“As President Biden landed in Brussels on Wednesday for urgent talks about Russia’s war on Ukraine, splits were emerging within NATO and in Washington about how to deter the Kremlin from further escalation,” the Washington Post reports.
“Allied leaders are discussing whether it is best to keep Russia guessing about what will trigger a bigger military response or to outline precisely what would draw NATO into a conflict.”
The Economist: “The European union surprised the world—and itself—with its unified response after Vladimir Putin ordered his tanks into Ukraine on February 24th. Unprecedented sanctions and new security policies swiftly appeared. But as the war grinds into its second month and Russian missiles and shells continue to rain down on Ukrainian cities, European resolve has begun to wane.”
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard: “Russia has not defaulted on its sovereign debt after all. Nor is it likely to do so under the current sanctions regime, and as long as Europe continues to finance Vladimir Putin’s military state with purchases of gas, oil, and coal.”
“The White House has quietly assembled a team of national security officials to sketch out scenarios of how the United States and its allies should respond if President Vladimir Putin of Russia — frustrated by his lack of progress in Ukraine or determined to warn Western nations against intervening in the war — unleashes his stockpiles of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons,” the New York Times reports.
“The Tiger Team, as the group is known, is also examining responses if Mr. Putin reaches into NATO territory to attack convoys bringing weapons and aid to Ukraine… Meeting three times a week, in classified sessions, the team is also looking at responses if Russia seeks to extend the war to neighboring nations, including Moldova and Georgia, and how to prepare European countries for the refugees flowing in on a scale not seen in decades.”
NATO released an estimate “that 7,000 to 15,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in four weeks of war in Ukraine,” the AP reports. “By way of comparison, Russia lost about 15,000 troops over 10 years in Afghanistan.”
“The top Russian official serving as the face of Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine hasn’t been seen publicly for nearly two weeks—but that’s because he’s busy with ‘many concerns,’ the Kremlin said Thursday,” the Daily Beast reports.
“Repeated attempts by the United States’ top defense and military leaders to speak with their Russian counterparts have been rejected by Moscow for the last month, leaving the world’s two largest nuclear powers in the dark about explanations for military movements and raising fears of a major miscalculation or battlefield accident,” the Washington Post reports.
“Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have tried to set up phone calls with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Gen. Valery Gerasimov but the Russians ‘have so far declined to engage.’”
A rare face-to-face meeting between Russian and US military officials last week led to an “outburst” of emotion from a normally stoic Russian general, a “revealing moment” that the Americans present believe hinted at larger morale problems in Russia’s military, CNN reports. It’s unclear why the meeting was held or the circumstances behind it.
“Companies across the West are retreating from Russia in the wake of President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine. Some of France’s biggest firms are hanging on,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
“French firms say they are trying to go about their business in Russia, abiding by sanctions rules and hewing to guidance from the government of President Emmanuel Macron. France has an outsize presence among the biggest foreign firms in Russia, with roots established in the wake of the Cold War. French companies became some of Russia’s biggest foreign employers, providing more than 150,000 jobs.”
“Russia’s highly regarded central bank Governor Elvira Nabiullina sought to resign after Vladimir Putin ordered an invasion of Ukraine, only to be told by the president to stay,” Bloomberg reports.
“Nominated for a new five-year term last week, Nabiullina’s current views couldn’t be learned. She is left to manage the fallout from a war that’s quickly undone much of what’s she’s accomplished in the nine years since she took office. The people said departure now would be seen as a betrayal by the president, with whom she has worked closely for nearly two decades.”
“Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson emerged on Wednesday from two grueling days of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee having weathered escalating Republican attacks on her record but leaving Democrats confident that she would become the first Black woman on the Supreme Court,” the New York Times reports.
“Despite early pledges from Republican leaders that the process would be marked by decorum and respect, the hearings were a bruising affair for the Senate, no less bitter or partisan than their immediate predecessors.”
Punchbowl News: “The Judiciary Committee is set to hold a business meeting on Monday to consider Jackson’s nomination. Under committee rules, Republicans can delay a vote on Jackson’s nomination for one week. Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin has already said he will honor that GOP request. This means the committee vote on Jackson will be held April 4. That puts the Senate on schedule for a floor vote on Jackson before the chamber leaves for the Easter recess on April 8.”
“There’s likely to be a lot of drama between now and then, however.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was caught searching Twitter for mentions of his own name during Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearing on Wednesday.
“Chief executives of major passenger and cargo airlines pressed President Biden on Wednesday to do away with the requirement that passengers wear masks on planes and in airports,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
Mark Pomerantz, one of the two leading prosecutors who quit Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s stalled investigation into the Trump Organization, asserted in his Feb. 23 resignation letter (which was obtained by multiple outlets) that the former president is undoubtedly guilty of “numerous felony violations” despite Bragg’s decision not to pursue an indictment against him.
“The team that has been investigating Mr. Trump harbors no doubt about whether he committed crimes — he did,” Pomerantz wrote in his letter to Bragg, who had reportedly decided against an indictment because he was skeptical the prosecutors could have Trump convicted.
Pomerantz warned that Bragg’s decision “will doom any future prospects” of Trump getting prosecuted for his alleged crimes at the center of the investigation, including falsifying business records.
