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Zelensky’s European Tour
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Zelensky’s European Tour

With U.S. military aid on the verge of drying up, Ukrainians look elsewhere to shore up their defenses.

Happy Thursday! Evidently scrambling for content during the ongoing writers strike, ABC has announced it will debut a version of The Bachelor featuring contestants over the age of 65: The Golden Bachelor.

Proposed tagline: It’s never too late to get dumped on national TV!

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • An estimated 109,680 Americans died from drug overdoses last year, according to a provisional count released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—the second year in a row such deaths topped 100,000 as fentanyl overdoses continue to climb. The number will likely tick down slightly in the final report as the CDC weeds out non-U.S. residents and unverified overdoses, but 2021’s tally dropped only about 2,500 from estimate to final count. 
  • Encounters between U.S. officials and migrants at the southwestern border have dropped about 56 percent since Title 42 ended last week and are now averaging about 4,400 people per day, according to Blas Nuñez-Neto, chief operating officer at U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Meanwhile, CBP officials said an eight-year-old migrant girl died in federal custody Wednesday after crossing the border with her family and experiencing a “medical emergency” inside a border patrol station in Harlingen, Texas.
  • U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Rachael Rollins leaked Department of Justice memos to boost an ally’s district attorney campaign—and lied about it to investigators—according to reports released Tuesday by the DOJ inspector general and Office of Special Counsel. Rollins—who also faced scrutiny for attending a Democratic National Committee fundraiser with Jill Biden last year—was part of a crop of progressive DAs pledging to ease some criminal enforcement before being narrowly confirmed to her latest post in 2021. She promised Tuesday—hours before the reports’ release—to resign.
  • Democrat Donna Keegan on Tuesday won the race for mayor of Jacksonville, Florida, a rare victory in the Republican-dominated state. The former news anchor narrowly defeated Republican Daniel Davis, who was endorsed by Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida Sen. Rick Scott. 
  • President Joe Biden vetoed a bipartisan resolution on Tuesday that would have restored tariffs on solar panels made by Chinese companies in Southeast Asia, suggesting that reimposing the trade barriers would have threatened the supply of solar panels. The original resolution was passed last month under the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to overturn rules made by federal agencies—in this case, the Commerce Department—with a simple majority.
  • Colin Kahl, the Department of Defense’s undersecretary for policy, plans to resign this summer and return to Stanford University after extending a two-year leave from his tenured professorship to help officials prepare for a July NATO summit. Republicans opposed Kahl’s 2021 confirmation over his involvement in the Obama administration’s Iran nuclear deal and his social media criticisms of Republican officials while working in the private sector. His replacement could be delayed by Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s hold on top Pentagon promotions over the department’s abortion policy.
  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken agreed on Tuesday to allow leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to view a partially redacted July 2021 dissent cable—written by State Department officials reportedly concerned about the impending withdrawal from Afghanistan—after Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas threatened to hold Blinken in contempt of Congress if he continued withholding access to the classified documents. 
  • A federal judge on Wednesday formally sentenced Sayfullo Saipov, an Islamic state-inspired attacker convicted in January on murder and terrorism charges, to eight consecutive life sentences and 260 additional years without the possibility of parole. Saipov drove a truck into a crowded Manhattan bike path in 2017, killing eight people in the hopes of gaining membership in the terrorist organization.
  • Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso dissolved the country’s National Assembly Wednesday to avoid an impeachment vote after lawmakers accused him of embezzlement on oil shipping contracts before he took office in 2021. Political instability has fueled a surge of Ecuadorian migrants to the U.S., and anti-government protesters have promised mass demonstrations over the legislature’s dissolution.
  • Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte on Wednesday signed a bill banning TikTok in the state. Other states have restricted TikTok on official devices amid growing concerns about the Chinese Communist Party’s power over the Chinese-owned app, but Montana is the first to pass an outright ban. The law—which will likely face legal challenges—will fine app stores offering TikTok in the state starting in January 2024.

Zelensky Takes to Europe

British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak walks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Aylesbury, England.(Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak walks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Aylesbury, England.(Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

For most of us mere mortals, a trip to Europe is a good way to drain the coffers, not fill them. Not so for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who managed to pull in several billion dollars in promises of military aid in just a short three-day tour of Italy, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom.

The trip—ahead of an expected Ukrainian offensive that will likely increase demand for weapons and ammunition—could be a sign of the shifting dynamics of aid to the war-torn country. Amid fears U.S. aid supply could falter in the coming months, Zelensky is shifting his focus toward shoring up support in Europe.

