The Hill’s Morning Report – What’s next for Russia-Ukraine conflict?
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Russian President Vladimir Putin increased tensions in Eastern Europe on Sunday by ordering a nuclear alert while Russia and Ukraine also agreed to meet for talks at the Belarus border today (The New York Times).
As Ukrainians for a fourth day demonstrated determination and ferocity to try to prevent Russian forces from seizing control of Kyiv and other cities, the European Union (EU) and the United States ratcheted up layers of sanctions levied against Putin, his associates and Russia’s financial system while global private businesses and demonstrators supportive of Ukraine around the globe, including citizens in Russia, condemned Putin’s aims and seized openings to defy and isolate his government.
A skeptical Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has refused to leave his country, agreed to a meeting today “without conditions” between Russian and Ukrainian officials at the Belarus border. “The main subject of the negotiations is an immediate cease-fire and the withdrawal of troops from Ukraine,” said a Ukrainian statement as the country’s delegation arrived as of this writing at the meeting location (CNBC).
“I do not really believe in the outcome of this meeting,” Zelensky said in a video shared to his Telegram channel on Sunday. “But let them try so that no citizen of Ukraine would have any doubt that I, as president, did not try to stop the war when there was even a small chance.”
Zelensky, in a new video message today following a series of conversations on Sunday with presidents of Portugal, Lithuania, France and Poland as well as the prime ministers of Belgium, Spain and the United Kingdom, asked the European Union to admit Ukraine to the bloc on an emergency basis (CNN).
The Hill: Zelensky emerges as a social media-savvy and quotable leader amid his country’s battle against Russia.
In a phone call earlier Sunday, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko pledged that all missiles, aircraft and helicopters in his country would remain on the ground as Ukrainian officials travel to and from Belarus as well as during today’s meeting, Zelensky said (NBC News).
The U.S. on Sunday recommended that U.S. citizens leave Russia “immediately” as airlines canceled flights.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield denounced Putin’s weekend order to place Russian nuclear forces on alert. “It means that Putin is continuing to escalate this war in a manner that’s totally unacceptable,” she told CBS News’s “Face the Nation.” “We have to continue to condemn these actions” (CBS). The United Nations Security Council on Sunday called an emergency special session of the General Assembly today, something it has done only 10 times since 1950 (The New York Times).
Putin gave the order to mobilize Russia’s nuclear alert system during a televised meeting with his defense minister and top military commander. Western countries are implementing “illegitimate sanctions” against Russia, Putin complained, and “senior officials of leading NATO countries are allowing themselves to make aggressive statements directed at our country.”
Russia’s defense ministry said today that its forces seized the towns of Berdyansk and Enerhodar in southeastern Ukraine (Reuters). Russia’s chances of swiftly overpowering Ukraine rose overnight with news that Belarus may send troops today, according to a senior American intelligence official who said that whether Belarus enters the war depends on the Ukraine-Russia talks (The Associated Press).
The Hill: Russia’s nuclear weapons threat raises Western fears.
The Wall Street Journal: What to know about Russia’s arsenal of nuclear weapons.
Putin watchers and international analysts observed over the weekend that Ukraine appeared to have surprised Moscow by holding Kyiv, the capital, against a more fortified, better trained and more experienced fighting force for longer than the Kremlin planned. Ukrainians’ plight, including its sea of refugees entering neighboring countries (pictured above), enemy missiles shearing off exterior chunks of apartment buildings and the intense news media coverage about Putin’s motives, has led to a David and Goliath narrative and additional international support for a nation of 44 million people.
The New York Times reported that Putin appears to have sidelined Kremlin advisers, a strategic risk.
Reuters: Kosovo on Sunday asked the United States to establish a permanent military base in the country and speed up its integration into NATO after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Hill: Cyber officials urge U.S. federal agencies to prepare for potential homeland attacks by Russia.
In addition to the U.S. reaction, the European Union escalated its response on Sunday with more sanctions.
