Before I get to the heart of today’s newsletter, I want to share three things I’m watching in Russia’s war on Ukraine:
First, while most of the world has focused (understandably) on the fights for Kyiv and Kharkiv in northern Ukraine, Russia has been most successful in the south. It has reportedly captured the city of Kherson, and its continued success could mean that Russians might be able to attack Ukrainian forces holding the line in the Donbas region from the rear. Will Ukrainian forces retreat if faced with this crisis? Or will they stay and fight?
Second, in my Atlantic piece on Tuesday, I indicated that the Russian military was likely to turn increasingly to raw firepower and indiscriminate attacks to grind down Ukrainian opposition. Sadly, we’re seeing the signs of escalation, including reported attacks hitting “hospitals, schools, and critical infrastructure” in the south and the east. If Russia achieves any tangible battlefield gains with these tactics, expect them to proliferate across the battlefield.
Third, I’m frankly stunned at the sheer scale of the international economic sanctions against Russia. I did not expect the West to unite so swiftly and decisively. Now, here’s my question: Do the sanctions rally the Russian people against Vladimir Putin, or is there a chance they rally the Russian people against the West? We hope that Russians turn against Putin, but we shouldn’t assume they will, and if history teaches us anything, it’s that the Russian nation will endure and persevere through immense suffering when it is under attack.
Now on to the main subject—Joe Biden’s potentially permanent political weakness.