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Fear of Russia Brings New Purpose and Unity to NATO, Once Again

Mr. Putin’s insistence that NATO stop enlargement and remove allied forces from member states bordering Russia would draw a new Iron Curtain across Europe, and that threat has concentrated minds. It may be just what a lagging alliance has needed.

“NATO relies on momentum, and a lot of the momentum is generated by a sense of threat and fear,” said Andrea Kendall-Taylor, a former senior intelligence officer dealing with Russia, now with the Center for a New American Security.

After last year’s fiasco of Afghanistan and the humiliation of France in the Australian submarine deal, she said, “We were all thinking that we have serious problems in the alliance, and we might need to rethink the foundation of this relationship.”

But in talks this week with the Russians, NATO leaders spoke with exceptional unity for a 30-member alliance whose commitment to collective defense was increasingly in question.

The talks allowed Mr. Putin to revisit Russian grievances over how the Cold War ended, in hopes of placing them back on the table for renegotiation 30 years later. His deputy foreign minister, Aleksandr V. Grushko, even warned the alliance off a “policy of containment” of Russia and insisted that “free choice does not exist in international relations” — suggesting that Ukraine would have to bow to Russian wishes.

But the more the discussion evoked the Cold War — with its firm dividing line through Europe, and its competing Russian and Western systems and spheres of influence — the more it reminded European and American allies of NATO’s purpose.

“Deterring Russia is in the DNA of NATO, because Russia is what can bring existential threats to European nations,” said Anna Wieslander, chair of Sweden’s Institute for Security and Development.

That threat now is more than territorial, she said. Russia is also trying to undermine NATO’s democratic cohesion. “Russia is targeting our elections, our social media, our parliaments and our citizens, and it is become more obvious now that Russia is not part of our value system,” Ms. Wieslander said.

As it drafts a new strategic concept to be ready this year, NATO is concentrating on “resilience” against new hybrid and cyberthreats, highlighting its defense of the democratic institutions of member states, not just their territory.

“NATO is its member states, and it’s what allies make of it,” said Sophia Besch, a defense analyst in Berlin for the Center for European Reform. “It’s not out of business because we didn’t let it, and we’ve changed its raison d’être to what are the major strategic concerns of the day.”

The old joke was that if NATO is the answer, what is the question? Ms. Besch responded: “We’ve changed the question over the years to make NATO the answer. And now we’re back at the old question again, where NATO is more comfortable.”

NATO is especially important now for those states bordering Russia, like the Baltic nations and Poland, a country which has had deepening strains with its European partners over the protection of core democratic principles, which Brussels has accused the government in Warsaw of eroding.

But the current crisis is a reminder, even in Poland, of the importance of the alliance as a whole, and not just the country’s bilateral relationship with the United States, said Piotr Buras, head of the Warsaw office of the European Council on Foreign Relations. Ukraine has proved especially vulnerable to Russian threats perhaps precisely because it is not a NATO member.

“In Poland there was concern that NATO would lose its focus on Russian security threats, but now it’s obvious that this is the only framework that can protect us and provide long-term security,” Mr. Buras said.

There was also anxiety that President Biden, in trying to stabilize relations with Russia to pivot toward China, would bargain away forward-based NATO troops in Poland and the Baltics that were deployed after 2014.

“But there is no sign that the United States will give in on fundamental issues to NATO,” like its open-door policy and its right to deploy forces in any member state, Mr. Buras said, and Washington has been rigorous in briefing its allies about all of its discussions with Russia.

Still, he said, the current crisis “is a very clear consequence of the U.S. pivot to Asia and the realization of Russia that it might now take advantage of that reorientation of U.S. fundamental security interests,” he said. “And that issue will not go away soon.”

Russia will continue to press for a new security framework in Europe, and Europe without the United States is not prepared to play any significant role, he said, so “for Poland, NATO is the key and irreplaceable element.”

Even as Poland’s battle with the European Union over the rule of law still festers, it is not an overt issue in the military alliance of NATO. But it was very noticeable that as the crisis over Ukraine mounted, President Andrzej Duda of Poland chose to veto a law, criticized by Washington, which would have stripped majority ownership of an independent television station from an American company.

