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President Biden has not been shy in the past year about personalizing Russia’s war with Ukraine. He has called President Vladimir Putin a killer, levied sanctions on Putin’s friends and relatives, described him as tactically wrong to believe Russia could easily crush its neighbor and delusional for craving a revival of Russia’s autocratic past.
The vastly different world views of Biden and Putin are vividly apparent today amid an increasingly direct contest, The New York Times reports. With high stakes and an unclear path to victory, Putin used a state-of-the-nation address in Moscow at noon local time to accuse the West of trying to destroy Russia by stoking war (Reuters).
Biden is set to speak later today from the Royal Castle in Warsaw. White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the president will deliver an “affirmative statement of values,” not a head-to-head rebuttal to Putin’s grievances. “There’s a kind of absurdity in the notion that Russia was under some form of military threat from Ukraine or anyone else,” Sullivan added (CNN).
The Russian president said his country’s economy has withstood sanctions, accusing Western nations of seeking to set post-Soviet countries on fire through means of economic suppression (FirstPost live blog).
Speaking in an enormous hall in front of an audience of parliamentary and military leaders, Putin said Russia will continue its war with Ukraine while seeking to defeat what he claimed is the West’s determination to crush his country. Putin said the Russian people support opposition to aggressors in the West and he railed against same-sex marriage and “corrupt” values.
“Even paedophilia is announced as a normal thing” in the West, he remarked (Independent).
▪ CNN: Russian forces have made incremental gains in eastern Ukraine, analysis from the Institute for the Study of War suggests.
▪ The Wall Street Journal: During one year of war with Ukraine, Russia’s armed forces have sustained up to 60,000 fatalities and up to 200,000 combined dead and injured, including military and paramilitary, according to estimates by the United Kingdom’s Defense Ministry.
▪ The New York Times: Moscow sends poorly trained recruits, including convicts, to the front lines in eastern Ukraine with a strategy to pave the way for more seasoned fighters, U.S. and allied officials say.
After Biden’s five hours on the ground in Ukraine, which Russian state television presented as a publicity stunt, Putin had been expected to flip the global script, portraying Russia as the West’s intended victim and war with Ukraine as a valiant, patriotic cause.
▪ The Hill’s Niall Stanage, The Memo: Five takeaways from Biden’s trip to Ukraine.
▪ The Atlantic, by Eliot A. Cohen: The president’s visit to Ukraine was a gut punch to the Russian leader.
▪ The Guardian: Biden’s Ukraine trip undercuts Kremlin narrative of waning support among western allies.
After making his way from Poland on Monday to Kyiv under the cloak of darkness to stand under a blue sky with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky without the protection of a military base, Biden retraced his steps to Poland where he will deliver remarks this evening. He and Polish President Andrzej Duda will meet before flying back to Washington. Other allied leaders, including Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, were also scheduled to visit Kyiv (Reuters).
The U.S. announced another $460 million in weapons and ammunition for Ukraine but made no mention of the advanced arms that Zelensky has asked for, including long-range weapons and fighter jets as it attempts to hold off a Russian offensive in the east.
▪ Politico Europe: The European Union wants to buy ammunition for Ukraine. Doing it will be harder.
▪ EU Observer: A new EU blacklist designed to mark a year of war names Russians accused of organizing mass abductions of Ukrainian children.
Biden’s message remains that the United States and European allies will stand with Ukraine “as long as it takes,” even as definitions of that timeline and military commitments vary among world leaders.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who speaks with Putin periodically, said during Saturday media interviews that Russia must be defeated in Ukraine but warned against “crushing” Russia (France 24). Macron favors a diplomatic solution, the shape of which is gossamer, while Zelensky pushes for the defeat and withdrawal of Russian forces from all regions of his country.
“I am convinced that, in the end, this will not conclude militarily,” Macron told two French newspapers and broadcaster France Inter. “I do not think, as some people do, that we must aim for a total defeat of Russia, attacking Russia on its own soil. Those observers want to, above all else, crush Russia. That has never been the position of France and it will never be our position,” he continued.
