On Wednesday, Financial Times reported that Ukraine and Russia were actually making substantial progress toward an agreement to end the war. By any measure, the “15 point plan” described seems like an admission of defeat for Russia, with barely any effort to brush over their defeat.
The draft agreement would supposedly start with a ceasefire and a withdrawal of Russian forces. In exchange, Kyiv would “declare neutrality” and accept some limits on its armed forces. However, where Moscow went into the war demanding that Ukraine be disarmed, that no longer appears to be on the table. Instead Ukraine would keep its military, with unspecified “limits” on what might be added. The idea of neutrality has also been dialed way back to something that the Kremlin has described as “like Sweden.” Ukraine would reportedly declare that it’s not seeking to join NATO, but would be able to seek some form of protection agreement from the U.S. and European partners. Ukraine would not host foreign military forces, but would be able to call on this new alliance in a conflict. Which … seems very much like Ukraine joining NATO in all but name. In fact, for Ukraine, it may be better.
According to the Financial Times, “The biggest sticking point remains Russia’s demand that Ukraine recognize its 2014 annexation of Crimea and the independence of two separatist statelets in the eastern Donbas border region.”
If that’s where the negotiations are standing, then the real question is will Russia get anything? Ukraine could easily agree to the mutual protection deal being proposed and the meaningless statement of neutrality that now seems to be the Moscow line. That they’re negotiating on whether Russia gets some kind of formal stamp on the areas it controlled at the outset of the invasion, is an amazing level of Not Winning.
It’s worth nothing that Zelenskyy’s chief of staff responded to this article with a statement that indicates Ukraine has agreed to nothing except a ceasefire, Russian withdrawal, and that Urakine will get security guarantees from multiple countries. Which makes it seem as if what FT put forward was the best that Russia currently hopes to get, with Ukraine negotiating to give Moscow even less.
Meanwhile, back in Russia, Putin’s base appears to be seriously in doubt. He declared his own oligarchs to be traitors, is attacking those trying to flee the country, and is making a call that sounds very, very much like a demand for a Stalin-esque purge of Russian leadership — if not a general purge of Russia. With the possibility of a default looming as soon as today, Russia’s economy is falling apart, the educated class is leaving in droves, and oligarchs are scrambling to find a financial haven elsewhere—anywhere—as connections to Putin turn poisonous.
Thousands of Ukrainians have died for Putin’s mistake, but now he appears to be ready to extend this war into Russia. Predictions that the future of Russia looks like a cross between the USSR and North Korea are appearing all too accurate.
Russian forces have bombed a theater in the besieged port city of Mariupol where more than 1,000 civilians were sheltering, the BBC reports. “Mariupol has been encircled by Russian forces, and an estimated 300,000 are trapped with no running water, electricity or gas. Food and medical supplies are running low, and Russia has not allowed the delivery of humanitarian aid.”
“Four Russian brigadier generals have died in three weeks on the battlefield in Ukraine, Kyiv officials said, showing faults in Moscow’s ability to lead troops into battle,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
“The Russian military’s fighting style appears to have contributed to the losses, analysts say. Other factors include subpar radio communications and intense fighting, including ambushes by Ukrainian forces near cities. Replacing them with officers with similar experience could prove difficult.”
South China Morning Post: “Russia has lost up to 40 percent of the units it sent into Ukraine when Moscow invaded its neighbour in February, the Ukrainian military’s general staff said on Wednesday.“
“The troops were either completely destroyed or have lost their combat capabilities, according to the daily bulletin, which did not give concrete numbers. The information could not be verified independently.”
The Daily Mirror reports Ukraine also said that a fourth Russian general had been killed.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told NBC News that World War III “may have already started.” Said Zelensky: “Nobody knows whether it may have already started… It’s very hard to say And we’ve seen this 80 years ago, when the second world war had started… nobody would be able to predict when the full scale war would start.”
He added that the war puts the “whole civilization at stake.”
Dan Balz: “In a matter of weeks, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has become a beacon to the world, a wartime leader rallying his country, a symbol of courage in the face of personal danger, a politician who has shown anew the power of words and language.”
“He was once a comedian who played a president on television, who then ran for office and became a president, who early in his tenure was subjected to attempted political extortion by then-President Donald Trump. Americans might have heard of him then but few others in the world knew his name. Now the 44-year-old Zelensky is instantly recognized, leading a sovereign country attacked without provocation.”
“Though Zelensky has become a figure of worldwide admiration, he stands largely alone in the face of the deadly Russian onslaught — frustrated for his country as he struggles to persuade the West to do more than it has done to come to Ukraine’s defense.”
“You are the leader of the nation, I wish you to be the leader of the world. Being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace.” — Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky, in a virtual address the the U.S. Congress. Zelensky’s greatest power is his ability to single-handedly rally the world. His speech was brilliant.
