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The Daily 202

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

The U.S. has a big new goal in Ukraine: Weaken Russia

The Daily 202

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

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The big idea

Austin offers bullish assessment of Ukrainian military as conflict enters third month

Over the past few weeks, the United States and its allies have dramatically escalated arms shipments to Ukraine, providing artillery, armored vehicles and radar as well as training in defiance of Moscow’s warnings. On Monday, previously cautious American rhetoric caught up with that expanded flow of materiel.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, fresh from a lightning trip to Kyiv, told reporters the United States wants to see Russia “weakened” and unable to quickly recover from the shocking military losses it has suffered in two months of war.

  • We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine,” said Austin, who made the war-zone trip with Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Russia “has already lost a lot of military capability, and a lot of its troops, quite frankly. And we want to see them not have the capability to very quickly reproduce that capability,” said Austin. He did not elaborate on how the U.S. would achieve that goal.

The Pentagon chief also offered perhaps the most bullish American assessment of the Ukrainian military as the conflict entered its third month: “They can win if they have the right equipment, the right support.

Austin ends the dancing

U.S. officials have danced around the “can Ukraine win?” question for weeks. As recently as last Wednesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said she saw “a victory in terms of isolating Russia” and called the war “a strategic loss” for Moscow but did not directly answer the question.

“Strategic loss” is a phrase U.S. officials have used to refer to Russia’s failure to capture Kyiv and topple the government there, while uniting NATO as tightly as any time since the end of the Cold War, bolstering transatlantic unity, and isolating Russia from rich democracies.

Previously, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan had sidestepped the question. White House communications Kate Bedingfield had done so as well. Expectations in Washington had not, U.S. officials say privately, justified a full-throated “Ukraine can win” message.

As for Austin’s comments about weakening Moscow, they seemed to go well past the usual rhetoric about arming Ukraine with weapons to kill Russian tanks, planes, and troops — battlefield gains — and into the realm of geopolitics.

Asked on Monday whether U.S. policy was now to permanently degrade Russia’s military, Psaki said Austin was talking about preventing Russia from taking Ukraine “but yes, we are also looking to prevent them from expanding their efforts and President Putin's objectives beyond that, too.”

Will Putin expand the conflict?

While Putin appears to have recalibrated his war aims to focus on eastern Ukraine — areas where Russian forces and pro-Moscow separatists have been at war with Ukraine’s government since 2014 — much of Washington has wondered whether he might expand the conflict to non-NATO countries in the region like Moldova or Georgia.

On Monday, Putin seemed more concerned with his domestic situation in the face of punishing economic and diplomatic sanctions, accusing America and its allies of trying to “split Russian society and destroy Russia from within.” “It’s not working,” he declared.

That’s not to say the former KGB officer is not watching pronouncements like Austin’s for confirmation of his lifelong fears the U.S. is out to finish the job begun when the Soviet Union collapsed, or to push him, personally, out of power.

  • “We don’t know how the rest of this war will unfold, but we do know that a sovereign, independent Ukraine will be around a lot longer than Vladimir Putin is on the scene,” Blinken said Monday.  “Our support for Ukraine going forward will continue. It will continue until we see final success.”

After early days and weeks of caution, of providing Ukraine with antitank and anti-plane systems but avoiding the kind of involvement Biden warned might trigger World War III, the U.S. and its allies seem to have judged they have Russia on the back foot.

As I noted last week, the Biden administration seems to have shrugged off a formal diplomatic warning from Russia to stop arming Ukraine. Psaki dismissed “empty threats” from Moscow. The newly expanded flow of weapons never stopped.

And now the rhetoric has caught up.

What’s happening now

Biden issues first round of pardons

President Biden on Tuesday pardoned three people, including the first Black Secret Service agent on a presidential detail from the Kennedy era, and commutated the sentence of 75 nonviolent drug offenders amid calls from criminal justice advocates for more leniency in a system that has disproportionately harmed people of color,” Eugene Scott reports.

