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The Morning Dispatch: Racing to Arm Ukraine
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The Morning Dispatch: Racing to Arm Ukraine

More heavy military equipment is heading to Ukraine as the battle shifts to the more difficult Eastern territory of the Donbas.

Happy Monday! After a three-year hiatus, Barry—the best show on television—returned with a bang last night. It’s perfect for helping you forget the Bulls lost two playoff games to the Bucks over the weekend by a combined 54 points!

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • French President Emmanuel Macron was reelected on Sunday, defeating right-wing challenger Marine Le Pen with a projected 58.5 percent of the vote. Le Pen conceded defeat, but pointed to her improved performance (34 percent in 2017, 41.5 percent in 2022) as signs that there are “winds of change afoot” and vowed her party would campaign vigorously in June’s legislative elections. In his victory speech, Macron acknowledged the “anger” of Le Pen’s voters and promised “nobody will be left by the wayside” in his second, five-year term.

  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday, according to a Zelensky advisor, becoming the first high-ranking Biden administration officials to travel to Kyiv since Russia’s invasion began in late February.

  • The number of COVID-19 deaths in Shanghai reported by the Chinese Communist Party tripled from Friday to Saturday, and public health officials have reportedly begun erecting metal fences around “sealed” areas to ensure residents potentially exposed to the virus do not leave their homes. The COVID-19 situation in Beijing, meanwhile, is “urgent and serious,” according to Cai Qi, the city’s Communist Party chief. Residents of China’s capital city have begun stockpiling food in preparation for a Shanghai-like lockdown.

  • The Israeli government announced over the weekend it was closing its border to thousands of permitted Palestinian workers from Gaza in response to a series of rocket strikes targeting Israel coming from Hamas-controlled territory. Israeli Defense Forces said three rockets were fired late Friday and early Saturday, with two hitting uninhabited areas in Israel and one falling short and landing in Hamas territory.

  • At least 77 people have been killed—and more than 160 wounded—in a series of bombings at Shiite mosques in northern Afghanistan in recent days, according to Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid. At least one of the attacks has been claimed by Islamic State-Khorasan (ISIS-K), and protesters gathered in Kabul over the weekend demanding the Taliban do more to protect religious minorities.

  • Orrin Hatch, the seven-term senator from Utah, died on Saturday at the age of 88 after suffering a stroke earlier this month. He chaired the Judiciary, Finance, and HELP (Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions) Committees during his 42 years in Washington, and retired in 2019 as the longest-serving Republican senator in history.

West Racing to Arm Ukraine for the Battle of Donbas

Ukrainian artillery shells Russian troops’ position on the front line in Luhansk. (Photo by Anatolii Stepanov / AFP via Getty Images.)

President Joe Biden said Thursday the United States will send another $800 million in military aid to Ukraine, including heavy equipment like Howitzers and artillery rounds, tactical vehicles, and drones. The news follows a similar announcement from April 13, when Biden announced hundreds of U.S. Javelin missiles and armored personnel carriers—along with 11 helicopters—were heading overseas. Other Western countries have also pledged more heavy equipment, but it will take time for Ukraine to fully put it to use.

After failing to easily roll over Kyiv, Russian troops regrouped and refocused on the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting Ukraine for years. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that renewed assault began last week. 

Ukraine’s most experienced troops are already stationed in the Donbas region, but it’s unclear how many have already died in the war. Donbas is closer to Russia’s border, providing Russian forces easier access to supplies and reinforcements. Whether Ukraine can hold out in the country’s eastern flank will depend heavily on the battle of logistics, keeping food, ammunition, and other supplies flowing to its front-line troops. “If you can attack those logistics lines and nodes you can almost prevent fights from happening, which is what you want to do,” John Spencer, chair of urban warfare studies at the Modern War Institute, told The Dispatch.

Compared to the suburbs of Kyiv and Kharkiv, Donbas’ terrain is relatively open and flat, potentially exposing Ukrainian supply lines and making it harder for Ukrainian troops to ambush Russian forces. “The initial Russian invasion was executed in such a way that it exposed them to attacks from close range,” Scott Boston, senior defense analyst at the Rand Corporation, told The Dispatch. “Longer range weapons will be more valuable to Ukraine in the areas that they’re operating in now.”

