Welcome to the Russia-Ukraine War Briefing, your guide to the latest news and analysis about the conflict.
A programming note: Today is my last day writing this briefing. It’s been a pleasure to bring you news about this all-important conflict. The team will continue to report on the war and its implications.
|Putin said Russia was in an existential conflict with the “enemy” West.Alexander Nemenov/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images|
Putin’s illegal annexation
President Vladimir Putin signed decrees declaring four Ukrainian regions part of Russia and delivered a fiery speech assailing the U.S. for “Satanism.” The move marked an escalation in the war and positioned Russia as fighting an existential battle with Western elites he deemed “the enemy.”
Putin said that residents of the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in the east and Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south would become Russian citizens “forever” and that Russia would now fight for these regions “with all the forces and means at our disposal.”
His speech came against the backdrop of Russian setbacks on the battlefield. Even as he spoke, the Ukrainian army had moved closer to encircling the Russian-occupied town of Lyman, a strategically important hub in the Donetsk region.
|Soldiers near Lyman last week. Tyler Hicks/The New York Times|
The annexation is viewed as illegal by the West and followed referendums organized by Russian proxy officials in the four regions, where most of the residents have fled. The people who did vote sometimes did so at gunpoint. The West vowed to never accept Putin’s actions.
The U.S. announced new sanctions and President Biden vowed that “the United States will always honor Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders.’’
By framing his efforts as an existential fight for Russia’s survival, Putin was attempting to shift the focus of the war away from his army’s losses to the space where he seems to feel the most confident: a battle of wills with the West.
Putin offered few details on whether he may be prepared to use nuclear weapons. He noted that the U.S. was the only country to have used nuclear weapons in war, adding: “By the way, they created a precedent.”
More on Putin’s latest move:
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|Mikhail Khodorkovsky speaking during a conference in Beverly Hills, California, in May.Patrick T. Fallon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images|
As part of our “Voices” series, I asked Mikhail Khodorkovsky how the war will affect Russia in the long term. Once Russia’s wealthiest businessman, Khodorkovsky was arrested in 2003 after he made his opposition to Putin public. His company, Yukos, was dismantled and he spent 10 years in prison before Putin pardoned him, in what was seen as a goodwill gesture shortly before the Sochi Olympics. He now lives in London.
Our conversation was in Russian.
Putin has ruled Russia for some 20 years. How will this war affect his reign?
Mikhail: This war has seriously undermined the prospects of this regime. It’s approaching its limit. It can either remain in this position or backpedal. But this regime won’t be able to backpedal, in part because it’s in serious conflict with the West. The West can permit itself to soften its position, but it won’t be able to sit around the same table with these people.
Do you think Russia could collapse?
People who are wishing for Russia to fall apart, if they think about it a bit, this is the most dangerous thing that can happen. Because there’ll be five, six regions with nuclear weapons. The breakup of the Soviet Union still resulted in a huge number of bloody conflicts and God saved us because there were no nuclear weapons in these conflicts.
A second possibility is a restructuring of federal power organs, like what the U.S. went through. In other words, a point where the states came to a consensus on various questions, but the main power remained at the state level, not with the federal government. For Russia, this wouldn’t be that bad.
Only a top-down centralized system has a need for an external enemy. That’s why I believe in the wisdom of the West and the ability of Russian regions to build a new system of power already today. You’re skeptical? Of course 83 regions won’t be able to do that. But 15-20 regional centers? Without a doubt.
The third option, which seems the most probable to the West, is the inertia one — that another person will take the place of Putin. I don’t think this is a good option because any other person will need an external enemy in order to consolidate power.
What else we’re following
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Thanks for reading. Enjoy the weekend, Carole Landry will be here on Monday. — Yana
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