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Russia, Covid Tests, the Oscars: Your Friday Evening Briefing

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Good evening. Here’s the latest at the end of Friday.

1. The U.S. accused Russia of sending saboteurs into Ukraine to stage “a false-flag operation” as a pretext for Moscow to invade.

One official cited a mix of intercepted communications and observations showing that “the Russian military plans to begin these activities several weeks before a military invasion, which could begin between mid-January and mid-February.”

The release was part of an American strategy to head off an attack by Russia. But without disclosing evidence, the U.S. opens itself up to charges that it is fabricating evidence. In past years, Russia has recalled the deeply flawed intelligence case that the U.S. built for invading Iraq.

The accusation came after a week of diplomatic encounters with Russia in an effort to de-escalate the confrontation. For years, U.S. officials have tiptoed around the question of how much military support to provide to Ukraine. That may be changing.

2. Americans will be able to order free rapid coronavirus tests online beginning on Wednesday. They should ship within seven to 12 days.

Countries including Britain, Spain and France are moving their mitigation policies off emergency footing, seizing a moment in which their populations have experienced less severe illness, and, in some instances, a drop in new daily cases after weeks of record growth.

The shift comes even as the W.H.O. cautioned this week against treating the virus like the seasonal flu, saying it was too soon to make that call.

In other virus developments:


4. Martin Shkreli, who hiked the price of a life-saving drug, was ordered to repay $64.6 million and barred from the pharmaceutical industry.

In 2015, Shkreli acquired the rights to a decades-old drug known as Daraprim, which is used to treat a life-threatening parasitic infection, and raised its price to $750 a tablet, up from $13.50. After an outcry, the unapologetic Shkreli became known as “pharma bro” for his brash attitude.

Shkreli is serving a seven-year prison sentence for defrauding investors related to his work running two hedge funds. That conviction is unrelated to the drug-pricing saga that elevated him to notoriety. He is expected to be released later this year.

5. The tennis star Novak Djokovic double-faulted in his Australian visa grudge match.

Officials revoked Djokovic’s visa for the second time on Friday, citing public safety concerns as Australia faces its worst bout with the coronavirus. Djokovic, who is unvaccinated, is expected to go to court on Saturday morning to challenge the decision, but legal experts said he might face long odds. Follow live updates here.

The Australian Open is set to begin on Monday, with Djokovic as the top seed in men’s singles. He could face an automatic three-year ban if his appeal does not succeed.

The move to deport Djokovic is not just an exercise of Australian law, Damien Cave, our Sydney bureau chief, writes. It represents an enforcement of collectivist values against an athlete who sought to play by his own rules.


6. Prosecutors in Cuba put more than 60 citizens on trial this week for protesting against the country’s economic crisis — the largest and most punitive mass trials on the island since the early years of its revolution.

The protesters, including at least five minors as young as 16, are charged with crimes including sedition and could get up to 30 years in prison. They are among more than 620 detainees who have faced or are slated to face trial for joining the biggest outburst of popular discontent against the Communist government since it took power in 1959.


7. A Starbucks union campaign is spreading across the country.

After the successful campaign of two stores in Buffalo, Starbucks workers in Boston; Chicago; Seattle; Knoxville, Tenn.; Tallahassee, Fla.; and the Denver area are starting to mobilize. Those campaigns, like the two in Buffalo, are being driven by the liberal workers the company has long attracted. Labor experts say that in seeking such employees, Starbucks may have built a work force that is more inclined to unionize and to be energized by the organizing efforts in Buffalo.

8. And the 2022 Oscar nominees should be …

If our chief film critics Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott had their way, these are the films and the people who would be up for Academy Awards. Among their top picks are “Drive My Car,” “Passing” and “Power of the Dog” for best picture. Nominations will be announced on Feb. 8, and the ceremony is slated for March 27.

On the small screen, James Poniewozik, our TV critic, recommends the HBO comedy “Somebody Somewhere,” about a Kansas woman finding her voice in midlife. The series, which starts Sunday, stars Bridget Everett. A Kansas native and self-proclaimed “cabaret wildebeest” known for her raunchy stage shows, she hopes to surprise viewers with this quieter story.


10. And finally, it’s time to get out the seed catalogs.

The dead of winter is actually the perfect time to start thinking about your gardens. Our expert Margaret Roach wants you to look beyond the traditional standbys for organic seed catalogs. Try Experimental Farm Network, where you’ll find Guatemalan Green-Fleshed Ayote winter squash, Chinese Pink celery or Sacre Bleu kidney beans (yes, they’re actually blue).

These emerging sellers share a passion for the unusual and adhere to a mission to preserve biodiversity. The seeds have “the potential to be something completely new that’s never been seen before,” one organic seed seller said. “We like to offer people that mystery and the excitement of not knowing what’s coming.”

Have a fruitful weekend.


Bryan Denton compiled photos for this briefing.

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