For the first time, the EU moved to fund the delivery of weapons to Ukraine, according to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (CNBC). Under the plan, the funds will help purchase air defense systems, anti-tank weapons, ammunition and other military equipment for Ukraine’s forces. They will also boost supplies such as fuel, protective gear, helmets and first-aid kits (The Associated Press).
In addition, the bloc said that it will shut down its airspace to Russian aircrafts, commercial and private, and bar Russian state-owned media outlets such as Sputnik and Russia Today, from its airwaves. The EU also rolled out new sanctions on Belarus.
The Washington Post: Historic sanctions on Russia had roots in emotional appeal from Zelensky.
BBC: How badly will Russia be hit by new sanctions?
The Wall Street Journal: Russia sanctions over Ukraine largely spare the energy sector.
Protesters around the world pushed back against Russia’s actions in Ukraine as police in the Russian capital continued to round up anti-war demonstrators.
According to The Associated Press, protesters marched in Russian cities, including Moscow and St. Petersburg, decrying Putin’s moves with chants of “No to war.” They were met by police in riot gear, who reportedly detained at least 356 Russians in 32 cities. The anti-war protests also took place in Belarus, a pro-Russian ally bordering Ukraine, where more than 500 people were detained (Reuters).
Across Europe, pro-Ukraine rallies grew. In Berlin, a crush of more than 100,000 individuals near the Brandenburg Gate (pictured below) voiced support for Ukraine. According to The New York Times, roughly 20,000 people had been expected.
Sunday also brought big moves by the oil and gas industry as BP revealed it will divest its 20 percent stake in Rosneft, a Russian state-owned oil firm, because of Russia’s “act of aggression in Ukraine.”
The multinational oil giant said it will offload the Rosneft stake, which it has held since 2013, and announced BP Chief Executive Officer Bernard Looney will quit Rosneft’s board of directors (The Hill). BP expects to sustain a financial hit of about $25 billion (Bloomberg News).
The Hill: Global reliance on Russian energy is a hurdle for the U.S. pressure campaign on Putin.
Bloomberg News: Biden asks Congress for $6.4 billion for Ukraine to add to a March 11 government funding package.
The Atlantic: Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) was right about Putin. (The Atlantic’s conversation with the former GOP presidential nominee).
The New York Times: Pro-Russia, pro-war and pro-Putin: Here’s why the Chinese internet is cheering the Ukraine invasion.
The latest figures today for civilian deaths in Ukraine stands at 102, with 304 people injured, but the true figure is feared to be “considerably higher,” a United Nations spokeswoman said Monday. The death toll includes seven children, the spokeswoman said, adding: “Most of these civilians were killed by explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multi-launch rocket systems, and air strikes.” According to United Nations data, 422,000 people have fled Ukraine (CNN). Moscow will not release casualty figures; Ukraine said on Sunday that 352 of its civilians were killed since the invasion began, including 14 children, with 1,684 people wounded, including 116 children (The Associated Press).
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Here’s what else we’re watching this week:
> Biden will have plenty to say Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET about international alliances, Russia and embattled democracies during his first official State of the Union address. History suggests, however, that Americans want to know what’s ahead for the U.S.
> As Americans encourage Ukrainians to battle Russian invaders, the U.S. Capitol will be surrounded by protective fencing this week while police and National Guard are prepared to prevent demonstrators and anti-Biden foes from staging attacks, interrupting the president’s big speech or trying to use truck convoys to blockade highways and streets (WTOP).
> Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson this week will begin courtesy interviews with senators ahead of what Democrats envision as a six-week confirmation drama for the first Black woman to be nominated to the high court. Senators confirmed Jackson 53-44 in June to sit on the D.C. Circuit. Her given name means “pure gold.”
> Texas holds a primary election on Tuesday that could be a low-turnout affair but also a potential preview of what’s ahead for Democrats (Vox).
> The Federal Reserve, monetary policy and inflation are never far from conversation, with analysts anticipating an interest rate hike from the central bank in March as Americans bemoan rising prices (Reuters). Fed Chairman Jerome Powell will testify on Capitol Hill on Wednesday and Thursday, while the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports February’s employment picture on Friday.