Zelensky, dressed in his customary khaki attire, lauded Biden for his clandestine trek to Kyiv, saluting him on Monday for championing “the liberty and democracy in the world.”
“This will be remembered eternally. And Ukraine is grateful to you, Mr. President, to all the U.S. citizens, to all those who cherish freedom just as we cherish them. Glory to our warriors. Glory to our allies. And glory to Ukraine.” — Ukrainian President Zelensky
Meanwhile, China on Monday bristled at the U.S. claim that Beijing is mulling sending “lethal support” to help Russia in its war with Ukraine. China accused the Biden administration of spreading lies and defended its close partnership with Russia (The New York Times).
Wang Yi, China’s top foreign policy official, arrived in Moscow on Monday, according to Russian state media. He met briefly last week in Munich with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who warned against China’s involvement in helping Moscow’s war effort. Wang reportedly responded vaguely that China supports dialogue and an end to the war. A Kremlin spokesman said Wang may meet with Putin.
▪ Vox: The U.S.-China relationship is still a mess.
▪ PBS Frontline: Putin and the presidents (program transcript HERE).
▪ BNN Bloomberg: The Pentagon announced a package of $460 million in additional weapons and lethal assistance for Ukraine, including HIMARS ammunition, artillery rounds, about 2,000 anti-armor rockets, more Javelin anti-armor systems, air surveillance radars, four Bradley Infantry Fire Support Team vehicles, night-vision devices and other gear.
▪ Bloomberg News: The U.S. will impose new export controls and a fresh round of sanctions on Russia, targeting key industries a year after the invasion of Ukraine.
▪ The New York Times: Russian ally Belarus on Monday expelled Polish diplomats as the rift widens between neighbors.
▪ NBC News: Conservative House Republicans on Monday criticized Biden’s trip to Ukraine, arguing the president is neglecting domestic issues while abroad on Monday and Tuesday.
▪ The New York Times: As quickly as the national craziness over three downed objects began, the U.S. called off the search, leaving answers encased in Arctic ice and under the whitecaps of Lake Huron.
LEADING THE DAY
The culture wars have entered the budget battle, as GOP leaders take aim at “woke” spending and Democrats push back with charges of bigotry, write The Hill’s Aris Folley and Mike Lillis. Republicans are beginning to sharpen the focus around areas of so-called “woke-waste” to target in the federal budget, ranging from funds for transgender immigrants in Los Angeles to a nature trail named for former first lady Michelle Obama in Georgia.
The items were included in a list unveiled earlier this month by Republicans on the House Budget Committee, which identified areas of “wasteful” spending GOP leaders are hoping to eliminate, saying they’re working to safeguard taxpayers from a federal government that’s abused its authority with efforts to promote “equity” and “inclusion,” typically on issues of race, gender and sexuality. Democrats are accusing GOP leaders of targeting minority benefit programs, not because they’re expensive, but because the fight energizes their conservative base.
“It’s very exemplary of their approach, which is a blend of cutting support to working-class families while also lacing in bigotry and racism,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), adding the real goal is “to distract from the actual economic impact, negative economic impact, that they’re having on working families.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) left the Sunshine State and traveled to Staten Island to give a speech on Monday about New York’s crime (ABC News) while simultaneously criticizing Biden for “neglecting” domestic issues while traveling to Ukraine and Poland Monday and Tuesday (The Hill). DeSantis on Monday took aim at New York City Mayor Eric Adams over New York City crime (Fox News).
DeSantis, a frontrunner for the 2024 Republican nomination, hinted on Fox & Friends Monday that he will decide on a presidential bid after the Florida legislative session ends this summer (The Hill).
The Hill: DeSantis hits back at 2024 Republicans who criticized him.
Ahead of Wisconsin’s Supreme Court primary today, The Hill’s Caroline Vakil has rounded up five key things to know, including candidates, turnout and issues — such as abortion and redistricting. The race may act as a bellwether for the 2024 elections.
