Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

Yesterday, Vladimir Putin finally ordered Russian troops to invade Ukraine, while trying to put the blame on the U.S., NATO, and the Ukraine government. Putin claimed the troops were for “peacekeeping” purposes, to protect ethnic Russians in two parts of Eastern Ukraine.

At first the Biden administration debated whether to call this an “invasion,” but as of this morning that has changed. Newsweek: Biden Administration Backtracks, Is Now Calling Russia’s Attack on Ukraine an Invasion.

President Joe Biden‘s administration has called Russian troops entering Ukraine an “invasion” for the first time on Tuesday morning after members of Congress from both parties used the term and called for tough sanctions.

The Biden administration had not previously referred to the Russian military action in eastern Ukraine as an “invasion” but White House officials have said a further response will be forthcoming and is likely to include more sanctions.

Deputy National Security Adviser Jon Finer called Russian military action in eastern Ukraine an “invasion” in remarks to CNN on Tuesday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed decrees on Monday recognizing the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) in Ukraine’s east as independent states and ordered Russian troops into those regions.

“We think this is, yes, the beginning of an invasion, Russia’s latest invasion into Ukraine,” Finer said.

“I think ‘latest’ is important here,” Finer said.

“An invasion is an invasion, and that is what is underway, but Russia has been invading Ukraine since 2014,” he said.

Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014. There has also been a Russian presence in Donetsk and Luhansk since 2014.

Follow the latest developments at CNN: Live Updates: The latest on the Ukraine-Russia crisis. or at The New York Times Ukraine live updates.


Western nations have begun sanctioning Russia for it’s illegal aggression:

The New York Times: Germany puts a stop to Nord Stream 2, a key Russian natural gas pipeline.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Tuesday that Germany would halt certification of the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline that would link his country with Russia, one of the strongest moves yet by the West to punish the Kremlin for recognizing two separatist regions in Ukraine.

The German leader’s announcement came hours after President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia ordered armed forces to the separatist regions, the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics.

Germany’s allies in Europe and the United States had been pressing Mr. Scholz for weeks to state publicly that the $11 billion pipeline, which was completed late last year and runs from Russia’s coast to northern Germany under the Baltic Sea, would be at risk of being blocked in the event of a Russian move against Ukraine.

“The situation today is fundamentally different,” Mr. Scholz told reporters in Berlin. “That is why we must re-evaluate this situation, in view of the latest developments. By the way, that includes Nord Stream 2.”

CBS News: U.S. imposes sanctions after Putin recognizes breakaway Ukraine regions.

President Biden signed an executive order Monday imposing sanctions that target two Russia-backed breakaway republics in eastern Ukraine in a swift response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to recognize the regions as independent.

The order bars “new investment, trade and financing by U.S. persons to, from, or in” the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic, located in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.

The order also provides authority to impose sanctions on “any person determined to operate in those areas of Ukraine,” Psaki said, adding the administration will later “announce additional measures related to today’s blatant violation of Russia’s international commitments.” 

CNBC: UK announces first tranche of Russia sanctions, targets banks and wealthy individuals.

The U.K. has slapped targeted economic sanctions on five Russian banks and three wealthy individuals following President Vladimir Putin’s decision to send troops into eastern Ukraine.

Addressing lawmakers on Tuesday in the House of Commons, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the first tranche of sanctions would target Rossiya, IS Bank, General Bank, Promsvyazbank and the Black Sea Bank.

The measures would also sanction three “very high net worth” individuals: Gennady Timchenko, Boris Rotenberg and Igor Rotenberg.

The individuals concerned will see their U.K. assets frozen and be banned from traveling to the country, Johnson said. All U.K. individuals and entities will also be barred from having dealings with them, he added.

Johnson said the move to sanction Russia had arisen despite himself and several other world leaders giving Putin “every opportunity” to pursue his aims via diplomacy….

He added, “This the first tranche, the first barrage of what we are prepared to do and we hold further sanctions at readiness to be deployed alongside the United States and the European Union if the situation escalates still further.”

Russian stocks plunged and the ruble slid closer to a record low on Tuesday as investors reacted to President Vladimir Putin’s decision to order troops into eastern Ukraine.

Moscow’s MOEX stock index dropped 1.5% after shedding more than 10% on Monday, bringing losses so far this year to about 20%. Shares in Russian oil company Rosneft were hardest hit Tuesday, dropping 7.5%. In total, more than $30 billion has been wiped off the value of Russian stocks this week alone.

