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Russia’s war on Ukraine is going badly: The Russian army is in retreat, and the Kremlin is looking for help from Iran and North Korea. But we must not forget that the Russian military is murdering Ukrainian civilians as the price of Moscow’s self-induced humiliation—and that Russia must pay a price for these atrocities.
But first, here are three new stories from The Atlantic.
Worse Than War
Russian television talk shows are a hallucinatory experience, a kind of febrile nightmare shot on sets that look like a dark mash-up of a manic game show, Fox News, and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. But the creepy star-chamber vibe and the vertigo-inducing camera work are perfectly suited to the deranged rantings of the hosts and guests. The Russian anchor Vladimir Solovyov is among the nastier pieces of work in this cadre: Nicknamed “Putin’s voice” in Russia, he has called for the destruction of Kyiv and said that nuclear war with the West is inevitable.
And yet, even in the midst of this cuckoo’s nest, there are some small chirps of concern. On Sunday night, as Solovyov engaged in his usual smirking about Russia’s infliction of death and misery in Ukraine, one of his guests had enough. “It’s obscene; it’s not constructive; it’s criminal to bomb peaceful cities,” the former Israeli diplomat Yaakov Kedmi interjected. “These things shouldn’t even be uttered—to ‘wipe a city off the face of the Earth’ is obscene.” Solovyov tried to object, but Kedmi pressed on. “There are 1,001 ways to fight without touching civilians.”
Kedmi is not some squishy peacenik who was pulled off Tverskaya Street to be a designated talk-show punching bag. He was born in Russia, emigrated to Israel, and returned several years ago as a supporter of the Putin regime on Russian television. He’s said some nice things about that great “statesman” Joseph Stalin, and he warned last spring that Russia could bomb the United Kingdom “back to the Stone Age” if the British didn’t mind their own business with regard to Ukraine.
Why were Solovyov and Kedmi having this conversation at all? Because the Russian war in Ukraine is no longer a “war” in the sense that most people would conceive of a military contest between two states over some discrete or tangible issue. It is not, in any sense, the kind of conflict that academic “realists” would understand as some kind of Russian exercise in power balancing against an external threat. Instead, Russia’s invasion is now an ongoing operation of mass murder.
I asked Julia Davis, a Daily Beast columnist who monitors the Russian media, why someone like Kedmi would have a change of heart. She thinks Kedmi, who lives in both Russia and Israel, feels that “the winds are changing,” that Putin is now seen by Russia’s elites as a loser, and that the Russian cheerleaders for the invasion face an increasing chance of “blowback in civilized countries” for their country’s conduct in the war. Davis takes it as a positive sign that Kedmi—and perhaps even Solovyov, who she believes is an opportunist acting the part of a cartoonish warmonger—might be worried enough about Russia losing to start moderating his position as a hedge against being too closely associated with Putin.
Russia, as Kedmi and others now seem to realize, has gone far beyond any of the rationalizations Putin deployed last winter about saving the Ukrainians from “Nazis” or any other such nonsense. The Russians are killing innocent civilians as imperial retaliation for their defiance. Putative military objectives have vanished; Moscow’s goals have devolved into infuriated bloodletting. Each Russian retreat brings a rain of missiles against civilian targets, and the Kremlin isn’t even bothering to make military arguments for these strikes against Ukrainian infrastructure and homes. Such bombings are civilian reprisals that are no different from the Nazi reprisals against the French and other occupied peoples for the resistance of partisans and militias. I taught for many years at a U.S. military college, and I believe these are obvious war crimes.
Russian “strategists”—if any actually exist—might claim that the goal is to demoralize the Ukrainians into abandoning their loyalty to their government and surrendering. But the laws of war do not permit terrorizing civilians into submission, and, in any case, the Russians have almost no hope of occupying much more than the slivers of “annexed territories” they hold now. Moscow’s continued attacks, especially judging from the angry chest thumping from the Russian media, seem to have no other purpose but vengeance, and the intentional murder of civilians for the sake of salving the ego of the incompetent Russian military and placating their desperate commander in chief.
This holiday season, many of us will seek peace and a reset heading into the new year by drawing closer to family, taking a break from work, and observing the rituals of our faith. We tend, during this time, to clear our mind of unpleasant things. But as Americans, citizens of the greatest democratic power on Earth, we must not forget that the largest European conflict since World War II is continuing to burn away in Ukraine. A democratic nation is refusing to be conquered by a vengeful imperial power, and it is paying for it with the lives of innocent men, women, and children. As we celebrate the season, let us remember that the Russians have shown no intention of taking a holiday from murder.
- The Great Game: Franklin Foer interviews Secretary of State (and longtime soccer fan) Antony Blinken; Adam Harris argues that American soccer is finally coming of age.
- Up for Debate: Readers share how they’re cutting costs right now.
- Humans Being: The Great British Bake Off is for bros, Jordan Calhoun writes.
An Evolutionary Magic Trick Is Popping Up Everywhere
By Carrie Arnold
Thousands of miles from home in the steamy Amazon rainforest in the mid-1800s, the British naturalist Henry Walter Bates had a problem. More than one, really: There were thumb-size biting insects, the ever-present threat of malaria, venomous snakes, and mold and mildew that threatened to overtake his precious specimens before they could be shipped back to England. But the nagging scientific problem that bothered him involved butterflies.
Bates had noticed that some of the brightly colored Heliconius butterflies in the forest didn’t flit about like the rest; they moved more slowly. When he captured them and examined them under his makeshift microscope, he discovered that they weren’t really Heliconius at all, but astonishing look-alikes.
More From The Atlantic
Read. “I Was Wrong About So Much,” a poem by Eugenia Leigh.
“About your eyes, not a savior’s eyes / but brown as blood. I was wrong / about the God I warped / into a weapon, a garrison. / Wrong about love, too.”
Watch. Fleishman Is in Trouble, an FX/Hulu TV series based on Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s novel about a midlife crisis.
I’ve been one of the chroniclers of Donald Trump’s adventures on Twitter over what feels like the past several decades, and I know that I am supposed to be anguished about his return to the platform. I have been horrified by Trump’s presence in American public life since the 1980s, when I first became aware that I was sharing the solar system with him. But I am not particularly upset about the new Twitter owner Elon Musk lifting Trump’s ban from the social-media platform. And I have no intention of leaving Twitter; I am too old and cranky and stubborn, and I will not just pick up and run merely because the place is now owned by a grown man who has the puerile sensibility of a poorly behaved prepubescent boy.
Instead, I agree with my colleague Quinta Jurecic, who wrote yesterday that this drama with Musk and Trump “is terrifically stupid,” a story that “revolves around the whims of two wealthy and self-involved men who enjoy nothing more than public attention.” The whole business “is an enormous waste of everyone’s time,” she adds, “and I resent having to think about it.” I agree. Trump, however, is the leader of the Republican Party. Whether he is on Twitter is irrelevant: He is a danger to this country no matter where he is.
Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.