Aside from some staged rallies and interviews with compliant Russian journalists on state-run media, Vladimir Putin has been pretty quiet for the past few weeks. As he attempts to keep his own citizens in the dark about what’s really going on in Ukraine, the Madman of Moscow has largely pretended that everything is going according to plan and Russia is calling all the shots. In a series of statements for both domestic and international media outlets today, Putin continued with his pattern of describing some alternate reality, fantasy universe where Russia has “no choice” other than to continue with the invasion. And he’s only doing it to “protect people in parts of eastern Ukraine and ensure Russia’s own security.” This appearance could have come straight out of a Saturday Night Live cold open were it not for the tragedy of all of the dead bodies in the streets and the smell of chemical weapons wafting over Mariupol. (Associated Press)
Russia vowed to continue its bloody offensive in Ukraine as the war neared its seventh week Wednesday, as President Vladimir Putin insisted the campaign was going as planned despite a major withdrawal and significant losses.
Thwarted in their push toward the capital, Kyiv, Russian troops focused on the eastern region of Donbas, where Ukraine said it was investigating a claim that a poisonous substance had been dropped on its troops. It was not clear what the substance might be, but Western officials warned that any use of chemical weapons by Russia would be a serious escalation of the already devastating war.
Russia invaded on Feb. 24 with the goal, according to Western officials, of taking Kyiv, toppling the government and installing a Moscow-friendly regime.
Responding to Putin’s claims, Zelenski openly mocked the Russian president, asking how anyone who had just been driven out of the northern end of the country could possibly say that everything was “going according to plan.” Mad Vlad should know better than to taunt a professional comedian.
Of course, nobody in Ukraine is going to be laughing very much. The offensive in the eastern part of the country is continuing to advance. The Ukrainian forces are digging in, but the Russian troops are looking at least somewhat more organized than they were during the assault on Kyiv, unfortunately.
Back in the United States, President Joe Biden accused Putin of genocide. Then, never letting politics slip very far from the conversation, he doubled down on blaming Russia for raising our gas prices.
In remarks in Iowa, the president blamed Putin for recent price hikes at the pump. “Your family budget, your ability to fill up your tank, none of it should hinge on whether a dictator declares war and commits genocide half a world away,” said Biden.
The president had stopped short on April 5 of calling the atrocities in Bucha a genocide, when asked by reporters whether Russian actions there fit that definition. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said then that the killings documented so far in Ukraine did not rise to the level of “genocide” as defined by the U.S. government.
There we have yet another example of mixed messaging coming out of the White House. Jake Sullivan was sent out last week to declare that Russia’s actions in Ukraine did not rise to the level of genocide. Then his boss shows up at a political rally and tosses out the G-word. By this point, most of us are likely becoming numb to all of the contradictions coming out of this White House.
Of course, if you want to criticize Vladimir Putin about anything, make sure you do it from outside of the country. That’s a lesson that prominent Russian critic Vladimir Kara-Murza learned the hard way this week. He gave an interview to CNN where he criticized the invasion and suggested it could lead to the toppling of Putin’s regime. In response, Putin had him arrested at his home and thrown in jail for fifteen days.
Vladimir Kara-Murza, a prominent Russian opposition activist and politician who has suffered two suspected poisoning attacks, was detained near his house Monday and sentenced to 15 days in jail for disobeying a police order. Kara-Murza was arrested just a few hours after CNN aired an interview with him in which he called President Vladimir Putin’s government a “murderous regime” and suggested Russia’s war in Ukraine would lead to Putin’s downfall.
The dissident’s lawyer, Vadym Prokhorov, ridiculed the arrest, citing police statements claiming Kara-Murza “behaved inadequately at the sight of police officers, changed the trajectory of his movement, accelerated his pace, and tried to hide when asked to stop.”
You’d think Kara-Murza would know better. As noted above, Putin has already tried to poison him twice, so he clearly doesn’t take constructive criticism very well. Just ask Alexei Navalny. He’s currently serving an extended sentence of 15 years in a forced labor camp for saying things that Putin doesn’t want to hear.
Exit question: Assuming this war does finally end somehow, how is the world ever supposed to go back to the status quo? Are we just going to let Russia resume its old place at the table as one of the dominant financial and military superpowers? It’s hard for me to imagine how that happens.