Our Best Stuff From a Week of Ups and Downs
Russia loses the flagship of its Black Sea fleet, but is on the verge of taking control of Mariupol.
Hello and happy Easter. If you had said on that fateful night in February when we first heard reports of explosions around Kyiv that seven weeks later, Russian forces would not have captured Kyiv or any other major city, you’d have gotten more than a few funny looks.
The Ukrainians’ defense of their country has been heroic and their resilience in the face of atrocities remarkable, to the point that now it’s almost jarring to read reports that Russia is on the verge of taking Mariupol and in fact may have done so by the time you read this. Of course, the news out of Mariupol has been grim throughout the war, with attacks on evacuation corridors and Russian troops blocking humanitarian aid. The governor of the Donetsk oblast, Pavlo Kyrylenko, told CNN that, “The city of Mariupol has been wiped off the face of the earth by the Russian Federation, by those who will never be able to restore it.” The city’s mayor said this week that the civilian death toll could soon reach 20,000.
That stands in contrast to other developments in Ukraine. On Thursday, the Russian cruiser Moskva sank while being towed to port. While Russians claim a fire of “unknown origin” caused explosions aboard the ship, the Ukrainians have taken credit for hitting it and the Pentagon said Friday it believed that Ukraine had struck the ship with two Neptune missiles.
The sinking goes beyond being a strategic loss for Russia. It’s perhaps the biggest humiliation in a war that has been full of them: the bogged down convoy that never made it to Kyiv, the loss of seven generals to Ukrainian fire, images of Ukrainian farmers towing disabled and abandoned Russian tanks (naturally, someone has drawn a cartoon depiction of a tractor towing the Moskva along the seafloor). Not only was the Moskva the flagship of the Black Sea fleet, it featured in one of the early “feel good” stories from Ukraine’s resistance. The Moskva approached Snake Island and someone on board called for a small patrol of Ukrainian border guards to surrender. One of the guards responded, ‘’Russian warship, go [expletive deleted] yourself.” (The guards were captured and later freed in a prisoner swap.)
Whether in response to the Moskva’s sinking (which, again, the Russians are calling an accident) or in a sign that Russia’s withdrawal from the north really was to allow Russian troops to regroup, Russia has stepped up its attacks in recent days. On Saturday, Russia hit military factories in Kyiv (where Neptune missiles are produced) and Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine.
It’s very easy for those of us in the U.S. to cheer Ukraine’s successes and even enjoy the resulting memes and attempts at humor–Finnish tractors moving toward the border with Russia, jokes about how the Moskva didn’t sink but was just repurposed as a submarine, etc. Even Volodymyr Zelensky told The Atlantic that, “I think that any normal person cannot survive without [humor].”
We can celebrate the West’s unity and support of Ukraine, and admire the Ukrainian people. But we cannot ignore the lost lives, the destroyed cities, the families dealing with upheaval. We cannot assume that Ukraine will win in the end. There will be only more death and destruction if/when Russia launches an offensive in the Donbas.
In The Morning Dispatch that we sent out just hours after the invasion began, we ended by sharing a text that ABC News’ Martha Raddatz, reporting from Ukraine, said that she had received from a Pentagon official: “You are likely in the last few hours of peace on the European continent for a long time to come.”
While the worst-case scenarios have not yet been realized, neither does it look like this war will end anytime soon. It seems likely that it will get worse before it gets better.
Twitter was at the forefront of the news this week, even beyond the debate over whether it would be good or bad if Elon Musk were to buy the company and take it private. On Monday, The Atlantic published a piece by Jonathan Haidt that examined the negative impact of social media on American society over the last decade. On Tuesday, David responded to Haidt’s piece, honing in how Twitter brings out the worst in people from whom we expect better–politicians, intellectuals, and high-profile journalists in particular. He looks at how factors such as insecurity, ambition, pride, and, well, alcohol shape people’s behavior. “But there’s obvious danger in freely expressing your thoughts,” he writes. “Most of us have deep knowledge about a narrow set of topics and shallow knowledge (at best) about most everything else. Speak constantly and you will expose your ignorance. It’s guaranteed.”
