What We’re Watching: Putin’s propaganda, new Iran-Israel feud, Title 42 tussle
Putin’s new (propaganda) weapon
Since Russia’s invasion on February 24, Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky, not Russia’s Vladimir Putin, has waged a winning “information war.” Zelensky’s video speeches to foreign governments, the UN, and on Monday to the World Economic Forum at Davos have brought his country substantial military, economic, and political support. Stories like Monday’s anti-war resignation of a senior Russian diplomat and the highly publicized conviction of a Russian soldier for a war crime further boost Ukraine’s momentum. But last week’s surrender of hundreds of Ukrainian fighters from a Mariupol steel plant gives Russia a new propaganda weapon Putin could use for weeks or months to come. Many of the captured fighters belong to the Azov Regiment, a group with a history of ultra-nationalist, white-supremacist politics. While Ukraine’s government says it wants to recover these soldiers in exchange for captured Russians, a leader of pro-Russian Ukrainian separatists said Monday that all these prisoners should be tried for war crimes in Donetsk. A highly publicized trial of Ukrainians as right-wing war criminals won’t change many minds on either side about the war itself, but it could provide Putin a powerful distraction from a season of bad news for Russia.
For Israel, is a bad Iran deal better than none at all?
Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi has vowed to “avenge” the killing of a high-ranking Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps colonel killed over the weekend in a Bond-style drive-by in Tehran. Col. Hassan Sayyad Khodayari, who oversaw the regime’s operations in Iraq and Syria, was shot outside his home by assailants who sped off on motorcycles. It was the highest-profile assassination in Iran since nuclear architect Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was killed in a high-tech operation in November 2020. Both attacks are suspected internationally as Mossad operations, but Israel never admits to its surreptitious efforts. Timing is key: just last week, Israel said it foiled an attempt by the IRGC to lure Israelis abroad to kidnap or harm them – and that Khodayari was behind that scheme. This flare-up comes amid reports that Iran is on the cusp of having enough enriched uranium to produce four nuclear weapons. Fearing the escalating situation – and the deterioration of nuclear negotiations in Europe – anonymous members of the Israeli security apparatus told the Jerusalem Post on Monday that a sub-par nuclear deal is preferable to no nuclear deal at all. The next few weeks will be crucial.
Is Biden really upset by Title 42 block?A federal judge in Louisiana has blocked the Biden administration from lifting Title 42, a Trump-era immigration law allowing the US to turn away asylum-seekers at the US-Mexico border on public health grounds. President Biden had long pledged to implement a more humane immigration policy, scrapping the measure that has resulted in tens of thousands of migrants being expelled to oft-dangerous Mexican border towns. Immigration has long been a lightning rod in US politics, culminating in some Republican-led states suing the Biden administration for attempting to lift Title 42, claiming that it would force them to use taxpayer dollars to provide social services for migrants. The Biden administration will appeal the Louisiana verdict, but White House outrage on this can be interpreted — at least in part — as an act of political theater intended to placate the left flank of the Democratic Party. As the appeal makes its way through the courts, Title 42 is unlikely to be lifted before November’s midterm elections, which is politically handy for Biden considering that 60% of Americans say they are quite concerned about illegal immigration.
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