▪ Wisconsin Public Radio: Money pours into Wisconsin Supreme Court race ahead of Feb. 21 primary.
▪ NBC News: Democrats see a prime chance to take control of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
▪ Politico: He was once an illiterate teen running the streets. Now he’s running for a seat on Wisconsin’s Supreme Court.
Three key figures connected to former President Trump are at the intersection of two accelerating Justice Department probes seen as the most viable pathways for a prosecution against the former president, The Hill’s Rebecca Betisch reports. Special counsel Jack Smith is overseeing what began as two entirely separate cases: the mishandling of classified records at Mar-a-Lago and the effort to influence the 2020 election that culminated in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
But several Trump-world figures straddle both events, providing prosecutors with what experts say is a potent opportunity to advance both investigations. Alex Cannon, Christina Bobb, and Kash Patel played different roles in the two sagas, but each has been contacted by the Justice Department in the documents dispute and has also been called in by the special House committee, now disbanded, that investigated the Jan. 6 riot.
Des Moines Register: Trump announces 2024 Iowa caucuses campaign staff with some familiar names.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said ties between the U.S. and India are a “crucial counterweight to outcompete China” as he led a congressional delegation to New Delhi that met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “India is one of the leading powers of the world and a strong U.S.-India relationship is a must for democracy, technology advancement, and a strong world economy,” Schumer said in a statement. Among the countries’ shared strategic interests, he listed “outcompeting China, combating climate change, increasing trade and deepening bonds between our two countries.”
He was joined on the trip by fellow Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden (Ore.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Mark Warner (Va.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.), among others. Modi said that it was “wonderful” to meet with the delegation and expressed appreciation for bipartisan congressional support on “deepening India-US ties anchored in shared democratic values and strong people-to-people ties.”
Schumer’s trip and comments about out-competing Beijing come amid heightened U.S.-China tensions; the Biden administration has made out-competing China a priority, emphasizing the importance of strengthening international alliances to make that happen (The Hill).
Meanwhile, a House delegation met with the head of Taiwan’s legislature on Monday as part of a five-day visit to the self-ruled island. The delegation, which arrived Sunday, includes Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Tony Gonzales (R-Texas), Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.) and Jonathan Jackson (D-Ill.), and is expected to meet President Tsai Ing-wen as well as business leaders. On Monday, they held talks with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company’s founder Morris Chang, considered the father of the island’s chip industry (ABC News).
“Our efforts to come here are in no way provocative of China, but consistent with the president’s foreign policy that recognizes the importance of the relationship like Taiwan, while still seeking ultimately, peace in the region,” Khanna said.
▪ Bloomberg News: Republican delegation led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) to meet with the president of the United Arab Emirates.
▪ Politico: What Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) tells world leaders about Biden.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has given Fox News host Tucker Carlson exclusive access to 41,000 hours of Capitol surveillance footage from the Jan. 6 riot, Axios reports. Excerpts will begin airing in the coming weeks on programs hosted by Carlson, who has repeatedly questioned official accounts of Jan. 6, downplaying the insurrection as “vandalism.” Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the former chairman of the select committee investigating the insurrection, on Monday criticized McCarthy for the decision.
“When the Select Committee obtained access to U.S. Capitol Police video footage, it was treated with great sensitivity given concerns about the security of lawmakers, staff, and the Capitol complex,” Thompson said in a statement. “If Speaker McCarthy has indeed granted Tucker Carlson — a Fox host who routinely spreads misinformation and Putin’s poisonous propaganda — and his producers access to this sensitive footage, he owes the American people an explanation of why he has done so and what steps he has taken to address the significant security concerns at stake.”
The New Republic: Why Is the most powerful member of the House handing over Jan. 6 footage to Tucker Carlson?
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
A strong earthquake and its aftershocks struck southern Turkey and Syria on Monday, causing buildings to collapse and killing at least eight people. The quake came just weeks after the region was devastated earlier this month by its worst seismic event in decades — which killed more than 47,000 people and damaged or destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes. The new 6.4 magnitude earthquake shook the southern Turkish province of Hatay just after 8 p.m. local time, according to Turkey’s disaster management agency AFAD (Reuters and The Wall Street Journal).
