“A Russian spy chief is said to have been placed under house arrest in a sign that President Putin is seeking to blame the security services for the stalled invasion of Ukraine,” the Times of London reports. “Sergey Beseda, head of the FSB’s foreign intelligence branch, was arrested with Anatoly Bolyukh, his deputy, according to a leading expert on the Russian security services.”
“Social media channels and private messaging groups are being used in Russia to recruit a new brigade of mercenaries to fight in Ukraine alongside the army,” the BBC reports. The message appeals to “those with criminal records, debts, banned from mercenary groups or without an external passport” to apply.
Washington Post: “Russian agents came to the home of Google’s top executive in Moscow to deliver a frightening ultimatum last September: take down an app that had drawn the ire of Russian President Vladimir Putin within 24 hours or be taken to prison.“
“Google quickly moved the woman to a hotel where she checked in under an assumed name and might be protected by the presence of other guests and hotel security, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The same agents — believed by company officials to be from Russia’s FSB, a successor to the KGB intelligence service — then showed up at her room to tell her the clock was still ticking.”
“Within hours, an app designed to help Russians register protest votes against Putin could no longer be downloaded from Google or Apple, whose main representative in Moscow faced a similarly harrowing sequence.”
“Russian forces appeared to make progress from northeast Ukraine in their slow fight to reach the capital, Kyiv, while tanks and artillery pounded places already under siege with shelling so heavy it prevented residents of one city from burying the growing number of dead,” the AP reports.
“In past offensives in Syria and Chechnya, Russia’s strategy was to crush armed resistance with sustained airstrikes and shelling that leveled population centers. That kind of assault has cut off Ukraine’s southern port city of Mariupol, and a similar fate could await Kyiv and other parts of the country if the war continues.”
“In Mariupol, unceasing barrages have thwarted repeated attempts to bring in food and water and to evacuate trapped civilians. On Friday, an Associated Press photographer captured the moment when a tank appeared to fire directly on an apartment building, enveloping one side in a billowing orange fireball.”
Wall Street Journal: Russian strikes intensify near Kyiv.
“Russian President Vladimir Putin gave the green light on Friday for up to 16,000 volunteers from the Middle East to be deployed alongside Russian-backed rebels to fight in Ukraine, doubling down an invasion that the West says has been losing momentum,” Reuters reports.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukraine was at a turning point in the war with Russian forces appearing to be regroup for a possible assault on Kyiv, Reuters reports.
New York Times: “Russian forces have not achieved a major strategic victory since the first days of the war more than two weeks ago, and have turned to a strategy of trying to flatten whole sections of cities.”
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry alleges that Russian President Vladimir Putin is in the advanced stages of plotting a terror attack on the Chernobyl nuclear plant that he plans to blame on Ukrainian forces, iNews reports.
Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky said he has appealed to several Western leaders for help to free the mayor of a southern Ukrainian city who he says was kidnapped by Russians, the Wall Street Journal reports. The mayor, Ivan Fedorov, was at work when Russians took him away with a plastic bag over his head.
New York Times: Russia meets public resistance in cities and towns it seized.
President Biden stressed that the U.S. and NATO allies would not fight Russia in Ukraine, The Hill reports. Said Biden: “We’re going to continue to stand together with our allies in Europe and send an unmistakable message. We will defend every single inch of NATO territory with the full might of the united and galvanized NATO.”
He added: “We will not fight a war against Russia in Ukraine. Direct conflict between NATO and Russia is World War III, something we must strive to prevent.”
“The White House has approved an additional $200 million in arms and equipment for Ukraine, administration officials said on Saturday, responding to urgent requests from President Volodymyr Zelensky for more aid to stave off the Russian invasion,” the New York Times reports. “The latest arms package, which officials say includes Javelin antitank missiles and Stinger antiaircraft missiles, follows a $350 million arms package the Biden administration approved last month.”
Washington Post: “The Biden administration, under pressure to expand the arsenal of weapons that Ukraine has in its conflict with Russia, is working with European allies to expedite more sophisticated air-defense systems and other armaments into the war zone.”
“Discussions were ongoing ahead of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s planned trip next week to meet with NATO allies in Brussels and Slovakia, which along with Poland and Romania has indicated a willingness to transfer military aid to its embattled neighbor. Slovakia also possesses the S-300 surface-to-air missile system, which is used to shoot down enemy aircraft and is familiar to the Ukrainians.”
Financial Times: Russia threatens to attack Western weapons shipments to Ukraine.
