Weekly Link Roundup

Source: Poets.org on Twitter

Reflecting on the rarity and tenuousness of peace.

Calamity Again (The Atlantic): “Ukraine’s determination to become a democracy is a genuine challenge to Putin’s nostalgic, imperial political project: the creation of an autocratic kleptocracy, in which he is all-powerful, within something approximating the old Soviet empire. Ukraine undermines this project just by existing as an independent state. By striving for something better, for freedom and prosperity, Ukraine becomes a dangerous rival. For if Ukraine were to succeed in its decades-long push for democracy, the rule of law, and European integration, then Russians might ask: Why not us?”

How To Think About Ukraine, in Maps and Charts (The New York Times): “Ukraine is Europe’s second largest country by land area and seventh largest by population. In square miles, it is slightly smaller than the state of Texas. Overlaid atop a map of Western Europe, it encompasses Switzerland, northern France and southern Germany … Most Ukrainians had a positive attitude towards Russia in the early 2010s … That changed in 2014, when Russia swiftly invaded and then annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. Since then, anti-Russian sentiment has remained high, with some regional variation … 21 percent of respondents in Western Ukraine held positive attitudes towards Russia, compared to 53 percent in Eastern Ukraine.”

Why Is Russia Invading Ukraine and What Does Putin Want? (The Wall Street Journal): “… Mr. Putin regards Ukraine and Russia as inseparable, ‘one people, a single whole,’ and views its closer integration with the West and especially its aspiration to join NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, with deep suspicion. Instead, he has questioned Ukraine’s right to exist, citing a similar language and a shared history and culture; Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union before its collapse at the end of the Cold War in 1991, after which Russia lost much of its economic power and prestige. Geography also plays a role. Ukraine sits on Russia’s western flank where, historically, it has been most vulnerable to attack.”

The Dictator’s New Playbook (Foreign Affairs): “The new autocrats … [use] populism, capitalizes on polarization, and revels in post-truth politics to undermine democratic norms and amass power, preferably for life. These techniques are not new; in fact, they have always been part of the struggle for power. But the ways they are being combined and deployed worldwide today are unprecedented. Many of the new autocrats have successfully co-opted the free press in their respective countries, in some cases by having their business cronies snap up media properties. The explosion of information and media online, moreover, has created opportunities for deception, manipulation, and control that simply didn’t exist as recently as a dec­ade ago. Declining trust in the traditional institutions that once served as gatekeepers to the public sphere has vastly lowered the reputational costs of bald-faced lying. And the globalization of polarization has created new opportunities for alliances with leaders who are using similar wedge issues in other countries. The result is a crisis in the sustainability of democratic government on a scale not seen since the rise of fascists across Europe in the 1930s.”

Why Is Putin Acting Now? (Foreign Policy): “As a leader of a declining revisionist power, whose economic and global influence are predicted to diminish over the next two decades, he has incentives to act sooner rather than later. The current geopolitical landscape offers Putin, who moves rapidly when he sees opportunities, the ideal momentum to try to reinforce his leverage over Ukraine.”

Why the West Is Reluctant to Deny Russian Banks Access to SWIFT (The Economist): “There are three reasons … The Kremlin has been bracing itself for the possibility of being cut off from SWIFT since 2014 … Exclusion would trigger capital flight and a run on firms and banks reliant on foreign funding, but coping mechanisms would soon kick in … transactions would migrate en masse to SPFS, a Russian alternative to SWIFT that is not nearly as ubiquitous and sophisticated, but still usable. That would cause some disruption—but not disaster. Over time, investment in SPFS would make the system speedier. Second, the West … would face short-term costs … Russia is the EU’s fifth-largest trading partner. It is the source of 35% of Europe’s gas supply and it is home to €310bn ($350bn) of EU assets. Cutting Russia off from SWIFT could make it harder for international buyers to pay for its energy supplies; it could also prompt Russian retaliation. Last, using SWIFT as a weapon against Russia could hurt long-term American interests. America holds sway over international finance thanks to the dollar’s dominance and its pre-eminent role in global settlement systems. Further politicising SWIFT would give China an incentive to bolster CIPS, its rival to SWIFT for cross-border payments in yuan.”

What if Russia Wins? (Foreign Affairs): “If Russia gains control of Ukraine or manages to destabilize it on a major scale, a new era for the United States and for Europe will begin. U.S. and European leaders would face the dual challenge of rethinking European security and of not being drawn into a larger war with Russia. All sides would have to consider the potential of nuclear-armed adversaries in direct confrontation. These two responsibilities—robustly defending European peace and prudently avoiding military escalation with Russia—will not necessarily be compatible. The United States and its allies could find themselves deeply unprepared for the task of having to create a new European security order as a result of Russia’s military actions in Ukraine … victory does not have to result in a sustainable settlement. It could involve the installation of a compliant government in Kyiv or the partition of the country. Alternatively, the defeat of the Ukrainian military and the negotiation of a Ukrainian surrender could effectively transform Ukraine into a failed state … Ukraine will have been effectively detached from the West.”

In Washington, a Ukraine Tragedy Foretold (The New Yorker): “… for more than twenty years, successive Administrations in Washington—George W. Bush’s, Obama’s, Donald Trump’s, and now Biden’s—have largely done not much more than that when it came to Vladimir Putin. The result is that now, when the crisis Putin has been building toward for years has finally hit, there are limited tools with which to respond—and little hope of shaping a better outcome than the violent dismantlement that Ukraine now seems doomed to face.”

Russians Now See a New Side to Putin: Dragging Them Into War (The New York Times): “For most of his 22-year rule, Vladimir V. Putin presented an aura of calm determination at home — of an ability to astutely manage risk to navigate the world’s biggest country through treacherous shoals. His attack on Ukraine negated that image, and revealed him as an altogether different leader: one dragging the nuclear superpower he helms into a war with no foreseeable conclusion, one that by all appearances will end Russia’s attempts over its three post-Soviet decades to find a place in a peaceful world order.”

The Economic Consequences of the War in Ukraine (The Economist): “As well as being the dominant supplier of gas to Europe, Russia is one of the world’s largest oil producers and a key supplier of industrial metals such as nickel, aluminium and palladium. Both Russia and Ukraine are major wheat exporters, while Russia and Belarus … are big in potash … The longer-term impact will be to accelerate the division of the world into economic blocs. Russia will be forced to tilt east, relying more on trade and financial links with China. In the West more politicians and firms will ask if a key tenet of globalisation—that you should trade with everyone, not just your geopolitical allies—is still valid, not just for Russia but other autocracies. China will look at Western sanctions on Russia and conclude that it needs to intensify its campaign of self-sufficiency.”

Putin Is Repeating the USSR’s Mistakes (Foreign Affairs): “Russia’s attack on Ukraine will likely accelerate the outcome he wants least: a bigger and stronger NATO … Countries along or near the Russian periphery that value their independence but do not yet belong to NATO may now seriously consider joining or intensify their efforts to do so. Potential new members could expand beyond former Soviet republics to include countries that remained neutral during the Cold War, either voluntarily (such as Sweden) or as a result of Soviet coercion (such as Austria and Finland).”

Want to Support Ukraine? Here’s a List of Charities By Subject (Reddit)

You can also donate to the Ukrainian Red Cross here.

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