Thursday Briefing: U.S. Warnings About a Russian Space Weapon

U.S. intelligence agencies have told their closest European allies that if Russia is going to launch a nuclear weapon into orbit, it will probably do so this year. But, they warned, it might instead launch a harmless “dummy” warhead to leave the West guessing about its capabilities.

The assessment came amid a U.S. intelligence scramble: Officials have been conducting a series of rushed, classified briefings for their NATO and Asian allies, as details began to leak out. But U.S. intelligence agencies are divided, and officials have low confidence in their analysis of whether Russia is ready to launch such a space weapon.

The consequences of such a weapon are clearer. It could disrupt communications by destroying the commercial and military satellites that have reshaped global communications capabilities.

Response: President Vladimir Putin said that Moscow was “categorically against” placing nuclear weapons in space. The Russian defense minister said the warning was manufactured to get Congress to authorize more aid for Ukraine.

Pakistanis once thought of the military as the iron hand controlling politics in the country. Recent elections shattered that myth of its omnipotence when voters backed candidates aligned with the jailed former leader, Imran Khan, despite a military crackdown on his party.

Their fervor — and their accusations that the military then rigged the results to deny the candidates a majority — have created one of the military establishment’s biggest crises yet.

“We’ve seen the military becoming increasingly isolated from its usual support base, like veterans and Pakistan’s elite, who were also arrested and pressured in the crackdown leading up to the polls,” Christina Goldbaum, our Pakistan and Afghanistan bureau chief, told us.

Young people refused to be intimidated by the military, and social media outpaced censorship. But Christina said the mood is uneasy: The military has doubled down and moved to consolidate its control since the election. “Most people I’m talking to don’t believe that these elections alone are enough to fundamentally change the power dynamic between civilian leaders and military leaders in Pakistan,” she said.

China is racing to build generative A.I. systems. But its companies lag behind the U.S. by at least a year — and are relying almost entirely on underlying systems from the U.S., according to more than a dozen tech industry insiders and leading engineers.

The jockeying for A.I. primacy could make for a new phase in the tense technological competition between the U.S. and China.

Thousands of pages of court documents have been written about the troubled state of the jail at Rikers Island, in New York City. Thousands of pages of fiction have, too: The jail has become a literary incubator for detainees and corrections officers.

Lives lived: Ameen Sayani, a pioneering and beloved Indian D.J., was on the air for more than 42 years. He died at 91.

In the 1990s, the South Pacific island of Niue may have made a big mistake. It gave an American businessman the rights to the internet suffix .nu, in exchange for access to the World Wide Web.

“Nu” means “new” in several Nordic languages, and thousands of Scandinavians registered websites with .nu, making it very valuable. Niue has been fighting for decades to reclaim it, arguing that it is a fight for self-determination.

“We are victims of digital colonialism,” the island’s prime minister told The Times. “This domain, the .nu, recognizes Niue as a sovereign country. This is how important it is to our identity.”

Niue is seeking about $30 million in damages. A court ruling is expected soon.