ADMINISTRATION: Biden’s first official State of the Union address Tuesday, purposely delayed from January to March, will revisit legislative priorities in limbo because of deep divisions within both parties in Congress and among voters who head to the polls in November fed up with COVID-19 anxieties and with misgivings about elected leaders who appear at times to be flat-footed in the face of economic uncertainties and serious geopolitical upheaval, reports The Hill’s Alex Gangitano.
Watch The Hill’s video report on the State of the Union speech HERE.
The Hill: Biden White House adviser Cedric Richmond previewed the president’s speech and his “vision.”
COVID-19 weighs heavily over an annual address that has so often been used by previous presidents as partisan blueprints (The Hill).
The Hill’s Niall Stanage in his latest Memo notes that Biden’s Supreme Court nominee and the president’s domestic agenda, both supposed to be central themes in Tuesday’s speech, could be overshadowed by events in Eastern Europe, far from the lives of everyday Americans.
A new Washington Post-ABC News poll found a deeply pessimistic nation and people worried about the U.S. economy. Biden’s job approval number is at a new low of 37 percent, an ominous sign for Democratic candidates this fall.
LEADING THE DAY
POLITICS: Conservative activists made it clear on Sunday: They want a redux from former President Trump in 2024.
Fifty-eight percent of those surveyed as part of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) straw poll over the weekend said that Trump is their top choice for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, a total that grew from 51 percent one year ago.
Equally clear, however, is who the right wants if Trump decides against a run; Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) garnered 28 percent support from the conservative crowd, and no other candidate won more than 2 percent backing.
In a poll that excludes Trump, the Sunshine State’s chief executive was the overwhelming choice, taking 61 percent of those polled. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Donald Trump Jr. were a distant second place with only 6 percent. As The Hill’s Max Greenwood notes in a dispatch from Orlando, DeSantis was received like a rock star at the right-wing confab.
Trump’s standing among the GOP was also on display on the Sunday talk shows as “This Week” host George Stephanopoulos pressed Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) repeatedly over the former president’s praise for Putin’s moves in Ukraine. Over and over, Cotton sidestepped a condemnation of the ex-president, leading the host to say that he was “quite confident” the senator would not have hesitated to offer one if Biden or former President Obama had said something along the same lines of what Trump had said (The Hill).
The New York Times: At CPAC, Trump misleads about Biden, a Russian pipeline and gas prices.
The Hill: Sen. Rick Scott (Fla.), chairman of the Senate GOP campaign arm, defended the proposed Republican agenda during his CPAC speech.
Politico: How Orlando became the center of the universe for GOP Senate hopefuls.
> You’re doing fine, Oklahoma: Sen. James Inhofe’s (R-Okla.) announcement on Friday that he will retire at the end of the 117th Congress is setting off a scramble among Oklahoma Republicans for the seat, headlined by a looming battle between Inhofe’s preferred choice and multiple members of Congress.
As The Hill’s Tal Axelrod notes, Inhofe has already endorsed Luke Holland, his chief of staff, to replace him. However, the move will hardly clear the field. Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) has already jumped in the field, with others, including Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.), potentially joining the fray.
“You’re gonna start to see a lot of political movement now,” Chad Alexander, a former chairman of the Oklahoma GOP, told The Hill.
Austin American-Statesman: Voter guide: What to know before Texas primary election on Tuesday.
The Hill: Russia invasion of Ukraine could play an unusual role in the midterm contests.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
CORONAVIRUS: Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported this morning: 948,397.
As of today, 75.6 percent of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 64.2 percent is “fully vaccinated,” according to the Bloomberg News global vaccine tracker and the government’s definition. The percentage of Americans who have received third or booster doses is 27.9.
> Restrictions: Key COVID-19 directives in two major U.S. regions are set to expire this week as infections continue to drop across the country and in the aftermath of the updated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s mask guidance that was released on Friday.
