Morning Report

The Hill’s Morning Report – Russia aggression triggers US, EU sanctions

  

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Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 935,335; Tuesday, 935,991. 

The United States and the European Union moved with speed on Monday to sanction Russia following President Vladimir Putin’s theatrical, televised decision to violate international law to claim two separatist regions of eastern Ukraine as independent (The Associated Press). Russian troops immediately crossed into Ukraine on Putin’s orders to “recognize” the two territories (The New York Times).

 

President Biden quickly issued an executive order that bars investment, trade and financial transactions with the two regions. The president spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky following a meeting with his national security team at the White House and discussed the situation with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who have spoken with Putin in recent days as part of intense U.S.-NATO diplomatic efforts to try to avert Russia’s aggression against its democratic neighbor, a nation of 44 million people (The Hill).

 

> Text of the president’s executive order and U.S. Treasury Department notification.

 

Today, Russia adopted new legislation that would approve the deployment of troops into the Ukraine rebel regions and called on the world to “follow” its efforts to unilaterally declare rebel regions of Ukraine as liberated or independent from the country’s borders. The Russian legislation could be a pretext for a long-term strategy by the Kremlin to hold the Ukraine territory militarily and to stage expansion operations from there (The Associated Press).

 

As the United Nations Security Council called an emergency meeting on Monday, the White House emphasized that the U.S. sanctions issued by the president were separate from the “painful” punishments that Biden and Western powers have pledged in the event of an attack by Russia on Ukraine. The Kremlin’s military move into separatist regions did not trigger those broader sanctions. The United States called Putin’s speech “an attack on the very idea of a sovereign and independent Ukraine,” but the West held back from reacting to Monday’s events as a full-blown invasion.U.N. representatives denounced Russia late on Monday, arguing its breach of international law risks war (The New York Times). 

 

Putin’s flagrant decision to defy the West to try to redraw the post-Cold War boundaries of Europe and force Ukraine back into Moscow’s orbit is viewed as an illegal attempt to change the post-World War II security structure in Europe. Putin’s ultimate aims and strategy are murky; Moscow on Monday called Russia’s military march across Ukraine’s sovereign border “peacekeeping functions.”

 

The United Nations did not treat Monday’s events as a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine. Separatists operating in the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics welcomed Russian forces and declarations of independence with flags and fireworks (pictured below), but neither Ukraine nor the rest of the world views the breakaway territories as anything but parts of Ukraine, the Times reported.

 

As the West learned in 2014 with Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and the international sanctions that followed, Putin, 69, is willing to ignore Western condemnations, weather economic punishments and play a long game of nationalistic dominance.

 

The Associated Press: Analysis: Putin’s take on history may lay groundwork for war.

 

 

People wave Russian national flags celebrating the recognizing the independence in the center of Donetsk

 

 

The U.S. sanctions issued on Monday are intended to spare ordinary Ukrainians, now turning to the West for help and protection.

 

“The E.O. is designed to prevent Russia from profiting off of this blatant violation of international law,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. “It is not directed at the people of Ukraine or the Ukrainian government and will allow humanitarian and other related activity to continue in these regions” (The Hill).

 

Opting for sanctions also means that the window to reach a resolution through diplomacy has narrowed, if it hasn’t closed completely. Until Sunday, the White House pushed for a diplomatic solution even as Biden expressed skepticism that Putin would be deterred. The West Wing had agreed “in principle” to a potential Biden-Putin summit as long as Moscow did not invade Ukraine. Such a meeting, never officially embraced by the Kremlin, appeared unlikely in the near term (CNN). 

 

Axios: U.S. suggests Putin’s “peacekeepers” won’t trigger “massive” invasion sanctions.

 

BBC: United Kingdom to announce “significant” new sanctions on Russia.

 

AFP: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey, president of a country that has been a NATO member since 1952, today rejected Russia’s recognition of Ukraine’s two regions as “unacceptable.” Russia is among Turkey’s largest trading partners and its largest provider of energy. 

 

The Associated Press: Nations in Asia and across the globe condemned Russia’s actions and signaled possible sanctions. China, an ally that shares a border with Russia, sounded a cautious note, calling for restraint and a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

 

The New York Times: Wooing allies, publicizing Putin’s plans: Inside Biden’s race to prevent war.

 

Niall Stanage: The Memo: Biden braces for impact as Russia moves to the brink. 

 

Talk of punishing Russia quickly moved through Capitol Hill on Monday, although Congress is out of Washington this week. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) labeled Moscow’s action “an act of unprovoked aggression and a brazen violation of international law” and an “attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty.” 