The ruble fell toward 81 versus the US dollar on Tuesday, its weakest level in more than a year and close to its record low. The moves prompted Russia’s central bank to announce measures to support banks, including a provision that will allow them to use last Friday’s prices for stocks and bonds when reporting their financial positions.

More pain could be on the way.

“We expect further declines near-term in the Russian stock market,” analysts at JPMorgan Chase wrote in a note to clients on Tuesday. The Wall Street bank downgraded Russian equities to “neutral” from “overweight.”

Damage to Russia’s markets and economy would be limited if its troops do not advance beyond the parts of eastern Ukraine that Putin recognized as independent on Monday, according to analysts. But Russia would pay a higher price if further aggression causes the West to respond with punishing sanctions that could cut the country’s banks off from the global financial system and make it difficult to export oil and natural gas.

Analyses of the Ukraine situation:


At The Atlantic, Tom Nichols reacted to the insane speech Putin gave yesterday: Putin Chooses a Forever War.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a long speech full of heavy sighs and dark grievances, made clear today that he has chosen war. He went to war against Ukraine in 2014; now he has declared war against the international order of the past 30 years.

Putin’s slumped posture and deadened affect led me to suspect that he is not as stable as we would hope. He had the presence not of a confident president, but of a surly adolescent caught in a misadventure, rolling his eyes at the stupid adults who do not understand how cruel the world has been to him. Teenagers, of course, do not have hundreds of thousands of troops and nuclear weapons.

Even discounting Putin’s delivery, the speech was, in many places, simply unhinged. Putin began with a history lesson about how and why Ukraine even exists. For all his Soviet nostalgia, the Russian president is right that his Soviet predecessors intentionally created a demographic nightmare when drawing the internal borders of the U.S.S.R., a subject I’ve explained at length here.

But Putin’s point wasn’t that the former subjects of the Soviet Union needed to iron out their differences. Rather, he was suggesting that none of the new states that emerged from the Soviet collapse—except for Russiawere real countries. “As a result of Bolshevik policy,” Putin intoned, “Soviet Ukraine arose, which even today can with good reason be called ‘Vladimir Ilyich Lenin’s Ukraine’. He is its author and architect.”

It is true that Soviet leaders created the 1991 borders. That is also true of what we now call the Russian Federation. Putin, however, went even further back in history: “Ukraine never had a tradition of genuine statehood.”

By that kind of historical reasoning, few nations in Europe, or anywhere else, are safe. Putin’s foray into history was nothing less than a demand that only Moscow—and only the Kremlin’s supreme leader—has the right to judge what is or is not a sovereign state (as I recently discussed here). Putin’s claims are hardly different from Saddam Hussein’s rewriting of Middle East history when Iraq tried to erase Kuwait from the map.

Read the rest at the Atlantic link. Nichols is genuine expert on Russia.

Another Russia expert, Julia Davis, wrote about the reaction of Ukrainian citizens yesterday at The Daily Beast: Kremlin TV Asks ‘Where’s the Champagne?’ as Ukraine’s Kids Are Prepped for War.

Russian President Vladimir Putin stunned the world on Monday when he unilaterally recognized two Kremlin-backed separatist regions in Ukraine, Luhansk and Donetsk, as independent states and ordered Russian troops to conduct so-called “peacekeeping operations” there. The move has sparked widespread condemnation from global leaders who have accused Putin of violating international law and expressed concerns that the latest escalation may soon morph into a full-scale Russian invasion of its neighbor.

In Ukraine, Putin’s decision has only exacerbated the pain and anguish caused by years of bloody conflict, fueled and funded by the Kremlin. Parents across the country have been doing whatever they can to prepare their families for a potential Russian onslaught. “If you want to know how Ukrainians react to Putin’s speech, here’s a glimpse: moms on Facebook discuss putting stickers on their children’s clothes, when they go to school, indicating their blood type,” journalist Olga Tokariuk tweeted on Monday. “Make no mistake: this speech was perceived as a declaration of war on Ukraine.”

For some, the new developments have only deepened their resolve to fight back. “With his speech alone Putin consolidated Ukrainians like no-one else here could. My friends are talking about joining the territorial defense,” Ukrainian reporter Iryna Matviyishyn wrote. “And currently the Kremlin’s madman is the most hated person in Ukraine.”

In contrast, there was joy and laughter on Russia’s state television.

On Monday, RT’s editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan appeared on The Evening with Vladimir Soloviev ready for a major celebration. “First of all, I don’t understand why there isn’t champagne in the studio,” she said. Beaming ear-to-ear, Simonyan described feeling “an overwhelming sense of euphoria” and added: “I’ve been waiting for 8 years for this… It finally happened. This is true happiness.” Claiming to speak on behalf of the “Donbas’ people,” Simonyan exclaimed: “Thank you, Mother Russia!”

