Two Battles for Democracy

The one in Ukraine still needs our help.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in combat gear, speaks to the press in the town of Bucha
Ukainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks to the press in the town of Bucha (Ronaldo Schemidt / AFP; Getty)

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Democracy is under attack everywhere, and today I want us all to remember that while we’re calmly peeling back the layers of the January 6 conspiracy, people are dying for their right to be free in Ukraine.

But first, here are three new stories from The Atlantic.

No Letup

The January 6 committee will be back in session tomorrow, when I’ll return to what we’re learning about the fight for democracy in America. (Personally, I’m already enjoying the clip of the White House lawyer Eric Herschmann telling the coup whisperer John Eastman, in effect, to go home and get his shine box.)

In Ukraine, however, another battle for democracy is being fought not with papers and emails and texts, but in blood and ash and fire. All of this is happening because a dictator in the Kremlin has told the Ukrainians to bow in obedience, relinquish their freedom, and become his subjects, and they have refused, some at the cost of their lives.

The Ukrainians are, so far, surviving. The Russians, defeated in the battle for Kyiv, are now fighting a savage war of attrition on Ukraine’s eastern front. Vladimir Putin’s dream of capturing the country is gone, but the short-term operational goal now seems to be to grind down the Ukrainians, soldier by soldier, and capture territory, meter by meter, in the Donbas.

This is why Western strategists are watching the battle for Severodonetsk so closely. The city is wedged in between two major Russian-controlled areas, and capturing it would solve a lot of Moscow’s problems. The city, now “split in half,” is likely to fall. This matters because afterward, it may look like the Russians are pausing or letting up, when they will more likely be consolidating a significant gain across the Ukrainian eastern front that will allow them to launch a major offensive later in the year.

So far, the West is doing the right things—or, most of the free West is, anyway. Still, we need to do everything faster and bigger. In The New York Times yesterday, Bret Stephens referred to a Richard Nixon quote I’d never heard; when told what assistance the Israelis needed to defend themselves during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Nixon ordered his staff to “double it” and then to “get the hell out of here and get the job done.”

This is good advice for the Biden administration, which this afternoon pledged another $1 billion of aid. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was in Brussels today, heading a “contact group” of nearly 50 nations to help get even more assistance for Ukraine and to transition Ukraine from Soviet-era weapons to modern NATO arms.

I want to add a word here about Secretary Austin. When he was nominated, I was uncomfortable. I worked for the Defense Department for a quarter century, and I am rather old-school in my hesitance to appoint senior military officers to Cabinet positions (unless your name is George Marshall). I prefer civilians, who have not acquired the ingrained habit of military obedience to the president, which is why I cautioned about Donald Trump’s fascination with hiring generals into the White House.

And yet, Austin’s appointment turned out to be a lucky break.

In a less dangerous period, it would be great to have a defense intellectual in the Pentagon who can work with the president on a vision for a better and more modern Department of Defense. When Russia launched the largest war in Europe since the Nazis marched east, however, what the United States and NATO needed was a military leader who understands operations on the ground and the kinds of weapons systems that are in play. Austin has plenty of that experience, including as commander of Central Command and from his time in Syria. This isn’t the time for a lot of chin-pulling big-think; this is a time for talking to our friends and allies in very detailed terms about weapons systems and how to get them where they need to be. Austin’s the right man for that.

Moscow’s grab for Ukraine has been defeated. But the war is not over, and we need to shake off romantic notions that the Ukrainians are going to march onward and recapture all the occupied Ukrainian territories. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has often compared his country’s struggle against Russia to World War II, a fight between a free people and a barbaric invader. He’s right, and it won’t be over soon. We need to stay firm in our support.

Further reading:

Read all of our coverage of the war on Ukraine.

Today’s News
  1. The Justice Department charged the Buffalo-supermarket shooting suspect with 26 counts of hate crimes and weapons violations.
  2. The  Federal Reserve announced the largest interest-rate increase since 1994, as it attempts to combat rising inflation.
  3. The Supreme Court dismissed an appeal from several Republican-led states to defend a Trump-administration immigration policy.


Evening Read
collage of the island of Diego Garcia and a resident on a pink background
(Illustration by Oliver Munday. Sources: Gallo Images / Getty; Ed Habershon / BBC)

They Bent to Their Knees and Kissed the Sand

Story by Cullen Murphy

When Olivier Bancoult boarded the ship that was to take him 1,000 miles across the Indian Ocean to the Chagos Archipelago—his childhood home, from which he and his fellow islanders had been expelled 50 years earlier—he carried five wrought-iron crosses.

Read the full article.

More From The Atlantic

Culture Break
A painting of books lying on a table

Read. Afterlife, by Julia Alvarez, is a philosophical novel that also happens to be a page-turner.

Or try another pick from our reading list of books you might’ve missed when the world shut down in 2020.

Watch. Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report, released 20 years ago, offers a warning about technology the world is only beginning to heed.

Play our daily crossword.

Speaking of Spielberg (and World War II), every year on Memorial Day, there’s a lot of rewatching of Band of Brothers, the amazing HBO miniseries about a company of U.S. soldiers in Europe. But don’t neglect Michael Kamen’s majestic score the rest of the year, including stirring suites that you didn’t hear in the series.

— Tom

P.S. Our podcast team wants to hear your questions about Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and the future of abortion rights. Please send a voicemail of about a minute or shorter to to tell us what’s on your mind about the legal, practical, and other implications of the SCOTUS decision.

Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.