As the security situation in Central Europe has worsened with Russian aggression and threats, Poland “got what we finally wanted when we joined NATO, which is allied and American troop presence on our soil — to finally bring NATO deployments beyond Germany,” said Michal Baranowski, who heads the Warsaw office of the German Marshall Fund.

That is precisely one of Russia’s current demands — that those deployments in Poland and the Baltic States be removed, a demand rejected by Mr. Biden and by NATO, to Poland’s relief.

Still, Mr. Baranowski said, the Russians have mobilized the largest military force in Europe since 1989, “and that’s scary.” The alliance, he said, “is closer to military confrontation, but at least we have not folded.”

But the crisis has also highlighted the continuing dependence of NATO on Washington. For Ivo Daalder, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO, what is striking is how much “this is the old NATO, where the U.S. is the glue, linchpin and indispensable leader of the alliance,” bringing allies together, informing them and “putting on the table the strategy we will pursue.”

What is extraordinary, he said, is that more than 70 years after the alliance was founded, “there appears to be no independent European strategy or even a European point of view different from what Washington brought to the table.” NATO has divisions, of course, Mr. Daalder said. “But all the divisions are dissolved, at least for today.”

Whether that unity will last should Mr. Putin move farther into Ukraine is yet to be seen, said Kadri Liik, an analyst with the European Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin. She sees an unwillingness in Europe to understand that the world is shifting.

“The wider public is not prepared for any change in the arrangements we’ve lived with for the past 30 years,” she said. “People think we can still sanction Russia into obeying the European security order, and that all it takes is Western unity and principles.”

But the United States is leading the world differently, Ms. Liik said. “I’m just not sure we can expect to continue to live in the world that corresponds to rules and norms and expect America to enforce them.”

That applies to Russia and Europe, too, she said. “We’re slowly headed back to a world” of confrontation between systems with different views about obeying the rules and the use of power and force.

Ms. Kendall-Taylor believes that Mr. Putin saw an opportunity to take advantage of a shakier trans-Atlantic alliance, a divided Europe and a polarized America with a weakened president.

NATO unity is real but untested, she said. “It’s too early to declare all restored, because Russia not done anything yet,” Ms. Kendall-Taylor said. “It’s a bit the calm before the storm.”

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A Ban on 19 Singers in Egypt Tests the Old Guard’s Power

CAIRO — The song starts out like standard fare for Egyptian pop music: A secret infatuation between two young neighbors who, unable to marry, sneak flirtatious glances at each other and commit their hearts in a bittersweet dance of longing and waiting.

But then the lyrics take a radical turn.

“If you leave me,” blasts the singer, Hassan Shakosh, “I’ll be lost and gone, drinking alcohol and smoking hash.”

The song, “The Neighbors’ Daughter,” has become a giant hit, garnering more than a half- billion views of its video on YouTube alone and catapulting Mr. Shakosh to stardom. But the explicit reference to drugs and booze, culturally prohibited substances in Egypt, has made the song, released in 2019, a lightning rod in a culture war over what is an acceptable face and subject matter for popular music and who gets to decide.

The battle, which pits Egypt’s cultural establishment against a renegade musical genre embraced by millions of young Egyptians, has heated up recently after the organization that licenses musicians barred at least 19 young artists from singing and performing in Egypt.

The organization, the Egyptian Musicians’ Syndicate, accused Mr. Shakosh and other singers of the genre, known as mahraganat, of normalizing, and thus encouraging, decadent behavior, of misrepresenting Egypt and of spoiling public taste.

“They are creating a chaotic movement in the country,” said Tarek Mortada, the spokesman for the syndicate, a professional union that issues permits for artists to perform onstage and that while technically not an arm of the state, is governed by state law and its budget is supervised by the state. “What we’re confronting right now is the face of depravity and regression.”

The barred singers have been iced out of clubs, concerts and weddings. Some have continued to perform abroad or at private parties, but they have had to say no to advertising deals and other income opportunities. The syndicate’s stance has also cast a pall over Egypt’s cultural scene, sending a strong message that artists are not free agents and must still toe restrictive lines set by civil and state institutions. The musicians see the syndicate as an outmoded entity desperately clinging to a strictly curated vision and image of Egyptian culture that is smashing against an inevitable wave of youth-driven change.