The investigation is still continuing, according to Bragg’s office.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who was hospitalized on Friday over an infection, missed a third day of oral arguments on Wednesday, despite the Supreme Court stating on Sunday that he was expected to be released “in a day or two.”
Thomas doesn’t have COVID-19, the officer has previously said.
Idaho Republicans’ anti-abortion measure, which was modeled after Texas’ six-week abortion ban, is now law after Idaho Gov. Brad Little (R) signed the legislation on Wednesday. Similar to Texas’ law, Idaho’s ban prohibits the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy and is enforced by private citizens who bring lawsuits against abortion providers.
Under Idaho’s law, only family members of the so-called “preborn child” can file a lawsuit (in Texas, anyone can sue). But that also means that if the pregnancy occurred through rape, the rapist’s relatives can sue.
Idaho’s ban doesn’t allow abortion for rape or incest victims unless they file a police report on the assault.
Little himself criticized the law, which “will in short order be proven both unconstitutional and unwise,” he predicted in his letter announcing that he was … signing the law.
New York Times: “Mr. Brooks made the extraordinary charge as the two onetime allies were engaged in a bitter political feud, and it was not immediately clear how their falling out related to the accusation. But the account from the Alabama congressman, who played a central role in challenging electoral votes for Mr. Biden on Jan. 6, 2021, suggested that Mr. Trump has continued his efforts to overturn his defeat and be reinstated.”
“It marked the first time a lawmaker who was involved in Mr. Trump’s attempts to invalidate his election defeat has said that Mr. Trump asked for actions that, were they possible, would violate federal law.”
Politico: “That matters because if the timing and substance of Brooks’ claims are accurate, it suggests Trump has not just lodged false complaints about his loss to President Joe Biden, but has actively sought to solicit help to overturn them deep into the Biden presidency.”
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) and Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R) “vetoed bills that would have barred transgender girls from competing in female sports at school … as the debate over whether transgender athletes can compete in sports leagues that differ from their biological sex at birth has become a contentious battle in some state legislatures,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
“Leaders in both GOP-led state legislatures on Tuesday said they intend to hold votes to override these vetoes.”
Meanwhile, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) refused to accept the victory of Lia Thomas, a transgender swimmer on the University of Pennsylvania women’s team and instead declared runner-up in the race as the “rightful winner.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. has assessed that Russia’s forces are committing war crimes in Ukraine, CNN reports.
Said Blinken: “We’ve seen numerous credible reports of indiscriminate attacks and attacks deliberately targeting civilians, as well as other atrocities. We are committed to pursuing accountability using every tool available, including criminal prosecutions.”
“President Biden sold last year’s $550 billion plan for new infrastructure spending by promising it will spur transformative climate and equity programs nationwide,” Politico reports.
“The problem: states control most of the cash and may not share his goals of tackling climate change or reversing the effects of institutionalized racism.”
“The lack of federal control over how these dollars are spent is raising doubts about whether Biden can meet his pledges, disappointing his supporters.”
The UnPopulist: “Until Zemmour’s presidential campaign was derailed in February by the political fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he was not only starting to unite France’s far-right and center-right, but bidding fair to do so under a nativist platform and his own personal leadership. Zemmour appeared, as author [Fredrik] Segerfeldt puts it, to be Trumpifying the French right.”
“This would have been the political equivalent of drawing to an inside straight, but as Segerfeldt observes, Zemmour’s success might well have triggered similar right-wing fusions throughout Western Europe. Zemmour’s surprising rise, though checked, may prove a harbinger of the future.”
“Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) has spoken to former President Donald Trump about another leadership bid,” CNN reports. “She’s built a powerful fundraising machine and is creating a new app for the House Republican conference. And the New York Republican is sizing up the political ambitions of her colleagues as she weighs decisions about her future.”
“After initially vowing to seek a committee gavel next year instead of pursuing another term as GOP conference chairwoman, Stefanik has spent the past few months quietly laying the groundwork to remain in a leadership role after the midterm elections.”
Japan’s Defense Ministry said that North Korea has fired a “new type of ICBM,” that landed less than 200 miles from Japan, CNN reports. A White House statement called it “a brazen violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions.”
Former Trump adviser Paul Manafort was removed from a plane at Miami International Airport before it took off for Dubai because he carried a revoked passport, the Independent reports.
“Finnish Customs has placed a total of 21 yachts under a transfer ban on grounds of suspicion that they are owned by oligarchs or other individuals falling within the sanctions regime of the EU,” the Helsinki Times reports.
“Oklahoma’s state House on Tuesday voted 78-19 to pass a near complete ban on abortions, legislation that far surpasses Texas’ six-week ban,” The 19th reports. “The bill is now headed to the Senate and, if passed, will be the strictest anti-abortion bill in the country.”
“The FBI is trying a novel strategy to recruit Russian-speaking individuals upset about the country’s invasion of Ukraine: aiming social media ads at cellphones located inside or just outside the Russian Embassy in Washington,” the Washington Post reports.
“The ads, which appear on Facebook, Twitter and Google, are carefully geographically targeted. A Washington Post reporter standing next to the embassy’s stone walls on Wednesday morning received the ad in their Facebook feed. But the ads did not appear in the feed when the reporter stood on the other side of Wisconsin Avenue NW, in the District’s Glover Park neighborhood.”