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The Daily 202

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

U.S. has no official definition of ‘victory’ in Ukraine

The Daily 202

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

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Welcome to The Daily 202! Tell your friends to sign up here. On this day in 1994, South Africa’s Parliament votes to make Nelson Mandela the country’s first Black president. He was inaugurated a day later.

The big idea

Goals? Yes. Definition of ‘success’? Not so much for U.S. in Ukraine.

President Biden has given Ukraine billions of dollars in economic aid and military assistance in its war with Russia, and an open-ended promise of more. He has also provided one unusual bequest: The power to decide what constitutes victory in a conflict reshaping the global order and Moscow’s place within it.

This creates a curious dynamic. The United States and its allies are pouring vast energy and materiel into shaping the outcome on the battlefield, while Washington insists only Ukraine (not its benefactors) will decide what will constitute success and when it has been achieved.

Who defines victory and how (and when) will have far-reaching consequences not just for continued allied support for Ukraine, especially in the event of a protracted conflict, but also for whether and when the United States and its allies consider rolling back unprecedented economic sanctions meant to cow Russia.

“We believe Ukraine should define what it considers success,” the White House said in a statement to The Daily 202 when we asked for the U.S. definition of victory.  “We are focused on giving Ukraine as strong of a hand as possible on the battlefield so it has as much leverage as possible at the negotiating table.”

How Kyiv defines success

So how does Kyiv define success? Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described it in fairly expansive terms when he spoke Sunday to leaders of the Group of Seven rich democracies Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the U.S., according to the G7.

He stated that Ukraine’s ultimate aim is to ensure full withdrawal of Russia’s military forces and equipment from the entire territory of Ukraine and to secure its ability to protect itself in the future and thanked G7 members for their support,” the leaders said in a joint statement.

That “entire territory” includes Crimea, the strategic Black Sea peninsula Russia invaded and occupied in 2014 then annexed, Zelensky told the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit last week.

On Sunday, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova, reaffirmed that point in an interview with CBS News’ Face The Nation: “Ukraine has to be whole within the internationally recognized borders.”

On Monday, at Russia’s traditional “Victory Day” celebrations marking the end of World War II, Russian President Vladimir Putin defended his expanded military action in Ukraine as “necessary, timely and the only right solution.” He announced neither an escalation nor a new willingness to find a diplomatic compromise. 

My colleagues Karen DeYoung, Dan Lamothe and Ashley Parker dug Saturday into the question of defining success and noted: “the contours of a Russian loss remain as murky as a Ukrainian victory.”

U.S. officials, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, haven’t gone that far, they noted.

  • “‘We hope that, at the end of this, that Ukraine will be a … sovereign state with a functioning government that can protect its territory,’ Austin told the Senate Appropriations Committee. Austin and other senior officials, however, have declined to specify their idea of what that government will look like, and what territory it will include.”

But, my colleagues underlined, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss seemed to line up explicitly with Zelensky.

“Britain was ‘doubling down’ on its aid to Ukraine, she said last week at the Mansion House, an annual London venue for delivery of a major foreign policy address. Calling Russian forces a ‘cancerous growth,’ she said ‘we will keep going further and faster to push Russia out of the whole of Ukraine,’ including Crimea and Donbas.”

Different definitions of success?

What if Zelensky could accept less than that kind of victory, which, after all, would require an extraordinary (and deeply unlikely) set of Russian concessions? Would a compromise lead to the end of economic and diplomatic sanctions on Russia, even though Biden has signaled it’s the end of business-as-usual with Moscow as long as Putin is in power?

It turns out, a senior administration official told reporters Sunday on the condition of anonymity, Ukraine’s support for loosening sanctions is a necessary but not sufficient factor.

  • “We would never do a deal on sanctions rollback without Ukraine at the head of the table,” the official said. “ But “if we get to the point at which this is being discussed, it really would depend on the overall shape and scope of the diplomatic agreement that's being negotiated.”

While Biden walked back his statement that Putin “cannot remain in power” and the administration has been easing off Austin’s statement the U.S. wants a “weakened” Russia to be one result of the conflict, the anonymous official suggested the Russian president’s domestic standing is in peril.

