What We're Watching: A looming Russian offensive, Biden’s State of the Union, Lasso’s losses
Ukraine prepares for Russian assault amid troubling rumors
The Institute for the Study of War, a military think tank based in Washington, DC, has forecast that Russia will launch a major military offensive in eastern Ukraine in the coming weeks. (Russia remains much less likely to again send troops from Belarus toward Kyiv because Ukrainian troops are now even better armed and positioned in the north than when they routed Russian forces last spring.) Ukrainian intel officials say Vladimir Putin has ordered Russian forces to capture the full territory of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts by the end of March, and Ukraine’s defense minister has warned that Russian forces may have mobilized a lot more soldiers than has been widely reported in Western media. Preparations for a Russian offensive and a possible Ukrainian counteroffensive come at a tricky moment for Ukraine. Rumors are flying that President Volodymyr Zelensky may replace Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov following the ministry’s suspected involvement in a corruption scheme involving overpayment for food – though Reznikov has not been personally implicated. We’ll be watching to see what happens next, but Zelensky has not yet publicly addressed the conflicting reports.
Ecuador’s Lasso trips himself up
Ecuador’s President Guillermo Lasso was hoping that a successful constitutional referendum would boost his low approval ratings. It didn’t turn out that way. Defying pollsters, voters on Sunday rejected all eight proposals, including key amendments to allow Ecuador to extradite narco suspects and to slim down the country’s fractious Congress. Adding insult to injury, opposition figures from the left-wing party of exiled former President Rafael Correa also won control of several key municipalities, including the capital, Quito, and Guayaquil, the country’s largest city, traditionally a center-right stronghold. The results are a big blow to the conservative Lasso, who was nearly impeached last summer during widespreadindigenous protests. Left-leaning “Correismo” is now the main political force to reckon with ahead of the 2025 general elections. Will the deeply unpopular Lasso make it that far?
What to expect from Biden’s State of the Union
On Tuesday, President Joe Biden will deliver his second State of the Union address in what’s broadly considered to be the prelude to his reelection announcement in the weeks ahead. Seated in front of VP Kamala Harris and newly elected House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Biden will seek to reinforce his image as a problem solver who’s above the fray of petty partisanship. Of greater interest, however, is whether he can convince the American people that efforts to curb cost-of-living pressures are working. While data suggests that prices for many commodities are coming down – and unemployment is at a five-decade low – it can be difficult to sell that to everyday Americans who still feel the pinch of inflation at the grocery store. Crucially, there will be plenty of outsiders tuning in, too: Ukraine’s government will be looking at how Republican lawmakers respond to Biden’s call for ongoing support to Kyiv. Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping will be keen to see whether Biden seeks to escalate the war of words over the recent spy balloon scandal. After the speech, Biden will make stops in Florida and Wisconsin, two battleground states, suggesting that the 2024 race will soon heat up.