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Geopolitics

Ukraine, A Guidebook For Our Survival

Faced with a massive invasion by its far more powerful neighbor, Ukrainians must be conscious of the stakes at play and the means that Vladimir Putin is prepared to employ.

Photo of two mothers in Lisichansk, Ukraine, look at the bus as they send their children to the west of the country.

Two mothers in Lisichansk, Ukraine, look at the bus as they send their children to the west of the country.

Valentin Badrak

The facts must be acknowledged: The "enemy" is here. Vladimir Putin has chosen war. Ukraine now finds itself in a face-off with the Russian bear, its claws sharp, its teeth borne wide. How much hope remains for Ukraine? How much panic is now knocking at our door?

Psychological warfare is key to Putin’s toolbox. Propaganda, intimidation and demoralization: all themes that slipped into Putin’s hour-long speech on Tuesday in which he recognized the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk.


But this is nothing new. Ever since 2008, during the NATO Summit in Bucharest, he has led a campaign making territorial claims to Ukraine. More recently, Putin has been firing out ultimatums and blanks from his own verbal pistol — all of which aim to frighten, depress, cause anxiety and panic.

Putin’s deadly rhetoric

"We are attacked not only by bombs, but also by duds," President Volodymr Zelensky said in a new video address to Ukrainians on Thursday. This time, the so-called "duds" are alloys of phrases: "from all sides," the "capturing" of various cities, "ownership of Ukraine," all of which are rife in Putin’s rhetoric.

In Ukraine, we are braced for the worst in the coming days: bombings, blackouts, Internet-destruction, phone-lines going down, banks and pecuniary funds being halted in their tracks. Some of which have already begun as Russia, on Thursday evening, deployed a "data-wiper" virus on Ukraine, paralyzing websites by bombarding them with spurious information requests. The purpose of such scenarios: anxiety, fear. Composure must be kept, otherwise Putin shall gain the upper hand.

Among other things, expect looting and banditry, which always accompany warfare. The actions of special covert groups, sabotage and reconnaissance missions carried out by Russian troops, disguised as civilians. Keep your friends close, that’s for sure, but be careful, the "enemy" might well be closer…

Photo of \u200bPeople queuing at a grocery store in Kyiv

​People queuing at a grocery store in Kyiv

Hennadii Minchenko/Ukrinform/ZUMA

Blitzkrieg effect

Rhetoric, though, has now been surpassed by violence, as Russia's military operation is launched. Putin has begun a third-generation war — with frontal attacks, from various compass points. The Kremlin has opted for a blitzkrieg, a well-known military tactic to create shock and confusion. If the Ukrainian state wishes to survive, it must keep its head. The first blow hits hardest, but panic is slow-acting poison.

To build the empire that he has been dreaming of for years, Putin needs a population. Civilians are therefore not his primary targets, except in cases of accidental and erroneous actions of Russian troops. Some attacks on civilians may be by sabotage and intelligence groups, Kremlin agents with that one same goal: to provoke panic.

Ukraine still has hope. But for how long, we cannot say

The main thing is that Putin's decision to invade Ukraine can and must be thwarted: resilience, ability to defend oneself, and calm, panic-free action. NATO countries, which are closely monitoring the situation, appear hesitant, unsure whether to provide the powerful artillery systems and air defense equipment needed to defend Ukraine. Too little support, and Putin wins. Too much, and we’re thrown into a continental turmoil almost impossible to resolve.

Room for diplomacy

President Zelensky has already announced the end of diplomatic relations with Russia, but indicates that Ukraine is, nonetheless, ready to negotiate. Tough sanctions are coming in thick and fast, but Western powers must be careful: The war is against Putin and his inner circle, not Russia, as the thousands of anti-war protesters in the streets of Moscow today made clear.

So where does Ukraine stand? The first attack of the Russian Federation showed that the "enemy," although possessing equipment far greater than Ukraine’s, was not dealing with amateurs as it may have anticipated, but trained defense forces: a significant number of motivated people who are not prone to panic, nor hysteria.

History tells us that Putin tends to act step-by-step: He attacks, then studies the reaction of the world, then goes further and deeper. It is in those moments of pause that diplomacy must be pursued.

So as Day One comes to an end, Putin has made his move. Ukraine still has hope. But for how long, we cannot say.


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Geopolitics

Is Soft Power Dead?

With an activist Supreme Court creating a gap between democratic rhetoric and reality in the U.S., and Russia and China eager to flex military muscle, the full-force return to hard power looks bound for dominance.

U.S. flag and Chinese flag

Dominique Moïsi

-Analysis-

PARIS — Russia's war in Ukraine rages on, tensions are erupting in the South China Sea and now abortion rights are being stripped away in the U.S.: Looking around the world, we have to ask: what is left of the notion of soft power?

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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How can we talk about the power to convince when the power to coerce is increasingly the norm? And when there is such a gap between rhetoric and reality in the U.S. and in Russia and China, hard power almost seems to have become part of soft power?

“We will lead the world not by the example of our power, but by the power of our example,” Joe Biden said the day after his election. But what kind of example was he talking about? That of the Supreme Court’s judges, whose decision promises a terrible future to women and to all those who still wanted to believe in an enlightened and liberal America?

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