This War Isn't Going as Putin Planned
Plus: analyzing news coverage of discrimination, U.S. Freedom Convoy fizzles, and more...
Peace talks begin? Russian and Ukrainian leaders are meeting today in Belarus. Ukraine is seeking "an immediate cease-fire and the withdrawal of troops"; Russia's aims are unclear. Just yesterday, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that was putting nuclear forces on "special combat readiness" status (while Belarus—which "has become a launch pad for Russian troops invading Ukraine"—said it's ditching its non-nuclear status).
U.S. President Joe Biden has, thankfully, chosen to deescalate rather than put U.S. forces "on Defcon 3—known to moviegoers as that moment when the Air Force rolls out bombers, and nuclear silos and submarines are put on high alert," in the words of The New York Times.
And U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield stressed to the Security Council that Russia was "under no threat from NATO." She called Putin's actions "another escalatory and unnecessary step that threatens us all. We urge Russia to tone down its dangerous rhetoric regarding nuclear weapons."
Events in Ukraine—and the larger European community—don't seem to be going quite as Putin planned. Ukrainian resistance to Russian forces has been fierce.
"I think Putin got a lot more than he bargained for. He's in a very difficult position," former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster told Face the Nation yesterday. "The Ukrainian people are fighting for their freedom. They're fighting for democracy. They're fighting for one another and their sovereignty, and that just doesn't go away if he's able to seize Kyiv."
The responses from Europe can't be heartening for the Russian leader either. His actions in Ukraine were at least partly driven by his fears of NATO and the European Union (E.U.), institutions that he has attempted to undermine for years. But his invasion has bolstered them instead.
It's remarkable how Putin spent 20 years quite successfully poisoning European politics by carefully bolstering anti-EU forces.
In a few days, not only has that work been undone, but he's ushered a 'new EU normal' that looks West and relies more than ever on NATO. ????
— Nicholas Vinocur (@NicholasVinocur) February 27, 2022
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said of Ukraine on Sunday: "They are one of us and we want them in." Her comments came as the E.U. "decided for the first time in its history to supply weapons to a country at war," notes Reuters. "Less than four days after it started, Russia's invasion of Ukraine has triggered a Western political, strategic, economic and corporate response unprecedented in its extent and coordination."
Putin's invasion is "producing the exact opposite effect that he intended," said Biden in an interview with Brian Tyler Cohen. "Not only is NATO more unified—look at what's going on in terms of Finland, look what's going on in terms of Sweden, look what's going on in terms of other countries."
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said last week that while "Finland is not currently facing an immediate military threat," it was "now clear that the debate on NATO membership in Finland will change."
"It's obvious that if Finland and Sweden join NATO, which is first of all a military organization, it will entail serious military-political consequences, which would require retaliatory steps by the Russian Federation," Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said last Friday.
"I want to be extremely clear. It is Sweden that itself and independently decides on our security policy line," Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson responded.
Meanwhile, Kosovo "has asked the United States to establish a permanent military base in the country and speed up its integration into NATO after Russia's invasion of Ukraine," reports Reuters. Kosovo Defence Minister Armend Mehaj declared Sunday that "accelerating Kosovo's membership in NATO and having a permanent base of American forces is an immediate need to guarantee peace, security and stability in the Western Balkans."
With little going Putin's way, it is unsurprising that he has done what bullies do: threatened to escalate. The question is whether Putin's threats are strategic bluffs or something more sinister.
I see #nuclearwar is trending, great
— Robby Soave (@robbysoave) February 28, 2022
"It was the second time in a week that Mr. Putin has reminded the world, and Washington, that he has a massive arsenal and might be tempted to use it," notes the Times:
But what made the latest nuclear outburst notable was that it was staged for television, as Mr. Putin told his generals that he was acting because of the West's "aggressive comments" about Ukraine…."It was bizarre," said Graham T. Allison of Harvard University, whose study of the Kennedy administration's handling of the Cuban missile crisis, "Essence of Decision," has been read by generations of international relations students—and many of the national security staff surrounding Mr. Biden today. Mr. Putin's citation of "aggressive comments" as a justification for putting one of the world's largest nuclear arsenals on alert status seemed both disproportionate and puzzling, he said. "It makes no sense."
In other Russia-Ukraine news:
More than 500,000 refugees have now fled from Ukraine into neighbouring countries.
— Filippo Grandi (@FilippoGrandi) February 28, 2022
• Russian oligarchs Mikhail Fridman and Oleg Deripaska speak out against the war.
On Saturday, Russia's communications regulator ordered the removal of reports from Russian media that describe Moscow's attack on Ukraine as an "assault, invasion or declaration of war," or face being fined or blocked. The regulator has in recent days also ordered blockage of Meta Platforms Inc. social-media service Facebook in the country, and Twitter Inc. has reported that it is being restricted there.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has a smaller military, has moved to outflank Mr. Putin online. Ukraine ordered its phone carriers to shut down network access to phones from Russia and Belarus—making it so invading forces can't get online and post their own videos or send their own messages.
Prejudice-related words exploded in U.S. news since 2010. Research suggests one reason some young people think the United States is getting less socially tolerant and progressive: increasing media attention to issues like sexism and racism. A study in the Social Science Computer Review found that words related to racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and discrimination have skyrocketed in U.S. media over the past decade. "Just as striking as the magnitude of the shifts is when they occurred. The attitudinal and discursive changes don't seem to be a response to anything in particular," write the paper's authors in a new column for The Guardian.
Looking at 27 million "news articles published in 47 popular news media outlets between 1970 and 2019, we find that there was a rapid uptick in the use of words related to prejudice and discrimination beginning in the early 2010s. These shifts occurred in left- and right-leaning media alike," report the researchers. This shift was mirrored in television news coverage.
A group called Freedom Convoy USA 2022 left Los Angeles on Friday and expected to arrive in Las Vegas yesterday with a caravan of 1,000 - 2,000 truckers, all to protest COVID mandates.
5 trucks showed up.
— Las Vegas Locally ???? (@LasVegasLocally) February 28, 2022
Organizers "scrap[ped] the convoy and direct[ed] members to merge with other anti-mandate groups heading to the capital," The New York Times reports.
• New Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines suggest relaxing mask habits.
• "Criminal justice reform advocates will likely cheer" new Supreme Court nominee Kentanji Brown Jackson, writes Damon Root.
• It continues…
You millennial leftists who never lived one day under nuclear threat can now reflect upon your woke sky.
You made quite a non-binary fuss to save the world from intercontinental ballistic tweets.
— Rep. Clay Higgins (@RepClayHiggins) February 27, 2022