The logic of events.
Annexation, escalation, and acceleration in a widening war.
It’s worth a short followup on yesterday’s analysis, assessing the likelihood and pathway to nuclear-weapons use in Europe, given the pace at which events are moving. This morning — afternoon in Moscow — the Russian Federation formally annexed the occupied Ukrainian territories of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson. It’s worth watching the actual ceremony, even absent a translation. You can see the spectacle, which in the extended speech and the signing ceremony immediately following, compresses together both Putin’s February-2022 prewar address, and the 2014 Crimean-annexation address and ceremony. The political message is fairly clear: the regime is not departing from what it sees as its only plausible restorationist template.
The Financial Times’s Moscow-bureau chief gives his own interpretation:
As always, the question is how to understand this. At the Moscow Times, Farida Rustamova reports on a series of interesting conversations she has had with Russian elites. The consensus among them is that things will get worse, and Russia has no choice but to win. The Second World War as historical template is so pervasive as to be analytically deranging — as much in the West as in Russia, although for entirely different reasons — but that does not mean it does not sometimes apply. (It is one of two badly applied and intellectually skewing templates afflicting American understanding of events and history: the other is the Civil Rights Era. A future Armas will cover this.) In that vein, what you see here will be immediately recognizable to anyone familiar with German civil society in 1943. (For a great English-language look at how this mindset and social mechanism unfolded in Germany in 1944-1945, Ian Kershaw’s 2011 The End is a key read.) We’re in it and there’s no way out, and the dictator will make it so. Or, to quote one of Rustamova’s sources, “Putin always chooses escalation.”
If he always chooses escalation, then the logic of recent events becomes fairly clear. The Nordstream demolitions signal both the final severance of Russia from the West, and Western vulnerability to Russian action; and the annexations of Ukrainian regions signal the existential nature of the conflict to the regime. (We should note here that though Russian responsibility for the pipelines attack is, in my view, probable, it is by no means established. The only other plausible culprit is the United States.) As discussed in this space before, the latter raises the probability of nuclear-weapons use.