“Putin, like any autocrat, has a social contract. And he has taken away the freedom of the people of Russia in exchange for stability, and he's no longer delivering upon that,” the official said.

“And so, if thousands of body bags are coming home, if debit cards aren't working, if shelves aren't stocked the way they used to, all people can buy anymore are knock-off clothes and phones and cars, and if Russia is eventually in default and the country is bankrupt, the question we're putting to him: Is that the endgame he was really looking for?

What’s happening now

Senate Democrats tee up a doomed vote to write abortion protections into law

“Today, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) plans to take a key step to tee up a vote this week on writing abortion protections into federal law as the Supreme Court appears poised to overturn its landmark Roe v. Wade decision. The effort by Democrats seems destined to fail but will ensure the issue remains front and center again following the leak of a draft court decision that has scrambled the politics of the upcoming midterm elections,” John Wagner and Mariana Alfaro report for Post Politics Now.

Dictator’s son Marcos takes commanding lead in Philippines election

“With more than 60 percent of the vote counted, the son of former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos took a commanding lead Monday in elections with more than twice the votes of his nearest competitor. Millions of Filipinos waiting in long lines in the blazing sun on … overwhelmingly supported the family that was thrown out of power nearly 40 years ago in a popular uprising after it had plundered billions from the country,” Regine Cabato reports.

The war in Ukraine

Vladimir Putin defends invasion on Victory Day

“Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking from Moscow’s Red Square on Victory Day … did not use his speech to announce plans to intensify the war against Ukraine or order a mobilization of people to fight as Ukrainian officials had feared,” Julian Duplain, Bryan Pietsch, Jennifer Hassan and Adam Taylor report.

More key updates:

Follow our live coverage of the war here

Lunchtime reads from The Post

In Wisconsin, a complex debate on crime foreshadows a midterm fight

“Crime and racial justice were front and center in 2020, as well. But this year, public safety is part of a multifaceted Republican message that the country has fallen into chaos under Democratic rule, from soaring prices to out-of-control schools to surging immigration,” Cleve R. Wootson Jr. reports.

“Crime is a page in the playbook — it’s not a playbook by itself,” said one Republican strategist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss GOP persuasion tactics. “The argument in Wisconsin is that the status quo isn’t going so well, but it’s got to be part of a broader argument that, under Biden and [Democratic Gov. Tony] Evers, our way of life has been falling apart. You can’t pay your bills anymore. You don’t know what your kids are going to be learning in school. You don’t know if your community is going to be safe.”

DeSantis accused textbooks of ‘indoctrination.’ Here’s what he meant.

“After nearly three weeks of being pressed to explain their decisions, Florida’s education officials shared 5,895 pages of documents showing what the state’s textbook reviewers saw in the volumes that led to their rejection. The evaluations give insight into what kind of material caused a book to be flagged — and potentially rejected — but the records are not complete,” Moriah Balingit reports.

… and beyond

Draft overturning Roe v. Wade quotes infamous witch trial judge with long-discredited ideas on rape

“When U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, in a draft opinion obtained and published this week by Politico, detailed his justifications for overturning Roe v. Wade, he invoked a surprising name given the case’s subject. In writing about abortion, a matter inextricably tied to a woman’s control over her body, Alito chose to quote from Sir Matthew Hale, a 17th-century English jurist whose writings and reasonings have caused enduring damage to women for hundreds of years,” Ken Armstrong reports for ProPublica.

  • The so-called marital rape exemption — the legal notion that a married woman cannot be raped by her husband — traces to Hale. So does a long-used instruction to jurors to be skeptical of reports of rape. So, in a way, do the infamous Salem witch trials, in which women (and some men) were hanged on or near Gallows Hill.”

The Biden agenda

White House says Internet providers to discount fee for poor

“The Biden administration announced on Monday that 20 Internet companies have agreed to provide discounted service to people with low incomes, a program that could effectively make tens of millions of households eligible for free service through an already existing federal subsidy,” the Associated Press's Aamer Madhani reports.

  • “The $1 trillion infrastructure package passed by Congress last year included $14.2 billion funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides $30 monthly subsidies ($75 in tribal areas) on Internet service for millions of lower-income households.”

