Quick takes on the Ukraine Invasion, by New York Times opinion writers: “The World Has Changed Overnight”
Farah Stockman, Editorial Board member: “A lot of people consider this to be a personal obsession of [Putin’s.] He has a personal obsession with Ukraine. It has a lot of historical meaning to him. But I also see this as a bigger deal. It’s bigger than Ukraine because he’s been watching for the last, I don’t know, 20 years — he’s been watching the United States do things like this, in his mind. He hated what we did in Libya. He was furious. He hated the Iraq war invasion. He has been seeing us throw our might around and call it international law.
And I think he’s just saying, well, I can play that game, too. And this is really about telling the United States that it’s no longer the sole superpower and showing that we are weak. . . .”
Thomas Friedman, columnist:
“Russia is in the process of forcibly taking over a free country with a population of 44 million people, which is a little less than one-third the size of Russia’s population. And the majority of these Ukrainians have been struggling to be part of the democratic, free-market West for 30 years and have already forged myriad trade, cultural and internet ties to European Union companies, institutions and media.
We know that Putin has vastly improved Russia’s armed forces, adding everything from hypersonic missile capabilities to advanced cyberwarfare tools. He has the firepower to bring Ukraine to heel. But in this modern era we have never seen an unfree country, Russia, try to rewrite the rules of the international system and take over a free country that is as big as Ukraine — especially when the unfree country, Russia, has an economy that is smaller than that of Texas.
Then think about this: Thanks to rapid globalization, the E.U. is already Ukraine’s biggest trading partner — not Russia. . . .
If Putin doesn’t untangle those ties, Ukraine will continue drifting into the arms of the West — and if he does untangle them, he will strangle Ukraine’s economy. And if the E.U. boycotts a Russia-controlled Ukraine, Putin will have to use Russia’s money to keep Ukraine’s economy afloat.
Was that factored into his war plans? It doesn’t seem like it. Or as a retired Russian diplomat in Moscow emailed me: “Tell me how this war ends? Unfortunately, there is no one and nowhere to ask.”
But everyone in Russia will be able to watch. As this war unfolds on TikTok, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, Putin cannot closet his Russian population — let alone the rest of the world — from the horrific images that will come out of this war as it enters its urban phase. On just the first day of the war, more than 1,300 protesters across Russia, many of them chanting “No to war,” were detained, The Times reported, quoting a rights group. That’s no small number in a country where Putin brooks little dissent.
And who knows how those images will affect Poland, particularly as it gets overrun by Ukrainian refugees. I particularly mention Poland because it is Russia’s key land bridge to Germany and the rest of Western Europe. As strategist Edward Luttwak pointed out on Twitter, if Poland just halts truck and rail traffic from Russia to Germany, “as it should,” it would create immediate havoc for Russia’s economy, because the alternative routes are complicated and need to go through a now very dangerous Ukraine.
Anyone up for an anti-Putin trucker strike to prevent Russian goods going to and through Western Europe by way of Poland? Watch that space. Some super-empowered Polish citizens with a few roadblocks, pickups and smartphones could choke Russia’s whole economy in this wired world. . . .”
Ross Douthat, columnist: “So for a long time, Putin wasn’t just angry at America about those unilateral interventions, those symbols of American might. He also had this sort of reasonable critique of how they went badly, how they didn’t work, how America was reckless and destructive and smashing things up and leaving things in pieces. And at some point, seemingly in his own vision of what’s possible for Russia, he has abandoned that part of his critique of the U.S., or he has the idea that . . . he can succeed in conquest there in a way that all of America’s efforts at nation building and so on have ended badly.
But there is a real shift there from saying America is reckless and destructive and its wars have failed to saying we can succeed. We can do what George W. Bush was unable to do in Iraq. We can conquer Ukraine in a heartbeat and reintegrate them into our own imperium. That’s what’s so distinctive — and distinctive, too, relative to what he had done previously. It’s true that he had been taking bits and pieces and creating frozen conflicts around Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, elsewhere. . . . And Syria.
Farah Stockman: “When it comes to how we can punish Putin for doing this, we’re going to have to also go through some serious pain. Fifty percent of Germany’s natural gas comes from Russia, right? London has been rolling in Russian money for years now. So if Europe wants to stop Putin, we’re going to have to go cold turkey in ways that are really hard. And they’re going to be hard on Europeans, too. This is going to be a suck-it-up situation, where people are going to have to say, we are going to have to quit Putin. We’re going to have to quit the Russian gas and oil that we’re addicted to. And I just hope that we’re ready for that. . . .
But longer term, I think this idea that we can just buy gas from anyone, no matter whether they share our values, that we can just rely on other countries to produce our medicines. And as long as it’s the cheapest, it doesn’t matter. I think Biden has got eyes wide open about how vulnerable that makes us and makes our allies and that he’s, from day one, been working on how to make the United States more self-sufficient and more able to protect allies.
Because this is a long war. It’s not going to begin and end with Ukraine. So I just think this is a big moment, and it should be a wake-up call for us to really think about how we want to interact with the world and how we need to be with our allies in order to prepare for a future that most Americans aren’t even aware is coming.”