Wake Up To Politics - February 14, 2022
by Gabe Fleisher
Good morning! It’s Monday, February 14, 2022. Election Day 2022 is 267 days away. Election Day 2024 is 995 days away.
Russia could attack Ukraine “any day now,” U.S. warns
American officials are ratcheting up their warnings about the possible timeline for a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“We are in the window when an invasion could begin at any time should Vladimir Putin decide to order it,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Friday, referring to the Russian president.
Despite previous reports that Putin might hold off from launching an attack during the Winter Olympics being hosted by his allies in China, Sullivan said there is a “distinct possibility” that an invasion could take place before the games end on February 20.
“A major military action could begin by Russia in Ukraine any day now — that includes this coming week, before the end of the Olympics,” Sullivan ominously said in a CNN interview on Sunday. Here’s what else you should know about the crisis that has the world on edge:
— On the ground: U.S. officials now believe Russia has stationed more than 130,000 troops around Ukraine. According to the Wall Street Journal, that would be “too few to seize and occupy the entire country,” but enough to “make rapid thrusts toward Ukraine’s capital, seize swaths of territory, take command of the skies and blockade the country’s ports.”
Russia currently has the country surrounded on three sides, with forces positioned in western Russia on Ukraine’s eastern border, in Belarus to its north, and in Crimea to the south.
— The timeline: Citing “Western and defense officials,” PBS reported on Friday that that the U.S. believes Putin “has decided to invade Ukraine and has communicated those plans to the Russian military,” although Sullivan pushed back on the certainty of those claims.
Several other news outlets, including Politico and the Associated Press, have reported on U.S. intelligence findings that Russia is eyeing this Wednesday as a target date to launch a ground invasion. Sullivan has denied those reports as well, insisting that a specific date has not been pinpointed.
— Diplomatic efforts: The possibility of a war on European soil has led to a flurry of diplomacy across the continent, although the efforts have yet to yield a breakthrough. President Biden spoke to Putin on Saturday, but a U.S. official told reporters that there had been “no fundamental change in the dynamic” after the hour-long phone call.
According to a White House readout, Biden warned Putin that the U.S. and its allies would “respond decisively and impose swift and severe costs on Russia” if the Kremlin launched an invasion.
Other leaders have made diplomatic appeals as well: French President Emmanuel Macron also spoke with Putin and Zelenskyy over the weekend (after meeting with each last week), while German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will meet with Zelenskyy in Kyiv today and Putin in Moscow tomorrow.
— America’s response: The U.S. has begun moving troops and personnel around in anticipation of a possible Russian attack. Over the weekend, the U.S. evacuated almost all of the staff at its embassy in Kyiv; per CBS News, all U.S. personnel in the Ukrainian capital are set to be withdrawn in the next 48 hours.
Like other countries, the U.S. has also urged any American citizens currently Ukraine to leave immediately. The Pentagon has also moved troops from Ukraine “out of an abundance of caution,” while sending 3,000 more troops to Poland to step up its defenses of Europe. (Biden has repeatedly said he will not deploy troops to Ukraine, although he has sent soldiers to countries like Poland and Germany that the U.S. is sworn to defend under the NATO treaty.)
— What Russia is saying: Russia has continued to push back against the U.S. warnings. “The Americans are artificially inflating the hysteria around the so-called planned Russian invasion,” a Kremlin spokesperson said this weekend. Even so, Russia also evacuated its own embassy staff from Ukraine this weekend, although the Kremlin said that was only because of “possible provocations by the Kyiv regime and third countries.”
Meanwhile, Russia has stayed firm in its demands for NATO to scale back its presence in eastern Europe and guarantee Ukraine will never join the coalition. The U.S. has called the demands “non-starters”; indeed, NATO has only increased its military presence in Europe since the escalation around Ukraine started.
— Big picture: U.S. officials have warned of grim consequences if Russia chooses to invade. According to one intelligence assessment, a full invasion could lead to 25,000 to 50,000 civilian deaths and result in 1 million to 5 million refugees.
Some have also made invoked broader implications. “An assault on Ukraine is an assault on democracy,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared on ABC News on Sunday.
