The weekend’s events were surreal, dreamlike in a fashion, the stuff of tabletop wargames and Model-UN simulations except terribly real. We begin this week in a dramatically new context, and the question at hand is who is able to adapt to it — and to adapt to the overwhelming probability that this context will be overtaken in turn, perhaps in hours if not days. The Lyapunov horizon is, at best, tomorrow.
Pulling back the lens a bit, a few observations on what has come to pass, and what it might mean. We must stress the might there: the territory is uncharted. We should also note that pulling the lens back can be quite difficult. As this is written, the images are coming in from the bombardments in Kharkiv. They are — if real, a necessary caution — horrifying, reminiscent of the aftermath of the 1994 and 1995 Markale massacres in Sarajevo. The difference, of course, is that those atrocities were done with mortars, and these with Grads. The historical parallel is not mere trivia: readers with memories sufficiently long will recall what happened after the two attacks. The 1994 attack resulted in a spate of NATO airstrikes upon Serb positions; the 1995 attack resulted in full NATO entry into the war, operating as the airpower component of the combined Croat and Bosnian forces.
Images matter, and they drive policy in the heat of the moment. The Ukrainians have shown beyond a doubt that they understand this. As the Russians pour evermore troops, armor, and artillery into cities of armed millions, the images will proliferate. Ukrainian policy has made it inevitable that we will see the combat deaths, not just of young men, but of young women too. Do not think for a moment this is not a qualitative difference, nor that it will not drive responses in unique ways.
Turning away from the immediacy of events, what have we learned across the weekend?