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The Daily 202

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

Four big political moments from the Russia-Ukraine war

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. Olivier is off this week. Senior political reporter Aaron Blake is at the helm today.

The big idea

The sinking of the Moskva could be a defining moment in the war

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will be two months old next week. And while the ultimate outcome remains highly uncertain, the fact that it remains uncertain — that Ukraine has put up a better fight than most thought it could — is hugely significant.

Also significant is the impact of what has happened thus far on the future of world geopolitics. And that was driven home this week in multiple ways, both symbolic and practical.

Below, we recap some of the biggest and most significant political moments of the war so far.  

The sinking of the Moskva

The sinking of Russia’s top warship in the Black Sea this week is perhaps the most symbolic moment of the war so far. Ukraine and U.S. officials have said it was the result of a Ukrainian attack (Russia has offered a competing account).

That would make it the biggest Russian ship sunk by an enemy since World War II, according to the BBC — and sunk by a supposedly far-inferior military, at that. (The last similarly sized ship to have sunk was apparently the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano in 1982, by the British in the Falkland Islands War.) It’s merely the latest evidence that perhaps Russia’s military isn’t the formidable, well-oiled war machine it was assumed to be.

It also happens to have been the ship which Ukrainians on Snake Island defiantly stood up to at the start of Russia’s invasion — a moment that had already been commemorated on a Ukrainian postage stamp.

Much remains to play out, but the sinking of the Moskva has the potential to be a defining moment in the war, for both sides. In the meantime, it will undoubtedly serve as a morale-booster for Ukrainians in the midst of a long slog, as well as reassurance for western allies in their decisions about how much to support Ukraine’s cause. 

Finland and Sweden moving toward NATO

This week came confirmation that this appears to be more than speculation: Two countries which have long remained neutral and sought to maintain relations with Russia have now indicated their calculi have changed, and one or both could soon be in NATO.

Finland has leaned more in that direction, but Sweden’s leading political party seems to have opened the door as well, shedding its long-standing opposition. The potential result: the most significant expansion of NATO since 2004 — a result that’s difficult to understand as anything less than the opposite of what Russia sought with this war.

Russia has made clear Ukraine joining NATO is a nonstarter, and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky has acknowledged that’s probably off the table now. But the story of the past two months is countries that are inclined toward some version of neutrality being pushed away from Russia.

The West’s willingness to press forward with NATO expansion is now a major subplot. Russia is threatening to move nuclear weapons into the Baltic, and perceived provocation of Russia has been an issue in NATO expansions before.

Volodymyr Zelensky’s tour

Once viewed as a bit of a novelty and political dilettante, the former TV comedian was also subject of a U.S. political scandal through no fault of his own. Yet from the start of the war, nobody has earned as much worldwide goodwill.

And Zelensky has sought to spend that political capital. In mid-March, Zelensky embarked on a tour of video addresses to various western governments, using the invitations to question those countries’ leaders to their face. He directly challenged President Biden’s will to lead the world. He challenged Canada’s government, too. He even delivered a scathing speech to German leaders, suggesting they failed to live up to their post-World War II “Never Again” promises by giving Russia leverage through their energy policies.

Zelensky has been careful to emphasize he’s not ungrateful for the help he has received. But in each case, he’s delivered a concerted message to the West: If this goes badly, and you didn’t do more, you’ll be blamed. And that has certainly applied pressure.

China’s arms-length approach

Early in the invasion came a key vote of the United Nations Security Council, which considered a resolution to condemn Russia’s invasion. Russia vetoed the resolution, as expected, but China — rather than voting on the side of its sometimes ally — abstained. 

It might not have been terribly surprising, given China’s stated opposition to the use of force in international relations. But it drove home China’s uneasy balancing act and uncertainty about what lay ahead. While Europe has overwhelmingly sided with Ukraine, China’s lack of support for Russia has also been notable. There’s no evidence China has provided major assistance, though that could change if and when Russia might ultimately need it. And China has declined to help in other ways.

