The Morning Dispatch: Russia Still Wants to Destroy Ukraine as We Know It
Plus: The Dispatch’s pirate skiff continues to grow.
Happy Monday! This is how the uprising begins: Not with a bang, but with a chess robot breaking a 7-year-old Russian boy’s finger during a match.
Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
Russian military forces launched missiles at the southern Ukrainian port of Odessa over the weekend, just one day after Russia and Ukraine signed an agreement—brokered by Turkey and the United Nations—to alleviate global food shortages by reopening blockaded Ukrainian ports and allowing grain exports to flow again. “That’s all you need to know about deals with Russia,” Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said.
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during a trip through the Indo-Pacific region over the weekend that the Chinese military has become “noticeably more aggressive” over the past five years, both in the air and at sea. Milley will attend a meeting of Indo-Pacific defense officials in Australia this week that is expected to focus on countering the growing Chinese threat.
Iranian state media reported over the weekend that officials there arrested a “network of agents” they claim was connected to Mossad—Israel’s intelligence agency—and planning to set off explosives at a “sensitive location” in Iran, likely a nuclear enrichment center. The Israeli prime minister’s office declined to comment on the report, but the Wall Street Journal reported last month Israel was “intensifying its campaign” to thwart Iran’s nuclear, missile, and drone programs with a series of covert operations.
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced Saturday the public health agency has determined monkeypox to be a “public health emergency of international concern,” though the relevant WHO committee was unable to reach a consensus on the matter. “For the moment this is an outbreak that is concentrated among men who have sex with men,” Tedros said. “That means that this is an outbreak that can be stopped with the right strategies in the right groups.”
President Joe Biden is responding to his COVID-19 treatment “as expected,” according to his physician, Dr. Kevin O’Connor. Biden is continuing to take Paxlovid to treat what O’Connor believes is most likely the BA5 Omicron subvariant, and he is experiencing a mild sore throat, runny nose, cough, and body aches—but his temperature and oxygen saturation are reportedly normal.
S&P Global released its July purchasing managers indices for the Eurozone and United States on Friday, finding economic activity contracted sharply month-over-month in both areas. A reading below 50 in the index—which is based on survey data from manufacturing and services businesses—indicates an economic contraction, and the U.S. figure fell from 52.3 in June to 47.5 in July—its lowest level in 26 months. The Bureau of Economic Analysis is slated to release gross domestic product data on Thursday.
A federal jury found Steve Bannon guilty on two counts of contempt of Congress on Friday after the longtime adviser to Donald Trump defied a subpoena from the January 6 Select Committee seeking testimony and documents related to Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Bannon faces up to two years in prison at his sentencing hearing scheduled for October, but indicated he intends to appeal.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law on Friday that will allow private citizens in California to sue people involved in the manufacturing, sale, transport, or distribution of ghost guns, assault weapons, or .50 BMG rifles—or in the sale or transfer of any firearm to an individual under the age of 21. The legislation—which Newsom hinted at back in December—is modeled after Texas’ Heartbeat Act, which made use of an innovative enforcement mechanism to evade judicial review.
Army veteran and former nonprofit CEO Wes Moore was declared the winner of Maryland’s Democratic gubernatorial primary on Friday, beating out former Labor Secretary and Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez. Maryland’s outgoing Republican governor, Larry Hogan, said yesterday he will not support his party’s nominee to replace him, Dan Cox, whom Hogan has labeled a “QAnon whack job.”
Russia’s War Aims Remain Intact
After the first few months of fighting, most coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war has understandably focused on territorial gains and the battle for the Donbas. But what’s life like for Ukrainians living in areas Russia has already conquered? Charlotte tries to answer that question in a piece for the site today.
Moscow has deployed increasingly repressive tactics to solidify its fragile hold on the territory it hijacked early in the invasion: establishing local puppet governments, purging Ukrainian nationalists and political figures, sending Ukrainian citizens to Russia for ‘Russification,’ and laying the groundwork for annexation.
The planned trajectory of Moscow’s evasively named “special military operation”—to decapitate Kyiv’s sitting government in a swift onslaught—failed in short order. In April and after incurring heavy losses, the Russian military pulled back from Ukraine’s north to refocus its war effort on the eastern and southern regions. But even as the fighting’s frontlines shifted away from the capital, Russia’s strategic driver remained the same: to dismantle Ukraine’s national identity regardless of the human cost.
