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The Daily 202

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

So you say you want a no-fly zone over Ukraine

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 2012, President Barack Obama declared it was time for America to wean itself from oil — “the fuel of the past” — and embrace an “all-of-the-above strategy” to meet its energy needs.

The big idea

A Ukrainian “no-fly zone” poses a unique risk of escalation

On Feb. 28, 1994 — 45 years after its founding to contain the USSR — NATO fired its first shots in combat, as two American F-16s downed four Bosnian Serb warplanes that had violated a U.N.-imposed “no-fly zone” over Bosnia.

The clash over Banja Luka surely looms large in the minds of Western decision-makers as they consider repeated, passionate entreaties from Ukraine for NATO to “close the sky” to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military as it pummels cities and kills civilians for a second week.

Why? Because a no-fly zone over Ukraine could force the U.S. or other NATO members into direct combat with Russia — something they’re trying to avoid.

  • “For everything we’re doing for Ukraine, the president also has a responsibility to not get us into a direct conflict, a direct war with Russia, a nuclear power, and risk a war that expands even beyond Ukraine to Europe,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday.
  • “That’s clearly not our interest. What we’re trying to do is end this war in Ukraine, not start a larger one,” Blinken told NBC’s Meet The Press.
No-fly zone

The principal argument in Washington and at NATO headquarters against imposing a “no-fly zone” is that it would require the alliance to enforce it, raising the very clear prospects of a direct military confrontation with Russian forces, with unpredictable results.

A “no-fly zone” is generally understood to be a defined geographic area, over which certain aircraft are forbidden to fly. It doesn’t have to be over an entire country. But it does need to be backed up with the use of military force — and that can mean shooting down any violators and potentially targeting their home bases, as well as any air defenses supporting them.

That’s why a Ukrainian “no-fly zone” poses a unique risk of escalation. It could lead to NATO pilots killing Russian pilots directly (as opposed to Ukrainians killing Russians with U.S.-provided weapons), or the reverse. And it raises the prospects of alliance warplanes flying out of, say, Poland to destroy bases and air defense systems in Russia or its ally Belarus.

It also bears noting that the Ukrainian request is much broader than a traditional “no-fly zone” and includes creating a space where Russian missiles and artillery can’t reach.

“Close the sky over Ukraine! Close it for all Russian missiles, Russian combat aircraft, for all these terrorists, make a humanitarian air zone, without rockets, with air bombs,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky pleaded Sunday on Twitter. He made the same case Saturday to U.S. lawmakers.

The debate

Supporters of the request say Russia’s war on Ukraine, and particularly attacks on civilians, are intolerable and the risks of escalation are worth it.

Retired U.S. Air Force general Philip Breedlove, a past NATO supreme commander who supports imposing what he calls “a humanitarian no-fly zone” over Ukraine, acknowledged last week in an interview with NPR it would be “a big step.”

“A no-fly zone, if it is truly a military no-fly zone, is essentially an act of war,” he said. “If there are defense systems in the enemy’s territory that can fire into the no-fly zone, then we normally take those systems out, which would mean bombing into enemy territory.”

President Biden has repeatedly ruled out sending U.S. forces into direct combat with Russia over Ukraine.

Putin has been playing to the concerns of U.S. and NATO officials. This weekend, he warned he would consider it “participation in the armed conflict” if any countries set up or enforce a “no-fly zone.” He did so after putting his nuclear deterrent forces on high alert. No, it’s not a foregone conclusion that a direct NATO-Russia clash would spiral out of control and into nuclear conflict. But it’s a worry.

Looking back

Past “no-fly” zones weren’t as fraught for the United States.

U.S. warplanes enforcing a United National Security Council-endorsed “no-fly zone” over Iraq, imposed after the end of the Gulf War in 1991, regularly destroyed that country’s air defense facilities, but there was never a concern of a wider conflict with a nuclear power.

While Banja Luka made clear that fears of a direct confrontation weren’t imaginary, superior U.S. warplanes never lost the advantage in Bosnia. The United Nations had blessed that “no-fly zone” as well.

The United Nations Security Council decreed a “no-fly zone” over Libya in 2011 (Russia abstained). What began as an effort to protect opposition to Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi ultimately morphed into a NATO-led air campaign in support of rebel ground forces that ultimately toppled and killed him.

