Politico’s Afternoon Update on Ukraine and Russia

From Politico Playbook PM by Ryan Lizza, Eli Okun, and Garrett Ross:

TV TONIGHT — ABC’s David Muir has an exclusive interview with Ukrainian President VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY that will air on multiple shows and streaming platforms. Advance clip

BATTLEFIELD UPDATE — We just got off a zoom with a senior Defense Department official who provided an update about the Russian invasion. The headline is that Russian President VLADIMIR PUTIN’s offensive remains stuck, and he is now looking for outside help.

Highlights …

— All in. “Nearly 100%” of the pre-staged Russian forces are now inside Ukraine.

— But paused. The “main advance is still stalled outside” Kyiv. The miles-long convoy that we’ve all seen from satellite images is mostly a “re-supply convoy” though there are some “combat elements.”

— Airspace “still contested.” Russia remains unable to control the skies. “President Zelenskyy has the vast majority of his fixed wing aircraft available to him,” the official said. (And so does Putin.) This is before a decision has been made by Poland to send Russian-made planes that Ukrainians can fly and have been practically begging for. The U.S. has still “made no decision” on a deal to replace any planes Poland would transfer to Ukraine with American fighters, though the Biden administration is in negotiations on the issue.

— More “long-range fire,” more civilian deaths. The inability of Russia to control the airspace has led Putin to increase the use of artillery, rockets and missiles. The Russians have launched 625 missiles during their invasion so far. That means more civilian deaths and more attacks on residential areas, both of which are “happening at a greater rate and greater scale.”

— Shoring up NATO. The U.S. is sending an additional 500 military personnel to Eastern Europe. There are now 100,000 Americans permanently stationed or deployed there.

— Syrians are coming. Putin is seeking to recruit soldiers from Syria. It’s “noteworthy” that Putin needs “foreign fighters to fight his war in Ukraine,” said the official.

— Belarusians aren’t (yet). There are still no signs that Belarus is going “to join the fight,” and there are no Belarusian troops in Ukraine.

— Weapons still flowing. Western supply routes for arms and other aid remain unobstructed.

— Usual caveats apply. As always, the Pentagon warns that this isn’t a fair fight and the current Russian difficulties in the face of “stiff Ukraine resistance” and Russia’s “own internal challenges” might be temporary. Putin “has an awful lot of combat power available to him,” the official noted. “I don’t think we should underestimate that.”

NEW FROM THE WHITE HOUSE — President JOE BIDEN held a 79-minute video teleconference this morning with French President EMMANUEL MACRON, German Chancellor OLAF SCHOLZ and British PM BORIS JOHNSON.

RAMIFICATIONS IN D.C. — Anti-corruption advocates are seizing on what one tells Nahal Toosi is “a paradigm shift moment” to go after Russia’s elite launderers. But they have their eyes on more than just Russia, and “Biden and his aides have long been laying the groundwork for this moment,” Nahal reports. Still, advocates say enforcement will necessitate dedicating “money, staff and patience, not just applause.”

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