Blinken on Sunday visited Turkey, touring earthquake damage by helicopter and U.S. military relief efforts at the Incirlik Air Base near Adana before announcing another $100 million in American aid to supplement the already-sent elite search-and-rescue teams, heavy equipment, $85 million in humanitarian aid and at least another $80 million in private donations. When it was first planned, Blinken’s trip promised to be a difficult, even contentious diplomatic visit, as Washington and Ankara have been at odds on several important issues — from Turkey’s ties to Russia to its refusal to allow Sweden and Finland to join NATO and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s authoritarian drift. But the U.S.’s aid, as well as promises of support, have served to smooth over some of the more difficult parts of the countries’ relationship (The New York Times).
Nuclear inspectors in Iran have reportedly discovered uranium in the country that has been enriched to 84 percent purity — just below the level needed to develop nuclear weapons. Bloomberg News reported that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is investigating how Iran managed to enrich uranium to that level, which the report says is the highest level found by inspectors to date. To create a nuclear weapon, uranium must be enriched to at least 90 percent. A nuclear official in Iran denied the claim that the country had enriched uranium above 60 percent purity “so far,” and said that the claim was “a smear and a distortion of the fact.”
“We are in close contact with our partners following reports that Iran may have enriched uranium to levels over 80 percent,” a senior European diplomat told The Wall Street Journal. “If confirmed this would be an unprecedented and extremely grave development.”
▪ Reuters: IAEA says it is in discussions with Iran after reports of enrichment.
▪ i24 News: Iran denies “slanderous” reports it enriched Uranium above 60 percent.
■ Jimmy Carter’s presidency was not what you think, by Kai Bird, guest essayist, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/3xEamvM
■ Parsing Russian support for Putin’s war, by Ilan Berman, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/3SirTmD
WHERE AND WHEN
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The House will hold a pro forma session at noon.
The Senate meets in a pro forma session at 11 a.m.
The president is in Warsaw, Poland, where he meets today with President Andrzej Duda at 1:30 p.m. CET. The president will deliver a speech at 5:30 p.m. CET about Ukraine and allied support for the Ukrainian people and NATO, speaking from Warsaw’s Castle Gardens.
Vice President Harris is in Washington and has no public events.
The secretary of State is in Athens where he kicked off the U.S.-Greece Strategic Dialogue and met with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias. Blinken held a joint press conference with Dendias and met with Greek opposition leader Alexis Tsipras. The secretary this afternoon will tour ancient Athens with Greek Minister of Culture and Sports Lina Mendoni and plans to meet with Greek earthquake rescue workers, accompanied by Dendias and Minister for the Climate Crisis and Civil Protection Christos Stylianides. Blinken at 2:30 p.m. local time will join a ribbon-cutting ceremony with Dendias, followed by greetings with employees and families of the U.S. embassy in Athens.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will travel to Bengaluru, India, to participate in the Group of 20 meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors.
Treasury Deputy Secretary Wally Adeyemo will speak at the Council on Foreign Relations at 10 a.m. ET and participate in a moderated conversation about sanctions against Russia. He will preview “additional steps the sanctions coalition will take” to counter evasion of restrictions aimed at Russia.
The Supreme Court at 10 a.m. will hear oral arguments in Reynaldo Gonzales et. al. v. Google LLC (SCOTUS blog and The Hill).
🏀 After being detained for 10 months in Russia, Brittney Griner fulfilled the promise she made to play for the Phoenix Mercury again in the 2023 season. Griner, a 32-year-old free agent, signed a one-year contract with the Mercury on Saturday, ESPN reports. She’ll return to the team that drafted her first overall in 2013 for a 10th season.
