The Atlantic Daily: A Mess of Putin’s Own Making

Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has exposed his weaknesses to the world.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin’s reputation as a calculating and savvy strongman is collapsing as his war on Ukraine enters its third week. Whatever drove Putin’s decision to launch an invasion in the first place—be it nostalgia for the Soviet Union, fear of encroaching democracy, too much pandemic isolation, or a mix of all three—the campaign has already come at a devastating price. More than 2 million Ukrainians have fled their homes, and, according to the United Nations, hundreds of civilians have been killed. Russia’s economy, meanwhile, is bending under the weight of sanctions.

The crisis that Putin set off has arguably revealed his true nature, and the image that’s emerging is not exactly one of a cool-headed, geopolitical mastermind.

  • He’s surprised those who thought they understood him. Sergei Dobrynin, a Russian reporter who once thought that “Putin’s cunning was undeniable,” now sees him as immoral and irrational: “It was painfully obvious that a war [on Ukraine] would be catastrophic. I told myself, Putin is evil. But he is not an idiot. That’s what I kept telling myself right up until the night of February 24.”
  • He’s creating the NATO he feared. “Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has primarily succeeded in materializing his worst fears: a unified West, a more militarized Europe, and a stronger, more attractive NATO,” Yasmeen Serhan writes from London.
  • And yes, he’s been canceled—deservedly so. “When a Russian spymaster complains about his country’s cancellation, our response should not be to laugh at an idiot confusing a culture war and a real one,” our staff writer Helen Lewis argues. “Instead, we should recognize that economic and social isolation is a powerful weapon, and resolve to use it with the same restraint as any other weapon.”

For more on Russia’s war on Ukraine: Read Charlie Warzel, who writes the newsletter Galaxy Brain, on why the information war isn’t over yet and David Litt on what democracy’s advocates can learn from Ukraine.

Find all of our coverage here.

The rest of the news in three sentences:

(1) A Russian air strike hit a children’s hospital in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol.

(2) The first patient to receive a pig-heart transplant died, two months after the procedure.

(3) South Korea elected a new president: the conservative Yoon Suk-yeol.

Tonight’s Atlantic-approved activity:

Be awed by the natural world. Browse the winners of the World Nature Photography Awards. (These ants!)

A break from the news:

The writer and producer Michaela angela Davis writes about what she calls her first revolutionary act: getting her hair cut at Soul Scissors salon.


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.