Much of what we do at WPR from week to week and year to year is to keep tabs on the many mundane stories around the world so that we can inform you about the trends and developments that gradually and in combination shape history. But on occasion, we find ourselves face to face with moments that make history, suddenly and singly.
The war in Ukraine is one of those moments. As I wrote Thursday as the first Russian attacks began, we will look back on it as a “before and after” event, one that will have enormous implications for Ukraine, most obviously, but also for Russia, Europe and the world beyond. Militarily, there is now the risk of spillover and escalation, potentially even involving NATO forces. Politically, the entire system of peaceful economic linkages joining Russia and Europe faces an existential threat, due to the incompatibility of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s autocratic expansionism with the West’s commitment to liberalism and the norm of national sovereignty. And societally, the impact of a potentially brutal war and occupation, as well as the likelihood of a Ukrainian insurgency in its aftermath, promise to unleash the toxic fallout of armed conflict in the heart of Europe.
For now, it seems like the Russian offensive has not resulted in the lightning strike victory that some observers expected and Putin clearly hoped for. Attempts at taking Kyiv quickly and cheaply were repulsed, and the first two days of the invasion resembled more a campaign of probing and shaping than shock and awe.