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The Daily 202

A lunchtime newsletter featuring political analysis on the stories driving the day.

Give the Russia sanctions a month, Biden asks

The Daily 202

A lunchtime newsletter featuring political analysis on the stories driving the day.

Welcome to The Daily 202! Tell your friends to sign up here. On this day in 1957, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Butler v. Michigan. The Justices overturned a Michigan statute forbidding the sale of books with obscene language “tending to the corruption of the morals of youth.”

The big idea

Putin can take Ukraine but jury's still out on whether he can hold it

Moscow’s lightning war in Ukraine is barely into its second full day, and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s dark and dangerous endgame is slowly coming into focus. Could his forces still be there a month from now? President Biden suggests it’s a possibility. 

Thursday, Biden imposed what he called unprecedented economic sanctions on Russia, targeting major banks, as well as oligarchs thought to have Putin’s ear, and blocking exports to Russia that are necessary to develop high-tech sectors Putin favors, like aerospace.

Asked why he hasn’t done more, more quickly, the president told reporters: “Let's have a conversation in another month or so to see if they're working.”

  • “This is going to take time,” Biden said in the East Room of the White House. Putin “is not going to say ‘oh my God, these sanctions are coming, I'm going to stand down.’ He's going to test the resolve of the West to see if we stay together. And we will.”

Economic sanctions, even on the scale announced Thursday, are a bet that increasing pain over time will change Putin’s judgment that the war on Ukraine is worth the damage to Russia’s economy and potentially to his political standing at home. But no one — including Biden — knows how long it’ll take. 

  • The notion that this is going to last for a long time is highly unlikely, as long as we continue to stay resolved in imposing the sanctions we're going to impose on Russia,” Biden insisted Thursday.
But how long?

Definitions of “a long time” vary in Washington and besieged Kyiv.

“On the one hand, every hour and every day counts,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told Fox News last night. “On the other hand, yes, we are absolutely committed to continue fighting as long as it takes us to prevail in this struggle.”

In terms of allied cohesion, so far, so good. Biden has made compromises to keep up a united front, carving out exceptions to ensure Russian oil and gas exports reach energy-hungry Western Europe, for example, and not booting Moscow from the SWIFT network that channels international flows of money.

But images of Russian warplanes, missiles and attack helicopters screaming through Ukraine’s skies and tanks rumbling through its streets, as well as many of its people fleeing into Poland, have lent added urgency to the need to see results from the Western response.

Actions taken

Biden has wielded tools that have immediate effects. 

  • He has deployed thousands of American troops to NATO allies on Russia’s doorstep and vowed to defend “every inch” of their territory, even as he has ruled out sending U.S. forces to fight in Ukraine.
  • He’s sent the government in Kyiv millions of dollars in military hardware, including tank-killer missiles.

Deputy National Security Adviser for International Economics Daleep Singh later told reporters the Russian economy is already paying a stiff price for its attack in the form of sunken stock prices, higher inflation, a sharp drop in the ruble, and higher borrowing costs for its government.

Over time, Singh said: “You’ll see record capital outflows. You’ll see a weaker currency. You’ll see higher inflation. You’ll see lower purchasing power. You’ll see lower investment.”

“It’s going to be up to President Putin to decide, ultimately, how much cost he’s willing to bear.”

And for what gain. By attacking Ukraine from three sides, shelling Kyiv and seizing a nearby airport, Putin has answered the question of whether he’d be content to send Russian troops only into two pro-Moscow separatist enclaves in the eastern part of the country, or would try to topple the government. It's the latter.

Mind of Putin

He can take Ukraine, many experts say. But does he want to? And can he hold it?

“Russia has the military ability to take Ukraine [but then] the problem is now it has to govern it, now it has to stay there,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told CNN Wednesday. Putin “may very well occupy large portions of the country, but he’s not going to pacify it.” Rubio is vice-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

My colleagues Robyn Dixon and Paul Sonne Thursday gamed out Putin’s ambitions: “He has multiple goals in his sights: not just toppling Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky, but also securing Ukraine’s capitulation to become a modern version of a Soviet-style satellite state, such as neighboring Belarus.”

