Heavy shelling by Russian forces has erupted around the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv on Friday, March 11.
'Indiscriminate bombing often in civilian areas': Nick Paton Walsh on Russian tactics
02:18 - Source: CNN

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In 2011, three American researchers revealed an eye-opening finding derived from data on the US bombing campaign during the Vietnam War.

Their discovery: the more bombs that were dropped on South Vietnamese hamlets in 1969, the likelier the Viet Cong insurgents were to end up controlling the territory afterward. As Cornell University professor Thomas Pepinsky noted then, “Killing civilians is unjust, but our research shows that it is also bad strategy.”

Two years later, historian Richard Overy concluded that the targeting of European cities in World War II was also a military failure – “strategic bombing proved in the end to be inadequate in its own terms for carrying out its principal assignments and was morally compromised by deliberate escalation against civilian populations.”

But as Russia’s war in Ukraine entered its third week Thursday, President Vladimir Putin didn’t seem interested in the fine points of military strategy. Missiles rained down relentlessly on Ukrainian cities.

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Hospitals, schools and apartment buildings were wrecked, as the civilian death toll mounted. Yet there’s no sign the carnage is weakening Ukraine’s resolve to fight – a survey this month found that two-thirds of Ukrainians remaining in the country were willing to play a role in mounting armed resistance.

A bomb destroyed the maternity and children’s wards of a hospital in the southern city of Mariupol, killing three people and injuring more than a dozen, as Michael Bociurkiw noted, in a CNN Opinion piece from Lviv. “Grainy images and video showed an Armageddon-like scene: vehicles on fire, the outside grounds singed and a crater large enough to accommodate two men head to toe. A dazed, bloodstained, pregnant woman was being led out by rescue workers…”

“These are my people being injured and killed. I watch as large swaths of the land of my ancestors, introduced to me in childhood through Ukrainian folk songs and poems as a bucolic land of freedom fighters and brave dissidents, is being transformed into killing fields. No wonder my dreams keep me in a captive state of despair.”

“Two weeks into the war, scenes of carnage like that of the Mariupol hospital have become part of the daily horror for Ukrainians that can’t be switched off.

No easy victory

For all the damage the Russians have been able to inflict, though, the war isn’t providing the quick and easy victory Putin might have expected.

“The bottom line is the Ukrainian military forces have acquitted themselves exceptionally well thus far in the war,” observed retired US Army Major General Mike Repass, who provided education and advisory support to the Ukrainian military on a US government contract and who shared his views with CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen. “Russia will have a very difficult time subduing them because they are willing to fight until it becomes seemingly ‘futile,’ or they no longer have the resources to do so.

“The Ukrainians have been overmatched by Russian technology and outmanned and outgunned – by Russian tanks, artillery, precision long-range strike missiles, armored personnel carriers – but the terrain favors the defenders, especially in the North and East of Ukraine, although less so in the South. I think time and mass are on the Russian side, and they’re going to be able to either create conditions for peace suitable to Putin’s liking, or they will outright destroy the cities of Ukraine and the Ukrainian military with it, which to me still leaves a resistance scenario for the Ukrainians,” Repass concluded.

“The truth is sinking in that, by attacking Ukraine, Mr Putin has committed a catastrophic error,” wrote the editors of The Economist. “He has wrecked the reputation of Russia’s supposedly formidable armed forces, which have proved tactically inept against a smaller, worse-armed but motivated opponent. Russia has lost mountains of equipment and endured thousands of casualties, almost as many in two weeks as America has suffered in Iraq since it invaded in 2003.”

Zelensky’s moment

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There was an extraordinary moment last week in the House of Commons, on the site where Britain’s wartime prime minister Winston Churchill declared in 1940, “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

This time, the defiance came from Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s embattled president, speaking on a video link to Britain’s Parliament. Frida Ghitis wrote that the screen showed “the familiar image – the boyish-faced president with the stubble of war, wearing his olive green T-shirt. His stirring message was also, above all, an appeal to conscience and bravery, a blend of inspiration and exhortation, lofty ideals and, notably, concrete requests.”

Zelensky “has achieved far more than anyone had reason to expect. He is not just rallying Ukrainians. He has also rallied the international community at all levels, speaking to world leaders, legislators, community groups and everyday citizens, day after day. Zelensky has articulated the meaning of this war in terms that make it relevant to all the world’s democracies. He has turned the cause into one that world leaders feel compelled to support, that private businesses fear to ignore, in which individuals across the globe yearn to help.”

