“The US secretary of state has poured cold water on hopes of a diplomatic settlement to the war in Ukraine, saying there were no signs Vladimir Putin was ‘prepared to stop’ Russia’s invasion of its neighbor,” the Financial Times reports.
“Antony Blinken played down expectations the warring countries would be able to come to an agreement that would see Russia withdraw its forces from Ukraine as he vowed Washington would investigate ‘war crimes’ carried out by the Russian military.”
BBC: “Turkey has positioned itself with great care to be the go-between with Russia and Ukraine – and this seems to be paying off.”
“On Thursday afternoon, President Vladimir Putin rang the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and told him what Russia’s precise demands were for a peace deal with Ukraine.”
Washington Post: “The grotesque scene was a small glimpse of the human toll of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s assault on Ukraine. Just 25 miles from the country’s eastern border with Russia, Ukraine’s second-largest city was an early target in Moscow’s advance.”
“But failing in their attempts to enter the city for the past three weeks, Russian forces have rained down a daily shower of artillery fire, missiles and rockets, which appear to strike at random in civilian neighborhoods. The Washington Post also witnessed evidence of cluster bombs being used in the area around the main market in the city center.”
“Officials here said at least 250 civilians have died, but that is not a full toll and countless more lie buried under the rubble. It is a grim bellwether of the trajectory that could be in store for other Ukrainian cities that hold out against Russian forces.”
“Facing stiff resistance in Ukraine and crippling economic sanctions at home, Russian President Vladimir Putin is using language that recalls the rhetoric from Josef Stalin’s show trials of the 1930s,” the AP reports.
“Putin’s ominous speech on Wednesday likened opponents to ‘gnats’ who try to weaken the country at the behest of the West — crude remarks that set the stage for sweeping repressions against those who dare to speak out against the war in Ukraine.”
“His rant appeared to reflect his frustration about the slow pace of the Russian offensive, which bogged down on the outskirts of Kyiv and around other cities in northeastern Ukraine.”
“For over a decade, Russia spent hundreds of billions of dollars restructuring its military into a smaller, better equipped and more-professional force that could face off against the West,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “Three weeks into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, its first big test, the armed forces have floundered. Western estimates, while highly uncertain, suggest as many as 7,000 Russian soldiers may have been killed.”
Wall Street Journal: “Moscow’s forces have lost more than 230 of the heavily armored tracked vehicles since they invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, according to Oryx Blog, an open-source site that tracks military-equipment losses. Many were destroyed. Others were abandoned, captured or damaged, Oryx says.”
“Ukraine’s government says it has exacted an even higher toll, claiming to have destroyed more than 400 Russian tanks and many more less-armored military vehicles.”
“When President Biden declared to reporters on Wednesday that President Vladimir Putin of Russia was a “war criminal,” he was speaking from the heart, his aides said, reacting to the wrenching images of civilians being dragged from ruins of buildings shelled by Russian forces,” the New York Times reports.
“But he was also personalizing the conflict, in a way past presidents have avoided at moments of crisis with the United States’ leading nuclear-armed adversary for most of the past 75 years. And his remark underscored how personal condemnation has become policy.”
“Republicans clamoring to accuse President Joe Biden of slow-walking support for Ukraine don’t see a shred of comparison with Donald Trump’s impeachment for withholding aid from the very same nation,” Politico reports.
“The GOP’s refusal to acknowledge the Ukraine-related substance of the Trump impeachment as Russia bombards Zelenskyy’s nation is a case study in the hopeless partisanship of the modern Congress, and the difficulties ahead as leaders weigh more support for Ukraine.”
Bloomberg: “President Vladimir Putin can be expected to brandish threats to use nuclear weapons against the West if stiff Ukrainian resistance to Russia’s invasion continues, draining conventional manpower and equipment, according to a new assessment by the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency.”
Anthony Faiola: “The advent of tactical nuclear weapons — a term generally applied to lower-yield devices designed for battlefield use, which can have a fraction of the strength of the Hiroshima bomb — reduced their lethality, limiting the extent of absolute destruction and deadly radiation fields. That’s also made their use less unthinkable, raising the specter that the Russians could opt to use a smaller device without leveling an entire city. Detonate a one kiloton weapon on one side of Kyiv’s Zhuliany airport, for instance, and Russian President Vladimir Putin sends a next-level message with a fireball, shock waves and deadly radiation. But the blast radius wouldn’t reach the end of the runway.”