“People around the world are using a new website to circumvent the Kremlin’s propaganda machine by sending individual messages about the war in Ukraine to random people in Russia,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
“The website was developed by a group of Polish programmers who obtained some 20 million cellphone numbers and close to 140 million email addresses owned by Russian individuals and companies. The site randomly generates numbers and addresses from those databases and allows anyone anywhere in the world to message them, with the option of using a pre-drafted message in Russian that calls on people to bypass President Vladimir Putin’s censorship of the media.”
Deutsche Bank said Friday that it was winding down its operations in Russia, one day after its chief financial officer said it wasn’t “practical” to shutter the unit, CNBC reports.
“American officials are examining the ownership of a $700 million superyacht currently in a dry dock at an Italian seacoast town, and believe it could be associated with President Vladimir Putin, the New York Times reports.
“The U.S. is planning to ban imports of Russian alcohol and seafood, in the latest effort to punish Moscow for the country’s invasion of Ukraine,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
“The Moscow Exchange said Saturday the country’s main stock market will stay closed next week, through March 18,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “The stock market hasn’t opened since Feb. 25, the day after the invasion and just before the West unveiled a punishing round of sanctions on Russia’s financial system.”
President Biden said the economic sanctions put on Russia will cause their stock exchange to melt down if it’s ever opened again, Mediaite reports. Said Biden: “Moscow stock exchange is closed for a simple reason. Why is it closed? Because for the last two weeks because the moment it opens, it will be disbanded. Hear me? It will blow up.”
Washington Post: “On Thursday afternoon, 30 top TikTok stars gathered on a Zoom call to receive key information about the war unfolding in Ukraine.”
“National Security Council staffers and White House press secretary Jen Psaki briefed the influencers about the United States’ strategic goals in the region and answered questions on distributing aid to Ukrainians, working with NATO and how the United States would react to a Russian use of nuclear weapons.”
Tom Nichols: “The bombs of 1945 represented the advent of a new age, in which nuclear weapons would lurk behind even the smallest conflicts. But they also brought to an end centuries of assumptions about war; as Bernard Brodie wrote a decade after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the sheer power of nuclear arms meant “the end of strategy as we have known it,” because of the inability to match any political goal to the devastation of a nuclear war.”
“This new age also created a new priesthood of nuclear experts and strategists, people who dealt every day with the arcane and the unthinkable… These experts advised the policy makers who would have to make terrifying decisions; their terms and concepts—assured destruction, first strike, secure second-strike capability—would, especially during moments of crisis, make their way into the public mind.”
“When the Cold War ended, we collectively decided to stop thinking about things like nuclear strategy… Now here we are again, trying to make our way around nuclear terms and concepts as war rages in the middle of Europe.”
Seth Abramson: “Academics can debate whether our current period is in the umbra of the same Cold War that dominated the last century, or a new one; whether we’re on the doorstep of World War III, or are already in it; whether the conditions on the ground in Europe today are most reflective of the eve of World War I or World War II; but what no one can deny is that what is happening in Ukraine is not merely a ‘news story’ or even a spate of well-televised war crimes but a fundamental shifting of our age toward chaos.”
“Yesterday, a former high-ranking official in the Donald Trump administration, Miles Taylor, said that the current Trumpist-Putinist Republican Party is far and away the greatest national security threat America has faced in his lifetime. That he is correct is confirmed not just by the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trumpist irregulars or the fact that former president Trump—to please Putin and ensure his own future business opportunities in Russia—put every U.S. alliance and interest lying beyond our shores at risk, but the fact that America is now in a global conflict (call it the Cold War, World War III, or Second Cold War, as you like) at a time when Trump and Trumpism have deliberately put our body politic at a point of permanent fracture.”
“That most Americans still do not understand what Putin is trying to do and the cost that will be exacted upon the United States as he seeks to do it means that the coming months and perhaps years will be the darkest and most fraught in a century.
Walter Russell Mead: “The best way to think about Mr. Putin is as a gifted tactician committed to a strategic impossibility: for Russia to regain the superpower status once held by the Soviet Union. Such leaders are unappeasable because their goals can never be reached. The rise of China, Russia’s continuing demographic decline, and its continuing inability to create a modern and dynamic economy will not end because Russian flags fly over the ruins of Kyiv.”
“There are two mistakes we can make about figures like Mr. Putin. One is to underestimate their talent for troublemaking if they don’t get what they want. The other is to believe that by giving in to their demands we can quiet them down. The West has made both mistakes with Mr. Putin in the past. We must try to do better now.”
Robin Sears: “This is not the era when Helmut Kohl, George H.W. Bush, Brian Mulroney and many other world leaders were able to gently nudge the Russians away from confrontation. Putin is not Gorbachev. We are at the end of the quiet decades of Russian integration into the global community, with occasional wrist slaps for Putin’s earlier, smaller aggressions against neighbours.”
