

Flávio Dino, the new justice minister, and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the president, both said that they suspect leaders in the agriculture industry, which largely backed Bolsonaro in the election. The authorities are expected to take action against more than 100 companies thought to have helped the protesters.

The State of the War

  • In the East: The head of the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary force, claimed that his fighters had seized the town of Soledar, which has become a focal point in Russia’s monthslong campaign to gain control of the key eastern city of Bakhmut. If the claim were true, it would be the first significant Russian victory in months.
  • Western Escalation: A cease-fire proposal seemingly aimed at splintering Western unity has instead been met with an escalation of military involvement by Ukraine’s allies.
  • New Equipment: The Western allies’ provision to Ukraine of infantry fighting vehicles signals their support for new offensives in coming months.

More than 700 people have been arrested. On Tuesday, a Supreme Court justice issued arrest warrants for two security officials, including a key Bolsonaro ally who was effectively in charge of security for Brasília, the capital. The justice said investigators had evidence that the two officials knew violence was brewing on Sunday, but did nothing to stop it.

Bolsonaro: Brazilian officials asked a federal court to freeze the former president’s assets on Tuesday, in relation to the inquiry. But it’s unclear if the court has that power. He has been in the U.S. since last month.

Cardinal George Pell was once one of the highest-ranking figures at the Vatican.Credit…William West/Getty Images

Cardinal Pell dies at 81

The news of Cardinal George Pell’s death on Tuesday was met with a divided response in Australia. Some paid tribute to the influential cleric, including Tony Abbott, a former prime minister. But others said their thoughts were with victims of church abuse.

Pell, who died in Rome at 81, was once seen as an inspiration in Australia. He rose from Ballarat, a tiny town in Victoria’s highlands, to become the Vatican’s treasurer and the highest-ranking Australian in church history. A historian at Australian Catholic University told the BBC that Pell “put Australia at the center of the Catholic world in a way it never has been before.”

But in 2017, Pell was recalled from Rome and charged with having abused choir boys in 1996, when he was archbishop of Melbourne. He was convicted in 2018 and imprisoned. In 2020, Australia’s highest court overturned the conviction,” saying that there was “a significant possibility” that he was not guilty.

And a separate 2017 government inquiry found that Pell had been aware of sexual abuse against children by priests as early as 1974, but failed to act. “None of us will be shedding any tears,” one man, who was abused in the 1970s, told The Age. The survivor said Pell had “defended the brand.”

Reaction: Some worry that his death could re-traumatize child abuse survivors, The Guardian reports.


Asia Pacific

One point of contention: Whether people should be allowed to set off fireworks during the upcoming Spring Festival holiday.Credit…Hector Retamal/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
  • People are fighting online in China over the Communist Party’s reversal of its “zero Covid” policy and the surge of infections that followed.

  • A Korean solar company, Hanwha Qcells, plans to build a $2.5 billion plant in the U.S., taking advantage of benefits that are intended to reduce reliance on Chinese supply chains.

Around the World

  • A Federal Aviation Administration system failure temporarily grounded flights in the U.S. yesterday.

  • Uganda’s worst Ebola outbreak in more than two decades has ended, the W.H.O. said.

  • At least 17 people have died as storms batter California. Millions remained under a flood watch yesterday.

Other Big Stories

Michelle Yeoh, who starred in “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” won the best actress award for a comedy or musical film.Credit…Caroline Brehman/EPA, via Shutterstock
  • The Golden Globe Awards returned to television after NBC refused to broadcast the ceremony in 2022 amid an ethics, finance and diversity scandal. Here are the winners and red carpet looks.

  • The Vatican plans to reopen a famous cold case about the 1983 disappearance of a teenage girl.

  • The top consumer watchdog in the U.S. raised health and environmental concerns about gas stoves.

A Morning Read

Shafiq Rasul’s children read the letters he wrote from his time imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay before they were born.Credit…Cristina Baussan for The New York Times

Three men who were once held at Guantánamo Bay won landmark Supreme Court cases that stripped the U.S. military and the White House of unchecked authority to detain people at the naval base. Prisoners now have access to lawyers and can challenge their detention in federal court.

And those former prisoners are free. One is a home-heating serviceman in central England; another is an Uber driver in the French Riviera. “I lost seven and a half years,” one man said.


Bola Tinubu, center, is the 2023 presidential nominee for Nigeria’s ruling party.Credit…Sunday Alamba/Associated Press

Things to watch in 2023

For her first briefing item of the New Year, our writer Lynsey Chutel gives us a preview of 2023 in Africa. Here’s the view from Johannesburg.

Elections that bring change: Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy and most populous country, will elect a new leader on Feb. 25. Muhammadu Buhari, the current president, is completing his second term in office, the constitutional maximum. In the race are a longtime governor, a perennial presidential candidate and a businessman popular with young people. The vote could be a test of whether young Africans can reshape the political landscape. It could inspire change in other African countries holding elections this year, like Zimbabwe.

Choppy economic waters: During a global economic downturn, the world’s poorest suffer. In sub-Saharan Africa, slowing economic growth in 2023 could raise poverty levels, the World Bank warned this week. A shrinking global economy will also mean less infrastructure investment, at a time when several countries are already struggling to keep the power on and pay off crippling debt.

More reality TV: The genremay be maligned, but on a continent where war and poverty have been the dominant images, it is a welcome alternative. After Nigeria’s “Big Brother Naija” hit streaming records across Africa during the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, the latest spinoff is a South African-Nigerian “Big Brother” mega-show, which will begin airing next week. With huge followings and relatively low budgets, reality TV could be a boon to Africa’s television industry.


What to Cook

Credit…David Malosh for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Simon Andrews.

Make this light carrot and leek soup with miso.

What to Read

“Ghost Season” explores Sudan’s civil war.

How to Organize

Why clearing the clutter can feel impossible.

What to Wear

Advice on choosing a classic white shirt.

Now Time to Play

Play the Mini Crossword, and a clue: Dominant personality (five letters).

Here are the Wordle and the Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. See you next time. — Amelia

P.S. Blake Hounshell, the editor of our “On Politics” newsletter, died on Tuesday at 44. He was an insightful and generous colleague, and we will miss him very much. Here are tributes, from the people who knew and loved him.

“The Daily” is about Brazil’s riots.

You can always reach me at [email protected].

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