Your Thursday Briefing – The New York Times

The Biden administration said yesterday that it would support lifting patent protections on Covid vaccines, a breakthrough for efforts to produce more doses globally. “The extraordinary circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” Katherine Tai, the U.S. trade representative, said in a statement.

The U.S. had opposed a proposal at the World Trade Organization to suspend intellectual property protections in an effort to ramp up vaccine production. But its new support, made under growing pressure as the pandemic rages in India and South America, is no guarantee that a waiver will be adopted. The E.U. has also been standing in the way.

Response: The pharmaceutical industry responded to the decision with anger. The president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America called the announcement “an unprecedented step that will undermine our global response to the pandemic and compromise safety.”

Good news: The German company CureVac’s new RNA vaccine, which could be ready next month, does not require that doses be kept in a deep freezer, like the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. That means it could more easily deliver the power of RNA vaccines to hard-hit parts of the world.

Russia has withdrawn just a few thousand troops from the border with Ukraine — far fewer than it had initially signaled, Biden administration officials said. Many of those units left their trucks and armored vehicles behind, ready to return if President Vladimir Putin decided to deploy them again.

Senior Defense Department officials said that close to 80,000 Russian troops remained, the biggest force Russia has amassed there since annexing Crimea in 2014.

Biden administration officials said they saw the Russian military presence as a message from Moscow that it could match the number of troops taking part in a NATO military exercise in Europe, which officially began yesterday.

U.S. agenda: Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived early this morning in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, where he will reassure the Ukrainian president of America’s support against Russian hostility, even as he renews American calls for change in Ukraine’s notoriously corrupt political system.

The E.U. took steps yesterday to limit competition from China that it considers unfair, with proposed regulations that would allow it to investigate and take measures against foreign companies that used government subsidies to get an advantage over competitors within the bloc.

A separate proposal, also announced Wednesday, is intended to make Europe less dependent on China for crucial goods like semiconductors, drugs and batteries.

Stormy relations: Work on completing an investment deal years in the making between the bloc and China was “suspended” this week, the E.U. trade chief said. Europe’s tougher line toward China brings it more in line with the Biden administration.

Emmanuel Macron, the French president, charted a delicate course between condemnation and celebration on the 200th anniversary of Napoleon Bonaporte’s death, describing the emperor’s restoration of slavery in 1802 as a “mistake, a betrayal of the spirit of the Enlightenment.”

That painful history has tended to be eclipsed for many by Napoleon’s epic magnetism. Macron continued, “Without him the destiny of France would not have been the same.”

The paintings and the sculptures that are displayed in the Oval Office represent the choices of each American president — subtle and not-so-subtle signals every administration sends about its values and view of history. Take a look.

President Biden’s selection of a large portrait of Franklin D. Roosevelt to hang above the fireplace is a break from his predecessors, who gave George Washington the prominent spot; Donald Trump’s decorative choices reflected his admiration for Andrew Jackson; Barack Obama sought to modernize the office, bringing in paintings from the Whitney Museum in New York.

“The Oval Office decoration often reflects a president’s view of history and the nature of his hopes for the future,” said Jon Meacham, the presidential biographer whom Biden asked to advise on art for the Oval Office.

He added: “Presidents have a unique place, not only as an object of the historical imagination, but as an architect of it. And so to catalog and take a look around the virtual attic of the Oval Office through the years tells you a lot about what presidents value — not only the stories they are interested in, but the stories they are writing themselves.”

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