Welcome back and happy Thursday, World readers.
Watching Putin mark Victory Day, from a Dacha near Moscow. Photo: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via Getty Images
Russia’s surging coronavirus epidemic is now the world’s second largest, behind the United States.
What to watch: As Russia becomes a new epicenter, President Vladimir Putin appears almost paralyzed.
How it happened: Russia’s caseload had remained surprisingly low until mid-April, when it started rising sharply. Daily new cases have now been around or above 10,000 for the past 12 days.
Many of the deceased were health care providers. Severe shortages of protective equipment and delayed or ill-conceived policies have allowed hospitals to become hotspots.
The disease has reached Putin’s inner circle, with his longtime spokesperson and close adviser Dmitry Peskov hospitalized this week. Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and several officials have tested positive.
What they're saying: “Only good news comes from Putin. He only allows, encourages, promises,” says Sergey Parkhomenko, a Russian political commentator. The decisions on closures, restrictions and fines are left to local officials.
What's next: This more passive Putin is not particularly popular. His approval rating has fallen to a historically low, if still enviable, 59%, according to the Levada Center.
Outside at last, in Copenhagen. Photo: Ida Gudlbaek Arentsen/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty
Denmark was among the first countries in Europe to impose a lockdown, and it's one of the first to begin to lift restrictions. It has not seen a surge in cases since.
What they’re saying: Søren Brostrøm, director of the Danish Health Authority, was asked Wednesday about how governments could know when to ease lockdowns.
The big picture: Brostrøm expressed some optimism about the trajectory of the pandemic, noting that it had been largely brought under control in the first epicenter (East Asia) and was being contained in the second (Europe).
Where things stand: Active case counts are flat or falling in most of East Asia and the Pacific, as well as in Europe (with notable exceptions including Russia and the U.K), according to a report from Albright Stonebridge Group.
What to watch: Lockdowns are only sustainable for so long, even (or perhaps particularly) in countries where data is scarce.
President Trump with Flynn at a rally in 2016. Photo: David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images
The case against Michael Flynn once seemed pretty simple.
Then came the bombshell: Attorney General Bill Barr moved to drop the charges.
If you're as confused as I was about this topsy-turvy saga, I've done my best to untangle it.
Lining up for liquor, in Delhi. Photo: Amal KS/Hindustan Times via Getty
1. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) announced his resignation today as chairman of the intelligence committee amid an FBI investigation into insider trading.
2. China suspended meat imports from four major Australian facilities, in a not-so-subtle reply to Australia's call for an investigation into the origins of the pandemic.
3. The Afghan government is resuming offensive operations against the Taliban after an attack on a maternity ward in Kabul left 16 people dead.
4. A new lawsuit accuses the EU of funding forced labor by backing an infrastructure project in Eritrea — which has a grim record on conscripted labor — that is intended to deepen links with neighboring Ethiopia.
5. Alcohol sales spiked in the U.S. when coronavirus restrictions came into force, but liquor stores in India and parts of Mexico were closed.
Out on the promenade, in Montevideo. Photo: Ernesto Ryan/Getty Images
After I wrote last week about the success of Australia and New Zealand in suppressing their COVID-19 outbreaks, I got an email from Martin Aguirre, editor-in-chief of Uruguay’s El Pais newspaper.
Over Zoom, I asked Martin what their secret was. He shrugged.
The big picture: Uruguay stands out in the region for its strong public health care system, high levels of trust in government and low levels of poverty. Those could all be part of the explanation.
Worth noting: The latest testing rates in New Zealand are significantly higher than those in Uruguay.
1. "Wind of Change" was the soundtrack to the fall of the Soviet Union and remains one of the best-selling singles of all time. Could it have been written by the CIA?
2. The CIA landed a big one. A senior KGB defector is ready to talk, and he's en route to Washington.
A groom and his socially distanced wife in a village in Maharashtra, India. Photo: Sanket Wankhade/AFP via Getty Images
"His father gave him the most awful cut in the world, so we're desperate to get it tidied up. He looks like Kim Jong-il!"— One of many New Zealanders lining up for a midnight haircut the moment lockdown restrictions eased