(My colleagues Shane Harris, John Hudson, Missy Ryan and Souad Mekhennet reported a week ago that Gaddafi’s fate resonates personally with Putin.)

Worries about direct conflict with Russia were one reason President Barack Obama did not try to impose a “no-fly zone” over Syria, where regime forces and Russian planes pounded rebel-held areas, killing vast numbers of civilians.

What you think of the results there probably informs how you think of responding to Russia in Ukraine.

What's happening now

Ukraine calls Moscow’s proposed evacuation routes to Russia and Belarus ‘unacceptable’

The nation has insisted that “civilians fleeing battle zones should be allowed to reach western Ukraine or European Union countries,” Karla Adam, Rachel Pannett and Annabelle Timsit report.

Key updates:

Live updates on the Russian invasion of Ukraine are available here

Blinken: NATO is considering more permanent troops in Baltics

This is “the clearest sign Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is causing Washington and the alliance to rethink their plans to base troops in Eastern Europe,” the Wall Street Journal’s William Mauldin and Sune Engel Rasmussen report.

Congress eyes aid to Ukraine, punishment against Russia as funding deadline looms

“Congressional lawmakers are redoubling their push to provide fresh aid to Ukraine and levy further financial penalties against Russia, even as they begin to warn about the potential price shocks in gasoline and other goods that might affect Americans at home,” Tony Romm reports.

  • Days until government could run out of money: Five
  • National average price per gallon of gas: More than $4
  • Proposed humanitarian, military and economic assistance for Ukraine: $10 billion
  • Proposed covid response funds: $22 billion

A high-powered group is trying to disbar more than 100 lawyers who worked on Trump’s post-election lawsuits

“The 65 Project [(a dark money group with ties to Democratic Party heavyweights)] plans to begin filing complaints this week and will air ads in battleground states. It hopes to deter right-wing legal talent from signing on to any future GOP efforts to overturn elections,” Axios’s Lachlan Markay and Jonathan Swan report.

Supreme Court declines to revive Bill Cosby prosecution

“The Supreme Court left in place Monday an opinion by Pennsylvania’s highest court that overturned comedian Bill Cosby’s sexual assault conviction, rejecting a bid from Pennsylvania prosecutors to review the decision,” CNN’s Ariane de Vogue reports.

Lunchtime reads from The Post

Russian oligarchs have donated millions to U.S. charities, museums and universities

Several of the donors are the targets of Western sanctions, according to an analysis by anti-corruption researchers, Peter Whoriskey reports.

Among the oligarchs named in the analysis:

  • Viktor Vekselberg, an energy tycoon aligned with the Kremlin
  • Mikhail Fridman and Pyotr Aven, billionaires recently sanctioned by the European Union
  • Vladimir Potanin, one of Russia’s richest men
  • Leonid Mikhelson, whose gas company was sanctioned by U.S. officials in 2014 in response to Russia’s “continued attempts to destabilize eastern Ukraine and its ongoing occupation of Crimea.” 
  • Dmitry Rybolovlev, a Russian billionaire named under a 2017 law requiring the Treasury Department to list oligarchs and political figures close to the Russian government

Some notable beneficiaries: New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Mayo Clinic, the Guggenheim Museum

What it means: “The findings are likely to amplify demands that U.S. cultural organizations disavow donors believed to have profited from the Putin regime.”

… and beyond

Why did Mark Meadows register to vote at an address where he did not reside?

About three weeks before North Carolina’s voter-registration deadline for the general election, Mark Meadows filed his paperwork. “On a line that asked for his residential address … Meadows wrote down the address of a fourteen-by-sixty-two-foot mobile home in Scaly Mountain,” Charles Bethea reports for the New Yorker. “Meadows does not own this property and never has. It is not clear that he has ever spent a single night there.”

So what’s going on? One possibility: “At the time, there was speculation that he might run for the Senate seat that the North Carolina Republican Richard Burr will vacate later this year; it may have struck him as important, politically, to keep voting in the state.”

Sanctions against Russia are having never-before-seen effects on K Street

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has done something previous tensions between Moscow and Washington could not: convince American lobbyists to turn down money from Kremlin allies,” Politico’s Hailey Fuchs reports.

“For good government advocates, it represents a potentially watershed moment on K Street, while posing a number of key questions: Why did it take sanctions to make the firms drop their clients and, if the administration lifts those sanctions, how long will it be before K Street jumps back in the game?

