Our Best Stuff From the Week Putin Invaded Ukraine
Ukraine fights back. Will it be enough?
The world changed in an instant on Wednesday night. As the U.N. Security Council conducted an emergency meeting on the Ukraine crisis that can only be described as surreal—Russia’s U.N. ambassador oversaw the proceedings as it was his country’s turn in the Security Council’s rotating presidency—Vladimir Putin addressed the Russian people. Shortly afterward, there were reports of explosions in Kyiv.
The news was grim in those early hours. Russian troops entered Ukraine not just from the eastern regions that Putin had recognized as “independent republics” on Monday, but also from neighboring Belarus. And the Russians also claimed to have seized the Hostomel airport near Kyiv and to have knocked out all of Ukraine’s air defenses.
If Putin was expecting the Ukrainians to roll over and the world to let it happen, though, he was mistaken. Ukrainian forces reclaimed the Hostomel airport, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky recorded this video from the streets of Kyiv:
By many reports, Russia’s progress has slowed on multiple fronts, both because its troops have met resistance and because of what seem like logistical mistakes and failures. Ukraine has managed to maintain control of Kyiv. The international community has responded with sanctions and other measures. Germany, which in the weeks before the invasion offered Ukraine 5,000 helmets in a widely mocked gesture of assistance, has stepped up by sending defensive anti-tank and surface-to-air missiles.
Uncertainty still reigns, of course. Russia has enough resources to drag this out, and Putin has shown the world just how dangerous he is. Zelensky spoke today to call attention to the brutal assault that some cities have faced. The world changed in an instant, yes, but it remains to be seen what that change will be.
We’ve done a tremendous amount of work to bring you the best possible analysis of the situation and we will continue to do so. I’m going to break from my usual format of highlighting a range of our best work and calling out only a few pieces. What follows is not all of our Ukraine coverage, but a good amount of it. And you can find the whole list here.
The world might have chuckled when Ukraine elected a former standup comedian to be president in 2019. It’s safe to say that no one is laughing now. Zelensky has been nothing short of an inspiration to his country. David writes in his Sunday French Press, “In these circumstances it is breathtaking to witness actual courage. It’s even more breathtaking when that courage is both moral and physical. He’s not just speaking against evil, he’s quite literally standing against evil—when evil seems to possess all the power, and virtue feels so weak.”
Up until late Wednesday night, we thought the biggest stories of the week might come from the Conservative Political Action Conference. But then the Ukraine crisis came to CPAC, in a manner of speaking. Former President Donald Trump addressed the gathering, and he tried to have it both ways. He called the invasion “appalling” and an “atrocity” and—predictably—blamed it on Joe Biden. But he couldn’t resist the temptation to make it about himself. “As everyone understands, this horrific event would not have happened if there wasn’t a rigged election and I was president.” Importantly, Andrew addresses why Trump tried to play it both ways: For all the digs at Biden’s response expected at an event like CPAC, plenty of support for Ukraine was on display.
We announced last week that Klon Kitchen, an expert on cybersecurity, national security, and defense, would be writing a weekly newsletter. You can expect his first edition on Thursday. But given current events, he jumped right in with an article for the site on Saturday. He asks three key questions: Where’s the cyber attack we expected? What is next? And, finally, what should the U.S. do now? He has some suggestions. Check them out.
As war broke out Wednesday night, Charlotte was actually attending an event in New York with Garry Kasparov, the Russian chess grandmaster and human rights activist, and Bill Browder, the anti-corruption activist who worked to get Congress to pass the Magnitsky Act in 2012, which has resulted in sanctions on many powerful Russian figures. She spoke with them about how the U.S. can respond to the invasion. “We’re all hearing about these sanctions,” Kasaparov told Charlotte. “You know what, after so many years of hearing that, I want to see it.” He also argued that “military assistance to Ukraine—‘everything but boots on the ground’—is what’s needed.”
Speaking of Browder … Patrick Frey (you might know him as Patterico) got an interview with him that we were thrilled to publish. They discuss sanctions, cutting off Russia from SWIFT, and how the West can get to Putin by targeting his oligarchs. Browder says: “The person who’s making these decisions is Vladimir Putin. And so the main objective should be to create a cost that’s very personal to Vladimir Putin. And so I would say that going after state banks or the energy sector is good, but it only hits him indirectly. … First and foremost, one should go after the oligarchs.”
Jonah starts his Friday G-File by pointing out how Putin resembles Frank Underwood, Kevin Spacey’s character from House of Cards. How so? Both are “pre-modern” politicians. Jonah reminds us that, “In every civilization known to man, the powerful—or at least many of them—schemed, blackmailed, and murdered in private while extolling virtue in public.” Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is a wakeup call. We’ve lulled ourselves into believing that the post-World War II is somehow normal when it’s not. “‘History’—a confusing euphemism for the passions, ambitions, and barbarisms that will always be part of human nature—is always out there, just beyond the tree line, staring at us with feral yellow eyes that are hard to see through the light pollution of modern civilization,” he writes.
This piece by Danielle Pletka was obviously in the works before the invasion, as we published it Thursday morning. But it proved especially timely after the invasion began. Pletka reminds readers that, “In the post-World War II era, there has been only one major benign revisionist power: the United States” and that our increased isolationism—a trend that began toward the end of the George W. Bush administration—creates an opening for bad actors to dominate on the world stage. “War is deterred and often avoided when revolutionary, revisionist America is abroad. When the president of the United States makes clear that he has real red lines, real economic tools, real values to defend, and real allies.”