It’s unsettling to watch a politician behave with honor in 2022.
That may have happened in generations past but I thought we’d inadvertently bred honor out of the global gene pool at some point.
Then again, as a friend reminded me, Zelensky barely qualifies as a politician. He was an actor and comedian — who played the president of Ukraine on TV! — before throwing his hat in the ring in 2018.
This guy’s going to die, in all likelihood, but he’ll die heroically. Ukrainians will know his name for generations to come.
Zelensky with a roll call of Ukrainian leaders: "Prime Minister is here, the party leader is here, the head of the President's administration is here… We are all here. Our troops are here. Our citizens are here. Defending our independence. Glory to Ukraine!" https://t.co/7PgsDDWzUt
— Slava Malamud 🇺🇦 (@SlavaMalamud) February 25, 2022
Here’s another unsettling thought: Russia seems to have fought with one hand behind its back during these first few days but there are now signs that they’re preparing to use the other hand. There hasn’t yet been the sort of intense bombardment to soften up Ukraine’s defenses the way there was with the U.S. “shock and awe” campaign against Iraq, with Russia reportedly having fired “only” 200 or so missiles so far. Putin may have decided to go easy on the Ukrainians initially, hoping that support for Zelensky’s government would collapse and the locals would quickly surrender en masse. That would have been a double victory for him, sparing him from having to fight a messier war to crush the country and bolstering his narrative that Ukrainians secretly want to be ruled by Moscow after all. Putin knows that the gorier things get, the more likely the west is to punish him with severe sanctions and the more likely mass resistance to the war among Russians will emerge. A quick, relatively bloodless victory was his best-case scenario.
But Ukraine refused to cooperate. Zelensky is rallying them to fight, not surrender, leaving Putin with two unpalatable options. One is an unthinkable retreat that would humiliate Russia and encourage pro-democracy movements everywhere, possibly including Russia itself. The second is to take the gloves off and subjugate Ukrainians at all costs.
Guess which one is more likely.
UKRAINE: fear amongst western officials now is that Russia will start bombing Ukrainians indiscriminately and even with thermobaric weapons, if their progress continues to be impeded.
— Alistair Bunkall (@AliBunkallSKY) February 25, 2022
EXCLUSIVE: I have been given a copy of document issued today by Russian Ministry of Health. It indicates Russia is anticipating a massive medical emergency & has ordered health organisations to immediately identify medical staff ready to relocate & work. pic.twitter.com/iwl7NwqbZ8
— Emma Burrows (@EJ_Burrows) February 25, 2022
This would tally with reports from a senior US defence official who said today ‘there is greater resistance by Ukrainians than the Russians expected,’ and that Russia is not moving on Kyiv as fast as they anticipated and that Russia may have lost a ‘little bit of their momentum.’
— Emma Burrows (@EJ_Burrows) February 25, 2022
As an already aggressive, possibly unstable Putin veers towards further escalation, the rest of Europe is spooked. In response to reports that Sweden and Finland are interested in joining NATO, a spokeswoman for Russia’s foreign ministry warned that that “would have serious military-political repercussions that would demand a response from our country.” This mysterious video is floating around too:
2 more merchant ships hit by Russian attacks in Black Sea.
Japanese bulk carrier MV Namura Queen hit by a rocket at anchor off Yuzhne.
Moldovan chemical tanker MV Millennial Spirit hit and set on fire 12 miles to the southhttps://t.co/fazJtNvJk6
Video: suvaribeyinnotdefteri pic.twitter.com/p5BHZmUPIk
— Navy Lookout (@NavyLookout) February 25, 2022
Is Putin off the rails?
A few hours ago came an historic announcement: For the first time in its history, NATO will mobilize its rapid response force to defend the alliance in eastern Europe.
“We are deploying [the NRF] to … prevent any miscalculations, any misunderstandings that we are not ready to protect and defend all our allies,” Stoltenberg said. “This is something that all allies have agreed to do.”
He added that eastern-flank allies “are extremely concerned. They are close to the fighting in Ukraine, and they also border Russia, and they’ve seen not only the military buildup and the ongoing war in Ukraine, but also seen the very threatening rhetoric because this goes far beyond Ukraine.”
“Russia’s attack on Ukraine is more than an attack on Ukraine. It’s a devastating horrendous attack on innocent people in Ukraine, but it’s also an attack on the whole European security order. And that’s the reason why we take it so extremely seriously,” Stoltenberg said.
That force won’t be deploying to Ukraine, needless to say. The Ukrainians are on their own — but they’re game:
In one district they handed out rifles to any citizen who wanted to fight and the defence ministry opened the army to any Ukrainian citizen. “Bring only your passport and social security number. There are no age restrictions,” the ministry said in a public post.
The invitation to fight was taken up by so many Ukrainians of all ages and backgrounds that the recruiting office was overwhelmed. “They told us: ‘Come back tomorrow morning, we haven’t even eaten all day, have mercy on us,’” said Sergey, an Oxford-educated civil servant who tried to join the city defence force on Friday morning.
No one’s prepared for the spectacle of the Russian air force attempting to level Kiev from the air but I wonder if that’s not what’s next.
I’ll leave you with this, evidence that Ukraine has an unusually high quotient of politicians with a sense of honor.
I learn to use #Kalashnikov and prepare to bear arms. It sounds surreal as just a few days ago it would never come to my mind. Our #women will protect our soil the same way as our #men. Go #Ukraine! 🇺🇦 pic.twitter.com/UbF4JRGlcy
— Kira Rudik (@kiraincongress) February 25, 2022
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