NATO countries have rushed to provide arms to Ukraine, but won’t intervene directly in the war against a nuclear-armed foe. Should the US be doing more? Critics of President Joe Biden have called for a no-fly zone and the delivery of Polish fighter planes to Ukraine. “It’s completely understandable that elected leaders, like so many Americans, are desperate for Biden to stop a madman’s invasion of a sovereign country and relieve the suffering of the Ukrainian people,” wrote Kirsten Powers. “We would not be human if we did not feel these things.

“But it’s easy to forget that military action often makes things worse, not better. What could be worse than what is happening now? A world war with vastly more casualties. And in case anyone has forgotten, Russian leader Vladimir Putin has indicated his willingness to use nuclear weapons.”

The refugee tide

ukraine poland refugees 03102022

More than 2 million refugees have escaped the fighting in Ukraine, crossing borders into nations that are welcoming them with open arms.

“In Poland I see the beauty of what can happen when refugees are welcomed,” wrote Arwa Damon. “When kindness and compassion is what greets those on the run for their lives. When hundreds of volunteers wait for bus after bus with signs offering free rides and warm places to stay.”

“Today it feels like the world has woken up and finally realized how ruthless and murderous the Russian government is. As if for years Syrians were not dying under the same Russian bombs. As if countless Syrian voices were not begging the world to help them. At the time, they asked me, ‘Why doesn’t the world care about us?’ But I could never answer the question without crushing them even more. How do you tell someone their life is not part of a geopolitical calculus, that in the grand scheme of the puppet masters, their life is not worth all that much?

“We are painfully seeing that refugees are selectively welcomed, and war criminals are selectively punished. It’s not just the western media that is biased; it’s the western world …The ugly truth is our humanity is skin deep. And it breaks my heart.”

When war broke out, Catarina Buchatskiy could no longer sit in her Stanford University dorm room, decorated with “photos of my childhood in Kyiv, while the city and its surrounding areas were being bombarded by Russian artillery.” Soon after the invasion, she flew to Krakow, Poland, to assist incoming refugees and offer other humanitarian assistance.

This is a war challenging the very existence of Ukraine and Ukrainians as an independent, sovereign people. It’s also a continuation of a centuries-long Russian war on every single one of us.”

Memories of Prague, 1968

Daniel Kumermann was 17 when Soviet tanks rolled into Prague in August 1968 to crush reforms that were threatening to turn Czechoslovakia into a democratic country. “Despite the overwhelming mass of steel around us, we kept refusing to accept its reality,” he recalled. “We still believed that we could somehow protect and preserve the process of the democratization of our country known as the Prague Spring.” It was not to be. Only the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 would free the Czechs, and now, Kumermann, observed, they fear what’s next.

“That is the really bleak message for us here in the Czech Republic and for our neighboring countries, which also used to be under Soviet rule. We can be sure that if Putin succeeds in his current adventure he is not going to stop there – and his gaze will be locked on us. The Ukrainians fighting back against the Russian onslaught do so not only for their own freedom, but for our freedom as well. And for that they deserve our unmitigated gratitude.”

Russia’s most powerful backer in recent months has been China, which has echoed some of Putin’s talking points and avoided direct criticism of the Ukraine invasion. China experts have debated whether President Xi Jinping was blindsided by the scope of Putin’s war. But the more urgent question is what, if anything, China will do to try to stop it.

Ian Johnson, who worked as a journalist in China for 20 years, isn’t optimistic. “China, far from being able to act decisively on the world stage, suffers from a chronic leadership void that leaves it paralyzed to act in the face of global crises,” wrote Johnson.

In theory, it would make sense for China to actively seek to restore peace. “China grew rich in the international order that Putin seeks to destroy. Ultimately it needs to compete with the world’s leading countries, and to do that it needs an open world system with a free flow of capital and ideas. Slumming it with dysfunctional states like Russia only drags China down. This could still happen, and China might set aside its domestic priorities to help end the crisis. But doing so would require a seismic shift.”

In Russia

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In Moscow, the shuttering of McDonald’s and other Western companies signaled a decisive shift, according to Andrei Kolesnikov. In recent years, Russia “has become a mall society. People spend their weekends in these consumer hubs; heading there for walks, visiting restaurants, watching films, and of course, shopping.”

“In these boom times, the general consensus among the middle classes of the big cities has been, ‘Yes, we have an authoritarian leader, but why do we need democracy?’ Russians, it appeared, were doing just fine … we’ve learned what kinds of wines we like to drink, we’re picky about cars and holiday resorts abroad. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, foreign businesses, brands, technology, parts and partners have increased employment, expanded competencies. We are still on our own – politically and militarily – but in lifestyle, we are no different from Westerners…”

“The terrible feeling that haunts those people in my circle – who now wander around Istanbul like Russian emigrants in the 1920s or who, like me, still remain in Moscow, full of its traffic jams and queues at banks – is that our freedom of speech, freedom of movement, freedom to assemble peacefully, have been taken away from us.

