Our Best Stuff on Ukraine, China, and Crazy D.C. Gossip
Plus, we start the new week with grim news out of Ukraine.
Hello and happy Sunday. A bad back and sitting through a long baseball game in the cold kept me from sending this yesterday. After last night’s epic Final Four game between North Carolina and Duke, I thought I might subject you to another week of my musings on the beauty of college basketball. But we woke up today to reports of horrific atrocities in Bucha, a town near Kyiv that Russians attacked for weeks and that Ukraine says it has now recaptured. Photos and video have emerged of dead civilians lying in the streets. (You can Google if you’re curious.) Ukrainian officials are reporting the existence of mass graves and calling for the International Criminal Court to investigate. It doesn’t feel like a moment for frivolity.
I remember the fear I felt when news broke that Russia had invaded Ukraine late in the evening on February 24. Would Russia steamroll Ukraine in mere days? What would happen to its government, its people? What would be Vladimir Putin’s next move? In the five weeks since, Ukraine’s resistance and the West’s unified response made those early concerns seem silly. The resolve of President Volodymyr Zelensky and the battlefield successes of Ukrainian forces have created a sense of almost giddy optimism. Russia announced it was scaling back its operations, attempting to save face by saying its efforts all this time have really been about preserving its control over the Donbas region.
Whether Russia is actually retreating or making an attempt to regroup in preparation for new attacks, we can’t know. But that retreat is exposing the horrors of war that we’ve managed to avoid seeing thus far. Our social media feeds have been full of images of burned out Russian tanks and bogged down convoys. Now we have to contend with something far more gruesome.
Of course we have all seen the damage done by Russia’s attacks on Ukraine–battle-scarred buildings with fire damage and blown out windows. Unexploded shells resting on playgrounds. Those are tough enough to look at, but it’s easy to become desensitized to those images. As formidable a challenge as it presents, structures can be rebuilt. Lives cannot.
Russia, unsurprisingly, is claiming the reports are fake and has accused Ukraine of shelling its own people. But in one way, these images serve a purpose of sorts for Russia. They present a whole new challenge for the international community. Zelensky has described what happened in Bucha as genocide. There will be calls for the West to escalate its involvement. Leaders will be challenged to do something more than another round of sanctions. But escalation can, of course, play into Russian hands.
We’ve sought throughout this crisis to bring you sober analysis of the events in Ukraine, to look at the challenge from various angles and provide solid reporting. We will do the same in the weeks ahead as we try to contend with these new developments. Thanks for reading.
Ukraine hit Russia last week in a way that was strategically important, but also near and dear to Vladimir Putin—on the intelligence front. Ukraine “released the names, phone numbers, and passports of Russian spies operating in Europe on behalf of Putin’s former employer, the FSB.” As a result, countries including Belgium, Ireland, and the Netherlands expelled dozens of diplomatic officials for espionage. Charlotte writes about all the ways that Putin has increased Russia’s espionage efforts during his time in power: “Sleeper agents, cyber breaches, traditional and social media disinformation operations, and support for pro-Russian movements are among the many tools with which Moscow tries to covertly shape the continent’s geopolitical landscape to its desired form. And in the weeks since the Russian military launched a multifront invasion of Ukraine, those efforts have only intensified.”
Jonah starts his Wednesday G-File with a monologue about unenumerated rules, which “materialize from the ether of our consciousness only when specific circumstances emerge that allow us to inductively draft them on the fly.” He does so to tell us that one of his own such rules is, “Don’t take Madison Cawthorn seriously.” Cawthorn, a freshman House member from North Carolina, claimed last week on a podcast that he’d been invited to orgies and had seen people using cocaine. Jonah is skeptical—“In a town full of people who can’t keep secrets, the idea that a bunch of prominent old dudes are casually inviting 25-year-old congressmen to orgies is so unlikely in so many ways it’s like one of those ‘What’s wrong with this picture?’ games”—but then remembers Roger Stone. Stone was a Trump campaign adviser who was convicted on charges of obstruction and making false statements as part of the Mueller investigation (Trump later commuted his sentence.) Stone is also, Jonah notes, an avowed swinger and sexual adventurer.” He goes on: “If Cawthorn is being invited to orgies and watching social conservatives snort coke, it’s almost surely because the first term congressman has fallen in with the sybaritic and crapulent grifters who peddle the same kind of garbage Cawthorn does.”
Are you on TikTok? Are your kids? As I said on Twitter, I’m not: I’m old and I can’t dance. In The Current, Klon Kitchen explains why you probably shouldn’t be. The Chinese use the app to collect immense amounts of data on its users. “Imagine waking up to a news story reporting China has secretly deployed 100 million sensors around the United States and has been clandestinely collecting our personal contacts, photos, GPS locations, online purchasing and viewing habits, and even our keyboard swipes and patterns.” That pretty much describes what it’s doing with TikTok. He writes about how China collects and utilizes such data against its own citizens. He suggests ways that individuals, the government, and corporations can work together to ward off cybersecurity challenges.
And now for the best of the rest.
Chris Stirewalt wonders why we keep nominating such unpopular people to run for president. He looks at the current approval/disapproval ratings of both Joe Biden and Donald Trump and warns that if they are the nominees in 2024, things could get ugly.
Andrew reports from a Donald Trump rally on behalf of David Perdue, the GOP challenger to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. Trump called Kemp “a turncoat. He’s a coward and he’s a complete and total disaster” and continued his false claims that the 2020 election was stolen.
The Biden administration released its 2023 budget this week, and Brian Riedl noticed something was missing: the cost of the Build Back Better Act that the White House still hopes to get passed in the Senate.
Audrey reports from the House GOP retreat, where lawmakers worked on finalizing a “Commitment to America” strategy. If that reminds you of 1994’s “Contract With America,” well, it’s supposed to.
President Biden stunned the world when he ended his speech in Poland last weekend by saying ““For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power” in reference to Vladimir Putin, and the White House immediately walked back the comments. Gary Schmitt argues that we can’t pretend that what Biden says wasn’t true.
On the pods: Jonah welcomes Adam White, constitutional lawyer and AEI fellow, to discuss the Ketanji Brown Jackson confirmation hearings on The Remnant. On Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah dive into whether Donald Trump committed a crime in demanding that Mike Pence heed John Eastman’s advice on how to overturn the election. David and co-host Curtis Chang try to define the concept of fundamentalism in their latest Good Faith episode. And on The Dispatch Podcast, the gang tackles a handful of subjects, from Biden releasing oil from our strategic reserves, to the big Oscar slap to Madison Cawthorn’s salacious accusations.