Thursday Reads: And So It Begins…Posted: February 24, 2022
The images in this post are by famous Ukrainian artists. You can read more about them at this Odessa Journal link.
Well it really happened last night. Russia attacked multiple Ukrainian cities. There is a massive amount of reporting and commentary; I can only offer a sampling.
After his declaration of war just before 6 a.m. Moscow-time, the Ukrainian government reported airstrikes at military facilities in the cities of Kyiv, Kharkiv and Dnipro, as well as artillery fire on the border. The authorities in Kyiv reported a pincer movement attack on its troops from Belarus to the north, potentially attempting an encirclement of Kyiv, and from Crimea to the south. Russia insisted it was destroying military bases and airfields, not civilian targets.
Ukraine warned that Moscow was turning to propaganda tricks by suggesting that Russian troops were not meeting resistance and by exhorting Ukrainians to lay down their weapons. Kyiv insisted that its troops were locked in heavy fighting, had shot down seven warplanes, destroyed dozens of armored vehicles and killed dozens of enemy soldiers. Fighting has drawn very close to Kyiv and Kharkiv.
Adviser to the Ukrainian presidential office Oleksiy Arestovych vowed that the Russian forces would not reach the capital. “Fierce battles will be waiting for them there, we will stop them,” he was quoted as saying by local media.
In a sign of the desperate straits Ukraine is facing against a stronger adversary, however, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called for a general mobilization. The country also put out an appeal for blood donors as news began to filter in of dozens of Ukrainian casualties across the country.
U.S. President Joe Biden vowed a united response against the Russian attack by Washington and its allies, while U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said: “President Putin, in the name of humanity, bring your troops back to Russia. This conflict must stop now.” Later on Thursday, the EU is set to agree a sanctions package intended to weaken Putin’s ability to wage war, though there was no immediate sign that it would touch all-important energy revenues.
Earlier on Thursday, Zelenskiy imposed martial law and said he had contacted Biden to co-ordinate an international response. “Today we need calm from each of you. Stay at home if possible. We are working, the army is working, the whole security apparatus of Ukraine is working.” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called for “devastating” sanctions on Russia and for weapons’ deliveries to the Ukrainian military.
Vitaly Klitschko, mayor of Kyiv and former heavyweight boxing champion, told people to have an emergency suitcase ready in case they needed to get to shelNAter.
At Just Security, Maria Popova and Oxana Shevel argue: Russia’s New Assault On Ukraine Is Not Entirely – Maybe Not Even Largely — About NATO.
In his Feb. 15 Just Security article “Ukraine: Unleashing the Rhetorical Dogs of War,” Barry Posen argued that NATO and Ukraine should have cut a deal with Russia because the Ukrainian military would surely be defeated by Russia without direct U.S./Western military participation and U.S. offers of equipment were only encouraging a potential Ukrainian insurgency against Russian occupation that would be as bloody as it would be futile. The prescription depends entirely on Posen’s assumption that to satisfy Russia, all Ukraine would have had to do would be “to swallow the bitter pill of accepting armed neutrality between NATO and Russia, rather than NATO membership.”
This assumption contradicts events of recent months and the historical record. While Vladimir Putin has claimed that his goal is keeping Ukraine out of NATO, he also insisted that he was just conducting military exercises. Instead, he is invading Ukraine again. He likewise insisted in 2014 that he wasn’t capturing Crimea, despite the presence of his unidentified “Little Green Men” and his subsequent annexation of the peninsula, or that he was not fighting in Ukraine’s Donbas area in the east all these years, despite all evidence to the contrary. There is no reason to take Putin at his word. His Feb. 21 diatribe conferring Russian recognition of independence for the two eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk and his order for Russian troops to move in as ostensible “peacekeepers” shows clearly his disdain for diplomatic resolutions.
Moreover, this is not even primarily about NATO.
NATO’s eastward expansion may have played a role in straining the relationship between Russia and the West, but mainly because, for Russia, seeing former satellites eagerly abandon it for the greener pastures of Euro-Atlantic integration stung. However, Putin’s rhetoric and actions over almost two decades reveal that his goals extend beyond imposing neutrality on Ukraine or even staving off further NATO expansion. The larger objective is to re-establish Russian political and cultural dominance over a nation that Putin sees as one with Russia, and then follow up by undoing the European rules-based order and security architecture established in the aftermath of World War II. Given these goals, Ukrainian neutrality is a woefully insufficient concession for Putin.