Reuters exclusive: Biden sidelined global energy partners with record emergency oil release

“The United States announced a record-sized release of emergency crude oil reserves in March without consulting partners in the International Energy Agency, leaving them scrambling to match with releases of their own, according to two sources familiar with the matter,” Reuters's Noah Browning and Dmitry Zhdannikov report.

Biden wants to sell infrastructure. His problem: Few buyers.

“The infrastructure bill has been Biden's biggest policy accomplishment so far, and is generally seen by voters as a positive. But while they may like the idea of new roads and bridges, it isn’t to be found on the list of top issues they say they care about most,” NBC's Shannon Pettypiece, Sahil Kapur and Scott Wong report.

Biden taps Democrats’ abortion fury as midterm wipeout looms

“White House officials are seizing the political opportunity in Democrats’ doomsday scenario, the end of nationwide abortion rights, to try to salvage a midterm election thought to be all but lost for President Joe Biden’s party,” Bloomberg's Jordan Fabian reports.

Paid family leave, visualized

“The United States in general ranks poorly on a number of measures related to maternal support and outcomes. … Paid family leave has been a fraught battle for over a century in the United States, one of the few countries in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave,” our colleagues explain what it’s like to have a baby in the states most likely to ban abortion.

Hot on the left

Democrats’ chance to save the House majority runs through these districts

“If House Democrats have any hope of saving their flimsy majority in 2022, or even just limiting GOP gains, it will be thanks to candidates like [Rudy] Salas. He is part of a group aiming to win roughly a dozen Republican-held House seats that Joe Biden carried in 2020 — perhaps the only GOP districts that are truly vulnerable this fall,” Politico's Ally Mutnick and Sarah Ferris report.

In a midterm political environment leaning so heavily against Democrats, the party will need to win a large chunk of them to have any chance of remaining in power next year. Republicans need a net gain of just five seats to take the majority, and the GOP target list includes more than 10 Democratic districts Donald Trump carried in 2020.”

Hot on the right

QAnon joins vigilantes at the southern border

“The 15 migrant children, weary and hungry, stumbled toward a gap in the rust-colored border wall that soars between Mexico and Arizona, nearing the end of their two-week trek north. Unexpectedly, a man in a cap emblazoned with a blackened American flag — traditionally, a message that ‘no quarter’ will be given to the enemy — approached them and coaxed them to his campsite,” the New York Times's Miriam Jordan reports.

“Soon, the girls and boys, who were from Guatemala, were sitting under a blue tent devouring hamburgers and sausages. Their host for the day in this remote part of the Arizona desert, Jason Frank, an enthusiastic follower of the QAnon movement, distributed ‘Let’s Go Brandon’ T-shirts featuring an image of President Biden. Giggling and confused, the children changed into the shirts and posed for a group photo. Later, they formed a prayer circle with Mr. Frank and the rest of his team before the Border Patrol showed up.”

  • “Mr. Frank and his group, guns holstered on their hips, have been camping out near Sasabe, Ariz., as a self-appointed border force with the stated aim of protecting the thousands of migrant children who have been arriving from the evils of sex trafficking — a favorite QAnon theme.”

Today in Washington

At 1:30 p.m., Biden and Vice President Harris will speak from the Rose Garden about efforts to expand high-speed Internet access and lower costs.

Biden will sign the bill creating a lend-lease program for Ukraine into law at 2:45 p.m., with Harris attending.

Biden will participate in a DNC fundraiser in Potomac, Md., at 6 p.m.

In closing

SNL’s McKinnon tries a Justice Barrett impression. Will it stick?

During "Weekend Update" on May 7, Kate McKinnon, playing Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, addressed a draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade. (Video: Justin Scuiletti/The Washington Post)

McKinnon appeared as Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, "who told co-anchor Colin Jost that she doesn’t understand why people are upset about the potential ruling. ‘Just do your nine,’ she said. She adds, ‘Give it to a stork and the stork will give it to a lesbian. I would think that lesbians would be happy because now there’s more babies for them to adopt. Until we ban that, too,’" Travis M. Andrews writes.

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.

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