Fears mount inside White House that Manchin won’t agree to any deal

“Biden’s shrinking ambitions are largely the result of failed negotiations with Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), the ever-elusive 50th vote for the president’s agenda in an evenly divided chamber. White House officials are confronting the ‘real fear’ that they will fail to reach any deal with Manchin — even one that leaves out most of what Biden had initially hoped to accomplish, according to three senior administration officials and three outside advisers in communication with the White House, who all spoke on the condition of anonymity to comment on internal talks,” Jeff Stein reports.

“A year after Biden introduced his climate and social spending plans, the White House is running out of time to get Manchin onboard, with many lawmakers in Congress viewing July 4 as a crucial deadline for action.”

After hesitancy, Germany greenlights some heavy arms for Ukraine

“First, Germany said it couldn’t spare any of its Marder infantry vehicles for Ukraine,” Loveday Morris reports.

“Then it was accused of scrubbing such items from a German arms industry list of what was available for Kyiv. Berlin has since proposed sending some Marders after all but to Slovenia, so that country could in turn send its old Soviet-era tanks to Ukraine. And on Tuesday, the government said it would approve the export of German-made armored antiaircraft vehicles to Ukraine.”

U.S. general says ‘time is not on Ukraine’s side’

“Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told a gathering of military leaders from 40 NATO and non-NATO countries that Russian President Vladimir Putin ‘never imagined that the world would rally behind Ukraine so swiftly and surely’ — as the United States pledged military aid, Poland announced it would send tanks, and Germany planned to send armored antiaircraft vehicles,” Karen DeYoung, Amy Cheng, Annabelle Timsit, Ellen Francis, Bryan Pietsch and Rachel Pannett report.

More key updates:

Follow our live reporting on the war here

Lunchtime reads from The Post

A rural prosecutor pledged reform. Critics say he delivered disaster.

The turmoil in the 12th Judicial District reflects the broad reverberations of the nationwide reckoning over criminal justice and echoes the backlash against progressive prosecutors in bigger and bluer places such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, where liberal district attorneys are facing recalls amid rising crime. But while [Alonzo] Payne says he is fighting the same opposition to change as those counterparts, critics here say the problem is not his philosophical approach. It’s that he’s taken it much too far,” Karin Brulliard reports.

Putin’s alleged mistress is possible U.S. sanctions target

Alina Kabaeva, a famed Russian gymnast turned apparent romantic partner of Russian President Vladimir Putin, is a potential target for sanctions, the Biden administration said, after questions were raised this week about the lack of penalties against her,” Bryan Pietsch reports.

“Kabaeva is considered so close to Putin, the [Wall Street Journal] reported, that sanctions against her could risk further disrupting relations between Washington and Moscow. Global leaders are pushing for Russia to commit to meaningful peace talks, and Russia’s ambassador in Washington, Anatoly Antonov, said this week that the Kremlin wants to ‘stabilize’ and ‘develop’ relations with the Biden administration.”

… and beyond

Building the “Big Lie”: Inside the creation of Trump’s stolen election myth

“ProPublica has obtained a trove of internal emails and other documentation that, taken together, tell the inside story of a group of people who propagated a number of the most pervasive theories about how the election was stolen, especially that voting machines were to blame, and helped move them from the far-right fringe to the center of the Republican Party,” Doug Bock Clark, Alexandra Berzon and Kirsten Berg report for ProPublica.

“Those records, as well as interviews with key participants, show for the first time the extent to which leading advocates of the stolen-election theory touted evidence that they knew to be disproven or that had been credibly disputed or dismissed as dubious by operatives within their own camp. Some members of the coalition presented this mix of unreliable witnesses, unconfirmed rumor and suspect analyses as fact in published reports, talking points and court documents. In several cases, their assertions became the basis for Trump’s claims that the election had been rigged.”

A new pattern: “Our examination of their actions from the 2020 election to the present day reveals a pattern. Many members of the coalition would advance a theory based on evidence that was never vetted or that they’d been told was flawed; then, when the theory was debunked, they’d move on to the next alternative and then the next.”

