Facing reverses on the battlefield, Russia’s president Vladimir Putin is doing his worst, targeting Ukrainian civilians with devastating effect by attacking essential infrastructure. The one that keeps the lights on, heats homes and provides running water.
By inflicting as much pain as possible on Ukraine’s people, Mr Putin hopes to break them. He sees it as a sovereign right to go down his chosen path, no matter what. Some little time ago, Mr Putin spoke on the subject of sovereignty with what some would call naglost, an insulting audacity. He said: “I am convinced that real democracy in a multipolar world is primarily about the ability of any nation—I emphasize—any society or any civilization to follow its own path and organize its own sociopolitical system.” This, as Russia continues in its attempts to erase the sovereignty of a whole country and to physically and mentally maim a whole generation of Ukrainians.
Ukraine is in a tough spot, as its president, Vlodymyr Zelensky, has made clear over and over. Much of the country is without lights, heat or water and returning the utility grid to even an approximation of normal will take a long time. Mr Zelensky has said it may be difficult for his people to survive unless there is a massive repair-and-rebuild programme. All of which would be expensive but do-able, except that the war continues. And will continue. As Russia’s representative to the United Nations has said, the punishing attacks will continue until Kyiv is forced to take a “realistic” approach toward talks.
You don’t have to be Russian to wonder if it’s time for realism on the part of Ukraine’s backers. Giant Russia is Ukraine’s neighbour. How long can Mr Putin sustain this? What will victory for Ukraine look like in this war? Reclaimed territory but with thousands dead and hundreds of thousands mentally and physically wounded?
Some say that America’s Joe Biden may have done too good a job in supporting Ukraine, for there is a sense that the mission is troublingly open-ended and that even to talk peace somehow imperils the very liberal order itself. But it’s also true that the Biden administration has been quietly pressing the Ukrainians to drop their refusal to engage in dialogue with the Kremlin.
Next we’ll look at Ukrainian grit: A true story