It’s Monday, February 28th, and this is your Morning Wire. Listen to the full podcast:
1) The Latest From Ukraine
The Topline: As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continued over the weekend, concerns grew that Russian President Vladimir Putin was becoming increasingly erratic in response to unexpectedly strong Ukrainian resistance. On Sunday, Ukraine and Russia agreed to talks “without preconditions,” while at the same time Putin escalated nuclear threats.
Quote Of The Day: “He was always calculating and cold. But this is different. He seems erratic. There is an ever-deepening, delusional rendering of history. It was always a kind of victimology about what had happened to them, but now it goes back to blaming Lenin for the foundation of Kyiv in…Ukraine.”
– Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
Russian forces continued to assault key Ukrainian cities over the weekend, but were met with far more resistance than originally expected.
While tens of thousands of Ukrainian women and children have fled to mostly urban areas, all male citizens between the ages of 18 and 60 were not allowed to leave the country. Countless Ukrainians have joined the fight, many of them with weapons given to them by the Ukrainian government.
Other citizens were instructed to help with other forms of defense, such as making Molotov cocktails to use on incoming Russian forces.
The Ukrainian strategy appears to have been far more successful than Putin predicted. By Sunday, Russian forces had still not managed to breach the center of Kyiv, the capital city, even though they arrived on the outskirts on Friday.
Russian forces have made major inroads in the areas of Ukraine they first invaded. In the north, they flooded from the Belarus border to the outskirts of Kyiv. In the north east, they’ve moved inland from the Russian border and are on the edge of another major city, Kharkiv. Based on current information, Russians have entered that city. They’ve made progress in the eastern areas of Ukraine already under the control of Russian-backed separatists, and also in the south from the Russian annexed Crimea.
There has been a mixture of strategies by the Russians. Tanks have been seen moving quickly through the country, but have faced stronger resistance, especially given that Ukrainian forces are now armed with anti-tank weaponry.
On Saturday, it was reported that the U.S. offered to evacuate Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, but he turned them down, choosing to stay in Kyiv, even while surrounded by Russian forces.
“The fight is here. I need ammunition, not a ride,” he said.
News coming out of Ukraine is replete with acts of heroism, whether it be reports of a Ukrainian marine giving his life to destroy a bridge to stop a Russian advance, or a civilian standing in front of an advancing Russian tank column.
According to an EU official, Putin is furious the invasion hasn’t been easy, which seems to align with an escalation in his rhetoric.
On Sunday, Putin ordered the status of Russia’s nuclear deterrent forces to “special combat readiness,” worrying many who see Putin as increasingly unstable.
After last week’s wave of new sanctions and international uproar, there were further waves of high-level responses. Sanctions on SWIFT, the international banking system, would finally be imposed after European leaders came to an agreement, while Russian airlines are facing an almost complete airspace ban to the west, with the EU and the UK blocking flights.
There have also been worldwide protests, expressions of support, and boycotts on Russian products. Protests are being held in Russia, with thousands of demonstrators arrested, according to human rights groups.
Elon Musk responded to a request from the Ukrainian government to open up his Starlink internet service over the country, which will make it far more difficult for Russia to block Ukrainians from accessing the internet.
Zelensky is now demanding that Russia lose its United Nations Security Council spot. The U.S. still buys Russian oil, but the Biden administration appears determined not to expand U.S. energy production as a solution.
2) Ukraine Official Speaks
The Topline: The conflict in Ukraine has heightened the scrutiny on President Joe Biden’s handling of the situation, with some members of Ukraine’s government even voicing concerns.
Columnist David Marcus has been in touch with a member of Ukraine’s government, who used some strong language in condemning the United States’ handling of the situation.
This went back to the Obama administration’s unwillingness to arm the Ukrainians, or in their view, to stand up to Putin. The official did acknowledge that President Donald Trump sent some arms during his presidency, but was quite angry at Biden’s approach to the run up to the invasion.
Like many of the president’s domestic critics, the official pointed to his failure to sanction Russia prior to the invasion, going all the way back to last year and the lifting of sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. They didn’t understand why the president took the use of American or NATO troops off the table. It wasn’t necessarily an argument for troops, as much as it was a question of why make concessions when you aren’t getting any.
Going forward, like almost everyone in the Ukrainian government, the message is to send weapons, along with severe economic sanctions against Russia.
This official and Ukrainians in general said they know they are winning the war for hearts and minds, and that Putin’s actions are being viewed as increasingly unhinged.
3) Biden Nominates Judge Jackson To Supreme Court
The Topline: On Friday, President Joe Biden announced his pick for the upcoming Supreme Court vacancy. The president nominated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, fulfilling his campaign promise to nominate a black woman to the highest court in the land.
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson
Judge Jackson had long been rumored as the most likely Supreme Court pick.
In 2012, President Barack Obama appointed her to the D.C. District Court, where she served until 2021 when President Biden nominated her to the D..C Circuit Court. Jackson attended Harvard for her undergrad, as well as law school. After college, she clerked for Justice Stephen Breyer from 1999 to 2000 and then served as a public defender. Jackson is also only 51 years old, which would make her the youngest Justice, with the exception of Amy Coney Barrett.
During President Trump’s tenure, she ruled against his administration on multiple high-profile cases. In one, she temporarily blocked a Trump policy that would’ve fast-tracked deportations, while on another, she sided with House Democrats, ruling that members of the Trump administration would not be exempt from testifying in the Russian collusion trial.
While Judge Jackson has all of the experience that a typical Supreme Court nominee would have, many Republicans took issue with how President Biden essentially limited the pool of potential nominees to a sliver of the population by saying he would only nominate a black woman. They said it’s a contradiction to say you’re conducting a “rigorous” search for the most qualified candidate, and then ultimately make the decision based on skin color and gender. Democrats view it differently. They say diversifying the court is essential to creating a balanced judicial system, and have already started to say Republicans’ opposition to Jackson is due in part to her being a black woman.
Congress is almost entirely focused on Ukraine right now, so there hasn’t been much commentary from the Senators who will be conducting the nomination process. In 2021, the Senate confirmed her to the circuit court with a 53-44 vote, but this is expected to be a much tougher process.
This is the first liberal nominee since Democrats put Justice Brett Kavanaugh through a confirmation process in 2018. A lot of Republicans felt as if he was unfairly maligned and vowed to hold Democrats to the same standard the next time around.
Remember: Democrats only need all 50 of their members to vote yes, as they can count on Vice President Harris for the tie breaking vote.
Other Stories We’re Tracking
The CDC has officially eased mask recommendations for most Americans. Under the CDC’s previous guidance, indoor masking was recommended for about 95% of Americans based on levels of community spread. On Friday, the CDC announced that masks are now appropriate for only about 30% of Americans. The “guidance” does not affect mask use on public transportation, including airplanes.