“More broadly, he remains determined to reshape European security to suit Moscow and put NATO forces on the back foot through his display of military force against Ukraine. Russia’s military assault has communicated to Ukrainians that their choice isn’t between Russia and NATO — but between Russia and destruction.”

“On a global level, Putin seeks to communicate to U.S. partners that Washington will go only so far in backing them against existential threats.”

And that, of course, is Biden’s test.

What's happening now

Biden will nominate Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court

Jackson, 51, would be the third African American in the high court’s 233-year history: “A former public defender, she served as a trial court judge in Washington for eight years before Biden elevated her last year to the influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit,” Tyler Pager, Sean Sullivan and Seung Min Kim report.

More on Ketanji Brown Jackson. Some key outtakes:

  • She has won the support of some Republicans in the past: Three Senate Republicans voted to confirm her to the seat she has now on the D.C. circuit court.”
  • While Republicans have been largely quiet on what they think of Jackson, Democrats seem united behind her. And if all 50 Senate Democrats support her, she won't need any Republican votes to be confirmed.
  • Making history in multiple ways: Jackson would also be the first public defender on the modern court. 

Follow along here for live updates on the announcement

Pentagon: Russian offensive on Ukraine has lost momentum

“The Russian military has lost momentum in its offensive on Ukraine, a senior U.S. defense official said Friday, cautioning that could change in coming days,” Daniel Lamothe reports. Though outgunned, Ukrainian forces are putting up a fight, and Russia is struggling to move on Kyiv.

They have not achieved the progress that we believe they thought they would,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the Pentagon.

More key updates on the Russia-Ukraine situation:

  • The European Union was planning Friday to freeze the assets of Putin and his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, according to people familiar with the talks.
  • Ukrainian border guards have stopped all male citizens between 18 and 60 from leaving the country.
  • The Kremlin said it's ready to talk to Ukraine — on its terms. Russian officials made it clear that Russia is still expecting Ukraine’s “denazification and demilitarization,” meaning Kyiv’s capitulation.

Russia-Ukraine live updates are available here

Johnson & Johnson, distributors finalize $26B opioid settlement

The landmark announcement “clears the way for $26 billion to flow to nearly every state and local government in the U.S.,” the Associated Press’s Geoff Mulvihill reports.

Taken together, the settlements are the largest to date among the many opioid-related cases that have been playing out across the country. They’re expected to provide a significant boost to efforts aimed at reversing the crisis in places that have been devastated by it, including many parts of rural America.”

Lunchtime reads from The Post

There's also a crypto war

People are raising cryptocurrency donations to support to Ukrainian army. Russia could use crypto to circumvent the effects of sanctions. This is a war unlike anything we’ve seen.

Why it matters: “As Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces mount an invasion against Ukraine, two economies that have led the way in embracing the new form of digital money are each turning to it to gain an edge in the geopolitical showdown. The first major conflict of the crypto era also means that, for the first time ever, a tool that can move billions of dollars easily across borders is available to be marshaled by both sides,” Steven Zeitchik and Tory Newmyer report.

After decades of lobbying, the House might have the votes to pass a bill to examine reparations

The bill, which would create a commission to study reparations for Black Americans, was first introduced more than three decades ago. The legislation’s champions say it now has the votes to pass, Emmanuel Felton reports.

… and beyond

U.S. officials implored China to help avert war in Ukraine. Xi did not step in.

Over three months, Chinese officials repeatedly told the Biden administration that they didn’t expect Russia to invade Ukraine. China’s current alignment with Russia has become a source of alarm for American and European officials, especially as the Ukraine crisis has intensified. 

Beijing passed intel to Moscow: “After one diplomatic exchange in December, U.S. officials got intelligence showing Beijing had shared the information with Moscow, telling the Russians that the United States was trying to sow discord — and that China would not try to impede Russian plans and actions, the officials said,” the New York Times’s Edward Wong reports.

What Putin really wants

Does the Russian president want a war? What’s the goal? How far will this go? Politico Magazine reached out to several Russia experts to see what they thought.