President Biden today called Vladimir Putin a “war criminal” — the first time he’s used the term to describe the Russian president, Axios reports.
“President Joe Biden is expected to announce an additional $800 million in security assistance to Ukraine on Wednesday,” CNN reports. “The package of military assistance will include anti-tank missiles and more of the defensive weapons that the US has already been providing, including Javelin anti-tank and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles.”
“The Biden administration is considering providing Ukraine with U.S.-made killer drones — cutting edge guided missiles that could accurately target Russian tanks and artillery positions from miles away,” NBC News reports.
David Ignatius: “Military support for Ukraine is the best peace plan, in other words. Already, Ukraine’s valiant defense has led Putin to soften his initial war demands. A “peace process” is underway, involving would-be mediators from Israel, Germany, France and other nations. Let’s hope this can produce a cease-fire before too long. But any real settlement will require Putin to change course — not just to save Ukraine, but to save Russia.”
“Diplomats have been working overtime this past week to craft a formula for a neutral Ukraine on the model of Austria, whose security would be guaranteed by Germany, France, Russia, the United States and perhaps other nations. This formula would reflect a major concession by Putin, but it could also diminish the heroic status of President Volodymyr Zelensky. Many Ukrainians would argue that their people didn’t fight and die to achieve neutrality.”
“Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that Moscow didn’t intend to occupy Ukraine and was ready to discuss the country’s neutral status during negotiations with Kyiv,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “Ukrainian negotiators have rejected such a status for their country, seeking clear security guarantees.”
Vladimir Putin said on Russian television that the West’s “attempt to have global dominance” is coming to an end as he warned it is trying to “cancel Russia” with an “economic blitzkreig” of sanctions, the Daily Mail reports.
“Daniil Medvedev and other Russian and Belarusian tennis players face being banned from Wimbledon unless they publicly denounce the Ukraine invasion,” the Telegraph reports.
“The top Justice Department prosecutor hunting Russian oligarchs’ money is ratcheting up the pressure on the ultra-wealthy businessmen, warning that he will use every tool available to track down what he called the ‘fruits of a luxurious life that is ill-gained,’” NBC News reports. Said Andrew Adams: “There will not be an escape hatch around the sanctions through money launderers and opaque financial networks.”
“Sanctions are like a valve. You turn them on; you turn them off.
“But once you blow up the rule of law to such a degree that foreign capital realizes that they’d be insane to invest anything in your economy because you might just steal it? You can’t come back from that by saying the right words. This is the kind of action that takes years to unwind.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken told NPR “that U.S. sanctions against Russia are ‘not designed to be permanent,’ and that they could ‘go away’ if Russia should change its behavior. But he said any Russian pullback would have to be, ‘in effect, irreversible.’”
“The Federal Reserve lifted its key interest rate by a quarter of a percentage point on Wednesday as policymakers took their first decisive step toward trying to tame rapid inflation by cooling the economy,” the New York Times reports. “Policymakers also projected six more increases over the course of 2022 as inflation comes in at a 40-year high.”
Larry Summer: “I believe the Fed has not internalized the magnitude of its errors over the past year, is operating with an inappropriate and dangerous framework, and needs to take far stronger action to support price stability than appears likely.”
“The Fed’s current policy trajectory is likely to lead to stagflation, with average unemployment and inflation both averaging over 5 percent over the next few years — and ultimately to a major recession.”
BuzzFeed News: “Between 2001 and 2016, a secretive network of 10 offshore companies plunged a whopping $1.3 billion into American investment firms and hedge funds.”
“The money, sent through the high-secrecy jurisdictions of the British Virgin Islands and Cyprus, was difficult to trace. But with the help of confidential banking records, investigators at State Street, one of America’s oldest banks, stumbled upon the identity of the mystery investor: Roman Abramovich, the oligarch famous for his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.”
“A Russian-owned superyacht is stranded in northern Norway because local oil suppliers refuse to refuel the ship amid Russia’s war in Ukraine and the sanctions that many countries have imposed on Moscow as a result,” the New York Times reports.
Brian Klaas: “Autocrats such as Putin eventually succumb to what may be called the ‘dictator trap.’ The strategies they use to stay in power tend to trigger their eventual downfall. Rather than being long-term planners, many make catastrophic short-term errors—the kinds of errors that would likely have been avoided in democratic systems.”
“They hear only from sycophants, and get bad advice. They misunderstand their population. They don’t see threats coming until it’s too late. And unlike elected leaders who leave office to riches, book tours, and the glitzy lifestyle of a statesman, many dictators who miscalculate leave office in a casket, a possibility that makes them even more likely to double down.”
