Your Thursday Briefing – The New York Times

For 10 months, Russian and Ukrainian forces have battled for Bakhmut, a 16-square-mile city that has been the site of some of the fiercest urban combat in Europe since World War II. Ukrainian forces are now defending a shrinking half-circle of ruins that is only about 20 blocks wide and continually pounded with artillery fire.

A visit this week to the remaining, battered zone of control, along with interviews with soldiers and commanders, showed that Ukraine had lost ground inside the city, although an access road remained passable, allowing resupply and evacuation of the wounded.

Pushed into this ever-smaller corner, the Ukrainian army is determined to hunker down and hold out, even as allies have quietly questioned the rationale for fighting block by block in a devastated city that is close to being encircled, according to recently leaked U.S. intelligence documents.

Strategy: In Kyiv’s assessment, holding out in these grim conditions is a strategic imperative, to bog down the Russian Army while Ukraine rearms and retrains its own military for a coming counteroffensive.

In other news from the war:

  • A Russian fighter jet fired a missile at a British aircraft in September, but the missile malfunctioned, according to a leaked intelligence report. The incident was far more serious than originally portrayed and could have amounted to an act of war.

  • Poland’s prime minister said he believed that only direct U.S. intervention would lead South Korea to make its artillery shells available to Ukraine.

  • The basketball star Brittney Griner is working on a memoir about her nearly 10 months behind bars in Russia.

The Biden administration rolled out climate regulations that would require automakers to transition away from internal combustion engines and toward electric vehicles. Together, the rules are intended to ensure that two-thirds of new passenger cars and a quarter of new heavy trucks sold in the U.S. are all-electric by 2032.

The Environmental Protection Agency rules would put the U.S. on track to slash its emissions at the pace that scientists say is required to avert the most devastating effects of climate change. Last year, all-electric vehicles accounted for just 5.8 percent of new cars sold in the U.S. All-electric vehicles made up fewer than 2 percent of new heavy trucks sold.

The government cannot mandate that carmakers sell a certain number of electric vehicles. But it can limit the pollution generated by the total number of cars each manufacturer sells — and it has set that limit so tightly that the only way manufacturers can comply is to sell a certain percentage of zero-emissions vehicles.

Next steps: The proposed regulations will surely face legal challenges from those who see them as government overreach.

Battery technology: China is leading the next innovation in rechargeable batteries: replacing lithium with sodium, a cheaper and more abundant material.

The president generally tried to avoid political questions in Northern Ireland, where the legislature has been deadlocked after the Democratic Unionist Party pulled out over post-Brexit trade concerns and where there has been a flare-up of political violence. But he encouraged the government there to overcome its divisions and work as “an effective, devolved government.”

In the Republic, Biden spent the first day of his trip steeped in family lore, alongside his sister, Valerie Biden Owens, and his son, Hunter Biden. Climbing the stone steps of an ancient castle in the rain, and to a soundtrack of bagpipes, he shouted to reporters, “It feels like I’m comin’ home.”

Analysis: “For President Biden, Ireland is not just a place where his ancestors lived — it is deeply ingrained in his identity,” said Shailagh Murray, a former adviser. “His Irishness is interwoven alongside his faith, his fierce devotion to his family and his empathy for people who are struggling.”

The panda Ya Ya, who has been at the Memphis Zoo for 20 years, will soon return to China, where a campaign accusing the zoo of mistreating her has resonated on social media.

“Almost always when China gives a panda to a zoo in another country, it is usually facilitating some kind of good will and very frequently a trade deal,” said Matthew Fraser, a scholar at the American University of Paris. “When China takes back a panda, it’s usually because the regime is very displeased for some reason.”

Latest on Lionel Messi and Barcelona: The Spanish club knows there are obstacles in the way of a possible return, but here’s how it plans to proceed.

From soccer player to C.E.O.: Mathieu Flamini explains why he went from running a Premier League midfield to running a biochemical company.

Chelsea’s Rudiger regret: The void Antonio Rudiger left behind is yet to be filled, even after the club spent $235 million on four defenders.

After a pandemic lull, tourist travel to Africa is on the rebound. Last year, 45 million visitors traveled to the continent, more than double the roughly 20 million who arrived during 2020 and 2021. But the nature of travel has changed.

In Africa, more visitors are looking at sustainable options that benefit the continent’s natural wildlife, as well as the communities living on the edges of parks. The shift has been slow, but progressive parks are no longer isolated from the often impoverished nearby communities. In some cases, as in South Africa and Botswana, local communities or governments are co-owners of luxury resorts.

The continent is also highlighting its cultural offerings to draw more visitors to urban Africa. Accra, Ghana’s capital, has attracted visitors through the Chale Wote Street Art festival. In Senegal, Dakar’s Biennale has become a barometer for contemporary art in Africa.

Wondering where to travel? The Times’s 52 Places to Go this year featured Accra; the Namib desert in southern Africa; and Tassili n’Ajjer, Algeria’s rust-colored Saharan landscape. Or head for Johannesburg, the urban heartbeat of South Africa.— Lynsey Chutel, a Briefings writer in Johannesburg

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