Your Wednesday Briefing

Newly declassified U.S. intelligence accuses Russia of spreading misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic, as it tries to influence Americans with the November election approaching.

The English-language propaganda and disinformation pushed by the G.R.U., Russia’s military intelligence agency, includes the amplification of false Chinese arguments that the virus was created by the American military, as well as articles that say Russian medical assistance could bring about a new détente with Washington.

Many of the pieces were published on InfoRos, a site controlled by the Russian government, and OneWorld.Press, a nominally independent site that American officials said had ties to the G.R.U.

What this means: The campaign is a refinement of what Russia tried to do during the 2016 presidential campaign. The fake social media accounts and bots it used then are relatively easy to stamp out. It’s far harder to stop the dissemination of propaganda on websites that seem legitimate, experts say.

Russian protests: As antigovernment rallies swell in the city of Khabarovsk, 4,000 miles from Moscow, apolitical residents have turned into activists.

In other news:

  • China recorded 68 new coronavirus infections on Monday, its National Health Commission said — 57 in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, where a flare-up since mid-July has shown little sign of abating.

  • Data released by the United Nations World Tourism Organization on Tuesday showed that leisure travel fell by 98 percent during the first five months of the year, compared with the same period in 2019.

  • President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus said on Tuesday that he had had an asymptomatic case of coronavirus but had since recovered. He has been accused of downplaying the virus’s dangers.

    Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

Spain’s prime minister has called Britain’s quarantine order for all arrivals from his country “an error.” The decision blindsided British holidaymakers and dealt a blow to Spain’s crippled tourism industry.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez argued that because the coronavirus had spared some regions of Spain, it was actually safer for tourists to visit those areas than to stay in Britain.

“We don’t agree with that assessment,” said Simon Clarke, a junior minister in the British government, adding that the travel advice was guided by science.

More countries have issued travel warnings for Spain. The German foreign ministry warned on Tuesday against going to three northeastern regions where cases have spiked, and the Dutch government has told citizens to avoid nonessential travel to Barcelona.

Context: Spain’s coronavirus caseload has grown significantly in the last week, with 11,000 new infections putting it back among the worst in Europe.

In any other year, Muslims undertaking the annual pilgrimage to Mecca would drink from a holy well and kiss the Kaaba’s Black Stone as they thronged the Grand Mosque. Before they left Mecca, they would collect pebbles to ritually stone the devil.

During the coronavirus edition of the hajj, which begins today, the Black Stone is off limits. The authorities in Saudi Arabia are issuing bottled water from the Zamzam well instead of letting people drink from the source. The pebbles hurled at the devil will be sterilized. And far fewer pilgrims will be there.

It’s another example of a major gathering drastically scaled back to ensure safety. Across the Middle East, celebrations for Eid al-Adha, the festival that marks the end of the hajj this weekend, will likewise be toned down.

Numbers: Last year, 2.5 million Muslims performed the hajj. This year, Saudi Arabia said it would allow only 1,000 pilgrims, all from within the kingdom.

Scholars have speculated about how Vincent van Gogh, who died from a gunshot wound in 1890, spent his last day of work. Now, thanks to a historical postcard, above, a researcher appears to have found a significant clue: the precise location where the artist painted “Tree Roots,” which is believed to be his last piece.

“Tree Roots” was painted on a main road in Auvers-sur-Oise, north of Paris, about 500 feet from the inn where van Gogh spent his final weeks, says the researcher, Wouter van der Veen. He stumbled across the postcard and saw the similarities to the tangled, gnarled roots and stumps of “Tree Roots.” The painting, he said, “is a farewell note in colors.”

Taliban cease-fire: The insurgent group said it would observe a three-day cease-fire this week for Eid al-Adha, as President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan suggested that long-delayed talks between his government and the militants could soon begin.

North Korea: Kim Geum-hyok, the defector who swam back to the North this week — leading to a coronavirus lockdown — was wanted in South Korea, where he had been accused of rape. Our correspondent looked into his life.

Iran prisoner: A British-Australian academic, Kylie Moore-Gilbert, who is serving a 10-year sentence for espionage, has been moved to a prison that is said to be riddled with coronavirus cases, according to rights activists.

Snapshot: France will ban heaters used by cafes and restaurants on outdoor terraces, like the one above — part of a series of measures to reduce energy consumption.

Venice Film Festival: The 77th edition in September promises to help reopen the movie business, even with a reduced schedule, distancing measures and outdoor screening sites.

What we’re reading: This article in The Atlantic on how the pandemic is changing work friendships. It’s a bit of nostalgia for hallway chats and occasional long lunch breaks with work friends, writes Carole Landry of the Briefings team.

Dining: Our restaurant critic wrote about dining out in Melbourne, where chefs are getting creative during reopening but dinners are getting more expensive.

Watch: Olivia de Havilland, who died on Sunday at the age of 104, won two Oscars and took on risky parts. Here are nine films that show off her dramatic chops.

Do: Many people are struggling financially in new and conflicting ways. But a conversation about money doesn’t have to be awkward.

At Home has our full collection of ideas on what to read, cook, watch and do.

China and the United Arab Emirates have recently launched missions to Mars, and the United States plans to send its fifth NASA rover, Perseverance, to the red planet on Thursday.

Scientists are cheering these missions, but many are asking why we’re going back to Mars yet again. Our Science team invited Rebecca Boyle and David W. Brown, two space journalists, to discuss the state of space exploration. Here’s an excerpt.

Rebecca Boyle: So we’re going back to Mars. Again, with another rover. Two, perhaps, if both NASA and China’s space agency succeed. Sigh.

It’s not that this is disappointing. But there’s a certain level of déjà vu with NASA’s Perseverance mission, modeled so closely after the successful Curiosity rover in 2011. I have written a lot about the value of exploring Mars and the particularly Earthlike qualities that endear it to us. But even I can’t help but wonder what’s next in our quest to explore the solar system, and whether so many journeys to Mars are blocking other important science.

David W. Brown: There’s an entire solar system waiting to be explored. Since 2001, NASA has flown eight consecutive successful missions to Mars, including five landers. Humanity now has a library of Mars data sitting on servers that no one has had a chance to study. Data collected from brief encounters by spacecraft with the moons of Jupiter, on the other hand, or the ice giants, Uranus and Neptune, have been squeezed dry.

Rebecca: Meanwhile, as planetary scientists debated how to pay for their missions, some geologists salivate for a second look at Venus, the second planet from the sun. Venus is about the same size as Earth, it’s rocky, it has an atmosphere. And it orbits the sun in a zone where temperatures are just right for liquid water — and maybe life.

We know Mars had water at some point in its past, but it’s long gone. By contrast, Venus might have had oceans more recently and for longer periods, and may have been comfortably livable for billions of years.

That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.

— Isabella

Thank you
To Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh for the break from the news. You can reach the team at

• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is about the battle over unemployment benefits in the U.S. Congress.
• Here’s today’s Mini Crossword puzzle, and a clue: Trail behind a boat (four letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• Abrahm Lustgarten recently spoke with KGO about his Times Magazine article on climate migration.

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