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I'll be continuously updating this page as we find out more.
Why is this happening?
Like most of the world, I'm completely transfixed by the devolving situation in Ukraine. Russian forces have manufactured reasons to invade and, presumably, seek to decapitate Kyiv's democratically-elected leadership. This is one of the most dangerous geopolitical developments in the last few decades, given the ease with which Russia or NATO, both large nuclear powers, could come to blows either through miscalculation or accidental entanglement. A doomsday kind of scenario here is not as far-fetched as it was before the first Russian tanks rolled across the Ukrainian border, though still unlikely. But, President Vladimir Putin has just today, February 28, placed his nuclear forces on "high alert" in an attempt to dissuade NATO from taking serious retaliatory action. Miscalculation in war happens precisely when one or both sides cannot understand the intentions of their opponent, or they seem, like Putin, sort of unhinged:
From a strategic standpoint, the experts said, there’s no reason for Russia to use nuclear weapons. But they said Putin himself was the biggest source of uncertainty. “The element of emotion and anger that’s crept into Putin’s statements in particular is striking,” said Hare. “Normally we’ve associated Russia’s diplomatic style with a kind of laconic, almost sarcastic manner...“[Putin] lives in a very small bubble, and he’s deeply paranoid,” Kristensen said. “He’s willing to do really not very rational things.”” --Vox "How to think about the risk of nuclear war, according to 3 experts"
In Ukraine, Russian objectives appear to be:
- Permanently prevent another NATO member from forming on their border
- Return Ukraine to a client/buffer state role by removing Volodymyr Zelenskyy's government and replacing them with a set of Russian-friendly autocrats
- Make a lot of other countries think twice before messing with Russia; show strength
Of less certainty is Putin's long-game. U.S. President Joe Biden speculates that Putin's goal is a new Evil Empire: "It was always about naked aggression, about Putin’s desire for empire by any means necessary." But my understanding is that it's not exactly that. Putin is surely a detestable character with detestable intentions and a very evil-looking face, but his actions have historical precedent, much to do with geography and setting up buffer zones between hostile countries and the Russian heartland. Understanding the Russian security mindset (and realizing that it's a view held by a good deal of the Russian government's establishment, not just Putin) helped unlock some of this for me. This is a good breakdown of why Russia expanded so much over the past centuries:
Expanding at a rate of "one Belgium per year" in the first centuries of its existence as a modern nation-state was mostly in reaction to previous empires, such as the Mongols, brutally conquering the Rus people who lived on flat, difficult-to-defend terrain. And expansion worked. By developing such enormous amounts of space, the Russians gained sufficient territorial depth to draw in, encircle and defeat some of the most formidable invading forces in history, such as Napoleon's Grande Armée and the Nazi Wehrmacht, each of whom bogged down with immensely long and constantly-harassed supply lines on the way to Moscow.
Given all this, it seems reasonable that all of these wars that Putin has started-- Ukraine, Georgia, Chechnya, the stuff happening in Kazakhstan--are about preserving the sort of depth the Russian heartland requires to feel safe. But what is saddening and perplexing is why, instead of this very painful and very dramatic track he's put Russia on over the past two decades, Putin did not instead forge deep ties with the West, join NATO, and get under the very same security umbrella to which Russia's found itself opposed for so long. Why not use the resources of countries like the United States to guarantee its borders? If he really is evil, what better way to be evil than to work the system to your advantage from the inside? They did this with the United Nations Security Council and made it impossible for the UN to condemn their actions officially. Seems like the Russian people would be far better off and more economically-integrated with Europe, too. Hell, Nord Stream 2 could've existed ages ago if everyone didn't try to slow it down because of bad relations and fears about Russian intentions!
On the other hand, this very Russian lack of trust in NATO or foreign security guarantees has historical precedent, too. Joseph Stalin got burned big time by Hitler after the latter reneged on the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact and got really aggressive. Still, it is a shame that the post-Soviet reset in Russia did not yield a less-suspicious foreign policy. Putin could have tried it again while everyone was wearing the rose-colored glasses and history had just ended. There was a big window for that. One must also wonder why nuclear weapons, of which Russia has the largest stockpile in the world, aren't enough of a security guarantee even with NATO countries now bumping up against their border? Would anyone, even another mighty nuclear power like the United States, really press their luck with a conventional attack on Russia? Seems extremely unlikely.
Charging into sovereign nations to restore client statehood serves only now to isolate Russia from the world. The sanctions are already brutal, but, over the long run, they have the potential to bring the Russian economy to its knees and impoverish millions for decades. One has to wonder if this is all worth it to Putin and if he really meant to end up here.
Other theories or useful background
There are racial and nationalistic components to Putin's motivations that could be driving some of this as well, discussed by Anatoly Karlin: "The capstone to the Nationalist Turn was laid by Putin in his seminal July 2021 article 'On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians', in which [he] affirmed that the Ukrainians are a colorful and distinct, but nonetheless inseparable, part of the All-Russian nation"
I recently came across Adam Something on Youtube and realized that this guy is seriously good at predictions and geopolitical analysis. One of my favorite bloggers, Scott Alexander at Astral Codex Ten, recently boosted Adam Something as well for the same reason. Two videos from him:
(Before the war started)
(After the war started)
An examination of the various pundits and their predictions on the war:
Getting the latest
WarLeaks on Youtube. Caution: I haven't independently verified all of these videos and sometimes it's not even clear which side you're seeing in action or if the story explained by the channel publisher is correct, so I'd take them with a grain of salt. It's clear that many of the videos with the 🔴 red circles are from Ukraine. I've seen some of them pop up on major outlets too.
Vice News latest page (Vice seems to have some of the grittiest journalists I've seen)
Aljazeera's latest page
BBC's latest page
Global Conflict Tracker
Ways to help the Ukrainian people
I used this list from the Washington Post to find validated charities or outlets that I could donate to.
(I donated to Razom Emergency Response)
To donate to Ukrainian journalistic efforts:
To donate directly to Ukraine's central bank and support its military efforts against Russia, you can go here: