A Russian missile test sends a message to the West
Russia continued its offensive in the Donbas region of Ukraine by raining artillery across the 300-mile eastern front and test-launched a new intercontinental missile that could carry multiple nuclear warheads. The launch was a pointed warning to the U.S. and other nations that Vladimir Putin, the president, said were “trying to threaten our country.”
No major battles have been waged in the days since the start of the eastern offensive, and no significant territory has changed hands, but Russia’s superior weaponry and a more favorable terrain suggest a bloody fight to come. The missile test has also fed into a growing concern in the West: that Russia is now so isolated that Putin sees little downside to provocative actions.
As Russia ramps up its attack, the Ukrainian air force has returned more than 20 of its fighter and bomber aircraft to operational flight status after having received spare parts shipments coordinated by the U.S. More than 50 Ukrainian soldiers are also being trained on 155-millimeter howitzers outside of the country.
Donbas: The residents of Avdiivka, a town in eastern Ukraine, have been living for years in the shadow of the fight against Russian-backed separatists. But the peril they are facing now, with the Russian military massing nearby, could be far more devastating.
In other news from the war:
Several global finance officials, including Janet Yellen, the U.S. Treasury secretary, walked out of a G20 meeting as Russia’s finance minister spoke.
A penniless donor to the far right — and a Russian spy: An investigation in Slovakia has exposed how Russian clandestine operations are trying to sow discord in Europe and create sympathy for Moscow over Ukraine.
President Biden met with top U.S. defense officials a day after promising to send more artillery to help Ukraine. The U.N. secretary general, António Guterres, asked to meet with the leaders of Russia and Ukraine to discuss “urgent steps to bring about peace.”
Le Pen and Macron face off before French election
In a bruising debate ahead of the final round of the French presidential election, Emmanuel Macron, the president, faced off against his far-right challenger, Marine Le Pen. Over three hours of interruptions and accusations of lying, the pair traded barbs on everything from the environment to pension reform, with neither quite delivering a knockout blow.
But what they said may not matter to some voters, who feel intense antipathy toward their current president — the result, experts say, of his image as an elitist, out of touch with ordinary French people whose pensions and work protections he has threatened as he tries make the economy more investor-friendly.
The televised debate was crucial for Le Pen’s long quest to build her credibility and keep softening her image, while Macron was under pressure to defend a five-year record tested by a series of social and economic crises. Though polls suggest that Macron holds a lead of 10 percentage points, many French voters may simply decide to stay home.
Recall: The presidential candidates last debated in 2017, during the previous election campaign. Le Pen recently called that performance “a failure for which I paid a heavy price” and vowed to do better. Unlike in the U.S., France’s front-runners spar only once before the final round.
The fight to control Colombia’s drug trade
Using attractive salaries and perks to draw them in, illegal armed groups in Colombia have recruited hundreds of rebels, soldiers and paramilitaries in their fight for control over sections of the Colombian Amazon that play a critical role in the drug trade.
In 2016, the government signed a peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and promised to flood conflict zones with job opportunities. But violence has returned, sometimes even increased, in the power vacuum left by the old insurgency and by government inaction.
Massacres and the killings of human rights defenders have soared. Increasingly, civilians are suffering the most, trapped among more than 30 warring militias that have emerged in the last five years. Displacement remains startlingly high, with 147,000 people forced to flee their homes last year alone, according to government data.
Go deeper: Times reporters spent a week with the Comandos de la Frontera, a militia formed in 2017. They visited towns under the fighters’ control and watched them move weapons and buy drugs. The reporters also slept at a camp where fighters set off grenades and ran drills with no police or military officers in sight.
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ARTS AND IDEAS
For The Times Magazine, the writer Caity Weaver lived the #VanLife. It ended up looking better in the photos, she writes. This is a lightly edited excerpt. Read the full story here.
In February, I spent a week in California, living out of a converted camper van, in pursuit of the aesthetic fantasy known as #VanLife. This has become aspirational for a subset of millennials and Zoomers, despite the fact that, traditionally, residing in a car or van is an action taken as a last resort, from want of other options to protect oneself from the elements.
To prepare, I threw myself into the #VanLife corners of TikTok and Instagram — an infinite reservoir of gorgeous, unpeopled scenery previously encountered only in desktop backgrounds: sunrise canyons, sunset oceans, high-noon highways that stretch on, carless, forever. #VanLife is largely honey-colored with soft blue elements, or vice versa.
Outdoors is presented like hung landscape paintings enclosed in frames of flung-open van doors or oblong windows. Vanlifers’ eyes rarely peer back from their photos; self-portraits appear to catch them off guard, gazing in the direction of majestic snow-capped peaks, or perhaps pointedly into a cereal bowl (majesty having become habitual for them).
The vans seem to share their owners’ tendency toward reverie; exterior shots typically find them angled away from the camera, as if to watch the waves.
This photogenic strain of van-living does not come cheap. Secondhand converted Mercedes-Benz Sprinters can easily sell for $300,000, if you can find one. But with a day’s notice and $1,000, anyone can have the life of a whimsical wayfarer — if you are willing to rent.