Western aid is adjusting accordingly. The two most recent U.S. aid tranches include nearly 100 Howitzers and radar systems that will help Ukrainians find and destroy Russian artillery from a distance. “Artillery is still the king of battle,” Spencer said. “You could wipe entire Russian battalions off the face of the earth with that amount of firepower—it’s a game changer.”

Also in the most recent shipments: Javelin missiles, body armor, medical supplies, and several hundred armored battlefield transports to help move Ukrainian troops around Donbas. Included in Thursday’s package are 121 Phoenix Ghost Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems, a new type of drone the Pentagon said was “developed for a set of requirements that very closely match what the Ukrainians need right now in Donbas.” All told, the latest package brings the total U.S. military aid to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion to about $3.4 billion. 

The equipment needs to make it to Ukraine, and Ukrainians will need training to operate the larger Howitzers and armored personnel carriers, a process Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said last Monday will take a few days and happen somewhere outside Ukraine. “I think it’ll be days, not weeks” before the equipment is in use on the ground in Ukraine, Spencer said.

In addition to the additional security assistance—which has thus far come primarily from U.S. stockpiles—Biden also announced Thursday $500 million in economic aid for Ukraine that can be used to help stabilize its economy, rebuild communities demolished by Russian forces, and pay workers continuing to provide essential services. And he plans to ask Congress for more. 

“With this latest disbursement, I’ve almost exhausted the drawdown authority I have that Congress authorized for Ukraine in a bipartisan spending bill last month,” Biden said. “In order to sustain Ukraine for the duration of this fight, next week I’m going to be sending to Congress a supplemental budget request to keep weapons and ammunition flowing without interruption to the brave Ukrainian fighters and to continue to deliver economic assistance to the Ukrainian people.”

Some nations, worried about their own defense capabilities or about antagonizing Russia, have dragged their feet. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in particular has come under fire after a German outlet reported his government removed heavy weaponry from the list of equipment it offered Ukraine. Scholz insists Germany has simply been keeping what it needs to rebuild its own stockpiles and avoiding sending Ukraine equipment its soldiers aren’t trained to use. German sources have also pointed out that Germany gave the Czech Republic the approval it needed to transfer old German-made tanks to the Ukrainians. According to Bloomberg, Germany will also train Ukrainians on a rapid-fire artillery system recently sent by the Netherlands.

And other nations are joining the U.S. in stepping up their military aid to Ukraine, including Canada, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. “This will become an artillery conflict,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the British Parliament earlier this month. “They need support with more artillery; that is what we will be giving them.” 

Is all this equipment enough to make a real difference? Some European officials believe Russian forces will be able to capture most of Luhansk and some of Donetsk before reaching a stalemate in the next several months, and Boston cautioned that Russian President Vladimir Putin has already proved himself willing to suffer significant military losses without abandoning the campaign. “This is a system that really only answers to the whims of one person,” Boston said. “There’s no version of this where they’re like ‘this is a terrible idea; we’re just going to go home now.’”

But the surge of equipment still has some analysts feeling hopeful. Eliot Cohen of the Center for Strategic and International Studies had an optimistic take for Ukraine. “If we continue on this path, accelerating deliveries, with broader European production and contribution, in a few weeks Russia will be losing unambiguously,” he said. “Talk of stalemate [is] likely misplaced. So time to double down and aim for Ukrainian victory.”

Worth Your Time

  • Matt Sandgren, Orrin Hatch’s former chief of staff, took to The Wall Street Journal to reflect on his old boss’ legacy. “How did he transcend the traditional boundaries of right and left to become one of the most successful legislators of all time?” he writes. “When it came to legislating, Hatch was a master of the long game. While many politicians measure time in days and news cycles, he thought in years and decades. As a relatively new staffer, I coordinated with other Senate offices to pass intellectual-property legislation. But at the last minute, negotiations stalled, and our bill’s chances were shot down. Outside the Senate cloakroom, Hatch caught me looking dejected and frustrated—but didn’t let me stay that way long. ‘What’s your problem? You thought we were going to pass this legislation today?’ he asked with a smile. ‘We’ll get this thing passed, but this is only the beginning. Remember, we’re playing the long game here. This is a multi-Congress kind of bill.’ He was right. Congress enacted the bill years later. Some of Hatch’s greatest legislative accomplishments, including the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, were the culmination of many years of work.”