David Ignatius at The Washington Post: Opinion: Surprising cracks, if small ones, appear in Kremlin support for Putin on Ukraine.

President Vladimir Putin presented a theatrical justification for war with Ukraine on Monday, but initial Russian military actions along the border were limited — and there seemed to be a few small cracks in Kremlin support for Putin’s obsession with regaining Russian dominion in Kyiv.

Putin appeared to be setting the stage on Monday for an all-out invasion. Under the dome of a grand state chamber in the Kremlin, he signed documents recognizing two Russian-backed enclaves in eastern Ukraine as independent “republics.” He then ordered some of the 150,000 Russian combat troops surrounding Ukraine to enter the breakaway regions in a “peacekeeping” operation.

Putin may hope to provoke an armed response from Ukraine that would provide a pretext for a larger assault. But the initial “peacekeeping” move into Donetsk and Luhansk was limited, and a senior Biden administration official was careful to avoid describing it as an invasion, noting that Russian forces have been operating covertly in the two enclaves for nearly eight years….

The day’s events began with a televised command performance of Putin’s security council in the ornate Kremlin chamber. Putin asked each of his ministers for their recommendation about recognizing Donetsk and Luhansk. Many responses were dutifully on script, but there were several surprises.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia’s demands for security guarantees were “not an ultimatum,” and he seemed ready to meet Thursday with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken for more talks. Lavrov also conceded NATO’s unity, advising Putin that at this past weekend’s Munich Security Conference, “every Western representative declared their absolute commitment to a unified approach,” which “confirmed that we need to negotiate with Washington.” [….]

But the big surprise came when Putin quizzed Sergei Naryshkin, head of the SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service. Naryshkin advised that threatening to recognize Donetsk and Luhansk would be useful leverage for implementing the 2015 Minsk agreements to settle the conflict in the eastern region. Russia has claimed to support Minsk, but Monday’s recognition of the two breakaway enclaves as independent will probably derail any chance for the agreement. In response to Naryshkin’s answers, Putin got antsy.


Read more at the WaPo.

The New York Times on Biden’s strategy: Wooing Allies, Publicizing Putin’s Plans: Inside Biden’s Race to Prevent War.

In a series of top-secret meetings last October, President Biden’s national security team presented grim intelligence that would soon trigger a fierce effort to prevent what could become the largest armed conflict in Europe since World War II.

Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president, was preparing to invade Ukraine, top intelligence and military officials told Mr. Biden. Gathering each morning in the Oval Office for the global threat assessment known as the President’s Daily Brief, they described satellite images of Russian forces methodically advancing toward Ukraine’s border.

Not only did the United States have images of troops moving into position, it also had the Russian military’s plans for a campaign against Ukraine — elements of which had already begun. At one of the morning meetings, Mr. Biden dispatched William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, to Moscow with a message for Mr. Putin:

We know what you’re planning to do.

Stopping him would be a challenge. Many of America’s closest allies were skeptical that Mr. Putin — a master of disinformation — would actually invade. The use of U.S. military force against Russia was off the table, so the allies would have to threaten Mr. Putin with economic pain so severe it would also have consequences in Europe and the United States. And it was far from certain that Republicans in Congress would back whatever the administration did….

The White House acknowledged from the start that its campaign to stop Mr. Putin might not actually prevent Russia from invading Ukraine. But at the very least, White House officials say, Mr. Biden exposed Mr. Putin and his true intentions, which helped unite, at least for now, the at-times fractious NATO alliance.

Over the course of three and a half months, Mr. Biden made three critical decisions about how to handle Russia’s provocations, according to interviews with more than a dozen senior administration officials and others who requested anonymity to discuss confidential meetings. Early on, the president approved a recommendation to share intelligence far more broadly with allies than was typical, officials said. The idea was to avoid disagreements about tough economic sanctions by ensuring that everyone knew what the United States knew about Mr. Putin’s actions.

Mr. Biden also gave the green light for an unprecedented public information campaign against Mr. Putin. With the support of his top intelligence officials — and with a promise to protect the intelligence agencies’ “sources and methods” — the president allowed a wave of public releases aimed at preventing Mr. Putin from employing his usual denials to divide his adversaries.

Read more details at the NYT link.

So that’s where things stand this morning. I’m sure there will be more developments throughout the day today. What are your thoughts on this? What other stories are you following?