Just over a week since it began, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine resembles a tale of two wars. For Russian President Vladimir Putin, the past week can hardly have been reassuring. Between the poor performance of the Russian military on the ground and the existential shock of Western sanctions on the Russian economy, it seems to be proof that he suffered from a severe case of war optimism.
For the West, the story is quite the reverse. Despite the outrage over Russian attacks on Ukrainian civilian targets, the surprisingly tenacious fight put up by Ukraine’s outgunned military has become a cause célèbre, while President Volodymyr Zelensky’s heroic political leadership has made him an inspiration. And despite the shock of the war, the West’s response to it—from economic sanctions to delivering belated military aid to Ukraine—has begun to fuel a euphoric sense that a long-awaited historical turning point has arrived.
It is still early, and there is plenty of room for reversals in the coming days, weeks and months, to say nothing of years. But already a number of takeaways have emerged and, along with them, some cautionary notes that bear underlining.