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Your Wednesday Briefing

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We’re covering cycles of restriction and isolation amid lagging vaccine rates in Asia, and hopeful but cautious dynamics ahead of Biden and Putin meeting.

Across the Asia-Pacific region, the countries that led the world in containing the coronavirus are now languishing in the race to put it behind them.

While the U.S. and some Western nations are cramming airplanes with vaccinated passengers, the countries praised for their early handling of the pandemic are stuck in cycles of restrictions and isolation.

In southern China, the spread of the Delta variant led to a recent lockdown and an effort to test tens of millions. Similar outbreaks reversed progress in Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand and Australia. Borders are still mostly closed.

The tolerance for constrained lives is thinning, and one main factor is contributing to the uncertainty: a lack of vaccines, with campaigns barely underway in many countries. “It’s like we’re waiting in the glue or mud,” said a vaccine expert in Melbourne. In Asia, just 21 percent of people have received at least one vaccine dose.

Details: The whipsawing is rooted in decisions made months ago. In the spring of 2020, the U.S. and European nations bet big on vaccines, fast-tracking approval and spending billions. But in places like Australia, Japan and Taiwan, with case numbers low, there was less urgency to buy.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:


There is little expectation that the summit between Presidents Biden Putin in Geneva on Wednesday will radically change U.S.-Russia relations. But it could at least stop the downward spiral.

Officials say the talks could open the door to wider negotiations on arms control and cybersecurity, and perhaps lift some restrictions on each others’ diplomatic missions. The Russians believe that Biden is prepared to engage broadly with Putin despite his concerns about domestic issues.

But a senior American official said that Biden would not engage in any “breaking of bread” with Putin. Biden plans to confront Putin on ransomware attacks on U.S. companies and government agencies, and will demand Putin stop harboring criminal hacking groups.

Details: Wednesday’s summit will also focus on nuclear stability and the future of the New Start treaty, which limits U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals. Fighting climate change will be high on the agenda, according to the Kremlin.

Related: Russia has been a space power for decades. But now the future of the country’s program rests with China, a budding partnership that reflects the geopolitics of the world today.


Far-right Jewish activists marched through Palestinian areas of Jerusalem on Tuesday evening after receiving permission from Israel’s new coalition government.

The move angered parts of the coalition alliance, prompted threats from the militant group Hamas, and gave the government a first test of its unity.

Marchers waved Israeli flags and danced in a plaza central to Palestinian life that was off limits to Palestinians for much of the month of Ramadan.

Tense standoff: The police forced Palestinian residents away from the route except for people who work in the area. Several bystanders were detained by officers. One Palestinian man was filmed being beaten by officers as they cleared the area to make way for the marchers.

Quotable: “If we quarrel over everything, there is no doubt that this coalition will fall apart,” Mansour Abbas, the leader of Raam, an Arab Islamist party within the coalition, said, downplaying the idea of letting it become a wedge. “I hope it will pass without escalation.”

A booming Amazon fulfillment center in New York City, JFK8, helped the company book the equivalent of the previous three years’ profits rolled into one. It relied on technology for mass-managing people that hired, monitored and fired without much human contact. But the center burned through workers as orders skyrocketed. Our reporters looked at the human cost of Amazon’s efficiency.

At the end of last year, the world was watching as a decades-long conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan erupted in six weeks of intense fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh, brought to a pause by a Russia-brokered peace agreement. As Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, visits this week, I caught up with our correspondent Andrew Kramer, who covered the conflict.

When we left off watching the region closely, there was a fragile peace. Most Armenian-controlled territory in Nagorno-Karabakh was returned to Azerbaijan. Where does it stand now?

The settlement has mostly held. There have been some limited skirmishes on the border. Several people have died in shootouts along the de facto line of control established by the settlement around what remains of Nagorno-Karabakh.

What is the significance of Erdogan’s visit?

The settlement promised a land link all the way into Azerbaijan and theoretically over the Caspian Sea by boat to Central Asia. All these Turkic-speaking countries would be connected by this transport from Turkey more directly. The idea of a pan-Turkic sphere of influence came about in the immediate post-Soviet period. Turkey’s influence and clear role in helping the Azeri victory sets them up for maybe a revival of this idea of a pan-Turkic area.

Are there any other long-term geopolitical outcomes?

When the Soviet Union broke up, it created 15 new countries. There were also enclaves that became de facto independent states that were not recognized by the outside world, including Nagorno-Karabakh. It was the only so-called frozen conflict zone that was not controlled by Russia. What this settlement did is bring Russia in.

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