Your Friday Briefing – The New York Times

The number of Russian troops killed and wounded in Ukraine is approaching 200,000, as the effects of fighting in and around eastern Ukraine magnify what was already a heavy toll, according to Western and American officials.

With Moscow desperate for a major battlefield victory and viewing Bakhmut as the key to seizing the entire eastern Donbas area, the Russian military has sent poorly trained recruits and former convicts to the front lines, straight into the path of Ukrainian shelling and machine guns. The result, American officials say, has been hundreds of troops killed or injured each day.

Russia analysts say that the loss of life is unlikely to be a deterrent to the war aims of Vladimir Putin, the Russian president. He has no political opposition at home and has framed the war as the kind of struggle the country faced in World War II, when more than eight million Soviet troops died.

Counting the toll: Western officials cautioned that casualties are difficult to estimate, particularly because Moscow is believed to routinely undercount its dead and injured. Ukraine’s own casualty figures are also difficult to ascertain, given Kyiv’s reluctance to disclose its own wartime losses, but they most likely also exceed 100,000 people killed or injured.

Putin: In a defiant speech, the Russian leader compared Germany’s decision to arm Ukraine to the Soviet Union’s fight against the Nazis. He said it was “unbelievable” that Russia was “again being threatened” by German tanks. “We aren’t sending our tanks to their borders,” he said. “But we have the means to respond, and it won’t end with the use of armor.”

In other news from the war:

  • Hours before Putin spoke, Russian missiles hit the city of Kramatorsk, a critical base for Ukrainian military operations.

  • Top E.U. officials are in Kyiv for a meeting with Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president. They will discuss Ukraine’s reconstruction and its candidacy for membership in the bloc.

Three days into a six-day trip to Africa, Pope Francis has been met with an enthusiastic welcome and enormous crowds in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a fresh reminder of the strength not only of his pastoral message of peace and forgiveness but also of the political dimension of his power.

A day earlier, addressing about a million people in Kinshasa, the Congolese capital, Francis had called for peace in a country that has known little of it. Its citizens, he said, had been victims of a “forgotten genocide.”

Francis has had to abandon his plan to visit the country’s east, where scores of armed groups are pillaging villages, plundering resources and heightening tensions with neighboring Rwanda, despite an 18,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force in the region. The unrest has displaced more than 521,000 people since March.

Exploitation: Sitting alongside Francis on Wednesday, the country’s president, Félix Tshisekedi, accused the world of forgetting Congo and of complicity in the atrocities in the east through “inaction and silence.”

The announcement yesterday by Lloyd Austin, the U.S. defense secretary, that the U.S. military was expanding its presence in the Philippines left little doubt that the U.S. was positioning itself to constrain China’s armed forces and bolstering its ability to defend Taiwan as tensions rise.

The agreement would allow the U.S. to gain access to four more sites in the Philippines, and it signals that it could use its own armed forces to push back harder against the Chinese military’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea, where China and several Southeast Asian nations, including the Philippines, have territorial disputes.

It was the latest in a series of moves by the Biden administration to strengthen military alliances and partnerships across the Asia-Pacific region, including those with Australia, Japan and India. The U.S. has also gotten NATO to speak out on potential threats from China.

Official line: President Biden has said four times that the U.S. military will defend Taiwan in the event of conflict, but his aides insist that American policy has not changed. Since the U.S. ended formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1979, it has avoided declaring whether it would deploy military forces to defend it.

Related: Days before Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Beijing, the U.S. said it had detected a Chinese surveillance balloon that had been hovering over Montana. The Pentagon has chosen not to shoot it down after a recommendation from officials that doing so could cause debris to hit people on the ground.

Sturgeons, whose roe has been prized by glitterati, Russian czars and Michelin-starred chefs, have thrived in American rivers for millions of years. But the caviar rush of the 19th century ravaged breeding populations, which today remain in only 22 of the species’ 38 natal rivers. Now, the quest to save them is exposing the limits of the Endangered Species Act.

How Europe views the Premier League’s budget-busting spending: We asked top executives from across the continent for their views of England’s approach to transfers, and found a mix of fear, loathing and opportunism.

Inside Real Madrid’s famous academy: Real Madrid’s youth program is the oldest in Spain. Those who work there say they do things differently.

Why we’re jumping on the Wrexham bandwagon: We are sending Richard Sutcliffe to north Wales to report on Wrexham, a club that has captured the imagination of the United States.

From The Times: The Australian tennis star Nick Kyrgios pleaded guilty to an assault charge during a court hearing in Canberra, the Australian capital. Shortly after, the court dismissed the charge.

Martinez Zogo, the editor in chief of the privately owned radio broadcaster Amplitude FM, was found dead this month in Cameroon, his body showing signs of torture. The killing has sent shock waves through West Africa.

Zogo hosted a popular daily show, Embouteillage (the French word for traffic jam), which regularly exposed corruption. In the weeks before his death, he spoke openly of the death threats he had received after his investigation into embezzlement at Cameroon’s public institutions.

Reporters Without Borders describes Cameroon as having one of the continent’s richest, but also most dangerous, media landscapes. As The Times’s West Africa correspondent, Elian Peltier, warns, “Intimidation, detention, deaths, as alarming and important as they are, also hide more structural issues for the press in many West and Central African countries.” Chief among those is a lack of funding and political will to protect reporters.

Zogo’s death is emblematic of shrinking press freedom across the region. In Senegal, a prominent investigative reporter, Pape Alé Niang, was released on bail this month after he had staged a hunger strike to protest a weekslong detention. — Lynsey Chutel, Briefings writer based in Johannesburg.

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