Your Friday Briefing – The New York Times

A high-profile bribery case, built by the Belgian authorities over more than a year with the help of their secret services, has uncovered what prosecutors say was a cash-for-favors scheme at the heart of the E.U. It has highlighted the vulnerabilities in an opaque, notoriously bureaucratic system that decides policies for 450 million people in the world’s richest club of nations.

Now, Eva Kaili, a Greek politician and a vice president of the European Parliament, is in jail, accused of trading political decisions for cash. The Belgian authorities charged her last weekend alongside her partner, Francesco Giorgi, and two others in an investigation into Qatari influence. Police raids uncovered €1.5 million in cash.

Weeks earlier, she had been spotted in the ultra-selective V.V.I.P. box at the World Cup in Qatar. That same week, in Brussels, she delivered an impassioned defense of the Middle Eastern nation against criticism of its exploitation of migrant workers who had built the tournament’s stadiums, chastising Qatar’s critics as bullies.

Response: Kalli’s lawyer, Michalis Dimitrakopoulos, said she was innocent. “She simply had no knowledge of the cash,” he said. “She did Qatar no favors at all, because all her positions were, in fact, in line with E.U. policy on Qatar.”

Go deeper: The Times spoke to two dozen lawmakers, E.U. and Belgian government officials, and aides directly familiar with the case and the people involved, and examined private correspondence, years of social media posts, policy drafts and voting records.

The Pentagon plans to train 600 to 800 Ukrainian troops — one battalion — each month in advanced battlefield tactics at a base in Germany, starting next year. The expanded effort would focus on advanced tactics and would seek to bolster the offensive skills of a military that has mostly adopted defensive positions.

The Pentagon has already trained 610 Ukrainians to operate an advanced rocket launcher. The troops have used the system to devastating effect, hitting targets far behind Russian lines. The new initiative will involve training bigger groups of Ukrainians on various strategies, such as coordinating ground infantry troops with artillery support.

The decision to step up training comes as the administration is poised to send a Patriot antimissile battery, America’s most advanced ground-based air defense system, in response to urgent demands from Kyiv.

In other news from the war:

  • Reporters for The Times accompanied a surveillance team for the Ukrainian Army as they used a thermal sight to find enemy positions miles away.

  • A Russian broadcaster plucked clips from U.S. cable news, right-wing social media and Chinese officials to spin a counternarrative that Russia is winning in Ukraine, leaked emails revealed.

  • The U.S. announced new sanctions on prominent Russians.

The European Central Bank, the Swiss Central Bank and the Bank of England all raised interest rates by half a percentage point, after three-quarters-of-a-point increases at previous meetings, in an effort to tame inflation. Each central bank stressed that it was in a continuous battle against stubbornly high inflation.

In the eurozone, “interest rates will still have to rise significantly at a steady pace” to make sure they are restrictive enough to return inflation to the central bank’s 2 percent target in a “timely” manner, the E.C.B. said in a statement yesterday. Most members of the Bank of England’s rate-setting committee said they expected that more increases would be needed to curb inflation.

The longer-term picture is more complicated: Europe’s economies are decelerating because of high energy costs and the effects of months of rate increases, which have made mortgages and other loans more expensive. Policymakers have been trying to calibrate the right amount of monetary tightening needed to bring down inflation despite the economic slowdown.

By the numbers: The Bank of England started raising rates a year ago and, over the course of nine consecutive policy meetings, has lifted rates from 0.1 percent to 3.5 percent, the highest since 2008. Consumer prices in Britain rose 10.7 percent in November from a year earlier, down slightly from 11.1 percent in October, the highest annual rate since 1981.

Related: British nurses went on strike yesterday for the first time in the 74-year history of the country’s health service.

Falconry — one of Qatar’s oldest traditions — now involves modern training methods. Drones drag pigeons high into the sky to teach the falcons to hunt.

GPS tracking devices also help falconers avoid losing their birds: The best racing falcons are worth millions of dollars. Even those kept as pets often run into the tens of thousands.

Lionel Messi’s pursuit of sports immortality: Once haunted and pale, Messi looks comfortable, unburdened and happy as he stands on the verge of … what, exactly?

France, the imperfect back-to-back World Cup finalist: France’s coach admits his team hasn’t been perfect in recent matches, but it is digging deep in Qatar to overcome opponents and adversity.

Could Karim Benzema play in the final?: The Ballon d’Or winner was forced out of the World Cup from injuries, but France didn’t replace him. Does that mean he can play in Sunday’s showdown?

The Luddite Club, a high school group in Brooklyn, promotes a lifestyle of self-liberation from the evils of technology — no iPhones or other smartphones, and certainly no social media.

Each week, they meet in Prospect Park for time away from their screens and even their flip phones: drawing and painting; listening to the wind; reading physical books, pulled from satchels. (They have a fondness for works condemning technology, like “Player Piano” by Kurt Vonnegut.)

The club is named after Ned Ludd, the folkloric 18th-century English textile worker who supposedly smashed up a mechanized loom, inspiring others to take up his name and riot against industrialization.

“It’s a little frowned on if someone doesn’t show up,” one member said. “We’re here every Sunday, rain or shine, even snow. We don’t keep in touch with each other, so you have to show up.”

For more: Emma Lembke, a student at Washington University in St. Louis, started the Log Off Movement in June 2020, which aims to spur dialogue among young people who are feeling the adverse effects of social media and want to adjust their relationship to it.

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