“U.S. officials say they are concerned Russia could be preparing to use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine after the Russian Defense Ministry accused Ukraine of possibly planning a false-flag chemical weapon attack,” NBC News reports.
An administration official said the U.S. is worried that the Russians are making the claim “to justify a false-flag operation or them using chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine themselves.”
“When President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion two weeks ago, he said a primary goal was the ‘denazification’ of Ukraine. He referred to the Ukrainian government as a ‘gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis,’ making it clear that his aim was to topple it,” the New York Times reports.
“But in recent days, the language has shifted, with the Kremlin signaling that Mr. Putin is no longer bent on regime change in Kyiv. It is a subtle shift, and it may be a head-fake; but it is prompting officials who have scrambled to mediate to believe that Mr. Putin may be seeking a negotiated way out of a war that has become a much bloodier slog than he expected.”
“Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is in Moscow to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday as part of a mediation effort to end the war in Ukraine,” Politico reports.
“Schröder has come under fierce criticism at home and abroad for refusing to sever his close ties to Moscow following Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Even several of his office staff quit last week after he insisted on keeping his senior roles at Kremlin-linked energy giants Rosneft and Gazprom.”
“For some European countries watching Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine, there are fears that they could be next,” the AP reports.
“Western officials say the most vulnerable could be those who aren’t members of NATO or the European Union, and thus alone and unprotected — including Ukraine’s neighbor Moldova and Russia’s neighbor Georgia, both of them formerly part of the Soviet Union — along with the Balkan states of Bosnia and Kosovo.”
“But analysts warn that even NATO members could be at risk, such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania on Russia’s doorstep, as well as Montenegro, either from Moscow’s direct military intervention or attempts at political destabilization.”
The Economist: “Moldova, which is not a member of either NATO or the European Union, is in a state of deep anxiety.”
Washington Post: “Many countries in the developing world, including some of Russia’s closest allies, are unsettled by Putin’s breach of Ukrainian sovereignty. Yet the giants of the Global South — including India, Brazil and South Africa — are hedging their bets while China still publicly backs Putin. Even NATO-member Turkey is acting coy, moving to shut off the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits to all warships, not just the Russians.”
“Just as Western onlookers often shrug at far-flung conflicts in the Middle East and Africa, some citizens in emerging economies are gazing at Ukraine and seeing themselves without a dog in this fight — and with compelling national interests for not alienating Russia.”
“As Russia’s assault on Ukraine enters its second week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has shifted from rallying world leaders — who have levied historic economic and financial sanctions against Russia — to shaming them for not doing more to hasten the war’s end,” the Washington Post reports.
“On Wednesday, Zelensky shared with his 5.1 million Twitter followers video of what Ukrainian officials said was the aftermath of a Russian military strike on a maternity hospital in Mariupol.”
Said Zelensky: “People, children are under the wreckage. Atrocity! How much longer will the world be an accomplice ignoring terror? Close the sky right now!”
John Harris: “The fact that Zelensky — joined by vast numbers of his fellow Ukrainians — is willing to sacrifice everything makes him a clarifying agent in the great contest of the age, between free societies and despotic ones.”
“Zelensky has joined such iconic figures as the Chinese student who stood in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square in 1989, or the Flight 93 passengers on 9/11, or the firefighters that same day who raced up the stairs of the burning World Trade Center. All of them cause many people to interrogate themselves: What would I have done in those circumstances?”
“When Russia first invaded Ukraine just over two weeks ago, the near-unanimous global assumption was that it would score a quick and easy military victory over its neighbor to the west,” the Washington Post reports.
“But now — with the Ukrainians waging a fierce resistance and Russian forces bogged down outside nearly every major city — the Biden administration and its allies say they see no clear end to the military phase of this conflict.”
“The situation seems destined to result in an even deadlier and more protracted slog, wreaking devastation on Ukraine and causing a massive humanitarian crisis.”
“The Russian army’s unexpected struggles in Ukraine are prompting calls for a fresh look at widely shared assumptions about the effectiveness of President Vladimir Putin’s military machine,” Bloomberg reports.
“Putin spent well over a decade modernizing a conscript-based military that proved wanting in Chechnya during the 1990s, and Georgia in 2008. Its first test in a large-scale conflict since the end of the Cold War has raised questions about what that boom in spending achieved.”
China has refused to supply Russian airlines with aircraft parts, after Boeing and Airbus halted supply of components, Reuters reports.
Goldman Sachs is exiting Russia, becoming the first major Wall Street bank to announce plans to do so after the invasion of Ukraine, Bloomberg reports.
“Russian-Israeli oligarch Leonid Nevzlin announced Tuesday that he plans to give up his Russian passport in protest of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” the Washington Post reports.