American leaders seem to sense that moment of truth approaching, while issuing the requisite warnings. A top State Department official last week warned of sanctions if China materially helps Russia. And this week Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen set about pressuring Beijing to use its “special relationship with Russia” to help end the war.

As far as what transpires both during and after the war, few issues loom as large as the state of Russia’s relationship with China. Russia will need it even more if the West is united against it, but it has clearly put China in a tough spot.

What’s happening now

Feinstein pushes back on lawmakers’ accounts that she is mentally unfit

“Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is pushing back on lawmakers’ accounts that her memory has deteriorated and she is mentally unfit to serve, insisting that she remains a productive senator at the age of 88,” Eugene Scott reports.

FDA authorizes the first covid-19 breath test

“The Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization to the first Covid-19 test that can detect the coronavirus in a breath sample, within a few minutes and with a high degree of accuracy, the agency said Thursday,” the New York Times's Isabella Grullón Paz reports.

China holds drills around Taiwan as U.S. lawmakers visit

“China said it conducted military drills around Taiwan on Friday as a U.S. Congressional delegation visited the island in a show of support to a fellow democracy, with Beijing blaming the lawmakers for raising tensions with their ‘provocative’ trip,” Reuters's Ben Blanchard and Yew Lun Tian report.

The war in Ukraine

Ukraine celebrates sunken Russian flagship as Moscow closes grip on Mariupol

“Russia appeared poised to capture the strategic port city of Mariupol and escalate attacks across Ukraine’s southeast after bruising setbacks, analysts said, including the sinking of the Moskva, the flagship of Moscow’s Black Sea fleet,” Andrew Jeong, Amy Cheng, Danielle Paquette, Adela Suliman and Julian Duplain report.

More key updates:

Follow our live coverage of the war here

Lunchtime reads from The Post

Unaccountable

No-knock raids have led to fatal encounters and small drug seizures

“Judges and magistrates are expected to review requests for no-knock warrants — one of the most intrusive and dangerous tactics available to law enforcement — to ensure that citizens are protected from unreasonable searches, as provided in the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution,” Nicole Dungca and Jenn Abelson report.

But judges generally rely on the word of police officers and rarely question the merits of the requests, offering little resistance when they seek authorization for no-knocks, a Washington Post investigation has found. The searches, which were meant to be used sparingly, have become commonplace for drug squads and SWAT teams.”

This story is part of our reporting for the new investigative podcast “Broken Doors” and the Unaccountable series. Listen to the podcast’s first three episodes here.

… and beyond

‘We need ammo. We need fraud examples. We need it this weekend.’

What the Meadows texts reveal about how two Trump congressional allies lobbied the White House to overturn the election

“In the weeks between the 2020 election and the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, almost 100 text messages from two staunch GOP allies of then-President Donald Trump reveal an aggressive attempt to lobby, encourage and eventually warn the White House over its efforts to overturn the election,” CNN's Ryan Nobles, Annie Grayer, Zachary Cohen and Jamie Gangel report.

“The texts, which have not been previously reported, were sent by Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and GOP Rep. Chip Roy of Texas to then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. The text exchanges show that both members of Congress initially supported legal challenges to the election but ultimately came to sour on the effort and the tactics deployed by Trump and his team.”

Twitter is weighing a poison pill defense to thwart Elon Musk’s takeover bid

“Twitter Inc.’s board is considering adopting a measure that would protect the company from hostile acquisition bids, according to people with knowledge of the matter, following billionaire Elon Musk’s unwelcome offer to take the company private,” Bloomberg News's Sarah Frier and Scott Deveau report.

The latest on covid

Covid cases in D.C. region quietly rise again, fueled by BA.2

As of Thursday morning, the seven-day average had risen in the past week by 54 percent in the District, by 43 percent in Maryland and by 27 percent in Virginia,” Julie Zauzmer Weil and Rebecca Tan report.

“Those rates, driven by the BA.2 subvariant of omicron, are far below the staggering caseloads caused by the earlier omicron variant that hit the region hard in December and January. But public health experts say they expect BA.2 to keep propelling a rise in cases.