“They can’t get themselves to be convinced that we’re here to stay,” said Ibrahim Soliman, 33, Mr. Shakosh’s manager and childhood friend. “How can you say someone like Shakosh misrepresents Egypt when his songs are being heard and shared by the entire country?”

Fans were incensed. One meme depicted the leader of the syndicate, a pop singer of love classics from the 1970s, ordering people to stop singing in the bathroom.

The battle mirrors cultural conflicts across the region where autocratic governments in socially conservative countries have tried to censor any expression that challenges traditional mores. For example, Iran has arrested teenage girls who posted videos of themselves dancing, which is a crime there. And in 2020, Northwestern University in Qatar called off a concert by a Lebanese indie rock band whose lead singer is openly gay.

But online streaming and social media platforms have poked giant holes in that effort, allowing artists to bypass state-sanctioned media, like television and record companies, and reach a generation of new fans hungry for what they see as more authentic and relevant content.

Iran’s draconian restrictions on unacceptable music have produced a flourishing underground rock and hip-hop scene. The question facing Egypt is who now has the power to regulate matters of taste — the 12 men and one woman who run the syndicate, or the millions of fans who have been streaming and downloading mahraganat.

Mahraganat first rose out of the dense, rowdy working-class neighborhoods of Cairo more than a decade ago and is still generally made in low-tech home studios, often with no more equipment than a cheap microphone and pirated software.

The raw, straight-talking genre — with blunt lyrics about love, sex, power and poverty — mirrors the experience and culture of a broad section of the disenfranchised youth who live in those districts set to a danceable, throbbing beat.

But its catchy rhymes and electronic rhythms quickly went mainstream and now echo from the glamorous wedding ballrooms of Egypt’s French-speaking elite to exclusive nightclubs in Mediterranean resorts to concert halls in oil-rich Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

“Mahraganat is a true representation of this moment in time, of globalization and information technology, and of social media in directing our tastes,” said Sayed Mahmoud, a culture writer and former editor of a weekly newspaper called “Alkahera” issued by the Ministry of Culture. “If you remove the reference to drugs and alcohol, does it mean they don’t exist? The songs represent real life and real culture.”

They are certainly more direct, avoiding the sanitized euphemisms and poetic hints of sexuality that characterize traditional lyrics.

“We use the words that are close to our tongue, without embellishing or beautifying, and it reaches people,” said Islam Ramadan, who goes by the name DJ Saso, the 27-year-old producer of Mr. Shakosh’s blockbuster hit.

Many lawyers and experts say the syndicate has no legal right to ban artists, insisting that Egypt’s Constitution explicitly protects creative liberty. But these arguments seem academic in the authoritarian state of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, which has stifled freedom of speech, tightened control on the media and passed laws to help monitor and criminalize so-called immoral behavior on the internet.

The syndicate’s executive members have adamantly defended their move, arguing that a key part of their job is to safeguard the profession against inferior work that they say is made by uncultured impostors who tarnish the image of the country.

And government authorities have reinforced the message.

In 2017, a special division of the police that targets moral crimes arrested the makers of a mahraganat song, and promised to continue searching for work that “presents offensive content for the Egyptian viewer or contains sexual insinuations.”

In 2020, after a video circulated showing dozens of students at an all-girls high school singing along to “The Neighbors’ Daughter,” the Ministry of Education warned schools against the “noticeable” spread of songs that incite “bad behavior.”

A short time later, the minister of youth and sports vowed to “combat depravity” by banning mahraganat music from being played in athletic arenas and sports facilities.

The head of the syndicate, Hany Shaker, defended the ban on a late-night television show, saying, “We can’t be in the era of Sisi and allow this to be the leading art.”

So far, the syndicate claims to be winning the fight.

“We have in fact stopped them because they can’t get onstage in Egypt,” said Mr. Mortada, the organization’s spokesman, adding that it went so far as to ask YouTube to remove videos of the banned singers. It has not received a response from YouTube, he said.

But who will win in the long run remains to be seen.

The syndicate’s very structure smacks of a bygone era. To be admitted and allowed to sing and perform onstage, an artist must pass a test that includes a classical singing audition. The test is anathema to a genre that relies on autotune and prioritizes rhythm and flow over melody.

While the syndicate’s efforts may be keeping mahraganat out of clubs and concert halls, the music has never stopped.

