UPDATE: Mark Sumner
Early in my mining career, I was driving an enormous water tanker—the truck used to spread water on the mine roads to keep dust down—when the brakes failed. In an effort to get the truck to stop before I collided with a haul truck or something even larger, I ended up getting the tanker into reverse. Then I got a tire off the side of the road. Slowly, unstoppably, the massive truck and its huge water tank rolled over on its side, leaving me dangling from the steering wheel a good 20’ in the air.
It was my last day at that mine, and it seemed like just about the ultimate bad driving story. However, I admit defeat.
UPDATE: Mark Sumner
If we wait long enough, the entire Russian army will be wrecked along this one road into Vuhledar.
No one has really managed to give a better list of the reasons that the United States stands so strongly behind Ukraine than Secretary of State Tony Blinken did in a speech to the U.N. back in September 2022.
Defending Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is about much more than standing up for one nation’s right to choose its own path, as fundamental as that right is. It’s also about defending an international order where no nation can redraw the borders of another by force. If we fail to defend this principle, when the Kremlin is so flagrantly violating it, we send a message to aggressors everywhere that they can ignore it, too. We put every country at risk.
Blinken’s speech was calmly delivered, but clearly heartfelt. It worked unflinchingly through a list of Russian crimes in Ukraine, dealt with Russia’s repeated nuclear threats, and looked at how Russia’s war in Ukraine affected the whole planet, including raising the cost of food everywhere. It’s a speech that deserves to be remembered. This point near the end, while certainly not original, was quite powerful:
Here’s the reality. None of us chose this war. Not the Ukrainians, who knew the crushing toll it would take. Not the United States, which warned that it was coming and worked to prevent it … One man chose this war. One man can end it. Because if Russia stops fighting, the war ends. If Ukraine stops fighting, Ukraine ends.
As Russian sources keep making clear, that’s not just true of the nation of Ukraine. It’s also true of the people of Ukraine.
With the latest round of peace proposals being pressed by multiple analysts, it’s worth remembering that all these supposed solutions for “lasting peace” are actually formulas for three things:
Proposals like those put forward at Foreign Policy assume that sometime later this year, after “the fighting season” ends, the United States and Europe will get tired of supporting Ukraine. The U.S. will also give up on that other thing, the one Blinken mentioned in his speech, about how failing to fight redrawing national boundaries by force invites others to do the same.
Ultimately, the solution requires what seems very close to the ultimate irony. The U.S. and others who have so studiously stood aside while Ukraine sacrificed tens of thousands in the fight against Russia and refused every call from Volodymyr Zelenskyy to “close the skies,” should actually put boots on the ground to stop Ukrainian forces from attacking Russian invaders. As that highly realpolitik Foreign Policy proposal puts it…
Ideally, both Ukraine and Russia would pull back their troops and heavy weapons from the new line of contact, effectively creating a demilitarized zone. A neutral organization—either the UN or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe—would send in observers to monitor and enforce the cease-fire and pullback. The West should approach other influential countries, including China and India, to support the cease-fire proposal.
Something about that solution seems a lot less than ideal. And that something is not just that it rewards Russia by allowing it to keep some of what it took by force, punishes Ukraine by removing territory and its autonomy to defend itself, and benefits China by elevating its position in the settlement. It’s also ignoring what Russia has done in Ukraine. The mass graves scattered from Irpin to Izyum. The torture. The beheading. The theft of children from multiple occupied cities. The mass deportation of citizens from Mariupol. How can these things be dissolved by drawing a line? Apparently, they don’t need to be.
Ukraine might want these things addressed, but “Putin would surely reject these demands out of hand” and “ideally, the cease-fire would hold,” leading to a stable division of Ukraine like Korea. Which, again, was what Putin said he wanted.
But assuming that Ukraine can be divided into two stable factions, no matter how unsatisfactory or immoral that may seem, is ignoring more than just the war crimes Russia has committed. It’s ignoring the war crimes Russia wants to commit.
Calls like this one, for the “liquidation” of Ukrainians, aren’t hard to find. They’re present both in the statements of Russian officials and in the daily propaganda shows that blanket Russia.
If the Kansas City man who shot a young Black man for knocking on the wrong door was hardened by years of listening to “fear and paranoia” from Fox News and OAN, Russian citizens are getting absolutely drenched, not in the idea that Ukraine needs to be defeated on the battlefield, but that Ukraine needs to be erased as a nation and as a people.
As detailed in this thread from journalist Tadeusz Giczan, the Russian people are being instructed that it’s not just the Ukrainian government who are Nazis, but the majority of Ukrainian people. In fact, they’re being told that “Ukrainian Nazism is far more dangerous to the world than Hitler's Nazism.” The only possible solution is to destroy Ukraine.
