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Putin’s Quasi War Begins

Ukraine car explosion
Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty
Julia Ioffe
February 18, 2022

The war didn’t arrive on Wednesday, as President Joe Biden reportedly warned allies that it would. Instead, Russian state media marked the day by crowing about Western “hysteria” and faulty intelligence of the kind the U.S. produced before invading Iraq in 2003. It continued gloating well into Friday evening, even as the actual war had very clearly arrived after a tense two days. 

On Thursday, the Russian Foreign Ministry made public its response to Washington’s latest diplomatic proposals: a nasty, forceful rejection. Shooting picked up on the front lines between Ukraine and the regions of the Donbas that the media has come to call “breakaway” or “separatist,” a shorthand that unintentionally elides the reality that these territories have been pried away by force. A kindergarten was shelled. The deputy chief of mission—the No. 2 diplomat at the U.S. embassy in Moscow—was expelled from Russia. On Thursday night, Channel One, Russia’s primary state-owned network, broadcast a story from Donetsk that claimed the rebels had seized a secret Ukrainian map allegedly showing the Kyiv government’s plans for an imminent invasion of the breakaway regions.