Vladimir Putin today announced his annexation of four provinces of Ukraine—four provinces that he does not fully control, that did not vote to join Russia, that have been the site of mass murder and mass deportation since Russia invaded Ukraine in February. With this statement, the Russian president is also declaring war. But this is not merely a war on Ukraine.
Putin’s war—Russia’s war—is also a war on a particular idea of world order and international law, an idea upheld not just by Europeans and North Americans, but by most of the rest of the world, indeed by the United Nations itself. One core principle of this world order is that larger countries should not be able to grab parts of smaller countries, that mass slaughter of whole populations is unacceptable, that borders have international significance and cannot be changed through violence or on one dictator’s whim. Putin already challenged this idea in 2014, when he annexed Crimea. At the time he also held a sham referendum, but he convinced many outsiders that it had some validity. Although some sanctions followed, the world largely gave him a pass. Commerce and diplomacy with Russia continued.
This time, Putin is no longer able even to pretend that the farcical votes he has staged in Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson have any validity, and no one, anywhere, believes that they do. The simulation was played out: Armed men went house to house collecting so-called ballots, and some people, left destitute by the war, were bribed in exchange for showing up to vote. But in regions where hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian citizens have been evacuated, deported, or murdered, where violent conflict continues and where an active resistance is raging, nothing remotely like an actual vote could ever have taken place. Even as Putin was speaking in Moscow, the Ukrainians announced that they were surrounding and cutting off a large group of Russian soldiers in Lyman, a strategically significant city in Donetsk province. [Continue reading…]
Ukrainian sources claimed that the strategic city of Lyman, which has served as a Russian military hub in Donetsk, has been encircled and supply lines cut. “Lyman! The operation to encircle the Russian group is at the stage of completion,” said Ukrainian lawmaker Oleksiy Goncharenko on Friday. The claim could not be independently verified but, if confirmed, it would be one of the most serious Russian military losses of the war so far.
Pro-Kremlin forces have conceded that the Ukrainians have made major gains in the region and are close to cutting off the Russian staging post in northern Donetsk, which has been under Russian control since July. An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky tweeted that Russian forces would have to “ask for an exit from Lyman” if they want to surrender, adding, “Only if, of course, those in the Kremlin are concerned for their soldiers.” [Continue reading…]