Speaking in Australia on Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that a Russian invasion threatened the stability of the post-World War II order and would leave an opening for countries like China to step up their military activities.
“If we allow those principles to be challenged with impunity, even if it’s half a world away in Europe, that will have an impact here as well,” Blinken said. “Others are watching; others are looking to all of us to see how we respond.”
This striking image comes from NBC’s Richard Engel.
Per Engel, it captures Ukrainian great-grandmother Valentina Constantinovska, who was clutching an AK-47 as she trained to defend her country against a possible Russian attack.
“Your mother would do it too,” she told Engel.
Coronavirus. Pfizer and the FDA have delayed a plan to fast-track authorization of a Covid-19 vaccine for children under 5 years old. The age group will now have to wait at least until April to receive their shots. CNBC
January 6 probe. Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, who helped lead former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election as his personal lawyer, is “in discussions with the House Jan. 6 committee about responding to its questions.” New York Times
Supreme Court. President Biden is set to meet with his top contenders for retiring Justice Stephen Breyer’s Supreme Court seat this week. Biden has pledged to name a nominee by the end of the month. Washington Post
Each morning, WUTP’s team of contributors rotate to offer a briefing on the latest news in a different policy area. It’s Monday, so Davis Giangiulio is here with the week’s top economic headlines:
Prices rose 7.5% in January compared to last year, the highest figure in 40 years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics released the Consumer Price Index report on Thursday that detailed the data. Core inflation, which measures just rises in prices in a single month, was stable at 0.6%. Inflation without volatile food and energy prices also jumped 6%.
The surge continues to be driven by similar goods: Energy prices are up 27% in the last year, and another 0.9% in January, while used cars are up 40.5% in the last 12 months. However, other sectors are starting to get hit. Food is up 7%, and shelter is up 4.4%. Rental vacancy rates fell to 5.6% in the fourth quarter of 2021, meaning that high demand could continue to drive residential rental costs higher.
Average hourly earnings in January were up 5.7% compared to last year, which means the purchasing power of consumers declined 1.8%. However, in January wages rose 0.7%, meaning purchasing power was up by 0.1% in the last month. President Joe Biden cited that as a bright spot in a statement on the report, and added “forecasters continue to project inflation easing substantially by the end of 2022.” Biden stressed the need to “lower costs in areas that have held back families and working people for decades,” but did not specify what needs to be done now to stop inflation from increasing further.
All eyes are now on the Federal Reserve as it prepares to raise interest rates to combat inflation. Goldman Sachs is now forecasting seven rate hikes throughout the year, one for every remaining meeting of the central bank this year, instead of a previously predicted five. Reuters said a flurry of public debate in recent days about higher rate hikes “suggests an internal Fed debate over how fast and high to raise interest rates.”
The outlet reported that a half a percentage point rate jump could come next month, the biggest rise since May 2000. Stocks fell on the inflation figures and dropped again once a Fed official hinted a more aggressive approach could be coming. Higher interest rates would make investing more difficult, slowing the economy, and hurting businesses at least temporarily.
All times Eastern.
President Joe Biden will return to the White House at 10:30 a.m. after spending the weekend at Camp David. At 11:30 a.m., he will receive his daily intelligence briefing.
- Vice President Kamala Harris will join Biden for his 11:30 a.m. intelligence briefing and will deliver remarks at 2:50 p.m. about the “investments in affordable, high-speed internet” in the bipartisan infrastructure law.
- White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre will hold a press briefing at 2:30 p.m.
The Senate will convene at 3 p.m. and resume consideration of H.R. 3076, the Postal Service Reform Act. At 5:30 p.m., the Senate will hold a procedural vote to advance the bill, requiring 60 votes.
The largest-scale reform to the U.S. Postal Service in 15 years, the bill would eliminate the requirement that the agency cover the future health care costs of its retired employees years in advance. Under the bill, the old requirement — which has been financially crippling the agency — would be replaced with a new one calling for USPS employees to enroll in Medicare when they become eligible.
The USPS has estimated that it would save $50 billion in the next decade under the measure, which passed the House in a 342-92 vote last week.
The House is not in session.
The Supreme Court is not in session.
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