“Ukraine as it was can’t continue to exist,” Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of Russian state-owned RT, said during a recent television appearance. “There’ll be no Ukraine we’ve known for many years.”
Last week, White House national security spokesman John Kirby confirmed rumors that Moscow harbored plans to annex four Ukrainian oblasts under partial Russian control: Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson.
In the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts, Russian-installed “military-civilian administrations” have already begun the work of issuing residents Russian passports, circulating the Russian ruble, opening local branches of Russian banks, and changing school curricula to include Russian language and history courses. Regional authorities have also shut down the Ukrainian telecommunications network, forcing locals to purchase traceable Russian SIM cards.
Over the weekend, Russian media reported that referendum commissions had been created in both Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. But whether the bodies can even lend minimal legitimacy to the planned annexations remains to be seen.
“There is this very strong partisan, insurgent movement, which wasn’t present in Crimea. It’s a very different situation from Crimea. Russia is trying to use the same playbook, but the situation on the ground is really different,” Olga Tokariuk, a Kyiv-based journalist and researcher, said. “They might declare this as their goal—to annex these territories—but whether they are actually able to do that, we are not sure.”
Part of the effort to integrate the regions politically includes rooting out Ukrainians considered hostile to the occupying regime.
On Friday, Human Rights Watch published a report documenting sweeping abuse targeting the two regions’ civilian populations.
In an interview with The Dispatch, Neil Predmestnikov—a Kherson local—said Russians and their local collaborators compile lists of activists, police officers, and former military personnel to target for detention and torture. Some go missing for weeks at a time before being ordered by their captors to flee the region or face indefinite imprisonment or death. Others are never seen again.
“They try to find activists, people with strong pro-Ukrainian positions,” Predmestnikov told The Dispatch, adding that Kherson’s population largely opposes the occupation despite Russia’s efforts to rid the city of outspoken rivals. “Propaganda doesn’t work when you’ve bombed the whole country.”
On the morning of June 28, the duly elected mayor of the occupied Ukrainian city of Kherson, Ihor Kolykhaev, set off for work for the final time.
Upon Kolykhaev’s arrival at a makeshift city council building, armed assailants allegedly handcuffed him, searched his belongings, and took him away in a bus marked with the letter “Z”—the insignia of the Russian military.
Some Dispatch Updates
Our little pirate skiff is getting a bit more crowded.
This section of TMD is typically reserved for what we deem the most important story of the day, but today we’re turning it over to some exciting personnel news: We’ve hired our first executive editor and have a new chief operating officer! (Does this mean we’re no longer a start-up?)
The executive editor search was a long one, but we’re very happy with the end result: Adam O’Neal joining us after six years at the Wall Street Journal.
Adam most recently worked as an editorial page writer based in Europe, crafting unsigned editorials and opinion pieces about foreign affairs. He also served as the longtime editor of Houses of Worship, the Journal’s weekly religion column. Before joining the Journal as an assistant op-ed editor, Adam covered American politics for RealClearPolitics, and the Vatican for Rome Reports, a television news agency. A native of Pomona, California, he got his start as a producer at KFI AM 640.
Adam is moving back to Washington, D.C., from Europe this month—and we can’t wait for him to start at The Dispatch on August 15.
And on the business side of things, we are very pleased to announce Justin Fritz—our vice president of marketing—has been promoted to chief operating officer. Justin joined The Dispatch last fall after several years at The Athletic, where he served as the director of engagement and retention.
He immediately assumed a leadership role well beyond his remit as head of marketing. From helping our work reach a bigger audience, to brainstorming new product ideas, to overseeing the production of our new website (more details coming soon!), he’s been improving The Dispatch since day one—and we’re excited to see what he does in his new role.
The Dispatch is growing—and growing in a sustainable way.
