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Putin’s New Iron Curtain

Russian tanks cross into Ukraine
Photo by Sergei Malgavko via Getty
Julia Ioffe
February 24, 2022

The war arrived at 4 a.m. local time, just as the rumors said it would. It started with air strikes—in Kyiv, in Kharkiv, Mariupol, Ivano-Frankivsk—and then there were the amphibious landings in Odessa and Belarusian tanks coming over the border in the north. Just as explosions began to echo around Ukraine, Vladimir Putin addressed his nation, as well as the one he was attacking, something that he and his minions had promised for months that they had no intention of doing. This would be a “special military operation” Putin said, to “de-Nazify and demilitarize Ukraine.” His troops would rid it of the “junta” that had seized power and was committing “genocide” against the innocents. The perpetrators, he promised, would be tried and brought to justice.

But even as his forces were shelling the entirety of Ukraine—north to south, east to west—Putin made clear that his invasion wasn’t really about Ukraine. It was about the United States, about history and settling old scores, and rewriting the terms of surrender, thirty years later, that ended the Cold War. “After the collapse of the U.S.S.R., a redivision of the world began,” Putin announced Thursday just before dawn, sitting at his desk in the Kremlin. But “the people who declared themselves the victors of the Cold War” decided that they could do away with the norms that had become accepted, including the “key, fundamental ones that were agreed to as a result of the Second World War and, which in large part, secured its results.”