Denazification means de-Ukrainianisation. Ukrainians are an artificial anti-Russian construct. They should no longer have a national identity.
The Russian article that Giczan cites calls for this “denazification” to go on for at least “a generation,” or until no one thinks of the “liberated and denazified territory” as Ukraine.
This sort of genocidal speech is directly connected to the bodies on the streets of Bucha. It’s right there in that Russian pilot’s decision to drop a bomb on children sheltering in the theater at Mariupol. It was vividly illustrated by two men carving off the head of a screaming Ukrainian prisoner with a knife—and putting him in a pile with others who faced similar treatment.
It’s certainly not unusual for any nation to try and dehumanize its opponent in war. World War I recruiting posters in the United States and the U.K. treated Germans as barbaric “Huns.” World War II propaganda in America was genuinely disgusting in its characterization of the Japanese.
But Russia has harnessed the zeitgeist of the moment, the easy ability to use false reporting and social media to elicit fear, evoke anger, and cement raw hate, to create a policy of genocide toward Ukraine. If the U.S. gets frustrated enough with the progress of the war to forget this, then we’re guilty of losing touch with every aspect of that speech by Blinken. A speech that really needs to be remembered.
Ukraine shoots down a UFO as Russian missile attack fizzles
If you watched this video, which was added as an update to Wednesday’s Ukraine Update, you might have noticed that it looked … different.
An air raid siren sounded in Kyiv as the object flashed overhead, but it appears that it was not hit by any sort of air defense. According to the Ukrainian military and city officials, the air defenses did not fire.
The immediate impression is that the video strongly resembles some of the meteors on their way to becoming meteorites seen in this video.
But the odds of a meteor breaking apart in the sky above Kyiv, right now, seemed like too big a coincidence to believe. It’s little wonder that the odd video immediately generated concern about some new form of Russian weapon—and jokes about aliens joining the war.
There were even a series of reports last night that the object had been a satellite returning to Earth. The target of those reports was the RHESSI satellite, which was once used to observe solar flares, but was decommissioned after having technical problems in 2018. That satellite was expected to re-enter the atmosphere this week, so it wasn’t a bad candidate for the object breaking up above Kyiv. By early Thursday morning, this seemed to be the accepted wisdom, and both officials and Ukrainian news sources repeated that claim.
The only problem with this is that, according to NASA, the RHESSI satellite is still up there at the time of the flash above Kyiv. It was also nowhere near Ukraine. It probably did reenter sometime overnight, unseen, over the Middle East. No other satellites appear to be missing.
All of which leads to the probability that the flash over Kyiv was a sizable meteor coming apart as it streaked toward the Earth. It’s possible, though unlikely, that some portion of the meteor may actually have impacted. It may seem unlikely—it certainly is unlikely—but this is the best guess on what happened.
Still, the UFO memes were a lot of fun.
Meanwhile, that “UFO,” which came at the same time as an actual Russian missile was shot down near Odesa, helped to trigger fears that Russia was about to break its streak of relatively slack days with another major missile barrage. That turned out not to be the case. According to the Ukrainian general staff, Russia launched just three missiles at targets in Ukraine overnight, none of them appears to have reached its target.
In addition, there was a wave of 26 Iranian-made Shehad drones, all of which seem to have been directed at the southern cities of Zaporizhzhia and Dnipro. According to Ukrainian defenses, 21 of those drones were shot down. However, there is reported damage to civilian buildings.
The bigger source of destruction to civilian targets came from air strikes and MLRS rockets directed into cities along the Russian border as well as those near the front.
Q & A with ‘Witch’
I missed this when it ran at the end of March. If you’re like me, and hadn’t seen the Ukrainian service member who goes by the call sign “Witch” since she was last pictured walking through the ruins of Bakhmut in early February, you may have been worried that she was among the many lost in the defense in that city. Happily, the answer is “nope.” Looks like she (like some of the other figures who frequently appeared in Bakhmut videos earlier) has been rotated out for training and is currently catching a break from the front lines after so long being literally under the guns every day.
Among the answers she provides in this Q&A session is one very interesting one about a system that Ukrainian programmers have developed that combines knowledge of the terrain, weather conditions, shells, and the wide variety of artillery systems now in use by the Ukrainian Army to help those operating the big guns get better accuracy and use less ammo to accomplish their mission.
Finding this video was a real relief. It’s very easy to get both attached to and concerned about the folks we see so often in harm’s way. We will remember them for years–and hopefully check up on them in peacetime.