Said Nevzlin: “Everything that Putin touches dies. I am against the war. I am against the occupation. I am against the genocide of the Ukrainian people.”
“Demand for workers remained close to a record high at the start of the year despite the disruptions of the Omicron Covid-19 variant, another sign of a muted impact of the variant on the U.S. economy,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
Inflation reached a new generational high in February, reaching the highest year-over-year inflation rate since 1982, at 7.9%, CNBC reports.
Wall Street Journal: “Before the Ukraine crisis, economists and policy makers had been hoping for a peak in year-over-year inflation this spring as supply chains heal from pandemic-related disruptions and the Federal Reserve begins an expected series of interest rate increases next week. But the outbreak of war has supercharged prices for oil, wheat, and precious metals, threatening higher inflation for longer.”
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told CNBC that Americans will likely see another year of “very uncomfortably high” inflation as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine muddles her prior forecast that price acceleration would moderate in the months ahead.
Said Yellen: “We’re likely to see another year in which 12-month inflation numbers remain very uncomfortably high.”
Attorney General Merrick Garland told NPR that he’s committed to unraveling the conspiracy behind the storming of the U.S. Capitol, in what he calls “the most urgent investigation in the history of the Justice Department.”
Said Garland: “We are not avoiding cases that are political or cases that are controversial or sensitive. What we are avoiding is making decisions on a political basis, on a partisan basis.”
Michael Stern: “Every competent prosecutor knows why Garland and the Department of Justice have not indicted Trump. I’m going to say it out loud.”
“If Trump were charged, it’s unlikely he would negotiate a plea deal. Instead, he would go to trial and make every step of the process a platform to cast himself as a victim of a vindictive Biden administration. He would use the renewed attention to spew lies about the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election. And he would raise money, lots of money, to fund his anticipated 2024 presidential campaign.”
“But most important, despite a mountain of evidence that would convict most people many times over, Trump would not be convicted. Criminal convictions require a unanimous verdict. On a 12-person jury, there are going to be Trump supporters.”
“There are at most two degrees of separation from former president Donald Trump to the leaders of far-right extremist groups that were involved in the pro-Trump riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021,” the Washington Post reports. “Between both Trump and the heads of the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers sits only Trump’s longtime adviser Roger Stone.”
“The Jan. 6 select committee has subpoenaed Salesforce, the customer relationship management giant and a major Republican National Committee vendor, for sensitive information about the RNC’s fundraising,” Axios reports.
The Jan. 6 committee’s subpoena is “seeking information from Salesforce regarding whether and how the Trump campaign used Salesforce’s platform to disseminate false statements about the 2020 election in the weeks leading up to the January 6th attack.”
The RNC argued the subpoena is too broad in scope, accused the committee of trying to get sensitive information about the RNC’s private donors and claimed it would chill the RNC and its supporters’ First Amendment rights.
“A federal judge dismissed civil claims against Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) alleging he helped incite supporters of former President Donald Trump’s to attack the U.S. Capitol in January 2021, saying Brooks’ speech to the crowd was constitutionally protected free speech,” Reuters reports.
Sidney Powell, the pro-Trump lawyer, who’s currently facing disbarment after abusing the courts to peddle Trump’s election lies, has been helping the Oath Keepers entangled in Jan. 6 cases with their legal bills via her nonprofit, Defending the Republic.
“A federal judge had words Wednesday for Republican lawmakers who have spread the ‘delusion’ that scores of non-violent participants in the Capitol attack are languishing in jail without trial,” Politico reports.
“Michael Flynn appeared before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol on Thursday, in response to a subpoena asking him to testify about an Oval Office meeting at which, the panel said, then-President Donald Trump and others discussed seizing voting machines,” NBC News reports.
“Flynn did not answer the committee’s questions, exercising his 5th Amendment right on the advice of counsel.”
Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) told supporters he thought Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was a “thug,” WRAL reports.
Said Cawthorn:”Remember that Zelenskyy is a thug. Remember that the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt and is incredibly evil and has been pushing woke ideologies.”
Cawthorn is not the sharpest Member of Congress, but this is still shocking.
“The Florida Senate approved legislation on Thursday that limits how workplaces and schools teach about race and identity,” the Washington Post reports.
“The measure prohibits trainings that cause someone to feel guilty or ashamed about the past collective actions of their race or sex, and its passage clears the way for Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) to sign one of his top legislative priorities into law.”
A couple who hosted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) for dinner years ago are now under investigation after Paxton issued a nonbinding legal opinion that gender-affirming health care for transgender kids, like their son, constitutes child abuse, The 19th reports.
Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have reached a tentative agreement on a new labor deal, ESPN reports.
