Hello, and happy Saturday. In the first hours of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it seemed like the war might be over quickly. If Russia could take an airport and bring in troops via air rather than over the ground, how quickly would Kyiv fall?
That didn’t happen, of course, and in recent days our television screens have been full of images of Russia’s bogged down convoy to Kyiv, burned out Russian tanks, and reports—from credible sources—that as many as three Russian generals have been killed in the conflict.
But we’ve also seen heartbreaking images from a maternity hospital that was bombed by Russia, and seen countless reports that the Russian military is attacking humanitarian corridors as desperate Ukrainians seek to flee the country. I’m writing this with CNN on in the background (as much as I’d prefer to be watching college basketball) and the coverage is focusing on Russia’s increased airstrikes on Kyiv. Today, Putin threatened to attack Western shipments of weapons to Ukraine.
We’re standing on the precipice of history, and it looks like we’ll be here for a while.
One heartening takeaway has been the West’s response. The U.S. and Europe moved quickly to implement sanctions, and have followed through with other measures. Just yesterday the Biden administration announced it was revoking Russia’s “most favored nation” trading status and the EU vowed to coordinate military expenditures among member nations to, as The Guardian described it “collectively rearm and become autonomous in food, energy and military hardware.”
One depressing aspect, at least domestically, is seeing how some on the right have become only more open in their support of Vladimir Putin. North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky a “thug,” and he got some backup from a congressional candidate in Washington state claiming that Zelensky was “installed” by the U.S. and suggesting that the real problem is that Zelensky is “woke.” After briefly calling Russia’s invasion a tragedy and putting the blame on Vladimir Putin, Fox News host Tucker Carlson has returned to arguing that the U.S. provoked the attack.
I’m no foreign policy expert, and I’d prefer nothing more than to ignore the nonsense being spewed by those who side with a dangerous dictator. Fortunately, we have plenty of voices who are both qualified and willing to weigh in on this crucial moment. Just this week we had fantastic reported pieces from Harvest and Charlotte (summarized below), and new contributor Klon Kitchen analyzed how China might proceed—or not—with its own territorial ambitions in the wake of Russia’s actions. We also have outside contributors with expertise on diplomacy, economics, and military strategy. We’re proud of the work we’ve done so far, and we’re committed to doing more as long as this crisis lasts. In the meantime, we won’t be taking our eye off important stories about Congress, the 2022 midterm elections, the Iran nuclear deal, or others.
A quick programming note: There may or may not be a Dispatch Weekly next weekend. If you don’t hear from me, it means that my bracket is either in exceptionally good shape or uniquely dire straits after the first two days of March Madness. Thanks for reading.
Harvest shares the story of Father Oleh Kindiy, a Catholic priest in Lviv, Ukraine. He’s been a parish priest for 10 years. Now that war has come to Ukraine, families have come in seeking refuge, the basement is a shelter for the displaced, and prayer groups are praying round the clock. Kindiy told Harvest that the current war reminded him of stories he heard from his grandmother from Soviet times: “They carried out hope that there will be a day that we will be free. And we saw that day when Ukraine became independent,” Kindiy said. “And now as again the darkness is coming out to absorb us, we don’t give up. We have this hope and faith.” There’s much, much more in this great piece, including reporting on how Ukrainian American Christians are aiding refugees and those who have stayed in Ukraine.
The war in Ukraine officially started on February 23, but that was merely the culmination of months of buildup and years of aggression by Vladimir Putin and corresponding failures by the West to respond sufficiently. It’s hard to pinpoint a true origin point, but in a well-reported piece, Charlotte looks at everything that has happened from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the disastrous U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. She writes that it’s clear Putin wants to restore, if not the Soviet Union itself, its former sphere of influence. She points to a number telling moments: a 2007 speech in which Putin railed against NATO and the American-led world order; Barack Obama’s misguided “reset” effort with Russia; and Russia’s initial incursion into Ukraine in 2014.
Certain elements on the nationalist right have embraced power over freedom and isolationism over global engagement in recent years, and have more affinity for authoritarians like Vladimir Putin than champions of liberty like Ronald Reagan. (At least Putin’s not “woke,” right?) And then … Putin invaded Ukraine. David argues in The French Press (🔐) that Putin’s war has these wannabe authoritarians in retreat “on multiple fronts. Let’s count the ways.” He points out that “real war exposes the silly urgency of fake war,” that “liberal weakness is greatly exaggerated,” and more. “The postliberal right derives most of its energy from Twitter,” he writes. “It hectors and insults and memes day and night. Its small number of extremely energetic tweeters creates a false impression that they’re at the front edge of a much larger movement. In reality, they’re marching away from the majority, and moments like this remind us why.”
Speaking of the affinity of some on the right for Vladimir Putin, let’s talk about propaganda. … In the runup to the election, I was lucky enough to make the acquaintance of Andrew Fink, who has a Ph.D. in the history of propaganda and until recently lived in Ukraine. In February, he pitched me a story about how Russia and China were teaming up to revive a Cold War trope that the U.S. had a bioweapons program. Back then, Russia blamed the U.S. for the AIDS pandemic. This time around, it’s U.S. control over bioweapons labs in former Soviet Republics—including Ukraine. In the mad rush of news about Putin’s troop buildup, I wasn’t sure whether this was the biggest thing to focus on, but we’ve written about Russia and China’s growing alliance, and it seemed relevant and interesting, so I published it. Little did I know that just a few weeks later, that propaganda would end up being pushed not just by Russia but by the pro-Putin right—in the United States. Luckily Andrew had been preparing a followup on the bioweapons propaganda just as Donald Trump Jr. started tweeting about it. Andrew’s new piece, and our fact check on bioweapons propaganda, are valuable tools for debunking a dangerous disinformation campaign.
And the best of the rest:
In the early hours of the war in Ukraine, many wondered if China would be emboldened by Russia’s actions. As Russia’s military faced resistance on the ground from Ukrainians and economically and diplomatically from the rest of the world, it raised the question of whether China would be deterred. In The Current, Klon Kitchen analyzes the various scenarios that could play out.
Andrew checks in on the Georgia primary, where freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene faces a primary from Jennifer Strahan, a conservative Republican who is running a campaign based on competence over celebrity. Can she pull it off?
What happens when Democrat leadership drops a 2,700 page omnibus spending bill at 1:30 a.m., about 12 hours before party members are supposed to depart for a policy retreat? Nothing good … for Democrats at least. Audrey reports on the infighting that made Wednesday a chaotic day on the Hill.
For a little break from routine, check out Sarah’s latest Sweep (🔐), where she talks about how ballot measures can help change culture in ways big and small. She talks to Josh Balk of the Humane Society about how his push for cage-free hens has led to dramatic increases in Americans’ preference for eggs from hens who aren’t cooped up in cages.
Good news: Congress has rediscovered bipartisanship in its response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Less good news: Sometimes lawmakers are at odds with, or at least on different timelines from, the Biden administration, which is trying to coordinate its plans with our allies. In Uphill (🔐), Haley breaks down the efforts to ban Russian energy imports and end normal trade relations.
On the pods: Sarah and Steve have a remarkable conversation with Natalie Jaresko, who’s lived in Ukraine for 25 years and served as finance minister from 2014-2016, on The Dispatch Podcast. Please don’t miss it. On The Remnant, Jonah welcomes Kori Schake, director of foreign and defense policy at the American Enterprise Institute, for a discussion on the liberal international order and what people get wrong about Francis Fukyama’s The End of History. You might have missed that the Supreme Court handed down five opinions on Monday, but Sarah and David didn’t. Get caught up on Advisory Opinions.