Worth Your Time
Why did the Chinese government offer five years ago to build a $100 million garden at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C.? You guessed it: espionage. “The canceled garden is part of a frenzy of counterintelligence activity by the FBI and other federal agencies focused on what career US security officials say has been a dramatic escalation of Chinese espionage on US soil over the past decade,” Katie Bo Lillis reports for CNN. “Since at least 2017, federal officials have investigated Chinese land purchases near critical infrastructure, shut down a high-profile regional consulate believed by the US government to be a hotbed of Chinese spies and stonewalled what they saw as clear efforts to plant listening devices near sensitive military and government facilities. Among the most alarming things the FBI uncovered pertains to Chinese-made Huawei equipment atop cell towers near US military bases in the rural Midwest. According to multiple sources familiar with the matter, the FBI determined the equipment was capable of capturing and disrupting highly restricted Defense Department communications, including those used by US Strategic Command, which oversees the country's nuclear weapons.”
This deeply reported piece by Axios’ Jonathan Swan lays out the plan to refashion the federal bureaucracy in Trump’s image if he’s elected to a second term, using an executive order known as “Schedule F” to pave the way for Trump to replace typically non-partisan federal employees with loyalists. Trump allies are already building a database of candidates vetted for sufficient loyalty, Swan reports. “New presidents typically get to replace more than 4,000 so-called ‘political’ appointees to oversee the running of their administration,” he writes. “But below this rotating layer of political appointees sits a mass of government workers who enjoy strong employment protections—and typically continue their service from one administration to the next, regardless of the president’s party affiliation. An initial estimate by the Trump official who came up with Schedule F found it could apply to as many as 50,000 federal workers—a fraction of a workforce of more than 2 million, but a segment with a profound role in shaping American life.”
If you want to geek out about mineral formation and space exploration—and who doesn’t?—this is the read for you. A whole new mineral taxonomy reveals the impact of life on geology, and its insights could help us read the history of other planets, Joanna Thompson reports for Quanta Magazine. “When examining a Martian crystal, for example, researchers could use the new mineralogical framework to look at features like grain size and structure defects to determine whether it could have been produced by an ancient microbe rather than by a dying sea or a meteor strike,” Thompson writes. “The new taxonomy might even help with detecting life on planets around distant stars. Light from exoplanets detected by the James Webb Space Telescope and other sophisticated instruments could be analyzed to determine the chemical composition of their atmospheres; based on the measurable oxygen content, the presence or absence of water vapor, relative carbon concentrations and other data, researchers could try to predict what kinds of minerals would be likely to form from light-years away.”
Presented Without Comment
Toeing the Company Line
Yes, Biden is pretty darn unpopular and yes, Republicans are likely to take control of Congress come November, but Republicans’ polling advantage isn’t that impressive considering Democrats’ political headwinds. “The whole point of the midterm curse is voters moving past the previous election cycle, previously at the expense of the incumbent,” Chris writes in Friday’s Stirewaltisms (🔒). “By sticking around, Trump has so far blunted the effect on his successor who would otherwise already be in line for an old-fashioned shellacking.”
And in Friday’s Uphill (🔒), Haley and intern Augustus Bayard review the last January 6 hearing (for now), explain proposed reforms to the Electoral Count Act, and check in on the lawmakers pushing sanctions on Hong Kong prosecutors helping with repressive and political prosecutions.
Declan and Esther joined Sarah and David on Friday’s Dispatch Podcast to consider the impact of Thursday’s January 6 hearing. Plus: Why Republicans are wary of the gay marriage and contraception bills that recently passed the House, and Biden’s decision not to declare a climate emergency (yet).
Friday’s G-File is a long one, so buckle up as Jonah explores the limits of do-goodery and drawbacks of a runaway focus on corporate responsibility and activism. In general, he argues, institutions will be most effective when they stay in their lanes. “A free society where every institution must prioritize whatever the crowd wants at a given moment cannot last as a free society,” he writes.
Time for another Ruminant/Remnant! On this week’s episode, Jonah provides his take on the latest January 6 news before taking time out for a rant on “capture the flag” media coverage. Plus: the merits of MAGA Republicans testifying in Congress, the silly idea of the “right side of history,” and Steve Bannon (spoiler: he’s not a fan).
Georgetown professor and Bush administration alum Paul Miller joined David on Good Faith this week to discuss the theological and political problems with Christian nationalism, as well as the causes and consequences of Christian underrepresentation in the academy and other elite spaces.
There’s no remaining Christian case for Trump, David argues in Sunday’s French Press, because there’s no longer a binary choice between Trump and some worse candidate—and because the former president has discipled the church far more than it’s discipled him.
On the site today, Andrew Fink explains why North Korea’s recognition of two Russian proxy states—the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic—matters.