 

“To be clear, if any additional Russian troops or proxy forces cross into Donbas, the Biden administration and our European allies must not hesitate in imposing crushing sanctions,” Menendez said in a statement. “There must be tangible, far-reaching and substantial costs for Russia in response to this unjustified act.” 

 

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) went a step further, calling on the administration to impose “​​immediate and mandatory sanctions” to end the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Europe, a call echoed by Zelensky. 

 

The Washington Post: Members of Congress, advised in writing of Biden’s actions, vowed support for Ukraine.

 

The situation also comes at a politically perilous time for Biden. Since the end of summer, his presidency has been roiled by tumult, including rising inflation, low job approval numbers, national divisions related to the pandemic, and the death of his $2 trillion Build Back Better social spending and climate agenda, to name a few setbacks.

 

Next week, Biden will deliver his first State of the Union address. He had hoped to focus voters’ attention on his domestic aims, his narrative about America’s rebounding economy and his nominee to the Supreme Court. Putin’s actions scramble the script.  

 

According to a recent CBS News poll, 53 percent of Americans said they thought the U.S. should stay out of negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, with 43 percent saying the U.S. should side with Ukraine. Only 4 percent said the U.S. should back Russia. 

 

NBC News: U.S. officials discussed a plan with Ukraine’s president to relocate close to the Polish border in western Ukraine if Russia attacks. 

 

The New York Times: What’s at stake for the global economy as conflict looms in Ukraine?

 

The Washington Post: The Biden administration weighs measures to stabilize gas prices if Russian hostilities over Ukraine send costs skyrocketing.

 

The Associated Press: Gas prices rising amid Russia-Ukraine crisis.

 

 

A woman crosses a checkpoint from the territory controlled by Russia-backed separatists to the territory controlled by Ukrainian forces in Novotroitske

 

LEADING THE DAY

POLITICS: In a rarity, a 2020 Democratic presidential primary candidate is set to appear before a room full of conservative activists: former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii).

 

Gabbard was announced to the list of speakers at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Monday and will address the annual conference’s Ronald Reagan Dinner on Saturday night. Glenn Beck is set to give the keynote address during the dinner. 

 

Her appearance is highly unusual for a Democrat, though it marks a full turn for the ex-Democratic lawmaker, who has been an outspoken critic of the party for years. Most recently, she criticized Biden earlier this month of unnecessarily escalating tensions with Moscow amid a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine.

 

CPAC is set to start on Friday in Orlando (The Hill).

 

CBS News: Former President Trump’s GOP critics are scheduled to gather in Washington with an eye on the 2024 presidential race.

 

> South Carolinian Mick Mulvaney, one of Trump’s former chiefs of staff, endorsed Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), bucking Trump’s choice to back her primary challenger after she blamed the former president for the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol (The Hill). 

 

Remember, Mace’s South Carolina GOP colleague Rep. Tom Rice is also facing a primary challenger who has Trump’s endorsement. Unlike Mace, Rice was one of 10 House Republican lawmakers who voted to impeach Trump after the attacks on the Capitol. 

 

Looking forward, it will be interesting to see whether South Carolina Republicans in the House and Senate back the incumbents, go with Trump, or stay neutral.

COMING SOON

Stay ahead of the news cycle with The Hill’s new Evening Report, featuring the day’s top stories and a look ahead to tomorrow. 

IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

CORONAVIRUS: If you received a booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, you may not need another shot for months or even years, according to new studies. Although people older than 65 or at high risk of illness may benefit from a fourth vaccine dose, it may be unnecessary for most people. Federal health officials have said they are not planning to recommend fourth doses anytime soon (The New York Times).

 

> British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday scrapped remaining domestic COVID-19 restrictions in England while acknowledging the pandemic is not over and the coronavirus may still have nasty surprises in store.

 

Johnson told House of Commons lawmakers that with the government’s shift from mandates to “personal responsibility,” the requirement for self-isolation for people infected with COVID-19 will end starting Thursday, and routine contact tracing will stop. 

 

Starting April 1, lab-confirmed PCR tests for the virus will be available free only to older people and the immune-compromised. The British government also will stop offering free rapid virus tests to the public, though such tests will be available privately for a price, as is already the case in many countries.

 

“Today is not the day we can declare victory over COVID, because this virus is not going away,” Johnson said at a televised news conference. “But it is the day when all the efforts of the last two years finally enabled us to protect ourselves whilst restoring our liberties in full” (The Associated Press).

 

Meanwhile, Queen Elizabeth II canceled her planned online engagements on Tuesday as she continues to experience mild, cold-like symptoms after testing positive for COVID-19. According to Buckingham Palace, the queen “has decided not to undertake her planned virtual engagements today, but will continue with light duties” (The Associated Press).