  • For Law & Liberty, Catherine Ruth Pakaluk writes about the eternal folly of price controls. “When prices are rising or deemed excessive, maximum prices are the main concern, and governments may try to control them through price caps, wage freezes, or rent control. This is intuitively appealing. If prices are rising, why not ‘make’ them stay put?” she writes. “The simplest answer is that we can’t: dollar prices are like the news. They tell you about something; they aren’t the thing itself. If we don’t like what we read in the news, changing the words on the page to say something better is just propaganda. And because falsified news, like a price control, isn’t truthful, it leads people to make bad decisions, damaging to them and to others. Ultimately, the only way to change news we don’t like is to get at what is causing the unpleasantness in the first place. In the case of runaway inflation, that cause is irresponsible management of the money supply.”

  • In The New York Times, Dave Philipps tells the tragic story of Air Force Capt. Kevin Larson and the PTSD experienced by American drone pilots. “​​Drone crews have launched more missiles and killed more people than nearly anyone else in the military in the past decade, but the military did not count them as combat troops,” he writes. “Because they were not deployed, they seldom got the same recovery periods or mental-health screenings as other fighters. Instead they were treated as office workers, expected to show up for endless shifts in a forever war. Under unrelenting stress, several former crew members said, people broke down. Drinking and divorce became common. Some left the operations floor in tears. Others attempted suicide.” Neal Scheuneman, a drone sensor operator who retired from the Air Force in 2019, told Philipps he had to watch a target for days, weeks, and even months. “We saw him play with his kids. We saw him interact with his family. We watched his whole life unfold,” he said. “You are remote but also very much connected. Then one day, when all parameters are met, you kill him. … People often think that this job is going to be like a video game, and I have to warn them, there is no reset button.”

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Toeing the Company Line

  • Donald Trump seems inclined to forgive Kevin McCarthy for his leaked comments last week, but will his fellow House Republicans? “It is possible McCarthy will recover without much fallout in public,” Haley writes in Friday’s Uphill (🔒). “But the House GOP is a fractious conference, and fringe members have been openly questioning whether McCarthy will be speaker for months. Above all, as you follow this, keep in mind that this is an opportunity for some members to personally gain and rise in the ranks. Some might seize it.”

  • On Friday’s Dispatch Podcast, Sarah, Jonah, David, and Declan discuss the Biden administration’s decision-making on Title 42 and the public transportation mask mandate, what GOP Govs. Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott are up to, and what Netflix and CNN+ say about the state of streaming.

  • We guarantee Jonah’s latest G-File is the only piece of writing in existence that touches on the multiverse, Star Trek, and the latest Kevin McCarthy scandal. “[McCarthy] lives in the eternal now, stringing words together like paper dolls, and is perfectly happy to put a match to them the next day, or the next moment,” he writes. “He’s all the Kevin McCarthys in the multiverse at once.”

  • Has John Adams’ fear for the United States come to pass? “The American experiment depends upon both the government upholding its obligation to preserve liberty and the American people upholding theirs to exercise that liberty towards virtuous purposes,” David writes in Sunday’s French Press. “The response to John Adams’s warning is not to arm the government with more power but to equip citizens with more virtue.”

  • On the site over the weekend, Alec made the case for movie theaters to bring back the intermission, and Samuel Abrams highlighted the importance of sharing religious stories and engaging with scripture. Today, Harvest covers Ohio’s redistricting boondoggle, Andrew Fink examines whether Russia is likely to try to capture Odesa in southern Ukraine, and Chris Stirewalt discusses the likelihood of Kevin McCarthy’s becoming House speaker if Republicans retake the House.

Let Us Know

It’s a sea of bad and less bad outcomes at this point, but what would you consider the most acceptable resolution to the Russia-Ukraine war? How likely do you think that outcome is?

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.