Your Friday Briefing

President Biden talked with Vladimir Putin for 50 minutes.Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

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.

As cyclists trained in the background, Covid vaccines were administered in a velodrome west of Paris earlier this month.Credit…Christophe Ena/Associated Press

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:

  • Britain’s hospitals will build field wards to help absorb the impact of a record surge in cases that has already produced an increase in hospitalizations nationally.

  • South Africa said its Omicron wave had passed with few added deaths. See where cases are rising fastest as the global count tops one million per day.

  • Israel approved a fourth vaccine dose for people with compromised immune systems.

  • China, holding to its “zero Covid” strategy, locked down a city of 13 million that has recorded a total of around 1,000 infections over a few weeks.

  • Weighing up the risk of socializing this evening? There’s a calculator for that.

The Prony Resources nickel mine processing plant in Goro, New Caledonia.Credit…Adam Dean for The New York Times

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.


Around the World

Credit…Pete Marovich for The New York Times
  • In his first interview since escaping Afghanistan as the Taliban advanced, its former president, Ashraf Ghani, defended his decision to flee. “I had to sacrifice myself in order to save Kabul,” he said.

  • A leaking boat carrying more than 100 Rohingya refugees was towed ashore in Indonesia days after the government reversed an earlier decision to turn the stranded vessel away.

  • Revisit the 14 most popular dispatches from our international correspondents this year.

What Else Is Happening

  • Tens of thousands had to flee their homes in Colorado because of wildfires.

  • Privacy groups fear that Apple AirTags, coin-size location-tracking devices, are being used to track people and steal cars.

  • Eminem opened a restaurant in Detroit. We checked it out.

A Morning Read

Credit…Dolores Ochoa/Associated Press

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.)


Credit…David Malosh for The New York Times

A year in food writing

In the second pandemic year, readers of The Times flocked to articles that elevated their cooking skills — and others that simply delighted or disturbed. Here is a selection from the top ten. You can see the full list of our Food section’s most-read articles here.

What our food reporters and editors make when they’re too tired to cook — including the very simple jian bing above.

The best bagels are in California. (Sorry, New York.)

24 days of holiday cookies.

20 simple sauces that will transform any meal.

How to get the best scrambled eggs.


What to Cook

Credit…Yunhee Kim for The New York Times

Welcome the New Year with soba noodles, as people do in Japan. The long strands are eaten in hopes of a long and unbroken life (that is, a life like a noodle).

What to Watch

“The Lost Daughter,” Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut, is “a sophisticated, elusively plotted psychological thriller,” our critic writes.

What to Read

Here are new books coming in January.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Snowman’s neckwear (five letters).

And here is the Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. And a small programming note: Next week, I’ll be temporarily working on The Morning, a sister edition of this newsletter. One of my colleagues will write the briefing until I’m back.

Thanks for a year of reading, and for all of your thoughts, comments and feedback. I’ll see you in 2022. — Natasha

P.S. Three Times reporters shared how they approached conversations with some of the world’s most famous people.

The latest episode of “The Daily” looks back at a U.S. nursing home’s first day out of lockdown.

You can reach Natasha and the team at [email protected].

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