Russia attacks Ukraine: Why it matters
Early on February 24, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin announced he had ordered a “special military operation” aimed at the “demilitarization and denazification” of Ukraine. Russian troops promptly launched a large-scale military assault from Ukraine’s northern, eastern, and southern borders, striking military targets across the country and bringing explosions to Kyiv and other large Ukrainian cities.
Only hours before Putin’s declaration of war—an unprovoked war—against the innocent people of Ukraine, President Zelensky had given an extraordinary speech appealing to the Russian people, revealing that Putin refused his entreaties for a phone call, and warning that an invasion was likely to start within hours. He was, of course, correct, as he was when he said that the Ukrainians were after nothing other than their own defense.
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There's been a massive disinformation campaign against the Ukrainians by the Russian government, including false claims of border attacks and baseless genocide charges supposedly committed by Ukrainians against Russians in the occupied territories. This narrative was not meant to be credible or believable. It was meant to show the rest of the world that Putin demands a sphere of influence and will take any actions he feels necessary to acquire it.
I want to be very clear: over the course of the past several weeks, the only de-escalatory measures that we have seen were the fake news, the disinformation, and the lies coming from the Kremlin, and particularly from Russian President Vladimir Putin. When he spoke to US President Biden and Germany Chancellor Olaf Scholz and France President Emmanuel Macron, he said that troops were pulling back from the Ukrainian border. He lied. When he said the Russian troops conducting military exercises in Belarus would leave on February 20 when they were done, he lied. When he said that he not planning an invasion, he lied. When he said that all of the diplomatic efforts would lead to de-escalation unless the Russians were provoked by the Ukrainian government, he lied.
Instead, he launched a war of choice against Ukraine, featuring cyber and bombing campaigns in addition to a military invasion of the largest Ukrainian cities. Thousands upon thousands of innocent Ukrainian civilians will surely die, and hundreds of thousands (if not millions) will become refugees overnight.
The response will be significant. No, it will not be a direct defense of the Ukrainian government and people. It has been made clear by the United States and the NATO allies that as a non-member of NATO, collective security does not apply to Ukraine, and therefore Western troops will not be deployed on the ground. But we will see major comprehensive sanctions in the next 24 hours on financial transactions, on technology access, on trade, on individual members of Putin's family, and on top members of the Russian government and elites. We will see a stronger and more coordinated NATO. We will see forward troop deployments, including in all likelihood permanent bases in the Baltic states. We will see countries like Sweden and particularly Finland looking to join NATO more intently, which the Russians have stated would be a red line.
This is a turning point in the global order as we know it. The G-Zero has only intensified as a consequence of the lack of global leadership, facilitating impunity of rogue states and rogue actors on the global stage. There is no more powerful rogue actor in the world today than Vladimir Putin and the Russian government, engaging in horrific crimes literally as I write these words.🔔 And if you haven't already, don't forget to subscribe to my free newsletter, GZERO Daily by Ian Bremmer, to get new posts delivered to your inbox.