Wednesday Briefing: Zelensky speaks to The Times

Also, funeral ceremonies begin for Iran’s president.
Morning Briefing: Asia Pacific Edition

May 22, 2024

Good morning. We’re covering a Times interview with Volodymyr Zelensky and a funeral procession for Iran’s president.

Plus, the International Booker Prize.

Volodymyr Zelensky in a green T-shirt against a dark background.
“I would like to believe that there will be a victory for Ukraine,” President Volodymyr Zelensky told The Times.  Daniel Berehulak/The New York Times

Zelensky urged NATO to do more in a Times interview

President Volodymyr Zelensky urged the U.S. and Europe to do more to defend Ukraine, in a wide-ranging interview with The Times. He proposed that NATO planes shoot down Russian missiles in Ukrainian airspace.

“What’s the problem?” Zelensky said during the interview on Monday in Kyiv. “Why can’t we shoot them down? Is it defense? Yes. Is it an attack on Russia? No. Are you shooting down Russian planes and killing Russian pilots? No. So what’s the issue with involving NATO countries in the war? There is no such issue.”

That kind of direct NATO involvement, which analysts say could provoke Russia to retaliate, has been resisted in Western capitals. Zelensky drew a comparison to how the U.S. and Britain helped Israel shoot down a barrage of drones and missiles from Iran last month.

Zelensky said he had also appealed to senior U.S. officials to allow Ukraine to fire U.S. missiles and other weaponry at military targets inside Russia, a tactic the U.S. continues to oppose. The inability to do so, he said, gave Russia a “huge advantage” in cross-border warfare that it is exploiting with assaults in Ukraine’s northeast.

Zelensky spoke with a mixture of frustration and bewilderment at the West’s reluctance to take bolder steps to ensure that Ukraine wins the war.

His pleas came at a critical time for Ukraine’s war effort. Its army is in retreat and a new package of U.S. arms has yet to arrive in sufficient quantities. Not since the early days of the war has Ukraine faced as grave a military challenge, analysts say.

“Shoot down what’s in the sky over Ukraine,” Zelensky said. “And give us the weapons to use against Russian forces on the borders.”

Read a transcript of the interview.

People carrying red and green flags gathered in Tehran to mourn the loss of the president.
Mourners in Tehran yesterday.  Arash Khamooshi for The New York Times

Funeral events began for Iran’s president

Videos posted by Iranian news agencies showed crowds lining the street in Tabriz, a city in northwestern Iran, yesterday for a procession carrying the flag-draped coffins of President Ebrahim Raisi, his foreign minister and six others killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday.

The procession in Tabriz was the first in a series of official events to bid farewell to Raisi, a hard-line cleric who had widely been viewed as a potential successor to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader.

The country is grappling with the shock of losing two of its top leaders at such a volatile moment. Now, Khamenei is weighing options for how to move forward with elections and rebuild the country’s leadership structure.

He must choose between opening the race and facing moderate rivals, or limiting candidates and risking the embarrassment of low voter turnout, my colleague Erika Solomon reports.

A silhouette of a man walking past a door with chain-link fencing.
The Biden administration is pushing to shrink the prison population at Guantánamo.  Doug Mills/The New York Times

The U.S. halted a Guantánamo transfer

The Biden administration was poised to send about a dozen detainees at Guantánamo Bay to Oman for resettlement last year. Then, Hamas attacked Israel, and the U.S. abruptly halted the secret operation.

None of the Yemeni prisoners had ever been charged with crimes, and all of them had been cleared for transfer by national security review panels. A military plane was already on the runway, ready to airlift them.

But Democrats raised concerns about the potential for instability in the Middle East after the Oct. 7 attack, U.S. officials said. The arrangements are still under review, my colleague Carol Rosenberg reports.

MORE TOP NEWS

Donald Trump glares in a courtroom.
Donald Trump is accused of falsifying records to cover up a sex scandal that threatened to derail his 2016 campaign. Dave Sanders for The New York Times

MORNING READ

The book cover of “Kairos,” by Jenny Erpenbeck, shows an open green file folder with a sheet of hole-punched paper inside. On the paper is an image of a woman’s eye and a large black oval.

“Kairos,” a novel by Jenny Erpenbeck about a torrid love affair in the final years of East Germany, won the International Booker Prize yesterday. The chair of the judges said that the relationship in the book and the couple’s “descent into a destructive vortex” tracked the history of East Germany before the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

Erpenbeck shares the award with Michael Hofmann, who translated the book into English. It’s the first novel originally written in German to win the award.

Read our review and a profile of Erpenbeck.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

  • Graceland’s future: Elvis Presley’s granddaughter sued to block the family’s former home from being sold at auction, saying it was a fraudulent scheme.
  • Climate questions: Biodegradable plastic exists, but it’s not a perfect fix.
  • Mahjong rises: Young Asian Americans in Brooklyn are gathering to play the game, long associated with older people.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this newsletter, which is made possible through subscriber support. Subscribe to The New York Times.

ARTS AND IDEAS

Scarlett Johansson, wearing a white dress, smiles among a room of other people.
Scarlett Johansson said she was “shocked, angered and in disbelief” when she heard the OpenAI voice.  Haiyun Jiang for The New York Times

Scarlett Johansson takes on OpenAI

OpenAI asked Scarlett Johansson, who played the virtual assistant in the movie “Her,” to become a voice of a chatbot. Johansson said no twice.

But last week, the company released a virtual assistant that had a voice that Johansson said sounded “eerily similar to mine.” She hired a lawyer and asked OpenAI to stop using the voice, called Sky.

The company suspended its release of Sky over the weekend. OpenAI’s chief executive, Sam Altman, said that “the voice of Sky is not Scarlett Johansson’s, and it was never intended to resemble hers.”

Johansson is the latest high-profile person to accuse OpenAI of using creative work without permission. The company has been sued for copyright violations by authors, actors and newspapers, including The Times, which sued OpenAI and its partner, Microsoft.

RECOMMENDATIONS

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Linda Xiao for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Rebecca Jurkevich.

Mix: This tzatziki tuna salad delivers creaminess with Greek yogurt.

Style: Our fashion critic has alternatives to the little black dress.

Listen: Enjoy new songs from Carly Pearce, Ibibio Sound Machine, John Cale and others.

Soothe: Here are tips to deal with ingrown hairs.

Play: Spelling Bee, the Mini Crossword, Wordle and Sudoku. Find all our games here.

P.S. The Athletic expanded its tennis coverage.

That’s it for today. See you tomorrow. — Amelia

Email us at briefing@nytimes.com.

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