Tom Friedman: “I never had any illusions that once Putin launched this war, he’d stop short of doing anything to make sure that he could claim to be the ‘winner.’ Nevertheless, it is stunning to watch how quickly he has tied himself into knots.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) isn’t backing down on his comments calling for Vladimir Putin to be assassinated, Politico reports.
Said Graham: “I hope he’ll be taken out, one way or the other. I don’t care how they take him out. I don’t care if we send him to The Hague and try him. I just want him to go. Yes, I am on record.”
He added: “Vladimir Putin is not a legitimate leader, he is a war criminal. He needs to be dealt with by the Russian people. I’m not asking to invade Russia to take him out. I’m not asking to send American ground forces to Ukraine to fight the Russian army. I am asking the Russian people to rise up and end this reign of terror.”
Former President Donald Trump told the Washington Examiner that he is “surprised” Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine and further cracked down on freedom inside Russia.
Said Trump: “I’m surprised — I’m surprised. I thought he was negotiating when he sent his troops to the border. I thought he was negotiating. I thought it was a tough way to negotiate but a smart way to negotiate.”
He added: “I figured he was going to make a good deal like everybody else does with the United States and the other people they tend to deal with — you know, like every trade deal. We’ve never made a good trade deal until I came along. And then he went in — and I think he’s changed. I think he’s changed. It’s a very sad thing for the world. He’s very much changed.”
“The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol is not planning to issue subpoenas to members of Congress who are alleged to have information regarding the events leading up to and surrounding the attack,” ABC News reports.
“While the panel had requested information from Republicans including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Reps. Scott Perry and Jim Jordan — all of whom swiftly rejected the requests — there have been no follow-up discussions with them about their cooperation.”
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) goes on trial this week for three felonies while he’s running a reelection campaign, the Lincoln Journal Star reports.
John Ellis puts forward a convincing case that CNN might soon be put up for sale.
“Puerto Rico’s government formally exited bankruptcy Tuesday, completing the largest public debt restructuring in U.S. history after announcing nearly seven years ago that it was unable to pay its more than $70 billion debt,” the AP reports.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) “offered more than 200 Republican donors a stark message on the fragility of American democracy during private remarks on Monday night at a fundraiser in Northern Virginia,” CBS News reports.
“U.S. judges including those appointed by Republican presidents are increasingly sentencing defendants who participated in the Jan. 6, 2021, breach of the Capitol to three-year terms of court supervision, fearing they could be misled into committing political violence in the 2024 presidential election,” the Washington Post reports.
“A federal judge in Washington has thrown out a lawsuit filed by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and two other conservative lawmakers challenging the fines they faced for refusing to wear masks on the House floor,” the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) said that Tucker Carlson invited him on his Fox News show last night, “but that’s not going to happen… ever.”
“A bipartisan group of senators has tried and failed, for Congress after Congress, to keep America on Daylight Saving Time permanently,” Politico reports. “Until Tuesday, when their bright idea finally cleared the chamber.”
“The quick and consequential move happened so fast that several senators said afterward they were unaware of what had just happened.”
Washingtonian: The U.S. tried permanent Daylight Saving Time in the 1970s. People hated it.
A private Italian dinner between Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) did little to repair their differences over how Democrats can retain power in the Senate, Axios reports.
“Schumer’s failure last month to convince Manchin to be more of a team player has implications for the leader’s ability to advance President Biden’s agenda, not to mention the fate of his nominees — as Fed hopeful Sarah Bloom Raskin discovered this week.”
“At least nine House Democrats have announced in the last five days that they tested positive for the coronavirus, with more than half of those cases emerging after lawmakers attended a party retreat last week in Philadelphia,” the New York Times reports.
“It is unclear what drove the wave of cases or where the representatives had been infected. But members of the House spent hours on the floor without masks for votes that stretched late into the night last Wednesday before Democrats boarded buses to travel to their gathering.”
“President Biden confessed in private that he didn’t understand Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), who helped stymie his biggest legislative dreams, Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns write in the first major book about the Biden-Harris administration,” Axios reports.
From the book: “One person close to the president likened Biden’s perplexity at Sinema to his difficulty grasping his grandchildren’s use of … TikTok. He wanted to relate, but he just didn’t quite get it.”
Sen. Roger Marshall (R-KS) gave truckers in the so-called “People’s Convoy” a tour of the Capitol last week — even as the building remains mostly closed to the public, Politico reports.
Chris Cuomo is seeking a $125 million arbitration award alleging that CNN wrongly terminated him, NBC News reports.
North Korea launched an unidentified projectile on Wednesday, but it apparently failed “immediately after liftoff,” the New York Times reports.
Right-wing cable network One America News is suing AT&T and DirecTV, alleging the companies breached their contract which will cost OAN $1 billion, the Dallas Morning News reports.
“The Biden administration is considering removing Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from a terror blacklist in return for a public commitment from Iran to de-escalation in the region,” Axios reports.