The night before last was a difficult one for everyone in Kyiv. Colleagues sent messages to try to describe the horrible noise, and to let me know that they were all right. Russia attacked the Ukrainian capital with six kinzhal ("hypersonic") ballistic missiles, three other ballistic missiles, nine kalibr cruise missiles, six shahed drones, and three orlan drones. The attack began just after three o'clock at the morning, and the explosions kept the city awake for hours.
Though the scale was unusual, this was the eighth such Russian attack on Kyiv this month alone. It is an outrage among other outrages, a terror attack among other terror attacks. In this awful war, Russia claims the right to terrorize the Ukrainian population. It attacks Kyiv and other cities not because it seeks to destroy military targets, but because it wishes to kill and injure civilians, or to destroy infrastructure so that civilians freeze and starve.
In this latest attack, Russia was trying to destroy Ukrainian air-defense systems, which save the lives of Ukrainians. They have been installed because Russia has spent the last year and more launching missiles at Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities. Attacking air-defense sites is nothing more than an attempt to keep the Ukrainian civilian population as hostages to Russian missiles. It is like murdering the lifeguard to preserve the ability to drown children.
The word "terrorism" gets overused, not least in Russia itself, where two artists were recently arrested on charges of "supporting terrorism" because of a theatrical production. This is how Russian propaganda works: we hesitate to use the word "terrorism" because the terrorists themselves use it to describe something that is not terrorism.
We have to work to preserve the concepts needed to characterize Russian behavior even as the Russian state strives to make them meaningless. It is certainly terrorism to launch missiles and drones at a city. What if, for no reason at all, the United States launched ballistic missiles at Toronto? Certainly this would be terrorism, among many other things.
And what if American leaders and propagandists, in this hypothetical scenario, gave senseless reasons for such an action? What if they claimed that Canadians and Americans were actually one people, and that Canadians who did not realize this had to be killed? That the U.S.-Canadian border was illegitimate because of Joe Biden's personal views about the past? That English speakers in Canada needed to be united with their true American homeland? That Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau was a Nazi?
All of these senseless claims, which are (mutatis mutandis) precisely Russia's justifications for attacking Ukraine, just make matters worse. Indeed, it is at this point that the terrorism becomes fascism.
We face the same problems with the words: just as the Russian state abuses the word "terrorism" while practicing terrorism, it abuses the word "fascism" while practicing fascism. By claiming that its invasion of Ukraine was somehow against fascism, the Putin regime made it harder to point out that its own actions are fascist. Indeed, the total nonsense of the Russian invasion is fascist. It depends on a celebration of will over reason -- and an elevation of violence as the natural form of politics. That is what fascism is.
After Russian missile attacks on Ukrainian cities, Russian propagandists usually take to the television screens to celebrate. From a safe distance in Moscow, they glory in the destruction of buildings, the loss of water and electricity, the loss of life of people described as "swine," "vermin," "devils," and the like. Death is taken as the correct ending to their story of dehumanization. This amounts to daily fascist education for the Russian viewing public.
The day after these latest missile attacks, though, there was less to "celebrate," since all of the Russian missiles and drones were shot down by Ukrainian air defense. The noise woke up the city of Kyiv, but not one of the Russian missiles or drones reached its target. Kyivans have to live with the knowledge that Moscow wants them dead, but they also know that they are being defended. Of course it is good for Ukraine when its citizens are protected. But they should not be attacked in the first place.
It is also good for Russia to fail. The longer this war goes on, the longer Russians are instructed that national pride means taking pleasure in the senseless killing of civilians from a safe distance. The missiles are fired from well beyond Ukraine, from ships and airplanes that face no danger. People are just pushing buttons. The propaganda is issued in Moscow. People are just looking at cameras. Russians know, though, that Ukraine is not supposed to be able to shoot down their missiles, especially the supposedly invincible "hypersonic" kinzhal.
Frightening as it was for everyone in Kyiv, the city's successful self-defense is one small step towards the end of the war. Russian fascism depends upon a sense of impunity, on the belief that Russia is a master of violence before which the subhuman Ukrainians must cower and yield. The idea has to be rendered nonsensical, which is only possible through Ukrainian self-defense -- and Russian defeat.
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Eyebrows were raised when FDR and Churchill, in 1943, announced that WW II could only be concluded with ‘unconditional surrender.’
I sense the same concern, when President Zelensky refuses to commit to any ‘peace’ that includes continued occupation of Ukrainian soil, including Crimea.
Whatever the ruminations about humiliating Putin after his brutal invasion of sovereign Ukraine, personally I like the timbre of ‘unconditional surrender.’
Dr. Snyder, I'm sure you saw the open letter in the NYT today calling for a swift diplomatic end to the war. <insert eyeroll emoji> Perhaps you could do a future piece on how well-intended, useful idiots help Russia's cause....