New Year’s Eve is an important holiday in Ukraine. At the end of December, I asked my sister how she would be celebrating this year. “In the bomb shelter,” she said, matter-of-factly. She planned to cook sandwiches, which would be easier to carry down to the safe room from the 10th floor if there was an air-raid siren.
In 2023 there were more than 6,000 air alerts in Ukraine. Last month alone, Russia launched some 624 drones carrying explosives, according to official sources. On Dec. 29, more than 120 Russian missiles and drones targeted towns across the country, killing 44 people. It was the deadliest attack on civilians in Kyiv since the beginning of the war.
In all of December, there was just one night without an attack.
Russia’s strikes increased as attempts to authorize more funding for Ukraine stalled in the U.S. Congress and in Europe. Since the fall, Kyiv’s western allies have reportedly been quietly pushing for negotiations to end the war. By the end of December, Vladimir Putin was also reportedly signaling that he, too, was ready to make a deal.
A Russian political observer I talked to suggested that these signals from Mr. Putin were calibrated to capitalize on the sense of gloom among Ukraine’s allies in Europe and the United States; to further delay military aid when Ukraine was already low on ammunition and vulnerable, and to allow Russia to further press its advantage.
But Ukrainians already know that when it comes to Mr. Putin, one must not trust what he says, but watch what he does. From Kyiv it’s clear that Mr. Putin is not preparing to offer anything that Ukrainians could agree to — and he knows it. His plans are occupation, devastation and destruction.
Peace would require a genuine guarantee that the Kremlin won’t use a cease-fire simply to rearm and launch a renewed assault from the occupied Ukrainian territories. According to recent polling, most Ukrainians are still against any territorial concessions to Russia and many say any peace deal must also bring Crimea back under Ukraine’s control, lest the threat of invasion continue indefinitely.
What Mr. Putin is offering — according to The Times, a cease-fire that “freezes the fighting along the current lines” — is not peace but occupation, and occupation is just a different kind of war. [Continue reading…]