Mr. Shakosh’s popularity continues to rise. He has more than six million followers on Facebook and over four million on Instagram and TikTok, and his music videos have exceeded two billion views on YouTube.

He is one of the Arab world’s leading performers. Since he was barred, he has performed in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Iraq, and “The Neighbors’ Daughter” has become one of the biggest Arabic hits to date.

“It’s not the same old love songs,” said Yasmine el-Assal, a 41-year-old bank executive, after attending one of Mr. Shakosh’s concerts before the ban. “His stage presence, the music, the vibe, it’s fresh and it’s all about having fun.”

Mr. Shakosh would not agree to be interviewed, preferring to keep a low profile, his manager said, rather than to appear to publicly challenge the authorities. The ban has been harder on other artists, many of whom do not have the wherewithal or the international profile to tour abroad.

They have mostly kept quiet, refusing to make statements that they fear could ruffle more feathers.

Despite the squeeze, however, many are confident that their music falls beyond the grip of any single authority or government.

Kareem Gaber, a 23-year-old experimental music producer known by the stage name El Waili, is still burning tracks, sitting in his bedroom with a twin mattress on the floor, bare walls and his instrument, a personal computer with $100 MIDI keyboard.

“Mahraganat taught us that you can do something new,” he said, “and it will be heard.”

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In the Trenches of Ukraine’s Forever War

“He did say something about the wedding,” Volodymyr said. “But we didn’t talk about finishing our service.”

“Well, he spoke of it just with us,” Yaroslav’s father said. “He didn’t talk about it with the guys yet. He’d bought a house, renovated it. All with his own hands, all how they wanted it. He said, ‘My contract will finish, and we’ll live like humans.’ If anyone would have told us. …”

He didn’t finish the sentence.

By that point, Yaroslav had been buried, in his hometown, Pidlypne, three hours northwest of Kyiv. In the morning, mourners began gathering outside Yaroslav’s house, its wood siding freshly painted a vibrant green. Family, friends, neighbors, classmates, fellow soldiers and local veterans carried flowers, many of them in the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag, all of them held upside down, a local custom. Some, like Yaroslav’s commander, had traveled from across the country to attend. By midday there was a crowd of several hundred.

At noon, a police car, siren flashing, pulled in front of the house, and the crowd parted to let it through. Behind it was a Humvee with an open rear. A coffin was draped in blue-and-yellow wreaths. An honor guard of cadets carried the coffin into the garden. A quartet of priests and army chaplains in olive drab surplices sang hymns. Yaroslav’s fiancée fainted and was carried into the house. As the coffin was carried back out to the Humvee, a cadet yelled, “Heroes never die!” The other cadets echoed, “Heroes never die!” A brass band struck up a dirge and started toward the church, the Humvee and crowd following behind.

I fell in with a man in his 60s walking with a single crutch. He was wearing an old telnyashka, the traditional striped undershirt of the Russian military, beneath a great coat. The medals hanging from it clattered.

He had been a Soviet paratrooper in Afghanistan, he told me, and was proud of it. But he was also a Ukrainian, from Donetsk, and when the war in Donbas started, he helped organize the volunteers from Pidlypne. He had been going to funerals like this one ever since. If this had been a few years ago, he said, the whole city would have turned out. There would have been thousands of mourners, not hundreds.

“Now everyone is tired of the war,” he said.

Though Ukrainian, he, too, longed for the days of the Soviet Union, he confided. Life was dependable then. The leaders might have been cruel, but they were honest. Now it was a mess. He didn’t know what to expect.

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Netanyahu’s Lawyers Discuss a Plea Bargain to End His Graft Trial

JERUSALEM — The lawyers of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli former prime minister, are in negotiations with state prosecutors to reach a plea bargain in his long-running corruption case, according to a spokesman for the Israeli Justice Ministry and two people involved in the negotiations.

The talks are expected to finish by the end of the month and, if successful, would help conclude a legal process that contributed to years of political instability in Israel and, ultimately, to the end last June of Mr. Netanyahu’s record tenure as prime minister.

The proposed bargain includes Mr. Netanyahu’s admitting to some of the charges, all of which he still formally denies in court, in exchange for the prosecution’s downgrading the seriousness of one charge, dropping another entirely and allowing Mr. Netanyahu to avoid serving a jail sentence by instead performing community service, the two negotiators said.