The trip kicked off Saturday in Rome, where Zelensky met with Pope Francis and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. “We’re betting on Ukraine’s victory,” the prime minister said after her 70-minute sit-down with Zelensky, promising Italy would continue to provide support for Ukraine’s fight. Meloni, who leads the right-wing Brothers of Italy party, has previously made clear she will support Ukraine because “it is right to do so in terms of national values and interest,” despite pro-Russian coalition partners and the growing ambivalence of the Italian electorate.  

After the quick stop in Rome, Zelensky arrived with a bang in Berlin: Ahead of Zelensky’s appearance, Germany announced roughly $3 billion in new security assistance for Ukraine—its largest commitment yet. The package—roughly equivalent to all of Germany’s previous military aid to Ukraine since February 2022 combined—includes 30 additional Leopard 1 tanks, 20 armored personnel carriers, more than 100 combat vehicles, a dozen Howitzer artillery weapons, 200 reconnaissance drones, and several air defense systems.

The package represents an effort by Berlin to move past its feeble early support for Ukraine’s defensive war effort. One of the European allies most economically entangled with Russia at the outset of the invasion, Germany was initially reluctant to provide lethal weapons—and that reluctance extended into this year, with Germany having to be coaxed into delivering (and allowing others to deliver) the first round of Leopard tanks to Ukraine. It seems to be on board now, though. “We all wish for a speedy end to this terrible war waged by Russia against the Ukrainian people,” German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said Saturday. “Germany will provide all the help it can—as long as it takes.”

From Aachen, Germany—where the German government gave Zelensky the prestigious Charlemagne Prize for his efforts in promoting European unity—the Ukrainian president jetted to Paris Sunday on a French government plane to meet with President Emmanuel Macron. “With each visit, Ukraine’s defense and offensive capabilities are expanding,” Zelensky tweeted Sunday. “The ties with Europe are getting stronger, and the pressure on Russia is growing.” 

Macron greeted Zelensky with a long handshake in front of the Elysée Palace—seeming to almost drag the Ukrainian leader across the courtyard—before announcing France would send “tens of armed vehicles and light tanks” to Ukraine.

If you’re sensing a theme in the proffered aid’s contents, it’s because these armored vehicles and tanks will likely be in high demand when the long-awaited Ukrainian counteroffensive begins. “You have a counteroffensive that will probably last two months,” said Mark Cancian, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who focuses on defense budgeting and procurement. “But in those two months, they’ll use a lot of ammunition. And they’ll probably lose a bunch of vehicles, so replacement vehicles might also be helpful. But these are replacements of things that they already have—and know how to use.”

The United Kingdom, however, went beyond what its neighbors across the channel had offered—in both greeting and weaponry. Before Zelensky’s visit to London, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace announced the country had provided Ukraine with long-range cruise missiles that can hit targets 150 miles away. After meeting with Zelensky, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced additional supplies of air-defense missiles and “long-range attack drones” with a reach of 120 miles. 

As help increases from (most of) Euroland, it may be about to falter in the United States. Congress last appropriated military aid to Ukraine in December’s omnibus, and if spending from that pool of money continues at its current pace, the U.S. could be scraping the bottom of the barrel as soon as July

The White House will ask lawmakers for additional funds to close out the fiscal year, but a subset of the new Republican majority has been loudly skeptical about how much aid the last Congress approved. Even House Speaker Kevin McCarthy campaigned last year on standing athwart a “blank check” for Ukraine and yelling, “Stop.” But the speaker seems to have changed his tune somewhat in recent weeks, taking a Russian state media reporter to task earlier this month for insinuating he didn’t back the Ukrainian war effort. “I vote for aid to Ukraine, I support aid to Ukraine,” he said. “I do not support what your country has done to Ukraine, I do not support your killing of the children, either.”

Even if lawmakers write checks as fast as the Biden administration can cash them, military supply chains can only move so quickly. Money Congress appropriates is often used to pay for new weaponry built specifically for the Ukrainians, but because manufacturing a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) and delivering it to Ukraine can take years, the United States is also drawing plenty of weaponry from existing Pentagon stockpiles.