In addition to her career in the U.S., Griner played professional basketball in Russia. She was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February 2022 after Russian authorities said she was carrying vape canisters with cannabis oil. The State Department declared Griner to be “wrongfully detained.” After months of strained negotiations, Griner was released from Russian prison on Dec. 8 during a prisoner swap in which the WNBA star was exchanged in the United Arab Emirates for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
⛳ Tiger Woods played his best golf over the weekend since the car crash in February 2021 that threatened to end his career. He finished tied-45th at the Genesis Invitational in his first competitive outing since The Open Championship in July 2022. The 15-time major winner has played sparingly since sustaining serious leg injuries in the crash. Following his final round, Woods said his goal from now on is to play the four majors every year, but he doesn’t expect “to play too much more than that” (CNN).
“My body and my leg and my back just won’t allow me to play much more than that anymore,” he told CBS. “So that was my goal last year and I was able to play three of the four, and this year, I can hopefully play all four. That is going to be my schedule going forward because of all of the limitations I have.”
➤ PANDEMIC & HEALTH
⚕️In a January study from the American Nurses Foundation 57 percent of 12,581 surveyed nurses said they had felt “exhausted” over the past two weeks, and 43 percent said they felt “burned out.” Just 20 percent said they felt valued. While burnout has always been a part of nursing, an effect of long working hours in physically and often emotionally taxing environments, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated those factors and added some of its own: understaffing, a rise in violence and hostility toward health care workers over masking mandates and an increase in deaths.
“Burnout and our current issues have been going on for decades,” said Jennifer Mensik Kennedy, the president of the American Nurses Association, the umbrella group for the foundation. “So what did we learn from the last couple of years? That we need to make sure that we implement programs and processes to decrease the burnout and to improve the work environment. Because Covid is not the last pandemic, or the last major issue to happen.”
But for some, those changes may not come soon enough, as 43 percent of those surveyed said they were at least thinking about switching jobs (The New York Times).
▪ The New York Times: Helping stroke patients regain movement in their hands.
▪ The Washington Post: To stay healthy in old age, research finds building muscles is key.
▪ Forbes: Fifth man cured of HIV after stem cell transplant.
▪ The New York Times: A fraught new frontier in telehealth: Ketamine can be mind altering and getting it has become much easier.
😴 Do you ever fall asleep mid-conversation? Abruptly wake up feeling like you’re gasping? Disturb your partner with your snores? All may be signs of sleep apnea — a disorder in which the throat muscles relax and block the airway, causing breathing to temporarily stop multiple times during sleep — and getting diagnosis is critical because it’s the first step toward treatment, and better sleep (The Washington Post).
▪ The Hill: Is Bell’s palsy a side effect of COVID-19?
▪ The Wall Street Journal: Why the COVID-19 death toll in the U.S. is still rising. The pandemic is less risky for most people, but America still sees hundreds of deaths daily.
Information about the availability of COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots can be found at Vaccines.gov.
Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported as of this morning, according to Johns Hopkins University (trackers all vary slightly): 1,117,564. Current U.S. COVID-19 deaths are 2,838 for the week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (The CDC shifted its tally of available data from daily to weekly, now reported on Fridays.)
And finally … Biden is not the only U.S. president who has traveled to dangerous war zones and battlefields while serving as commander in chief. Former President Obama surreptitiously flew to Kabul in Afghanistan in 2012 to mark the one-year anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death.
CNN: How the media almost blew Obama’s secret trip to Afghanistan in May 2012.
In 2003, former President George W. Bush flew secretly to Iraq to meet with troops and share a Thanksgiving meal.
In 1952, former President Eisenhower arrived in Korea and spent three days surveying troops there. To mask the outset of the trip for security reasons, the White House created the impression that Ike was in the country by unveiling Cabinet appointments from the president’s home.
▪ Business Insider: Here are five presidents in addition to Biden who knew how to pull off secret trips.
▪ National Geographic TV special (YouTube): Bush’s secret trip to Iraq.
▪ The Hill: How Biden’s unannounced trip to Ukraine came together.
▪ The New York Times: Trains, planes and automobiles: Biden’s whirlwind trip to Ukraine. Biden makes first wartime visit to Kyiv Peak flu season appears to have passed
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