Today: January 6 Chaos, Russia’s War Against Civilians

Russia’s atrocities against Ukraine have been pushed off the front pages, but the Russians are determined to continue their campaign of murder and destruction.

Charred goods in a grocery store of the destroyed Amstor mall in Kremenchuk, one day after it was hit by a Russian missile strike according to Ukrainian authorities
Charred goods in a grocery store of the destroyed Amstor mall in Kremenchuk, one day after it was hit by a Russian missile strike according to Ukrainian authorities (Genya Savilov / AFP via Getty Images)

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Here in the United States, Russia’s atrocities against Ukraine have been pushed off the front pages by news about controversial Supreme Court decisions and some of the most shocking revelations from the January 6 hearings to date. But the Russians are determined to remind the world that they intend to continue their campaign of murder and destruction against civilians.

First, here’s more from The Atlantic.

It was easy to be distracted from the bombs exploding over civilians in Ukraine because of the political bombs that went off today on national television, when the former White House assistant Cassidy Hutchinson testified in front of the January 6 committee. I will discuss her testimony in more detail tomorrow, but these revelations went beyond anything Americans saw even during Watergate, and maybe beyond anything they ever learned about a modern president.

This was not Alexander Butterfield talking about taping systems or John Dean warning about “a cancer on the presidency.” This was pure chaos: Hutchinson described President Donald Trump, in the days after his loss and during the attempted insurrection on January 6, as a raging, irrational tyrant, throwing food against the walls of his office, assaulting a Secret Service officer, and demanding to be taken to the riot in front of the Capitol even after he was informed that the mob was armed.

His culpability in the events of January 6, 2021, should now be beyond question. These revelations should change how the citizens of the United States view what happened not only during the January 6 insurrection, but during Trump’s presidency. If this doesn’t do it, nothing will. More on Hutchinson’s revelations tomorrow.

But now let’s get back to Ukraine: Yesterday, as President Joe Biden met with the leaders of the G7, the world’s most prosperous democracies, Russian missiles slammed into a shopping mall in Kremenchuk, Ukraine, killing and wounding dozens.

A shopping mall? Vladimir Putin isn’t even bothering at this point to pretend this is anything but a war of imperial conquest. Instead, he has decided that the Ukrainians must be brutalized into submission and punished for resisting his rule. Putin once claimed that he was trying to save his brothers and sisters in Slavic Orthodox Ukraine from Nazis—which was always a patently ridiculous claim—but now he gibbers about how he’s like a modern Peter the Great. His bid to create a new (Soviet? Christian? Russian?) empire has devolved into nothing more than the homicidal fury of a humiliated old Mafia boss hiding behind the walls of the Kremlin.

The Russian people still support this war, although I do, sometimes, wonder about officers and men of the Russian military. Over the course of my career, including while working at the Naval War College, I came to know a fair number of officers who’d served in both the Soviet and Russian armed forces. They are steeped in the history of World War II. They know about the 12 Soviet “Hero Cities,” honored for their resistance to the Nazis—and they know that Kyiv and Odesa are among them.

And yet these men are soaking the same ground with the blood of the descendants of their own ancestors. They are piling Ukrainian bodies on top of Soviet bones already in the Earth put there by Hitler’s armies more than 80 years ago. Intentional attacks on civilians are crimes against humanity, and the mall attack is one more addition to a  long list of apparent war crimes committed by the Russians since the start of their invasion.

But what can be done? At the United Nations, not much. Russia is a nuclear-armed rogue state with a permanent seat on the UN Security Council—and a veto against ever being ejected from that body. Before this pitches you into despair, try to keep a few things in mind. Perhaps most important, this isn’t the first time we’ve faced this problem. When the United Nations system was created at the end of World War II, the seat now held by Russia was occupied by the Soviet Union, an aggressive, nuclear-armed nation ruled by Joseph Stalin, a genocidal psychopath. For the duration of the Cold War, the United States and its allies had to do business with a succession of Soviet leaders who had blood on their hands and buckets of it sloshed over their desks.

We persevered. The democracies outlasted the tyrants, and if we stand firm and stay calm, we can do it again. The costs of fighting the Cold War were high; the costs in this second cold war are going to be high as well.

Remember, too, that the Russians have already lost this war. Putin’s initial plan of capturing Ukraine blew up in his face within a few days of his order to invade. His goal is now to partition the country, expanding Russia’s occupation in the east while pummeling civilians until President Volodymyr Zelensky relinquishes more territory. The international community is already doing a lot to prevent this, including widespread sanctions, and the U.S. and NATO can do more by accelerating our assistance to Ukraine, including the weapons and training they need to fight back.

The United States and NATO must thread a narrow needle here. We cannot lose our nerve and tell Ukraine to settle, because that is a decision only Ukrainians can make. But we must also resist Putin’s attempts to bait the West onto the battlefield, to widen the war and give Putin a new crusade that could rally Russia and lead to a nuclear conflict that not even Putin seems to want.

It should be clear by now that the Russian president is neither a smart strategist nor a level-headed leader. Our assistance to Ukraine and our pressure on Russia must be constant, relentless, and painful—but it must all be inflicted on our terms, not those the Kremlin would prefer.

Further Reading:

Today’s News

  1. At least 50 people were found dead in an abandoned tractor trailer in San Antonio, in what appears to be a migrant-smuggling operation. They were crossing the U.S. border from areas including Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras.

  2. The leader of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, vowed to pursue a second referendum on Scottish independence, even though the United Kingdom is expected to continue to withhold consent.

  3. Ghislaine Maxwell is set to be sentenced today for her role in facilitating Jeffrey Epstein’s sexual abuse of underage girls.


Evening Read

Why I’m Talking About My Abortion

The Atlantic

By Jemele Hill

I had an abortion when I was 26 years old. I was not raped. I wasn’t the victim of incest. I was not in the midst of a life-threatening medical emergency. I simply had no desire to give birth to a child.

I’ve never shared my abortion story publicly until now.

Read the full article.

More From The Atlantic

Culture Break

Illustration of two faces cut out of an open book
Illustration by Robert Beatty

Read. If you want to be transported to another place, The Narrowboat Summer will do the trick. Or try another recommendation from our summer reading list.

Watch. The second season of Only Murders in the Building, a show that combines the comforts of the mystery genre with a self-awareness of its tropes, begins today on Hulu.

Play our daily crossword.

Join Adrienne LaFrance on Wednesday, June 29, at 12:30 p.m. ET for a conversation about life after Roe v. Wade with the legal historian Mary Ziegler and the constitutional lawyer David French. Register here, and reply to this email with your questions for the panel.

The internet remains undefeated. When the news broke that the January 6 committee was calling a surprise witness today, former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara threw it out there: “Who is testifying tomorrow?” Twitter users decided to have some fun with the answer, and nominated Frankie Pentangeli, Joe Valachi, Henry Hill, JFK Jr., and even Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Markinson from A Few Good Men. Personally, I went for the niche choice of Hanover Fiste, the corrupt witness who becomes a raging monster in the weird but classic 1981 Canadian-American animated feature Heavy Metal. But few people got the joke, so let me suggest seeing it if you haven’t already. It’s not great, but if you’re up for some nostalgia, you can stream this ’80s time capsule on many sites.

— Tom

Katherine Hu contributed to this newsletter.