“The good news is that most of them saw limits to Putin’s goals. The bad news: Those limits lie far outside the boundaries of the global order we’ve come to rely on.”

Some of their answers:

  • “Recreating the Russian Empire with himself as tsar”
  • “To relitigate the end of the Cold War”
  • “Nothing short of a revanchist imperialist remaking of the globe”
  • “To subjugate Ukraine, tearing down its statehood”

The Biden agenda

Biden’s administration is debating the legality of arming the Ukrainian resistance

While the United States wants to help prevent the fall of the Ukrainian government, there’s little consensus about whether transporting weapons into the nation would escalate the conflict.

The holdup: Some officials worry that arming Ukrainian resistance could “make the United States legally a co-combatant to a wider war with Russia and escalate tensions between the two nuclear powers,” Foreign Policy’s Jack Detsch reports.

Biden should be prepared for this crisis. But times have changed.

“This is the moment President Biden has always said he’d be ready to face,” Matt Viser writes. He chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and was President Barack Obama’s point man on Ukraine. But as president, Biden is now facing the limits of his power.

“What hampers him is not his lack of expertise,” said Brian Katulis, the vice president for policy at the Middle East Institute. “He’s leading a country that for years in essence has tried to wish away the brutality of Vladimir Putin.”

Stock market rebounds as Biden promises new sanctions

The Dow Jones industrial average slumped at the open on Thursday, but the Dow and other benchmarks “climbed as Mr. Biden outlined the economic repercussions of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including on banks and wealthy individuals” in a Thursday afternoon news conference, the Wall Street Journal’s Michael Wursthorn reports.

The Russia-Ukraine conflict, visualized

“The crisis is one involving land borders and strategic influence. Moscow sees Ukraine as an important buffer against NATO. Ukraine sees Russia as an aggressor that has already occupied parts of Ukrainian territory,” our colleagues Laris Karklis and Ruby Mellen report. Here’s 4 maps that explain the conflict.

Hot on the left

Clinton and Schwerin: Republicans are helping Putin and Xi

For the Atlantic, Hillary Clinton and Dan Schwerin, co-founder of Evergreen Strategy Group, argue that a radicalized Republican party is crippling democracy not just at home, but around the world.

Democracy’s role: “Deterring Russia and competing with China are different challenges, and each requires its own strategy, but strengthening American democracy is crucial to both missions. Putin and Xi understand that the promise of democracy—freedom, rule of law, human rights, self-determination—remains powerful enough to capture the imaginations of people everywhere and poses a threat to their regimes’ global ambitions as well as their grip on power at home.” 

Hot on the right

How the GOP’s stance on Putin has shifted

Then: The Soviet Union — and then Russia — used to be everything the Republican Party stood against. It was “America's chief enemy, untrustworthy, anti-freedom. It was, in Reagan’s famous formulation, the ‘evil empire,’” Marc Fisher explains.

Now: But in the post-Trump era, GOP sentiment on Putin and Russia has splintered. The former president called the Russian president “savvy” just this week. And while most elected Republicans don't seem on board with the Putin praise, a vocal minority are.

What's driving the change? “With his ‘America First’ rhetoric and his policies of stepping back from NATO and other U.S. alliances with Western democracies, Trump tapped into a long-standing American discomfort with getting involved in other countries’ troubles,” Fisher writes.


CDC expected to ease indoor mask guidelines Friday

“Under the new guidelines, the vast majority of Americans will no longer live in areas where indoor masking in public is recommended, based on current data,” the AP's Zeke Miller reports.

Today in Washington

The president doesn’t have any public events scheduled for the afternoon.

In closing

You can track the Ukraine invasion on … Google Maps?

Traffic or troops: Jeffrey Lewis, a professor specializing in arms control and nonproliferation at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, Calif., was monitoring Google Maps as part of a research project. But then he realized that what he was seeing in Belgorod, Russia, wasn't a traffic jam — he was watching the Ukraine invasion unfold.

“By combining Google Maps traffic information with a radar image that showed troops, Lewis and his team realized an invasion was underway hours before the news became public,” Rachel Lerman reports.

Thanks for reading. See you next week.