“The Russians are thought to have roughly 2,000 such weapons — some so small as to be attached to torpedoes, depth charges, or even artillery shells and land mines. The world might reel in horror at nuclear deployment of any size. But, if boxed into the right kind of corner, some argue, Putin could use one in Ukraine without necessarily triggering World War III.”
Ukraine’s top national security official asked earlier this month for the U.S. to go beyond traditional military aid and provide the country with the funding, training and weaponry to support a long-term resistance movement, according to a letter obtained by Axios.
Associated Press: “Beijing’s leadership would like to be supportive of Russia but also recognizes how badly the Russian military action is going as an overmatched Ukrainian military has put up stiff resistance, according to a Western official familiar with current intelligence assessments.”
“The official, who was not authorized to comment and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Beijing is weighing the the potential ‘reputational blowback’ of being associated with the Russian camp. The Chinese response to Russia’s request for help ‘is in the process of being formulated,’ the official added.”
Bloomberg: “China’s muted response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has hardened views within the Biden administration that President Xi Jinping may be moving closer to supporting Moscow as the conflict continues.”
Washington Post: “In the weeks since the White House launched its full-court offensive on Capitol Hill to get Jackson confirmed, Republicans have struggled to land an attack on Jackson, who even the Senate GOP leader has said will probably be confirmed. Interviews with more than a dozen Republican senators, aides and advisers involved in the nomination fight make it clear that Republicans are largely pursuing their own individual strategies ahead of the hearing, with no overarching theme.”
“A flurry of high-profile coronavirus cases in the nation’s capital — including in people who have been around President Biden — has raised new questions about the trajectory of the two-year-old pandemic, even as the White House has signaled confidence in the country’s ability to resume normal activities,” the New York Times reports.
Politico: “In recent days, officials from the White House Covid-19 task force and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have met to game out how the administration will respond if cases begin to rise drastically.”
David Leonhardt: “The left-right divide over Covid-19 — with blue America taking the virus more seriously than red America — has never been the pandemic’s only political divide. Each partisan tribe has also had its internal disagreements.”
“Republicans have long been split over vaccination, with many eagerly getting shots while many others refuse. Democrats have their own growing schism, between those who believe Covid precautions should continue to be paramount and those who favor moves toward normalcy.”
“The key dividing line appears to be ideology. Americans who identify as ‘very liberal’ are much more worried about Covid than Americans who identify as ‘somewhat liberal’ or ‘liberal.’ Increasingly, the very liberal look like outliers on Covid: The merely liberal are sometimes closer to moderates than to the very liberal.”
“I have never seen the CDC coming out, saying, ’Oh you’ve got to get your second polio shot, you gotta get your third, you gotta get your fourth.’” — Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), on the House floor, apparently not realizing the CDC says polio vaccination is a four dose regimen.
Ed Yong: “This week, Congress nixed $15 billion in coronavirus funding from a $1.5 trillion spending bill, which President Joe Biden then signed on Tuesday. The decision is catastrophic, and as the White House has noted, its consequences will unfurl quickly.”
“Next week, the government will have to cut shipments of monoclonal-antibody treatments by a third. In April, it will no longer be able to reimburse health-care providers for testing, vaccinating, or treating millions of uninsured Americans, who are disproportionately likely to be unvaccinated and infected. Come June, it won’t be able to support domestic testing manufacturers. It can’t buy extra doses of antiviral pills or infection-preventing treatments that immunocompromised people are banking on but were already struggling to get.”
“It will need to scale back its efforts to improve vaccination rates in poor countries, which increases the odds that dangerous new variants will arise. If such variants arise, they’ll likely catch the U.S. off guard, because surveillance networks will have to be scaled back too. Should people need further booster shots, the government won’t have enough for everyone.”
“Researchers testing repurposed drugs against Covid-19 found that ivermectin didn’t reduce hospital admissions, in the largest trial yet of the effect of the antiparasitic on the disease driving the pandemic,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
New York Times reporters Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns’ upcoming book about the 2020 election and Biden’s first year in office has some new maverick-y details about Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), who is a Maverick.
“I love Andy Biggs,” Sinema reportedly said at a GOP-heavy private fundraiser, referring to the Arizona congressman who, to this day, still refuses to acknowledge Biden won his state in the 2020 election. “I know some people think he’s crazy, but that’s just because they don’t know him.”
But the thing about that is, Biggs’ own brothers say he helped fuel the Capitol attack, lied about the election and should be kicked out of office.
