Your Thursday Briefing: Zelensky Speaks to Congress

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Good morning. We’re covering Zelensky’s speech to U.S. lawmakers, an offshore earthquake in Japan and mass graves in Syria.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine pleaded on Wednesday for more weapons and sanctions, showing searing footage of civilian casualties during a virtual address to U.S. lawmakers. In a remarkably direct appeal, he invoked the memories of Pearl Harbor and the Sept. 11 attacks. “We need you right now,” he said. “I call on you to do more.”

Zelensky pressed for a NATO no-fly zone over Ukraine, which the U.S. and alliance leaders have rejected because it would draw NATO pilots into direct confrontation with the Russians. Follow live updates here.

He also asked for more weapons and antiaircraft batteries, a request to which Republicans and Democrats have been far more receptive, and for sanctions to be ratcheted up “every week” against Russia. Members of Congress were visibly emotional.

What’s next: The U.S. warned Russia against using chemical or biological weapons, as President Biden announced $800 million more in military aid for Ukraine. NATO’s ministers will discuss enhancing defenses along the eastern front as Russia presses closer.

Diplomacy: After military setbacks, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said that there was “hope that a certain compromise can be reached.”

Analysis: For President Vladimir Putin, the war is about ethnicity and empire, which have deep roots in Russian thought. In a video, he described the war in Ukraine as part of an existential clash with the U.S. and denigrated pro-Western Russians as “scum and traitors.”

Other updates:


U.S. scientists said the temblor was unlikely to generate a destructive tsunami or to cause mass casualties. Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority said that so far it had detected no abnormalities at nuclear power plants in Fukushima, Onagawa and Tokai.

Details: About two million people were without power, but the extent of the damage was unclear. Close to 39,000 people were advised to evacuate the area of the Miyagi prefecture. The quake also derailed a bullet train, but no injuries have been reported.


Two mass graves have been located near Damascus. They are believed to hold thousands of bodies of Syrians who were killed in detention centers run by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

Interviews The Times conducted with four Syrian men who worked at or near secret mass graves led to an examination of satellite images. Those clues revealed the locations of two sites. Each one holds thousands of bodies, according to the men who worked there.

The graves could contain powerful evidence of war crimes committed by al-Assad’s forces, including systematic torture.

Background: Throughout Syria’s 11-year civil war, more than 144,000 people disappeared into government detention centers. Many of them are presumed dead. The U.S. Treasury Department said last year that at least 14,000 had been tortured to death, but the actual number is almost certainly much higher.

What’s next: Counting and identifying the bodies is unlikely to happen with al-Assad in power. Russia continues to support him, and he and his senior officials have never been held accountable for wartime atrocities.

Asia and the Middle East

More than a century after sinking in Antarctic waters, Ernest Shackleton’s legendary ship, Endurance, was found with just four days to spare. The research team, traveling aboard an icebreaker, had been planning to return to port in Cape Town before an undersea drone captured the first images of the ship.

Genshin Impact, one of the world’s hottest mobile video games, has all the characteristics of a Japanese fantasy role-playing game: giant robots; human-size swords; characters with huge eyes and spiky, rainbow-colored hair; and a puzzling fixation on women in maid outfits.

There’s just one catch: It’s Chinese.

China’s nearly picture-perfect reproduction has sent shock waves through Japan, the world’s aging video game superpower. In its first year on the market, it raked in $2 billion, a record for mobile games, according to a tracking firm.

But Genshin Impact’s success should come as no surprise: Chinese developers, flush with cash, are looking abroad for growth. They see Japan as a ripe target for growth and have begun hiring Japanese talent in earnest.

The game’s success points to a shifting balance of power in the $200 billion-a-year global video game industry, long dominated by Japan and the U.S. But despite Genshin Impact’s technical mastery, the game is a reminder of China’s significant creative shortcomings: It’s still imitating Japan.

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