Your Wednesday Briefing: New Blasts Shake Crimea

Good morning. We’re covering a major explosion on a Russian target in Crimea and a political scandal in Australia.

And by repeatedly striking at the territory, which Russia has held for the better part of a decade, Ukraine has posed a fresh challenge to President Vladimir Putin’s standing at home. He has told his people that Crimea is a “sacred place” and Russia’s “holy land.”

Australia is gripped by a growing political scandal over the conduct of its former prime minister, Scott Morrison.

While leading the country during the pandemic, he covertly put himself in charge of five ministries. And he kept his five new roles a secret from the public and most of his colleagues in Parliament. Several ministers who were sharing power with Morrison were never told.

“I cannot conceive of the mind-set that has created this,” Anthony Albanese, the current prime minister, said yesterday. (Australia chose to evict Morrison from office in May.) “It’s undermined our democracy,” he added, calling it a “government by deception.”

In Australia, ministers can decide how wide swaths of the government operate. Many Australians see Morrison’s moves as decidedly Trumpian, and critics say Morrison damaged the country’s democracy.

Details: In 2020, Morrison apparently realized that the country’s pandemic response would have essentially put the health minister above the prime minister. So he appointed himself second health minister — and then as finance minister, to make sure he could also have a say over emergency spending.

Reaction: Yesterday, amid rising calls for him to resign his parliamentary seat, Morrison said his power play had been the “right decision” for “very unconventional times.”

Dealings: Before the election in May, Morrison used his new ministerial powers to overrule the resources minister on a contentious gas project, killing it off over concerns that it could hurt his party’s chances. He apologized yesterday.

In India, millions of families look to education to break out of poverty. But public schools have long had a reputation for decrepit buildings, mismanagement, poor instruction and even tainted lunches.

In New Delhi, though, schools are changing. The Aam Aadmi Party, which leads the city, has committed billions of additional dollars to overhaul the capital’s schools — more than doubling previous investments.

Many of the fixes are basic maintenance: Until recently, some schools had no drinking water or clean toilets, or they were infested with snakes. The school system has also partnered with top experts and universities to design new curriculums.

Students who were enrolled in private schools are switching over, and the city’s students are doing well. In recent years, they have scored higher in key subjects than their peers countrywide.

Politics: The Aam Aadmi Party rose to power on the promise to improve basic services. The work on education has helped generate solid political wins for the party, which in March gained control of a second state in India, Punjab.

Quotable: “You would enter a school and you could smell the toilets from 50 meters away,” an official said, speaking about site visits in 2015.

Salman Rushdie had wondered in recent years whether the public was losing its appetite for free speech, a principle on which he staked his life when Iran sought to have him killed for his 1988 novel, “The Satanic Verses.” As Rushdie told The Guardian last year, “The kinds of people who stood up for me in the bad years might not do so now.”

After Rushdie was stabbed onstage on Friday, the initial denunciation gave way to a renewal of the debate over free speech, Jennifer Schuessler writes in The Times. Some of Rushdie’s supporters lamented growing acceptance, on parts of the political right and left, of the notion that speech that offends is grounds for censorship.

Jennifer’s article also notes some surprising history — including a Times opinion essay by Jimmy Carter denouncing Rushdie’s novel. — Tom Wright-Piersanti, a Morning editor

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