Russia’s new focus on Ukraine’s east towns, visualized

“Just weeks into its war in Ukraine, Russia has shifted its focus to the country’s east, redeploying weapons and troops and increasing attacks on key towns and cities,” our colleagues explain on this 3D animation why Russia gave up on urban war in Kyiv and turned to big battles there.

The Biden agenda

Biden to nominate Michael Barr as Fed’s top banking cop

“President Biden will nominate Michael Barr, who played a crucial role shaping Wall Street oversight after the Great Recession, to be the Federal Reserve’s top banking cop, in a second attempt to fill the vacancy after Republicans thwarted Biden’s initial pick,” Rachel Siegel reports.

Who is Barr? Barr played a key role in creating the Dodd-Frank Act, a set of financial regulations passed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Barr also helped create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and served as the Treasury Department’s assistant secretary for financial institutions during the Obama administration.”

White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy planning to step down

“White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy is planning to step down, according to two sources familiar with the deliberations, likely ending a tenure marked by ambitious emissions targets but failure in securing major U.S. carbon-cutting legislation,” Reuters’s Jarrett Renshaw and Jeff Mason report.

“McCarthy, 67, had initially planned to remain in the White House for about a year, hoping to help federal agencies implement President Joe Biden's ambitious climate legislation, but those efforts stalled amid intraparty opposition from key Democratic senators.”

Democrats in tough races revolt over Biden administration border move

“President Biden is facing a growing mutiny from Democratic candidates — including five vulnerable senators — who are questioning his administration’s decision to lift a pandemic health order that has drastically curtailed migrants’ ability to seek asylum at the southern border,Mike DeBonis reports.

Georgia farm labor indictments raise pressure on Biden for farmworker reforms

“The blockbuster nature of the abuses uncovered in Georgia, and the level of impunity with which the violators operated for so long, have drawn renewed attention to the flaws in the federal agricultural visa program, even as demand for farmworkers has intensified amid a historically tight labor market. And it is testing President Joe Biden’s commitment to addressing those problems, one slice of an immigration agenda that has idled since his inauguration,” Politico’s Ximena Bustillo reports.

Hot on the left

There is a cancel culture, and it’s the right that’s advancing it

For the American Prospect, Eric Alterman has a burning question: “How is it possible that the words ‘cancel culture’ are among the most potent weapon of hysterical right-wing hucksterism when applied to liberals when these very Republican accusers are, far and away, its most potent purveyors." 

“This accuser-as-perpetrator phenomenon is the case with many issues, the most obvious being voter fraud. The right is far more guilty than the left of the crime of ‘cancel culture,’ and yet they have successfully crafted a narrative that makes them out to be the victims and sold that narrative to the public, via both the mainstream media as well as their own.”

Hot on the right

Ohio Republicans gang up to stop Vance endorsement

“Republican rivals to J.D. Vance have embarked on a last-ditch effort to stave off an endorsement from Donald Trump in Ohio’s Senate primary, a response prompted by swirling speculation that the former president is close to backing Vance in the contentious race,” Politico's Natalie Allison, Meridith McGraw, Alex Isenstadt and Daniel Lippman report.

“Trump has so far stayed out of the primary, even as early voting has already begun ahead of the May 3 election. But his endorsement could dramatically shift the margins in the crowded field of candidates, where no one in the five-way race has taken a commanding lead.

Today in Washington

Biden is at Camp David and has no public events scheduled.

In closing

The Washington Post’s Peeps diorama contest has returned

“The Washington Post’s annual Peeps diorama contest has a long and storied history, starting all the way back in 2007. It’s a simple concept: Make an elaborate diorama, but with Peeps,” Dave Jorgenson (The Post's TikTok guy) writes.

This year’s submissions did not disappoint. Check them out here, and keep these judging criteria in mind: Theme, originality, craftsmanship, showmanship and edibility.

This sugary take on a classic meme is one of our favorites:

A submission by Bradley Roan for the 2022 Washington Post Peeps diorama contest. (Video: The Washington Post)

Thanks for reading. See you next week.

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