In New York, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) announced on Sunday that the state’s mask mandates for schools will expire on Wednesday, citing declining case totals and the updated CDC guidance. The New York Democrat added that counties and cities could keep local mandates in place, with parents being able to have their kids mask up as well. New York has 2.7 million schoolchildren, including roughly 1 million in New York City alone (The Associated Press). New York City followed suit, with Mayor Eric Adams saying that Gotham is set to do the same by March 7. Adams added that he will also eliminate the city’s vaccine requirements (The New York Times).
In addition, Washington, D.C.’s indoor mask mandate will no longer be in effect starting on Tuesday. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) made that announcement on Feb. 14 (NBC Washington).
As of Sunday night, the U.S. average daily number of reported COVID-19 sat under 70,000, marking the first time that happened for consecutive days since late July, before the delta wave started (The Washington Post).
According to the new CDC metrics released on Friday, about 72 percent of individuals in the U.S. live in a county where they do not have to wear masks indoors anymore (CNN). Want to find out the COVID-19 threshold in your county? Find out HERE.
The Hill: Advocates criticize “tepid” Biden request for global COVID-19 funding.
The Associated Press: Nearly half of Biden’s 500 million free COVID-19 tests still unclaimed.
The Wall Street Journal: Community workers push to get COVID-19 tests to the vulnerable.
The Associated Press: Hong Kong considers lockdown as daily infections top 34,000.
The Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!
Putin’s miscalculation, by Zoya Sheftalovich, contributing editor, Politico Europe. https://politi.co/3BZYkhr
How the crisis in Ukraine may end, by Derek Thompson, staff writer, The Atlantic. https://bit.ly/3tljEKK
Joe Biden has only days to avoid becoming Jimmy Carter, by Niall Ferguson, Bloomberg Opinion columnist. https://bloom.bg/3IuSfMC
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets at 2 p.m.
The Senate convenes at 3 p.m. and will resume consideration of the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2021.
The president returns to Washington this morning and, along with Vice President Harris, will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 10:30 a.m. Biden will host a call with allies and partners to discuss the ongoing situation in Ukraine at 11:15 a.m. The president and the vice president will also take part in a Black History Month event at 2 p.m.
The White House daily briefing is scheduled at 3 p.m.
➜ COURTS: The Supreme Court today will hear oral arguments in a case that could limit the scope of the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate climate change (The Hill). … A federal trial begins today for Jan. 6 rioter Guy Reffitt of Texas, who is charged with civil disorder, obstructing Congress’s proceedings, carrying a semiautomatic handgun to the Capitol and later, after returning home, attempting to obstruct justice (NPR). Reffitt, who has pleaded not guilty, was one of the first rioters arrested and charged with felonies after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and has been held in pretrial detention for nearly a year. His trial, which is expected to include witnesses from the Secret Service, Capitol Police, Senate staff and Reffitt’s family, could be the first arising from the Capitol attack to come before a jury (Politico).
➜ MORE INTERNATIONAL: North Korea fired a ballistic missile into the sea on Sunday in a resumption of testing that has included eight missile launches this year. Some experts have said North Korea is trying to perfect its weapons technology and pressure the United States into offering concessions such as sanctions relief amid long-stalled disarmament talks (The Associated Press).
➜ PATIO PUPS: The Live Free or Die State is about to allow a new customer to dine at its outdoor locales: Pups. New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) signed a bill last week allowing dogs in any outdoor dining areas of restaurants. According to the legislation, dogs must be licensed, be vaccinated against rabies and remain on the ground, and they cannot consume food or drink via plates or glasses from the restaurant (The Associated Press).
And finally … To-go Molotov cocktails, if you will.
As part of the Ukrainian call to arms in recent days, the nation’s foreign minister called on citizens to make their own Molotov cocktails, and the nation is responding en masse. Women have huddled in parks to make them, as have militia and civil defense organizers in empty factories, neighborhoods and yards.
The call has also led Ukrainians to Google to figure out how to create their own (The Washington Post). The improvised incendiary device dates back to 1939’s Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union, where Finns named them after then-Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov (INews).