Your Friday Briefing: Biden Releases Oil Reserves

Your Friday Briefing Biden Releases Oil Reserves

Good morning. We’re covering global energy challenges, missile deception in North Korea and the wild world of Wikipedia.

On Thursday, the White House announced a plan to release up to 180 million barrels of oil from U.S. strategic reserves, the largest release since it was created, hoping to push gas prices down. Oil prices, which had been surging since the fighting in Ukraine began, fell modestly on expectations of the announcement. But diesel prices are still soaring.

At the same time, OPEC and its allies, including Russia, decided to stick with their previously agreed-upon plan of modest monthly production increases. Still, European leaders again rejected Russia’s demand that gas deliveries be paid in rubles.

Food: The U.N. is forecasting the worst global hunger crisis in decades as the conflict constrains grain exports. Ukraine said on Thursday that it had lost $1.5 billion in such exports since the war began.

Saboteurs: Ukrainian fears of Russian spies have led to a rise in checkpoints, hotlines and apps for reporting suspicious activities.

Schools: Europe’s teachers are struggling to explain the war to their students.

Fighters: Hundreds of Syrian mercenaries will join Russian forces, effectively returning a favor: Moscow helped President Bashar al-Assad crush rebels in the country’s 11-year civil war.

State of the war:

  • NATO said that there was little evidence that Russia was fulfilling its pledge to withdraw from the area around Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, and that troops appeared to be regrouping instead.

Other updates:

North Korea conducted its most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile test to date​ last week​, saying it had launched the Hwasong-17, its newest and biggest ICBM.

South Korea​ now says this may have been a ruse. Officials say Kim Jong-un used video editing to disguise an older, though possibly improved, Hwasong-15 missile, exaggerating the North’s weapons achievements. Kim badly needs diplomatic leverage with the U.S. and the South, and also needs to shore up his image at home.

The launch may not have been a deception. But if it was, it gives insight into Kim’s domestic strategy: He used it as propaganda, relying on a crude presentation of photos and a Hollywood-style video ​to demonstrate his seemingly infallible leadership.

Recent: North Korea ​began testing the Hwasong-17 ​this year, and had two successful launches, on Feb. 27 and March 5​. ​In its third test, on March 16, the rocket exploded shortly after liftoff. Some analysts say this deception may have been damage control.

Soon after the Omicron variant overwhelmed Hong Kong’s health care system, Beijing stepped in to help. China sent contractors to build isolation facilities, more than 1,000 medical workers to staff treatment centers and even butchers to help stabilize the local meat supply.

The city’s Beijing-backed establishment welcomed the help. But some residents see the outreach as an overreach.

Critics are frustrated by the centralized isolation of patients and widespread building lockdowns — common features of China’s strategy to have zero Covid cases, but jarringly misaligned with the city’s longstanding protections for individual liberties.

Did you grow up in a grid city, like parts of New York, Osaka or Melbourne? A recent study suggests that may have hampered your lifelong navigational skills, a finding that could eventually lead to navigation-based tests to help diagnose Alzheimer’s disease.

We often take Wikipedia for granted. An alphabetical list of U.S. states. The year that actor died. What does Nepal’s flag look like again?

But Annie Rauwerda, the 22-year-old who created the @depthsofwikipedia Instagram account to mine some of the site’s oddest pages, thinks it’s the best thing on the web. “It’s what the internet was supposed to be,” she said. “It has this hacker ethos of working together and making something.”

She engages in some deep web archaeology, unearthing pages from amusing (a chicken literally crossing a road in China’s Yunnan Province) to wholesome (Hatsuyume, the Japanese word for the first dream of the new year).

Followers often pitch her pages, but it’s hard to impress Rauwerda these days. If something has already created social media ripples, she won’t bother: “For example, there are only 25 blimps in the world,” she said. “It went around Twitter a couple days ago. I was shocked. I was like, ‘Everyone knows this.’”

That’s it for today’s briefing. See you next time. — Amelia

P.S. A hidden haiku from The Times: “But in the midst of / it all, Will Smith’s victory / became a defeat.”

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about partisan gerrymandering in the U.S.

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You can reach Amelia and the team at [email protected].

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