The War as Seen in Washington and Moscow

NEWS FROM THE FRONT will be impossible to verify in coming days, as Russia rushes to take Kyiv and decapitate Ukraine’s leadership. So let’s take a look at the impact of the war in Washington and Moscow.


Not since 9-11 have we seen such unity in this city, where members of both parties are determined to toughen sanctions (one of the few dissents came from Donald Trump, who horrified most Republicans with his praise of the “genius” Vladimir Putin).

PRESIDENT BIDEN has wide latitude to increase sanctions, and he probably will — with support from most Republicans and Democrats, many of whom were critical earlier this week. There are sound reasons to not tear up the SWIFT system, which facilitates global financial deals, but Biden will play that card if necessary.

AS CONGRESS RETURNS to town next week, a stalled legislative package of sanctions, military aid and humanitarian assistance should pass. Biden has approved several crippling sanctions against Russian financial institutions, and he could agree to SWIFT restrictions despite concern in Europe that this could damage everyone, not just the Russians.

FOR BIDEN, it will be important to show he’s focused on business as usual. So we expect him to use the March 1 State of the Union address to announce that mask and vaccine mandates will end, and he also will disclose — perhaps today — his nominee for the Supreme Court.

BIDEN ALSO WILL DETAIL initiatives to ease port gridlock, especially in southern California, and he will push again for a stimulus package, some of which could pass later this spring. The focus in Tuesday’s speech obviously will be on Ukraine and sanctions, which suddenly has given Biden some political capital.


Putin, who lives in an echo chamber filled with sycophants, probably did not anticipate a stiff Ukrainian resistance, NATO solidarity or protests in most Russian cities. He faces a major push-back from his own people as casualties mount. If widespread protests — which began yesterday — lead to mass arrests, that will simply intensify the dissent.

THE NERVOUS OLIGARCHS: Putin made them wealthy but his ultra-rich cronies (and their children) now face massive sanctions in the U.S. and Europe. With the ruble and Russian markets in free-fall, the oligarchs could begin to sour on Putin, who may need a food-taster.

THE OLIGARCHS are used to staying at the world’s great hotels and dining at Michelin three-star restaurants, but they’re pariahs now. Ordinary Russians could defect also; they soon may tire of state media lies and a collapsing economy. And the most intriguing angle of all — is the Russian military fully on board with this war?

BOTTOM LINE: In Moscow, there must be some anxiety over the end-game. Is there one? Can Moscow occupy a country where Russians are loathed? Will a brutal crackdown against dissidents backfire at home? Biden, meanwhile, has managed to unify Washington and NATO.

AT SOME POINT, PERHAPS SOON, Putin will suggest a cease-fire and fresh negotiations. That will electrify Washington and Moscow, but if Putin simply seeks a deal on his terms, the war will continue — with far more dissent in Moscow than in Washington.

Related: Five Key Questions as the Ukraine War Begins

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