January 30, 2023

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Your Thursday Briefing – The New York Times

5 min read

Amid anger in Russia over a deadly New Year’s Day strike in Makiivka on Moscow’s forces, official blame has fallen on the targeted soldiers themselves, with the suggestion that their cellphone use enabled Ukrainian forces to home in on their location using intercepted calls. The troops were using the phones despite a ban, the Russian Ministry of Defense said.

Russian soldiers’ use of open cellphone lines in Ukraine has been a known vulnerability for its military, often revealing forces’ positions. Intercepted calls have revealed the disarray and discontent in Russia’s ranks. Some Russian lawmakers and military bloggers pushed back against the blame, calling it an attempt by the military to avoid faulting commanders.

The British Defense Ministry said that the attack had showed how “unprofessional practices contribute to Russia’s high casualty rate,” noting the possibility that ammunition had been stored near the makeshift barracks, creating secondary explosions, contributing to the damage.

Details: The strike by Ukraine in Makiivka, using U.S.-supplied guided rockets, hit a vocational school that Russian soldiers had been using as a barracks. Estimates of the number of casualties range from 89, according to the Russian Defense Ministry, to “about 400,” according to the Ukrainian military. The claims could not be independently verified.

In other news from the war:

With Britain’s health system and its economy both in acute distress, Rishi Sunak, the prime minister, delivered in a sweeping speech a series of promises to restore the country to prosperity and well-being, challenging Britons to hold him personally to account. “No tricks, no ambiguity,” he said. “We’re either delivering for you or we’re not.”

Sunak made five promises: to cut inflation in half, to reignite the economy and to reduce waiting times in emergency rooms, as well as to cut public debt and to stop the flow of migrant boats across the English Channel. But some of the most pressing problems, like an overwhelmed health system, defy easy solutions and may not be solved simply by more funding.

Budget strains and a cost-of-living crisis have prompted widespread labor unrest, with nurses walking off hospital wards and railway workers shutting down trains. The government is expected to announce new anti-strike legislation, but Sunak conceded the difficulty of making deals with a number of unions, even though polls show that Britons generally support the workers.

Forecast: The British economy is also likely to deteriorate further before it bottoms out and begins to recover. Sunak acknowledged that sobering reality, noting that many Britons were looking ahead to 2023 with “apprehension.”

Response: The leader of the opposition Labour Party, Keir Starmer, is scheduled to make a speech on his agenda today. Labour has a polling lead of more than 20 percentage points over the Conservatives.

About 200,000 people paid their respects to Benedict XVI, the pope emeritus, during the three days his body was lying in state in St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican officials said. He will be buried today, after a funeral liturgy that will largely resemble that for a sitting pope, with some changes to the prayers.

Benedict leaves behind a complex legacy. A report last year commissioned by the Catholic Church in Munich accused him of mishandling cases of sexual abuse by priests. Benedict apologized for any “grievous faults” but denied any wrongdoing.

To supporters, he is the leader who first met with victims and forced the church to finally face its demons, change its laws and get rid of hundreds of abusive priests. But to critics, he protected the institution over the victims in its flock, failed to hold even a single bishop accountable for shielding abusers and did not back up his words with action.

Legal matters: Some of those claiming abuse have filed a civil suit, against not just a priest accused of molesting several boys but also the Archdiocese of Munich and Benedict. Before his death, the pope emeritus had hired a large international law firm and had said he planned to defend himself in a trial set to start this year.

The N.F.L. contains the ready-made interpersonal drama of reality television and the narrative allure of a best-selling novel. But sometimes, as when Damar Hamlin collapsed during a game, it can feel more like a horror film, as athletes put themselves at risk of tremendous harm.

A $200 million dollars-a-year Saudi deal: Cristiano Ronaldo’s transfer to Al Nassr was negotiated by Ricardo Regufe, his right-hand man, rather than Jorge Mendes, his agent for nearly 20 years.

Statement from the U.S. men’s soccer coach: Gregg Berhalter acknowledged he kicked his now-wife in the legs during an argument 31 years ago. An independent investigation is ongoing.

Two Scott Stallings, one Masters invitation: The 37-year-old journeyman golfer was expecting a formal invitation to Augusta National. It went to a 60-year-old realtor instead.

Amanda Hess, a critic for The Times, was hardly thrilled to attend the screening of “Women Talking,” a film based on the true events of the rapes of more than 100 women and girls in a Bolivian Mennonite community that were revealed in 2009.

“It felt as if I had spent the last five years watching accounts of sexual violence get spun into tabloid spectacles,” she writes. “This had made me cynical, then bored. I knew what happened when women talked.” Instead, she found herself riveted by a film that was by turns tragic and hilarious, rationing her way through a soon-empty plastic packet of tissues.

In a growing genre of movies inspired by the #MeToo movement, two very different films stand out: “Women Talking” and “Tár,” a portrait of a despotic, world-famous conductor heading for a fall. “Both are so wonderfully destabilizing,” Amanda writes, “they manage to scramble our cultural scripts around sexual violence, cancel culture, gender, genius and storytelling itself.” Read more about the movies.

Related: Films as different as the biopic “Till” and the thriller “Resurrection” use lengthy monologues to give female characters the chance to truly be heard.