Read much more at the link.
UNITED NATIONS — U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says Russia’s attack on Ukraine — as he appealed for President Vladimir Putin to stop his troops — was “the saddest moment” of his five-year tenure.
The U.N. chief opened the emergency Security Council meeting late Wednesday by urgently appealing to Putin: “In the name of humanity, bring your troops back to Russia.”
But during the meeting, Putin announced that he was launching a “special military operation” in eastern Ukraine.
Guterres later urged the Russian president to withdraw his troops and added: “In the name of humanity do not allow to start in Europe what could be the worst war since the beginning of the century, with consequences not only devastating for Ukraine, not only tragic for the Russian Federation, but with an impact we cannot even foresee in relation to the consequences for the global economy.”
A war would cause deaths and displacement and people will lose hope in the future, Guterres said, adding Russia’s actions would harm the global economy.
“What is clear for me is that this war doesn’t make any sense,” Guterres said, stressing that it violates the U.N. Charter and will cause a level of suffering if it doesn’t stop that Europe hasn’t know since at least the 1990s Balkans crisis.
Set to address the nation Thursday afternoon, Biden is expected to unveil new measures that could cut off Russia from advanced technology, announce new restrictions on large financial institutions and slap sanctions on additional members of the inner circle of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The planned sanctions, the latest US reprisals against Moscow this week, had been reserved as Biden hoped to maintain some leverage in dissuading Putin from a full-scale invasion. But so far, Western threats of economic punishment, as well as Biden’s strategy of revealing what the US knew about Putin’s buildup of forces to try to make the Russian leader second-guess himself, have proven ineffective.
After months of predictions and warnings, Russian forces began their attack on Ukraine Thursday morning local time, with reports of troops crossing the border to the north and south, explosions in multiple cities including the capital Kyiv, and warnings from Putin of future bloodshed unless Ukrainian forces lay down their arms.
Biden’s sanctions are now meant to punish Putin’s actions, rather than prevent them, by going after Russia’s economy, its military capabilities and those closest to the Russian President. How much they can alter Putin’s decision-making going forward, however, remains an open question.
Before he speaks, Biden is planning to confer with the leaders from the Group of 7 industrialized nations about which sanctions they plan to impose, hoping to coordinate a response that projects unity among Western allies. US and European officials spoke by phone overnight into Thursday to coordinate their responses.
Gideon Rachman at Financial Times: Putin’s war will shake the world.
The phoney war is over. The real war has begun. For several weeks, the US and British governments have believed that Vladimir Putin was intent on a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. That is now happening.
The precise targets of the Russian military are still emerging. But it is already clear that this is not a limited attack, confined to the disputed regions of eastern Ukraine. Explosions have been heard in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. And there are reports of Russian troops crossing the border from Belarus — which is the shortest and most direct route to Kyiv.
Western security services, which have accurately predicted the course of events up until now, believe that Putin intends to overthrow the Ukrainian government and install a puppet regime in its place. This “decapitation” strategy will take in not only the central government, but also regional and local governments. Lists have been drawn up of Ukrainian officials who will be arrested or killed.
The military tactics that Russia uses are likely to be extremely brutal — “the kind of thing we saw in Syria and Chechnya”, according to one US official. The deployment of Russian artillery and its air force would mean heavy military and civilian casualties on the Ukrainian side. Some western sources have spoken of 50,000 deaths within a week.
The Ukrainian military is determined to fight back. But it is likely to find itself heavily outgunned. The Russian goal may be to surround Kyiv and force the collapse or resignation of the Ukrainian government, led by Volodymyr Zelensky.
The Russians will not want to get involved in urban warfare, if they can avoid it. They are also determined to keep the west out of this conflict. In his speech, announcing the invasion, Putin warned outsiders tempted to interfere that there would be “consequences you have never encountered in your history” — a thinly veiled reference to nuclear war.
This is a terrifying article that concludes by asking whether Western states could end up getting involved.
Western governments are also actively debating how to help a Ukrainian insurgency — if and when it emerges — to fight a Russian occupation. Supporters of this plan of action believe that it will be both a moral duty and a strategic imperative to allow Ukrainians to continue the fight. Others worry that supporting an insurgency could turn Ukraine into a new Syria on the borders of Europe.
This is interesting from Anton Troianovski at The New York Times: Many Russians Feel a Deep Unease Over Going to War.
