As I write this I am in Warsaw, 170 miles from Poland’s border with Ukraine. The front line, where Ukrainians are right now fighting and dying, is another 450 miles beyond that. Not so far, in other words. A long day’s drive. I am well within range of Russian missiles, the kind that have hit Kyiv, Odesa, and Lviv so many times over the past two years.
Tens of millions of other people—Poles, Germans, Romanians, Finns, Estonians, Swedes, Slovaks, Lithuanians, Czechs, Latvians, Norwegians—are also in range of Russian conventional missiles, whether launched from Belarus, Russian-controlled parts of Ukraine, or Russia itself. Anyone in Europe could also be hit by Russian nuclear weapons, of course, as Russian television propagandists so frequently like to remind us. Dmitri Medvedev, a former Russian president, in recent months has threatened Poland with the loss of its statehood, threatened Sweden and Finland with nuclear and hypersonic missiles, and said the Baltic states belong to Russia anyway.
Most of the time, the possibility of Russian aggression doesn’t affect anybody or change anything. No one talks about it. Life goes on as normal. In Finland and Romania, preparations for presidential elections are under way. In Germany, farmers are on strike. Lithuania is holding an international light festival.
The moment the Ukrainians start to lose, all of that will change. For the past few months, Western observers have been tossing around the word stalemate, as if the Russian invasion of Ukraine had settled into some kind of dull, permanent stasis. In fact, the battlefield is dynamic. The front line is constantly changing, and the changes, both material and psychological, are starting to favor Russia. The Ukrainians are just as brave as they were a year ago and just as innovative. Their drones recently hit a Russian gas depot near St. Petersburg, hundreds of miles from Ukraine, among other targets. With no navy of their own, they have pushed much of the Russian Black Sea fleet away from their shores. But on the ground, in the southern and eastern parts of their country, they are rationing ammunition. They’ve never had sufficient missiles and bullets, and now they are at risk of not having enough to keep fighting at all. [Continue reading…]