Sharp, though, dying sunshine this late-afternoon Monday here in California’s Central Valley, and warm temps, too — all come to an end this week with rain forecast for Wednesday as a weather part-n-parcel included in a major winter storm predicted for a big part of the country the next few days.
Even so, spring is just a hop-skip-and-a-jump around the calendar corner. And most likely from there, a boiling summer right close behind.
Right now, of course, the big news story is Joe Biden’s surprise visit to Kyiv, Ukraine, this morning. Beyond the telegenic appearance of a robust and youthful-acting commander-in-chief, Biden’s trip is also a gut punch for Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.
Joe didn’t mince words — he was direct about it (the NYT):
“Putin’s war of conquest is failing,” Mr. Biden declared from the palace, his very presence there, alongside President Volodymyr Zelensky, meant to symbolize Russia’s failure to take a capital that today remains brimming with life, its restaurants overflowing even as warning sirens blare.
“One year later,” he said, “Kyiv stands. And Ukraine stands. Democracy stands.”
Not only was the trip unprecedented for a shitload of reasons, and with air-raid sirens whirling in the air, Joe could also soften the heavy:
A small detail from Ukraine you maybe haven’t seen today: after shaking President Zelenskyy’s hand, POTUS turned to First Lady Zelenska and goes: “I got a handshake here, too!”
“That is the most important handshake,” President Zelenskyy quipped . pic.twitter.com/KB8z89AhGG
— Bo Erickson CBS (@BoKnowsNews) February 20, 2023
Vlad has been placed in a shameful corner — Eliot A. Cohen, the Robert E. Osgood Professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, and the Arleigh Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, took a look at a Putin being-downgraded scenario at The Atlantic this morning.
Joe’s visit could be a game-changer. Cohen explains:
Symbols matter: a Kennedy or a Reagan at the Berlin Wall, a Churchill with a cigar and a bowler, for that matter a green-clad Zelensky growling, “I need ammunition, not a ride.” Simply by taking the hazardous trip to Kyiv, Biden made a strategic move of cardinal importance.
While the president clearly intended to bolster the confidence of Ukraine, and the commitment of ambivalent Europeans and neo-isolationist Americans, his real audiences lay elsewhere, as his remarks about Western strength indicated. Russia has cycled through a series of theories of victory in Ukraine—that Kyiv’s leaders would flee, that Ukraine’s population would not fight, that its army would be crumpled up by a sudden blitz or by grinding assaults. It has been reduced to one last hope: that Vladimir Putin’s will is stronger than Joe Biden’s. And Biden just said, by deed as well as word, “Oh no it’s not.”
This is a gut punch to Russia’s leader. The Russians received word of the trip, we are informed—and presumably the threat, stated or implied, that they would get a violent and overwhelming response if they attempted to interfere with it. For a leader obsessed with strength, like Putin, that is a blow. His own people will quietly or openly ask, “Why could we not prevent this?” And the answer, unstated, will have to be, “Because we were afraid.”
The visual contrast between an American president with his signature aviator sunglasses walking in sunny downtown Kyiv with the pugnacious and eloquent president of Ukraine and a Russian president who has yet to visit the war zone is also striking. Not to mention the difference between an American president who mingles with others, shaking hands, hugging and slapping backs, and a Russian president who keeps his subordinates at a physical distance, and who has to be surrounded by flunkies and actors when he supposedly meets with normal people. No belligerent words from the Kremlin will change those visual images, which will be seen in Russia as well as around the world.
This was not a stunt, but rather an act of statesmanship. Biden’s visit comes at a moment when much hangs in the balance. The Chinese have begun making noises about arming Russia, according to the United States government, which would be a very great change in this war. The Western allies, including the democracies of Asia, have begun mobilizing their military industries. The Russian offensives that were supposed to produce large gains timed to the anniversary of the invasion have instead carpeted the Donbas with the bodies of thousands of men who learned too late that, as one French World War I general put it, “fire kills.” And meanwhile, Ukraine is building up a force to use in its own counteroffensive.
The Russia-Ukraine war is not merely a humanitarian calamity, a monstrous collection of crimes against humanity, a gross violation of solemn agreements and international law. It is also a watershed, in which much will be determined about the future of the international system. It could lead to a very dark place, not different in kind from that of the 1930s and 1940s, if the dictators get their way. But if the liberal democracies unite and display the resolve, enterprise, and military capacity that they have shown before, that outcome can still be avoided.
To that end, nothing matters more than American leadership, the recovery of the prestige and weight that have been wasted or diffused over the past few decades. We are not near the conclusion of this war, and there is much of a tangible nature that needs to be done to bring the conflict closer to its end. Words and gestures are critical, but only when accompanied by deeds. But for now, by taking a bold step, President Biden has made the future for Ukraine, for Europe, and for the cause of freedom under the law a great deal brighter.
Joe’s visit naturally way-upset Putin lickspittles (CNN): ‘But the visit caused fury in Russian pro-military and ultranationalist circles, as it upstages Putin on the eve of a major address in which the Russian president is expected to tout the supposed achievements of what he euphemistically calls a “special military operation.”‘
Nothing but righteous outrage:
Losing the ammo war, too — via Bloomberg last week:
While Russia’s stockpiles are also under pressure, its capacity is multiple times that of Europe’s, with its industry in a position to annually manufacture 1.7 million 152mm artillery shells before the war, according to Estonia’s Ministry of Defense. No doubt the Kremlin remains focused on defense production, even if public information on Russia’s efforts to shore up its ammunition supplies remains limited. The country’s military expenditure is estimated as the third largest globally behind the US and China, according to The Military Balance report by International Institute for Strategic Studies. Government officials meet regularly with representatives of the industry to coordinate plans, and state television says armaments factories continued to work full tilt through the New Year holidays even as much of the rest of Russia took 10 days off. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has said that the military roughly doubled ammunition purchases in 2022 and that spending on weapons systems will increase 50% this year. “We have no funding restrictions,” Putin told Ministry of Defense staff in December. “The country, the government will provide whatever the army asks for. Anything.”
Yet, anything like losing a war being backward-dumb:
Crazy war in real time, yet once again here we are…
(Illustration out front: ‘Joe Biden,’ acrylic by Billy Jackson, and found here.)