A Ukrainian soldier stand before a light anti-tank weapon last January, among the weaponry America and her allies have been providing to his besieged country.

Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images

Are we going to war with Russia?

It’s good we’re ignoring Russian President Vladimir Putin’s demands to stop aiding Ukraine. But we should grasp what that might lead to.

In Russian-occupied Kherson, satellite imagery that showed the digging of hundreds of fresh grave plots held haunting symbolism of the fate of civilians there. — News item

That about sums it up, doesn’t it? A humanity so advanced that we can detect and count 6-by-3-foot graves from outer space. But at the same time, a species so degraded that we’re also doing the random killing that requires the graves. Quite a range of behavior to wrap our heads around on the Monday after Easter.

And I shouldn’t even address how the same news organization, The Washington Post, that can share such important news is also able, in doing so, to disgorge a phrase like “held haunting symbolism of the fate of civilians there.”

Symbolism? A grave isn’t a symbol of their fate, it is their fate. (Let’s re-write that sentence into something less passive, shall we? “Satellite imagery showed hundreds of freshly-dug graves in Russian-occupied Kherson, an ominous indication of the fate of civilians there.” More accurate and four words shorter.)

Opinion bug


Having plucked out “haunting,” we can save that word to apply to the Russian demand that the United States stop supplying weapons to Ukraine. And even then, it’s premature. We’re not “haunted” yet by the formal diplomatic note — how 19th century of them! — the Russians sent last week warning the United States to stop giving the Ukrainians the weapons they are using to kick their ass. Not haunted, only worried.

That Russian demand seems the most salient fact in the whole churning, confusing awful horror of the war in recent weeks. What to make of it?

Empty threat? Given the ease with which Russians lie, we can take some reassurance that if they are saying they’re going to do some vague unwelcome thing — ”unpredictable consequences” is the term they actually brandished — there’s a good chance they won’t do anything.

Or is it the sort of justification the Russians like to float prior to their awful acts? A kind of prior authorization they seem to think takes the sting out of unprovoked evil. Their thinking is: We can randomly kill thousands of civilians in the country next door if we first claim we’re liberating them from Nazis and they aren’t a real country anyway.

Is the United States heading toward war? It seems a very real possibility. Some arms convoy in Poland will be hit, and the gears of general conflagration will start to turn. It’ll all seem inevitable, afterward. Then we can be haunted aplenty.

Just to be clear. I’m not saying the United States shouldn’t continue arming Ukraine. We have to. Which means we must accept the possibility of war. We don’t like to think about that. The whole strategy of handing weapons to Ukrainians and letting them actually pull the trigger is a tactic designed to avoid dragging ourselves into actual fighting. The easy way.

There are not many rules in warfare, but a fairly certain one is: Things always go wrong. A good beginning does not mandate a happy end. The strong resistance Ukraine put up initially might only make their abject defeat more costly and awful. And our trying to stay out is no guarantee we can support Ukraine without fighting Russia.

A land war with Russia in Eastern Europe would be bad. But still might be better than the alternative: a Europe ruled by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Bullies are never satisfied, and just as taking Crimea didn’t placate Putin, neither will Ukraine.

The point of the war, to the degree it has one, is not to seize whatever land or natural resources are being grabbed, but to give the failed Russian state a sense of purpose. Putin’s contempt for the West is such he never imagined the cost of his actions.

But we can. The good news is there isn’t much for us to do but watch, worry, help in whatever small ways we can and hope it somehow comes to the least-horrible conclusion. But if things go seriously awry, and the United States gets dragged in, as can happen any minute, it might be a small, cold comfort to have seen it coming. If we might be at war with Russia by Friday, at least we should recognize the possibility on Monday morning.

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