This deal came quickly after Senate Judiciary Committee chair Dick Durbin (D-IL) tweeted:“Enough. After almost 100 days of the MLB lockout, it’s time to reconsider MLB’s special antitrust exemption, which allows them to act as a lawful monopoly. Fans across America deserve better. Message to the owners: unlock the lockout and play ball.”
Olga Khazan: “In Russia’s version of the war, Russians are liberators, Ukrainians are Nazis, and the West is full of mendacious hypocrites. To turn on Russian TV news is to enter a parallel universe, one where even the word war is forbidden. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government has now blocked or restricted any other sources of coverage, so this is the only version of the world most Russians see.”
“To get a sense of what Russians are told about the war, I fired up Russian state TV for a few hours a day over the past week from my laptop.”
“Hosts and panelists stick closely to the same Kremlin talking points, lending the broadcasts an endless, looping quality, even by cable-TV standards. One panel of white guys who love Putin dissolves into another, and another.”
“An economic and cultural iron curtain is descending on Russia as President Vladimir Putin proceeds with his invasion of Ukraine, reversing decades of integration with Western economies and threatening to isolate Russians to an extent unseen since the Soviet era,” the Washington Post reports.
“The dramatic severing is the result of punishing restrictions put in place by the United States and Europe, including bans on Russian aircraft flying in Western airspace and sanctions on the central bank. It has been compounded by a voluntary exodus of international companies from the Russian market.”
“But the isolation is also a function of the repressive measures Putin has taken at home.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) visited the “People’s Convoy” and will ride shotgun as drivers head to the Capital Beltway for the fourth time this week to protest pandemic health restrictions, the Washington Post reports.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said that Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Paul Gosar (R-AZ) will have their committee seats restored next year if Republicans win back the House, despite their participation in a white nationalist conference, The Hill reports.
CNN: “With the growing likelihood that Republicans will take over the House after elections this fall — and the prospect of Trump running for president again in 2024 — members of the Trump-loving House Freedom Caucus are preparing to flex their muscles in the next era.”
“Under the new leadership of Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, the group is hoping to use its hardline tactics, connections to Trump and friendlier relationship with GOP leadership to bend their party to their will and put their MAGA-like stamp on the conference.”
David Leonhardt: “The answer is surprisingly unclear.”
“Nationwide, the number of official Covid cases has recently been somewhat higher in heavily Democratic areas than Republican areas… That comparison doesn’t fully answer the question, though, because Democratic areas were also conducting more tests, and the percentage of positive tests tended to be somewhat higher in Republican areas.”
“No single statistic offers a definitive answer. When I look at all the evidence, I emerge thinking that liberal areas probably had slightly lower Omicron infection rates than conservative areas. But it is difficult to be sure.”
“A bank’s decision to loan Donald Trump’s company $100 million is the latest evidence the former president might survive fraud investigations and a business-world backlash over his efforts to stay in office after losing the 2020 election,” the AP reports.
“San Diego-based Axos Bank finalized the loan with the Trump Organization on Feb. 17.”
“That’s just three days after public revelations that the Republican’s longtime accountants had disavowed a decade’s worth of his financial statements amid allegations by New York’s attorney general that they had exaggerated his wealth.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), an influential Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, is signaling he’s leaning toward voting “no” on President Biden’s nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, despite voting last year to confirm her to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, The Hill reports.
“The IRS said Thursday it plans to hire 10,000 new workers to help reduce a massive backlog that the government says will make this tax season the most challenging in history,” the AP reports.
“The agency released a plan to work down the tens of millions of filings that includes speeding up the traditionally slow hiring process, relying more on automated processes and bringing on more contract workers to help with mailroom and paper processing.”
Ukraine’s state-run nuclear company said that radioactive substances “could be released from Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear power plant because it cannot cool spent nuclear fuel after its power connection was severed,” Bloomberg reports. “It said fighting made it impossible to immediately repair the high-voltage power line to the plant, which was captured by Russian forces after the Kremlin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.”
“A U.S. congressional committee is asking the Justice Department to investigate Amazon.com and some of its executives for what lawmakers say is potentially criminal obstruction of Congress,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
“Amid a multistate push from pro-gun groups, Indiana lawmakers approved a bill on Tuesday that would eliminate the license requirement to carry a handgun,” the Indianapolis Star reports.
Six Democratic governors have asked congressional leaders to suspend the federal gas tax as fuel prices spike to unprecedented highs in the midst of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, The Hill reports.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) blocked a vote on the nomination of Deborah Lipstadt as the Biden administration’s antisemitism envoy, the Forward reports.
“Meta Platforms will allow Facebook and Instagram users in some countries to call for violence against Russians and Russian soldiers in the context of the Ukraine invasion,” Reuters reports.
“The social media company is also temporarily allowing some posts that call for death to Russian President Vladimir Putin or Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in countries including Russia, Ukraine and Poland.”