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War broke out in Ukraine this week. While it's unclear how the situation will unfold, one thing is abundantly clear: the Ukrainians' courage in the face of the Russian invasion has been nothing short of awe-inspiring.
The Ukrainian People
The courage of average Ukrainians is humbling. When the government asked its citizens to take up arms against the invaders, tens of thousands answered the call. Many are readying themselves for extended urban combat in embattled Kharkhiv and Kyiv. Others, in towns and villages, confronted the Russian military largely unarmed. One woman memorably cussed out a soldier, offering to put sunflower seeds in his pockets, so a flower may sprout up where he dies. (Sunflowers are one of Ukraine's national symbols.)
The Ukrainian military has been equally courageous. They've outperformed expectations and have fought valiantly despite being outmanned and out-armed. Their unexpectedly robust resistance in these early days of the war is boosting morale, which will surely be needed as the war drags on.
But perhaps no single factor has been as important for bucking up the Ukrainians as President Zelensky. He delivered a stunning speech hours before the war kicked off, addressing both Ukrainians and the Russian people. (Watch it if you haven't.)
As the noose tightened around Kyiv, he declined the United States' offer to evacuate him to safety, saying, "The fight is here. I need ammunition, not a ride." And when Russian propaganda claimed he had fled Kyiv, he recorded a video of himself with his entire leadership team, dressed in army green, on the streets of Kyiv. "We are all here protecting the independence of our country," he declared. No one is running away.
The Russian Dissenters
Though at first the Russian people appeared silent about their government's decision to invade their neighbor, a day later that changed. Thousands of Russians have taken to the streets in protest of the invasion, and scores have been arrested. Various celebrities and journalists also raised their voices, putting their careers and livelihoods on the line. Standing up to an authoritarian regime is no small feat.
And the ugly reality is that Putin's regime is only likely to get nastier in the coming weeks and months—more and more paranoid, and ruthless about suppressing criticism and dissent. The Russians speaking out must know this, they see where things are going. And yet they do the right thing.
A Reading Suggestion From Damir
When writing this week's round-up, I asked Damir if he had any article suggestions about Ukraine for our readers. He suggested a battlefield analysis of the invasion in Ukraine (updated regularly, check back). As Damir said, "It looks grim, though not pitch black." After reading the piece, I strongly endorse his recommendation. Check it out if you want a more in-depth view of the situation than can be achieved by scrolling through Twitter.
Meanwhile, Tragedy Continues in Afghanistan
The American people's interest in stories about international affairs has always been depressingly low. With war breaking out in Ukraine, there is little hope that Americans will continue to pay attention to the evolving tragedy in Afghanistan. I implore you to find time to read our friend Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili's recent article explaining how the Biden Administration is making the situation much worse.
Negotiating with Madmen
Damir's latest Monday Note makes the case that negotiations with Putin may have never had a chance. The essay is still relevant, despite being written prior to the invasion, because it investigates a fundamental question: Is Putin rational? If you missed it, go back and give it a read.
Breaking Down Ukraine
On Thursday, Shadi and Damir sat down to discuss how we got here, whether the West could have done anything differently, and what this means for the future of America. Damir's review of the situation was some of the most insightful analysis I have come across. I was most struck by his concern that, if the shooting war comes to an end, the Europeans will feel pressure to normalize relations with Russia. I can't recommend this episode enough. If you haven't listened yet, get on it.