Letter From the Editors

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.

Although written 100 years ago, these lines from Wilfred Owen’s poem, “Anthem for Doomed Youth,” are shockingly relevant this week, as Russia mounts a ruthless and brutal invasion of Ukraine. The first omen of things to come was the Kremlin’s recognition of the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics as independent states (and not their accession to Russia – as SVR chief Sergei Naryshkin blurted out in his flustered Security Council speech much like a D student sweating it out in front of the teacher).

Unlike Naryshkin, other government officials were better at remembering their lines, and roundly supported the idea of recognizing independence of the DPR and LPR. In a televised live address that wasn’t live after all (even perennial Kremlin spin doctor Dmitry Peskov later admitted the meeting was prerecorded and edited for broadcast), Putin signed treaties on “friendship and cooperation” with the breakaways’ representatives. What’s more – the DPR and LPR stake a claim to the entire territories of Donetsk and Lugansk Provinces, even parts currently controlled by Kiev.

Unsurprisingly, the recognition did not sit well with the West, which introduced economic and personal sanctions against Russia. Even less surprisingly, official Moscow’s decision was welcomed by the likes of Iran and Belarus – Belarussian leader Lukashenko even presented his own worst-case scenario: “Imagine that tomorrow there is no Russia.*** Who will be sucked into this whirlpool? [If that happens] tomorrow, we will be gone in no time.*** [W]e will be attacked from all sides.”

Beijing also weighed in on its junior partner’s surprise move: “The Ukraine issue has a complex and special historical dimension. China understands Russia’s legitimate security concerns,” said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in a phone conversation with Sergei Lavrov. Commenting on the state of Russian-Chinese relations, expert Aleksandr Gabuyev characterized them as “not always together, but never against each other.” What does this mean? Simply that while Beijing is more than willing to look the other way on some of Putin’s escapades, it will not publicly defend Moscow’s foreign policy. Therefore, China will also go along with international sanctions introduced on Russia.

Perhaps Beijing knew something that even some Kremlin-adjacent experts and talking heads didn’t (after all, Putin and Xi shared a heart-to-heart in Beijing mere weeks ago)? Because before the ink even dried on the treaties of friendship, the Kremlin did the unthinkable: It started a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Moscow of course called it a “special military operation,” and its pet experts immediately went to work in trying to justify it. Vladimir Yevseyev of the Institute of CIS Countries said the move was necessary in part because of Ukrainian President Zelensky’s statements about possibly withdrawing from the Budapest Memorandum and once again making Ukraine a nuclear state. This factor, “together with the reality of the humanitarian disaster in the Donetsk Basin, which until recently was home to at least 700,000 Russian citizens, forced President Vladimir Putin to decide to conduct a special military operation.” For its part, the Russian Defense Ministry reported that Russian forces were only attacking Ukrainian military infrastructure. However, social media soon began showing harrowing images of burning apartment buildings, while the Ukrainian Defense Ministry reported that the Armed Forces lost 137 people, including 10 officers, with another 316 injured. A conflict that was completely avoidable has spun out of control, and it’s anybody’s guess how long it will take to put out the fire raging at the heart of Europe, much like 100 years ago. Will another generation be lost to the horrors of a futile war?