The latest on covid

Pandemic death toll nears 6 million

“The official global death toll from COVID-19 is on the verge of eclipsing 6 million — underscoring that the pandemic, now entering its third year, is far from over,” the Associated Press's David Rising reports.

The Biden agenda

Experts call on White House to go further on new pandemic response

A team of former Biden covid advisers and dozens of other outside experts on Monday issued more than 250 discrete recommendations of additional steps they say the White House must take to combat the coronavirus and reduce the risk of other infectious diseases, Dan Diamond reports.

The recommendations include:

  • Vaccinate 85 percent of Americans against the coronavirus.
  • Ensure that people experiencing long covid can get disability benefits.
  • Develop a plan to restore trust in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Biden administration moves to cut smog-forming pollution from heavy trucks

“The Environmental Protection Agency proposed a new rule to cut the emission of nitrogen oxides — poisonous and reactive gases that can cause asthma attacks — from engines in some of the biggest vehicles on roadways,” Dino Grandoni reports.

Biden advisers are weighing a Saudi Arabia trip for more oil

The possibility shows how the Russian invasion of Ukraine has scrambled nations' priorities, Axios's Hans Nichols reports.

“A hat-in-hand trip would illustrate the gravity of the global energy crisis driven by Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Biden has chastised Saudi Arabia, and the CIA believes its de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was involved in the dismemberment of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.”

Biden’s appointees are split on key cybersecurity bill

“President Joe Biden’s top national security officials are publicly split over legislation that would require critical infrastructure companies to report hacks to the government, in a remarkable display of disharmony over a bill with bipartisan support and industry backing,” Politico's Eric Geller reports.

  • DHS’ Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Jen Easterly: “Praised the reporting mandate as a critical tool for enhancing the nation’s cyber defenses”
  • Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco: “Said the legislation would make the country ‘less safe’”
  • FBI Director Christopher Wray: Said the legislation had “serious flaws”
  • The White House: Said it supports the bill

Ruble sanctions, visualized

“The value of the ruble plummeted to less than 1 U.S. cent last week after a new round of Western sanctions were enacted on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine,” our colleagues Alyssa Fowers and Kate Rabinowitz report.

Hot on the left

What Joe Manchin wants (this time)

“It is with great regret that I have to once again discuss Joe Manchin’s thoughts on the Biden agenda,” writes David Dayen, executive editor of the American Prospect.

Dayen calls Manchin’s new set of conditions “as tantalizing as they are frustrating.” 

  • The new goal: Manchin “wants to start by building a revenue package out of tax reform and savings from cheaper prescription drugs.”
  • The catch: “Taxes and prescription drugs happen to be the two areas where Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), who has been the quieter block on a Build Back Better deal all along, has been resistant to anything far-reaching.”
  • A prediction: “I suspect the more likely scenario is a bill with nothing more than energy on the spending side, with everything else raised in revenue going to deficit reduction.”

Hot on the right

The fateful alliance of Alex Jones and Donald Trump

Congressional investigators are still chasing down details on just how involved Infowars’s Alex Jones was in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. But Jones's legacy and entwinement with former president Donald Trump stretches back much further, the New York Times's Elizabeth Williamson reports.

Jones’s legacy: “Whatever the outcome of the Jan. 6 investigation, Mr. Jones’s journey from Sandy Hook to the assault on the Capitol is a reflection of how conspiracy theories in the United States have metastasized and corroded public discourse in the digital age … After Mr. Trump appeared live in an interview on Infowars’ website in December 2015, Mr. Jones traveled from the fringes to become part of a newly radicalized Republican Party.”

Today in Washington

The president does not have any public events scheduled for this afternoon.

In closing

On SNL: The “Fox News Ukrainian Invasion Celebration Spectacular,” live from Mar-a-Lago

The cold open for “Saturday Night Live” on March 5 poked fun at the relatively anti-Ukraine stance the network took before Russia’s February invasion. (Video: Joshua Carroll/The Washington Post)

ICYMI, Saturday Night Live premiered a mock “telethon designed to raise money for suffering oligarchs, hosted by Alex Moffat as Tucker Carlson ('I’m like if a pair of boat shoes came to life') and Kate McKinnon as Laura Ingraham ('When I read Harry Potter, I root for Voldemort'),” Travis M. Andrews reports.

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.