Sinema mocked Biden at the same fundraiser, according to the book.
The Republican National Committee is suing Salesforce in a last-ditch effort to stop it from turning over extensive internal data to the Jan. 6 select committee, Axios reports.
The RNC is seeking an emergency injunction to block the software giant from complying with a subpoena from the panel investigating the Capitol riot by a 10 a.m. ET Wednesday deadline.
“As many as 16 million low-income Americans, including millions of children, are destined to fall off Medicaid when the nation’s public health emergency ends, as states face a herculean mission to sort out who no longer belongs on rolls that have swollen to record levels during the pandemic,” the Washington Post reports.
“The looming disruption is a little-noticed side effect of the coronavirus crisis, and it is stoking fears among some on Medicaid and their advocates that vulnerable people who survived the pandemic will risk suddenly living without health coverage.”
ABC News: White House to “stop critical Covid response efforts” as funding stalls in Congress.
“Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed to reduce the impact of Covid-control measures on the economy and people’s lives, a first acknowledgment from the Chinese leadership of the costs of the government’s stringent policies to rein in outbreaks,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
South China Morning Post: “Two mainland cities, including China’s southern gateway city Shenzhen, have sacked and punished dozens of officials for falling short in their fight against Covid 19, as the mainland battles the largest outbreaks in multiple cities since the Wuhan outbreak in 2020.”
“Prosecutors have opened talks with lawyers for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the accused mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and his four co-defendants to negotiate a potential plea agreement that would drop the possibility of execution,” the New York Times reports.
“Guilty pleas in exchange for life sentences could bring to an end the long-running case at the war court, which was set up by the George W. Bush administration and has been mired in pretrial proceedings focusing on the CIA’s torture of the defendants.”
“The Senate’s unanimous passage of a bill to make daylight saving time permanent stunned many Americans, not least of which the senators themselves,” BuzzFeed News reports.
New York Times: “Interviews over the past several months with four Syrian men who worked at or near secret mass graves led to an examination of satellite images. Together, those clues revealed the locations of two sites. Each one holds thousands of bodies… They could also contain powerful evidence of war crimes committed by Mr. al-Assad’s forces, according to human rights groups, including the systematic torture and the killing of detainees.”
A Honduran judge ruled that former President Juan Orlando Hernández should be extradited to the United States to face drug trafficking and weapons charges, the AP reports.
“Israel has suffered a ‘massive’ cyberattack on government websites hours after Iran claimed it had foiled a Mossad plot to sabotage a key uranium enrichment facility,” the Times of London reports.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) called U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health Rachel Levine, who is the first openly transgender person hold a Senate-confirmed position, a “man” via Twitter on Thursday after she was named as one of USA Today’s “Women of the Year.”
Twitter flagged Paxton’s tweet as a violation of the platform’s rules on “hateful conduct” but didn’t take it down, deciding that the tweet “may be in the public’s interest.”
Paxton’s performative cruelty added an extra layer to his and other Texas Republicans’ war on transgender people, which has included the attorney general (who’s running for reelection and is also under investigation for alleged corruption) putting out an official opinion claiming that giving trans kids gender-affirming care is “child abuse.”
Six suspects, all juveniles, are at the center of most of the bomb threats that’ve targeted more than a third of the country’s historically Black colleges and universities since early January, federal law enforcement officials said during a congressional hearing on Thursday.
“A federal judge has ordered the Justice Department to produce internal records related to its decision to prosecute Steve Bannon, a win for the former Trump adviser, who maintains that he had a sound legal basis for refusing to comply with a subpoena from the House’s Jan. 6 select committee,” Politico reports.
“A key figure in an alleged plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) told an undercover FBI agent that he wanted to restrain the ‘tyrant’ on a table then pose for a photo, the AP reports.
Said the plotter, on a secret recording: “We want her flex-cuffed on a table while we all pose and get our pictures taken like we just made the biggest drug bust in history.”
Defense lawyers for Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), who’s currently on trial for allegedly lying to the FBI about a call in which an informant had told him an illegal campaign donation “probably did come from” a foreign billionaire, argued that the call in question was actually just one big misunderstanding caused by “a bad cell phone connection.”
Fortenberry didn’t really hear what the informant said, his lawyers claimed. The Republican goes on “autopilot” during conversations about fundraising, they said, which made it easier for him to mishear the informant due to poor cell reception.
The prosecutors just “assume” that Fortenberry heard and remembered what the informant said, the congressman’s attorney argued.