The talks are currently stuck, however, because Mr. Netanyahu does not want to accept the charge of “moral turpitude,” a designation that would bar Mr. Netanyahu, the leader of Israel’s biggest right-wing party, from public office for seven years, the negotiators said.

The details, first reported in Maariv, a centrist Israeli newspaper, were confirmed to The New York Times by one of the main mediators, Aharon Barak, a former president of the Israeli Supreme Court, and a second person involved in the negotiations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the negotiations openly. A spokesman for the Justice Ministry confirmed that talks were taking place, but declined to confirm any further details. The office of Boaz Ben Tzur, one of Mr. Netanyahu’s lead lawyers, declined to comment.

The talks are the latest twist in a legal process that began in 2016 with a police inquiry into claims that Mr. Netanyahu had accepted gifts from benefactors in exchange for political favors.

The investigation expanded after Mr. Netanyahu was accused of offering the owners of two media companies inducements in exchange for positive news coverage. The charges quickly divided Israelis between those who believed that Mr. Netanyahu should step down to avoid tainting the office of the prime minister, and those who thought that he was the victim of a judicial conspiracy.

The argument deepened a longstanding national debate about the power of the judiciary, and drew comparisons with the furor surrounding American efforts to impeach President Donald J. Trump.

Like Mr. Trump, Mr. Netanyahu framed himself as the victim of a biased justice system, describing the process as a “witch hunt” and an “attempted administrative coup” when his trial began in 2020.

Both Mr. Netanyahu’s decision to engage in negotiations and his engagement with Mr. Barak, a former judge considered a doyen of the Israeli legal establishment, have therefore surprised some Israelis.

Mr. Barak said that he had agreed to play a role because Mr. Netanyahu, in cases that did not affect him personally, had historically helped to protect judicial independence and because a partial confession by Mr. Netanyahu might help heal social divisions and restore trust in the judiciary.

“It’s of national importance that this thing should result in the accused himself saying, ‘I admit that I have done it,’” Mr. Barak said in a phone interview.

The case caused two years of political stagnation, largely because it splintered Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing voter base as well as his right-wing allies in the Israeli Parliament — a fissure that led to four inconclusive elections from 2019 to 2021. After the first three votes, Mr. Netanyahu’s remaining allies won enough seats to stay in power, but not enough to form a stable coalition government or pass key legislation like a national budget.

The impasse ended after a fourth election last year, when three small right-wing parties agreed to form a grand coalition with ideological opponents from leftist, centrist and Islamist parties to create a parliamentary majority large enough to force Mr. Netanyahu to leave office.

If Mr. Netanyahu, currently the leader of the opposition, does agree to the deal and leave politics, analysts said that the decision would destabilize, though not necessarily completely collapse, the fragile current coalition government. The logic that glues the alliance together would weaken if he were forced to abandon representative politics because it might tempt right-wing members of the current government to form a different coalition with the new leader of Mr. Netanyahu’s party, Likud.

But Likud will take time to elect a chairman. And once elected, the new leader might still be too closely tied to Mr. Netanyahu to be a viable partner for his right-wing opponents, said Anshel Pfeffer, an Israeli political columnist and biographer of Mr. Netanyahu.

“Likud will remain Bibi’s tribute band until they have a strong new leader, and I can’t see any candidate for that job,” Mr. Pfeffer said, using a nickname for Mr. Netanyahu.

The office of the current prime minister, Naftali Bennett, who leads a right-wing faction, declined to comment. But in a speech to the cabinet on Sunday morning, Mr. Bennett said that the government was continuing to work as normal.

“All of the various political analysts, with their graphs and scenarios, can rest assured,” Mr. Bennett said. “The government of Israel is working and will continue to work quietly and effectively, day after day, for the citizens of Israel.”

Most analysts believe that if a plea bargain is to happen, it will need to be agreed to by the end of January. The state official overseeing the case, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, is retiring in early February and his successor is unlikely to focus on such a divisive issue early on.

Opponents of Mr. Netanyahu protested outside Mr. Mandelblit’s home on Saturday evening, urging him to allow the case to be decided in court.

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