The Atlantic Daily: Two Lingering Questions About the Russia-Ukraine Conflict

As Russia deploys more military resources near the Ukrainian border, the West’s diplomacy keeps failing.

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The world is on “the brink of what could be a catastrophic conflict,” my colleague Anne Applebaum wrote over the weekend. On Friday, the Biden administration warned that Russia may invade Ukraine at any moment. Today the United States announced that it is closing its embassy in Kyiv and relocating its operations. Meanwhile, Moscow left open the possibility of a diplomatic solution.

Anne, who has been documenting the march of autocracy around the world, considers two key questions about how we got here.

Why hasn’t diplomacy worked so far?

Western leaders and diplomats have failed to see their Russian counterparts for who they are and what they value. These are “people who aren’t interested in treaties and documents, people who only respect hard power,” Anne explains. “When they listen to our diplomats, they don’t hear anything that really threatens their position, their power, their personal fortunes.”

Why is Putin risking war?

The Russian president is shaped by his path to power. “Of course Ukraine matters as a symbol of the lost Soviet empire,” Anne argues. “But modern, post-Soviet Ukraine also matters because it has tried—struggled, really—to join the world of prosperous Western democracies.” Putin and his generation of KGB officers know that transparency and openness in Ukraine is a threat to them at home.

Further reading: These portraits of Ukraine’s civilian soldiers offer glimpses of the human cost of the crisis, Yasmeen Serhan writes.


What to read if … you’re nursing a Super Bowl hangover:

How about that halftime show? “The spectacle felt—to quote [Mary J.] Blige’s hit that proved itself still vibrant after two decades—like a family affair,” our music writer Spencer Kornhaber muses.

The rest of the news in three sentences:

(1) Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared a national emergency, giving him special powers to clear the ongoing protests in Ottawa and at the border.

(2) The federal hate-crime trial began for the men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery.

(3) A judge will throw out Sarah Palin’s libel suit against The New York Times.

Today’s Atlantic-approved activity:

This Valentine’s Day, revisit a classic Nancy Meyers rom-com. Or queue up one of these five movies picked for your every holiday mood.

A break from the news:

The secret to love is kindness, Emily Esfahani Smith reported in this 2014 Atlantic article.


Every weekday evening, our editors guide you through the biggest stories of the day, help you discover new ideas, and surprise you with moments of delight. Subscribe to get this delivered to your inbox.