MOSCOW — Waiting for her friends on Moscow’s primly landscaped Boulevard Ring earlier this week, Svetlana Kozakova admitted that she’d had a sleepless night. She kept checking the news on her phone after President Vladimir V. Putin’s aggrieved speech to the nation on Monday that all but threatened Ukraine with war.
“Things are going to be very, very uncertain,” she said, “and, most likely, very sad.”
For months, Russians of all political stripes tuned out American warnings that their country could soon invade Ukraine, dismissing them as an outlandish concoction in the West’s disinformation war with the Kremlin. But this week, after several television appearances by Mr. Putin stunned and scared some longtime observers, that sense of casual disregard turned to a deep unease.
Early Thursday morning, any remaining skepticism that their country would invade was put to rest, when Mr. Putin declared a “special military operation” in Ukraine.
Pollsters said that most Russians probably supported Mr. Putin’s formal recognition of the Russian-backed territories in eastern Ukraine this week, especially because they had no choice in the matter and because no significant political force inside the country has advocated against it.
War is a different matter altogether, though; in recent days, Russia has not seen any of the jubilation that accompanied the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Going to war is one of Russians’ greatest fears, according to the Levada Center, an independent pollster. And after Mr. Putin’s angry speech and his cryptic televised meeting with his Security Council on Monday, Russians realized that possibility was lurching closer toward becoming reality.
Read the rest at the NYT.
In the midst of an international crisis created by Russia that could potentially trigger a war in Europe, Republicans and right-wingers on and off Fox News have pledged allegiance to…Vladimir Putin. At the least, they are siding with the Russian autocrat and trash-talking President Joe Biden’s effort to block his aggression. But there’s nothing surprising about the ongoing romance between conservatives and the democracy-crushing thug-leader of Russia, who has invaded Ukraine and violated international law. Anyone shocked by this has forgotten one of the key facts of the 21st century: Putin waged war on the United States, and Donald Trump and his party aided, abetted, and benefitted from that attack.
In recent days, as Putin has threatened a conflagration, top conservatives and GOP officials have practically pinned “I’m-with-Vlad buttons” onto their lapels. One example: Mike Pompeo, Trump’s final secretary of state and before that his CIA director, had only praise for the corrupt Russian autocrat, describing him as “talented” and “savvy.” Donald Trump, speaking to a conservative podcaster on Tuesday, hailed Putin’s moves in Ukraine as “genius.” Referring to Putin’s invasion of eastern Ukraine, Trump said, “Putin declares a big portion of…of Ukraine. Putin declares it as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful…I said, ‘How smart is that?’ And he’s gonna go in and be a peacekeeper…Here’s a guy who’s very savvy.” Later in the interview, Trump continued to gush: “I knew Putin very well. I got along with him great. He liked me. I liked him. I mean, you know, he’s a tough cookie, got a lot of the great charm and a lot of pride. But the way he—and he loves his country, you know? He loves his country.”
No condemnation. No call for opposing Putin’s illegal and provocative maneuvers. Just one big bear hug from Trump for the tyrant. Putin may spread repression by force but he sure “loves his country.” (Remember, Trump’s crush on Putin stretches back to 2013 when he tweeted: “Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow—if so, will he become my new best friend?”)
Conservatives have also boosted Putin by pooh-poohing the invasion of Ukraine as no big deal. In his usual too-clever-by-half way, Tucker Carlson on Tuesday night dismissed outrage over Putin’s aggression:
What is this really about? Why do I hate Putin so much? Has Putin ever called me a racist? Has he threatened to get me fired for disagreeing with him? Has he shipped every middle-class job in my town to Russia? Did he manufacture a worldwide pandemic that wrecked my business and kept me indoors for two years? Is he teaching my children to embrace racial discrimination? Is he making fentanyl? Is he trying to snuff out Christianity? Does he eat dogs?
It seemed as if Carlson was quasi-defending Putin because the Russian leader does not advocate critical race theory and is not the leader of China. He ridiculed concerns over Putin’s threat to world peace and stability and asserted Americans are being “trained to hate” the Russian leader. In other words, there’s no reason to fret about Putin’s militarism—and if you do worry, you’re just a brainwashed sheep.
Read the rest at Mother Jones.
So here we are. I have no idea what’s coming, but I’m very worried. After four years of Trump, and two years of a deadly pandemic, we don’t need any more calamities.
I’ll try to post updates in the comment thread today. I have difficulty looking at the computer screen for very long these days, but I’ll do my best. I hope you all will post comments and links too. Take care everyone!