 

 

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a media briefing

 

 

> Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced on Tuesday that Hong Kong’s population of 7 million will be tested for COVID-19 three times in March, with capacity being boosted to more than 1 million tests per day amid a surge in infections due to the omicron variant. 

 

Hong Kong has reported roughly 5,000 new daily infections over the past week amid concerns that its healthcare system could become overwhelmed (The Associated Press).

The Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: asimendinger@thehill.com and aweaver@thehill.com. We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE! 

OPINION

What we can expect after Putin’s conquest of Ukraine, by Robert Kagan, contributing columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3LSaDBe 

 

Who will win the great return-to-the-office faceoff? by Adrian Wooldridge, global business columnist, Bloomberg Opinion. https://bloom.bg/3s7sA72 

 

★ (Final column after 58 years in health journalism…) Farewell readers, it’s been a remarkable ride, by Jane E. Brody, columnist (and author), The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/3v65JKJ

WHERE AND WHEN

The House meets at 12:30 p.m. for a pro forma session. The House returns to work next week.

 

The Senate convenes at 3 p.m. for a pro forma session.

 

The president and Vice President Harris will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 10:15 a.m. Biden at 3:30 p.m. will host a virtual event describing domestic economic progress under his administration’s policies. Also participating from the administration: Gina McCarthy, national climate adviser, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, and Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) will participate from California.

 

The White House daily briefing is scheduled at 2 p.m.

 

INVITATIONS: Join The Hill’s Virtually Live for two topical events with newsmakers and experts this week: “COVID-19 and Rare Disease Patients” on Thursday at 1 p.m. (registration is HERE), and on Friday at 1 p.m., don’t miss “America’s Report Card” (information HERE). 

 

Hill.TV’s “Rising” program features news and interviews at http://thehill.com/hilltv or on YouTube at 10:30 a.m. ET at Rising on YouTube.

ELSEWHERE

MORE INTERNATIONAL: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Monday he continues to need emergency powers even beyond the weekend police crackdown and arrests of truckers who blockaded streets in Ottawa for weeks. Trudeau said that the situation in the nation’s capital is “still fragile.” On Monday night, the Canadian House of Commons sided with Trudeau and passed the Emergencies Act (The Associated Press).

 

ABOUT FACE: The IRS announced Monday that taxpayers will be allowed to opt out of using facial recognition technology to verify ID. Instead, individuals can access online records via a live, virtual interview with a representative from ID.me, a third-party service. The move comes after the IRS said it would transition away from ID.me after concerns from lawmakers over plans to require facial recognition to access tax information (The Hill).

 

EDUCATION: Yale Law School will start to cover tuition in full for its lowest-income students in the fall in an attempt to diversify its student population and make it more affordable for that financial class to obtain a law degree. Students hailing from families that sit below the federal poverty line ($27,750 for a family of four) will receive annual scholarships of roughly $72,000, which covers tuition, health insurance and other fees. Living expenses will be covered by the students. According to the school, about 8 to 10 percent of current students would be eligible for the award (The Wall Street Journal).

 

SPORTS: Medina Spirit, the 2021 Kentucky Derby champion, was stripped of his title by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission on Monday over a failed drug test, resulting in the suspension and fining of Bob Baffert, his trainer. Medina Spirit, who died in December, is the second horse in Derby history to cross the finish line first and not be named the winner, with the title being handed to second-place finisher Mandaloun. Baffert said that he will appeal the decision (ESPN).

 

 

John Velazquez atop Medina Spirit competes during the 146th Preakness Stakes horse race

 

THE CLOSER

And finally … A Washington, D.C. resident sued Pepperidge Farm for allegedly violating the city’s consumer protection laws with its Golden Butter Crackers, which contain vegetable oil and some butter (perhaps not enough to construct a butter sculpture, below). The plaintiff asked for at least $74,000 in damages, according to public radio’s WAMU

 

Such court challenges are all the rage in various states, but similar complaints crumbled under judges’ scrutiny last year in Illinois and New York

 

 

A sculpture made from nearly 1,000 pounds of butter that pays tribute to dairy farm families is displayed at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg, Pa.

 

Tags Antony Blinken Bob Menendez Boris Johnson Donald Trump Emmanuel Macron Gavin Newsom Gina McCarthy Jennifer Granholm Joe Biden Justin Trudeau Kathleen Hicks Mick Mulvaney Nancy Mace Ted Cruz Tom Rice Tulsi Gabbard Vladimir Putin
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