Alleged Capitol rioters are trying to shake off codefendants they think will look worse to a jury

“These latest fights in multidefendant cases highlight the challenges that prosecutors, defense lawyers, and judges have faced from the start in figuring out what to do with thousands of people who participated in a single event but whose guilt or innocence has to be decided on a person-by-person basis. A single case featuring a constantly growing collection of hundreds or thousands of defendants — each of whom brings their own unique set of facts and evidence to the table — is a legal and logistical impossibility,” Zoe Tillman reports for BuzzFeed News.

The latest on covid

Biden administration boosts access to antivirals as covid cases rise

“The Biden administration announced plans Tuesday to nearly double the number of pharmacies that carry antiviral pills to combat covid-19 as many consumers report difficulty finding a doctor to prescribe the medication, or a pharmacy that carries it, when they get sick,” Yasmeen Abutaleb reports.

The Biden agenda

Court prepares to halt Biden plan phasing out border restrictions

“A federal judge in Louisiana said Monday that he intends to block the Biden administration’s plans to wind down the pandemic-era border restrictions known as Title 42, siding with Republican attorneys general who argued that their states are already overwhelmed by soaring numbers of migrants,” Nick Miroff, Marianna Sotomayor, Maria Sacchetti and Seung Min Kim report.

White House adviser Cedric Richmond slated to leave role next month

“White House adviser Cedric L. Richmond, one of President Biden’s closest political allies, is slated to leave his role sometime next month to become a senior adviser at the Democratic National Committee, according to a Biden administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the decision,” Amy B Wang and Tyler Pager report.

Biden weighs adding global food aid to Ukraine funding request

“The Biden administration is weighing swift action to ramp up global food assistance amid rising concern that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is stoking a hunger crisis in many poorer nations, according to people familiar with the discussions,” Bloomberg's Mike Dorning and Jennifer Jacobs report.

  • “The White House is considering attaching a global food aid request to the military aid package for Ukraine that President Joe Biden is preparing to send to Congress as a means to move the relief quickly.”

Biden just endorsed a guy who’s blocking the Dems’ agenda

“Oregon Rep. Kurt Schrader just picked up a key endorsement as he seeks to fend off a progressive primary challenger: President Joe Biden, the man whose agenda Schrader is helping to stymie in Congress,” Paul Blest reports for Vice News.

“Schrader, a conservative Democrat who’s served in Congress since 2009, has come under increasing criticism from the left over the past few years for opposing much of Biden’s legislative plans.”

Social media users, visualized

“Twitter is hardly the most successful — or even the most influential — social media platform in the marketplace. TikTok has more than 600 million monthly users and is growing exponentially as the platform chosen by young people, according to estimates from Insider Intelligence.” Our colleagues explain why Elon Musk bought it anyway.

Hot on the left

Fossil fuel allies in Congress stand with embattled Rep. Henry Cuellar

“Although the Democrats in control of Congress and the White House haven’t taken strong action to address climate change, they usually shy away from aligning themselves openly with the fossil fuel industry whose carbon emissions are the primary factor behind the crisis that threatens the future of civilization as we know it. But there is still a small contingent of the party who are proud to stand with the industry—mostly representatives from heavy fossil fuel-producing states—and right now one of their most senior members is at risk of being ousted by an environmentalist,Donald Shaw writes for the American Prospect.

Hot on the right

Newsweek says that President Biden recognized a genocide, only to allow another one to continue

“By officially acknowledging the Armenian genocide, President Biden fulfilled his campaign promise to hold Turkey responsible for its role in the mass killings of more than 1.5 million Armenians alongside Assyrians and Greeks during the last days of the Ottoman Empire,” Stephan Pechdimaldji writes for Newsweek

“While Armenian Americans welcomed this historic and long overdue statement, the spirit of its intent was short-lived as President Biden made a decision before the ink was even dry that has had widespread implications that is costing Armenian lives. He waived Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act that bans foreign aid to Azerbaijan days after recognizing the Armenian genocide, which was a harbinger of things to come.”

Today in Washington

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

In closing

Late night takes on Musk’s newest venture

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.