Sunday. 27/2/2022

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday

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Europe’s shock and shift

On day four of Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine, the world is still grappling with how to make sense of something that doesn’t make sense (writes Benno Zogg). Russian troops are moving ever closer to the capital Kyiv, entered Ukraine’s second-largest city Kharkiv overnight and are making gains in other parts of the country too. But Ukrainian resistance (pictured on the outskirts of Kyiv) is fierce and “heroic”, as the Sunday press and many Western leaders have called it. And today there were Ukrainian claims that the Russian advance had already been pushed back from Kharkiv. Putin has almost certainly underestimated Ukrainian resolve – and one worries about what’s to come as he throws more of his troops into the battle.

There is a feeling, particularly in Europe, that something fundamental has changed. This war in Ukraine makes all previous Western initiatives – on diplomatic and military fronts – look like failures and too little, too late. But Western unity, certainly in the past 48 hours, has been striking: military and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine has intensified and sanctions that were believed off the table just days ago are now being enacted, including moves to shut Russian banks out of the Swift international payments system. The most notable change has come from Germany, Europe’s cautious power, which has followed suit with sanctions and today acknowledged a gaping lack of preparedness in its own military capabilities. Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced that the notoriously underfunded Bundeswehr would receive a massive and immediate boost of an additional €100bn.

Sanctions will hurt the Russian state and leadership but they risk hurting its population too. Finding the right balance is difficult. It is crucial to constrain the Russian state and isolate its leaders but at the same time the mutual closing of airspace limits the precious interactions that ordinary Russians should still be able to have with the West and with Ukraine. And so, as the military invasion intensifies along with sanctions, a degree of flexibility and creativity will be needed.

The extent of Europe’s shift in thinking – and the shock – was clear as we reflected on this daunting week on a special edition of Monocle on Sunday. Long-time Russia analyst Stephen Dalziel, who joined me in Zürich and Emma Nelson in Monocle’s London studio, called these events the “worst thing that’s ever happened in my life, in my journalistic career”. Lada Roslycky, a defence consultant joining us from Kyiv, repeated calls for a no-fly zone to be established over Ukraine in addition to military aid and spoke passionately about Ukraine’s fighting spirit. But she questioned how the world could be so shocked after Putin has already meddled in and waged war on Ukraine for eight years.

All the while, Russians are not being told what is happening. Moscow-based journalist Nataliya Vasilyeva cautioned that Russian media have been banned from even using the word “war”. From Putin’s perspective, such obfuscation is essential: because if Russians come to realise what is being committed in their name, the already brave opposition voices speaking out against his regime are almost certain to rise.

Benno Zogg is Monocle’s security correspondent in Zürich. Listen to Monocle 24 for regular updates on Ukraine and tune in to ‘The Globalist’ at 07.00 London time tomorrow for additional perspectives on the crisis. Also listen to this weekend’s ‘The Foreign Desk’ for more in-depth analysis.


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