“This is 1939, when a crazed autocrat drove his hundreds of tanks across the Polish border, only a few hundred kilometres east of where Putin invaded across the same vast, rolling plains, ideal for tank warfare. Then as now, the invader downplayed his strategic ambitions, attempting to soothe the world into not reacting. Both dictators got it badly wrong.”
“It was two years ago that the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic, and after nearly one million deaths across the United States, the virus is far from gone. Rates of new infections, while improving, are still higher now than the beginning of last summer,” the New York Times reports.
“But after signs of progress and exhaustion, even cities and states with the strictest coronavirus precautions have been rolling them back. For millions of Americans who kept their masks on and socially distanced long after much of the country abandoned safety measures, it is a moment that has stirred relief, but also disappointment, frustration and queasy ambivalence.”
David French: “This is the unthinkable version of nuclear war that dominated millions of people’s fears during the Cold War. This is the nuclear war of The Day After, the 1983 ABC television movie that depicted a catastrophic nuclear exchange. An estimated 100 million Americans watched, and I still remember the hushed hallways in my high school the morning after it aired.”
“But there was also a thinkable version of nuclear war, one that relied on a kind of nuclear weapon that could perhaps deter the Soviets (and, if deterrence failed, smash their invading armies) without triggering a global thermonuclear exchange. The common term for these armaments is tactical nuclear weapons.”
“It’s precisely this kind of weapon that raises unique and profound concerns now, as Russia attacks Ukraine, and as NATO allies consider the limits of their support for Ukrainian resistance. Vladimir Putin is using a threat that NATO used to deter the Soviets to now deter NATO. Even worse, we have reason to believe that Putin may actually deploy such weapons, with the goal of not merely ending but also winning the war.”
“Missouri lawmakers are reviewing a Republican-backed bill that would ban abortions after 10 weeks, and make it a crime to terminate deadly ectopic pregnancies, punishable with many years in prison,” Insider reports. Ectopic pregnancies occur when a fertilized egg implants and grows outside the uterus, most often in the fallopian tube, and can be life-threatening for the mother if left untreated. The fetus can’t survive to be carried to term.
“More than 60 major businesses, including household names in technology and retail, have signed onto a new advertising campaign in Texas protesting a move by the state’s governor to label as ‘child abuse’ medical treatments that are widely considered to be the standard of care for transgender teenagers,” the New York Times reports.
“Lawmakers in both parties are warning the Biden administration not to consider any deal for Venezuelan oil — days after officials secured the release of two prisoners after a trip to the country,” Politico reports.
“Negotiations in Vienna aimed at reviving the Iran nuclear deal were called off indefinitely on Friday after Russia upended the talks by raising objections to Moscow’s participation while under the new U.S. sanctions imposed in punishment for its invasion of Ukraine,” the Washington Post reports.
Rolling Stone has a must-read story on how former CNN chief Jeff Zucker manipulated what you watch.
“The newspaper that owns the rights to a photo of Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) raising his fist on Jan. 6, 2021, said it never gave Hawley’s campaign permission to put it on a mug,” the HuffPost reports.
“The State Department says it’s paying more than $2 million per month to provide 24-hour security to former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and a former top aide, both of whom face ‘serious and credible’ threats from Iran,” the AP reports.
“Pakistan’s opposition parties moved a no-confidence motion seeking the ouster of Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday, accusing him of mismanaging the economy and poor governance in the toughest challenge he has faced since taking power in 2018,” Reuters reports.
“The kindergarten crisis of last year, when millions of 5-year-olds spent months outside of classrooms, has become this year’s reading emergency,” the New York Times reports. “As the pandemic enters its third year, a cluster of new studies now show that about a third of children in the youngest grades are missing reading benchmarks, up significantly from before the pandemic.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) “is requesting a hold on Eric Garcetti’s nomination to serve as President Joe Biden’s ambassador to India, pending an investigation into whether the mayor of Los Angeles lied when he told a congressional panel he was unaware of sexual harassment and assault allegations against his closest adviser,” Politico reports.
Catherine Rampell: “It’s unclear if Democrats have been blaming ‘corporate greed’ for inflation because the message polls well or because they believe it. If the latter — well, we’re in deep trouble.”
“Because Democrats might end up adopting policies that make things worse.”
“The Islamic State on Thursday announced that it has a new leader, but provided little information on the true identity or background of the man who will now oversee the global terrorist organization,” the New York Times reports. “The new leader, Abu al-Hasan al-Hashimi al-Qurashi, was unveiled in an audio message released on Islamic State social media accounts that also confirmed the death of the group’s previous leader, who American officials say blew himself up during a U.S. commando raid on his hide-out in northwestern Syria last month.”