As we reported last month, however, supplies of unused American ammunition, tanks, vehicles, and other weapons the Biden administration can send directly to the Ukrainian front lines under the Presidential Drawdown Authority are dwindling fast. “It looks like we’re moving towards a position where aid will be contracted [built from scratch],” Cancian told TMD, noting recent aid packages have been increasingly light on arms from the drawdown authority. Indeed, the average value of drawdowns has decreased since January of this year. To reverse that trend, Cancian said, the military would need to assume more risk: taking weapons from U.S. training facilities or units that would not be immediately sent to the front lines of any potential conflict, and then backfilling with new weapons.

The one item left on Zelensky’s wishlist after his whirlwind European tour is the U.S.-produced F-16 fighter jet. Ukraine has long asked for the NATO-standard warplanes, and its European backers seem increasingly ready to provide them. Macron said this week “the door is open” to training Ukrainian pilots on Western jets, and the British government announced back in February the U.K. planned to do just that

But any F-16 transfer would need to be approved by the Biden administration, and American officials remain reluctant: in part because they worry the jets’ hefty price tag would suck up already-depleted funds, in part because they see other Ukrainian battlefield priorities as more acute, and in part because of the fear of escalation with nuclear-armed Russia. Without U.S. sign-off, that training might have to be strictly book learnin’, with no actual planes involved. Ukrainian officials hope this week’s G7 summit in Japan will afford Washington’s European allies an opportunity to sway the administration on the F-16 issue.

Following Zelensky’s visit this week, the U.K.—backed by the Netherlands—launched an international coalition to help the Ukrainians source F-16s. The U.S. objected, but the Overton Window on appropriate weapons to send to Ukraine has crept slowly over during the course of the war—just ask the Germans. Zelensky hopes it will shift one more time. “We need additional air defense systems and missiles,” he said Tuesday to a gathering of mostly European leaders in Reykjavik, Iceland. “We also need modern fighter jets, without which no air defense system will be perfect. And I am sure we will get there.”

Worth Your Time

  • In 1968, nine men raced to circle the planet in sailboats. Only one finished—and one of the nine committed suicide. The Golden Globe Race returned in 2018, and competitors still use technology that was available in 1968, stop only four times, and are prohibited from taking on supplies mid-race. Kirsten Neuschafer just won, and tells the Washington Post about filling her days with maintenance, language study, swims—and a detour to rescue a shipwrecked competitor. “She fell into what she called her ‘routine,’ rising early to watch the sunrise and set her direction with the position of the morning sun,” writes Les Carpenter. “She walked the boat looking for signs of scuffing, she adjusted her sails, she napped in the afternoons and kept watch for cargo ships in the evenings. She never felt alone. She knew her friends were tracking her progress on the race’s website. That gave her peace.”
  • Gregory Hillis passionately opposed introducing pitch clocks to baseball on aesthetic—even religious—grounds. Now he admits in Commonweal Magazine: I was wrong. “Does it manifest the contemplative dimension and beauty of baseball if you have a pitcher wandering aimlessly around the mound between pitches, a batter stepping out repeatedly to adjust the velcro on his batting gloves, players standing in place on the field as they wait for a pitch to be thrown, and spectators staring around at everything except the field where there exists little in the way of rhythm and, because of that, little ability to see the deep patterns and rhythms of the game?” Hillis asks. The pitch clock helped restore those rhythms so they again invite fans’ attention, he argues. “For that, I am grateful.”

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Toeing the Company Line

  • In the newsletters: The Dispatch Politics team explains the abortion flashpoint building between top Republican presidential candidates, Jonah points out (🔒) that “woke” has become a synonym for “things that make us mad,” Nick wonders (🔒) if Russia’s war machine is breaking down, and Scott argues (🔒) that actually, America’s economy is still pretty dang dominant.
  • On the podcasts: Chris Stirewalt rejoins The Remnant with his signature pop culture nerdery and rank punditry to talk Durham report, Republican primaries, and what the size of Congress and The Dispatch’s profit margin have in common. On Advisory Opinions, David Lat is back at it to help Sarah catch up on the latest Supreme Court decisions, Puerto Rico’s sovereign immunity, penmanship, and more.
  • On the site: Andy Smarick puts forth practical proposals for reforming higher education, and Hussain Abdul-Hussain and Matthew Zweig of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies argue that the Arab League is making a bad bet with its readmission of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Let Us Know

Ahead of a long-awaited Ukrainian counteroffensive, do you buy the Biden administration’s argument that F-16s aren’t immediately necessary for Kyiv’s war effort? Do you expect the U.S. to relent to mounting pressure to provide the fighter planes, as it has with other advanced weapons in the past?

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.

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.