As unbelievable as it seems, until recently, there had not been one overall commander in charge of Russia’s war effort. Now there is: Aleksandr Vladimirovich Dvornikov. Dvornikov is better known as the “Butcher of Syria” for overseeing Russia’s intervention in that country. He’s also been sanctioned for activities in the Donbas region of Ukraine, as he’s been commander of Russia’s Southern Military District since 2016. Andrew Fink provides crucial background on Dvornikov, and offers analysis of an article Dvornikov wrote in 2018 for a Russian military affairs journal. “Add Dvornikov’s essay to a pile of evidence that Russia’s (that is, Putin’s and his cronies’) motives in Ukraine are not mysterious or unfathomable or made from sophisticated calculations we close-minded Westerners cannot or will not understand. … It is a story we have seen many times before, especially during the 20th century: The rulers of a powerful nation are in the thrall of some ideas that are not just bad, they are garbage.”
It’s no secret that most of us here at The Dispatch place ourselves along the center-right of the political spectrum, and that we care a great deal about the well-being of the conservative movement (whatever may be going on with the Republican Party). That doesn’t mean we won’t offer some pragmatic advice to the left, however. In Friday’s G-File, Jonah makes a clarifying (and delicious) analogy that exposes a big problem for the left: sandwiches. Lots and lots of restaurants and delis serve an array of sandwiches—and profit handsomely—because people like sandwiches. Now, some places serve food that they think people should like, even if it appeals to a niche audience. Think ”emulsified quail with lobster-infused kale foam” and other delicacies of the molecular gastronomic variety. This is what the Democrats are doing right now, only with uber progressive ideas on education, climate change, and gender ideas. He encourages them to stick to the basics. Coincidentally, Chris Stirewalt touched on some of the same issues in his Monday column, in which he encouraged Democrats to stick to the basics and ignore pollsters pleading with them to go big on student debt and climate change.
It seems like Steve Bannon and freshman Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene would be birds of a feather. They are both prominent supporters of former President Donald Trump, both have perpetuated the myth that the 2020 election was stolen, and generally have a knack for saying outlandish things. And Greene has been a regular guest on Bannon’s podcast. Or at least she had been. She hasn’t appeared on the podcast since February 18. What gives? Andrew suggests that it might have something to do with MTG’s appearance at a conference put on by white nationalist Nick Fuentes later that month, and he dives into a potential rift on the far right: “Fuentes … has long been single-mindedly obsessed with proving that his groypers are the only true acolytes of the America First agenda,” he writes. “On his livestreams and Telegram channel, some of his most vicious attacks are against his competitors for MAGA media market share.”
Let’s not forget the best of the rest:
The Biden administration vowed that it would be able conduct “over-the-horizon” intelligence operations even after withdrawing from Afghanistan. How’s that working out? Not great, as Charlotte reports.
Giselle Donnelly breaks down what’s wrong with the Russian army, noting that it goes well beyond outdated equipment, undermanned and poorly trained troops, and bad leadership. But she also fears that the U.S. and its allies could fall prey to some of the same problems in failing to modernize its arsenal.
Many experts breathed a sigh of relief at the ceasefire between the Saudi-Yemen coalition and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen’s civil war. But Cliff Smith argues that anything that benefits the Islamic Republic, as the ceasefire does, will not lead to a lasting peace.
It might have made sense for the House to adopt proxy voting—wherein members needn’t be present in the chamber to cast a vote—during the pandemic. Should it be available, though, to those who would rather be out campaigning than serving? Haley weighs the question in Uphill.
On Monday, Russian pro-democracy leader Vladimir Kara-Murza gave an interview to CNN calling Putin’s regime “murderous” and predicting his downfall. Not long after, he was arrested. Ellen Bork and David J. Kramer call for the West to pressure Putin for Kara-Murza’s release.
The pods! On Good Faith, Curtis Chang and David discuss the importance of Christians defending democracy. On The Remnant, Jonah talked to Matthew Continetti about his new book, The Right: The Hundred-Year War for American Conservatism. David and Sarah dish on Elon Musk and Twitter on Advisory Opinions before interviewing Catholic University law professor Joel Alicea about originalism. And on The Dispatch Podcast, the gang chats about the latest inflation numbers and whether Sweden and Finland will join NATO.