Brittney Griner, the star WNBA player, has been detained in Russia, where she competes for professional leagues. Russian officials said they found cannabis oil in her luggage and charged with her a drug offense that carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. Peniel E. Joseph wrote that Griner “suddenly finds her life ensnared in a geopolitical chess game controlled by Russian officials at an increasingly perilous and uncertain moment. While Griner’s fame and privilege could shield her somewhat, her identity as a Black gay woman athlete facing the Russian legal system is a precarious one, and as the war intensifies and diplomatic options wane, Americans must not look away.

For more:

Dean Obeidallah: Trump must think Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a joke

Covid mind-shift

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Two years since the widespread Covid lockdowns began, the virus is in retreat in the US. Whether another variant like Omicron or Delta could spark a new surge is unknown. In the meantime, the urge to return to some kind of pre-Covid sense of “normal” is strong. In an essay, Dr. Sanjay Gupta argued that the health threat hasn’t disappeared despite the drop in new infections. “Although the numbers are falling, they are still painfully high,” he wrote, and the lingering effects of “long Covid” are deeply concerning.

Congress last week failed to pass a $15.6 billion pandemic aid package, as Julian Zelizer noted. “As much as our nation’s elected officials are to blame for this lapse, we have been all too eager to move on from the Covid-19 pandemic without tackling underlying public health needs that will allow us to live with this as endemic. We are a nation with a short-attention span, with a media eco-system that has the tendency to quickly shift from one crisis to the next.”

A blow against progress

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Dr. Megan Ranney recalled visiting “a cemetery in an old mining town in Utah. My husband and I were struck by the rows of little tombstones. Each tombstone’s death date was within a few weeks of each other in the early 1900s. They were all children who had died of diphtheria. As a parent and a physician, it was an all-too-concrete reminder of the toll that infectious diseases used to take on US families and children.”

Vaccines for children have virtually eliminated diptheria, along with polio and other deadly diseases, she noted. So Ranney reacted with surprise to the “new guidelines put out by the Florida surgeon general on Tuesday, that ‘healthy children from ages 5 to 17 may not benefit from receiving the currently available COVID-19 vaccine.’”

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    “The Covid-19 vaccine currently under emergency use authorization in the US for kids 5 and up – a two-dose Pfizer/BioNTech series – is effective at preventing the worst outcomes: severe illness, hospitalization and death. Study after study shows that the kids who get hospitalized for Covid-19 are, by and large, those who are unvaccinated … let’s not undermine these effective protections available to our children. We should celebrate, not denigrate, vaccines. Let’s let common sense, compassion and respect for the data prevail,” Ranney wrote.

    Also in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis moved ahead with a series of bills inspired by topics that dominate conservative media. One of the bills, Jill Filipovic noted, “penalizes any educator who so much as mentions sexual orientation or gender identity to K-3 students.”

    “It’s a dystopian law, and a major incursion on free speech and expression – rights that many conservatives have claimed to defend, but instead use their political power to undermine. It’s also a direct attack on kids: Whatever your views on LGBTQ rights and gender identity, barring teachers from even recognizing that gay people exist forces them to lie to their students and breaks down trust between students and educators.”

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    The book bans

    In 2020, Brad Meltzer, who gained fame as a thriller writer, found his non-fiction children’s books on Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. listed among more than 200 titles a Pennsylvania school board tried to exclude from classroom discussions of diversity. Authors, activists and students fought back, Meltzer wrote, leading the Central York School Board to eventually drop its “freeze” on the books. But book banning efforts remain in high gear in many parts of the country.

    It’s far from the first time this has happened. “From censoring anti-slavery books in the Civil War, racy books in the 80s, rap music in the 90s, or the books about gender identity, sexual orientation and racial injustice that are being targeted today,” Meltzer observed, “the ‘concerned citizens’ fighting to make sure their way of life is undisturbed ‘by uncomfortable ideas’ will eventually be revealed as the villains of the story. If you’re cheering as books are pulled from the library, you’re on the wrong side of history.

    January 6 turning point

    In the first trial of a January 6 Capitol rioter, Guy Reffit was found guilty Tuesday of all five counts related to the attack. Nicole Hemmer saw it as a turning point, a potential departure from a long history of the justice system largely condoning far-right violence.

    The “verdict – which joins a series of plea deals, bench trials and seditious conspiracy charges – shows a system with the capacity and flexibility to prosecute far-right extremism in ways it seldom has in modern US history. And while that system still has weaknesses, its ability to respond to extremism will be a critical counterweight to an emboldened far-right.

    Don’t miss

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    SE Cupp: Misplaced hate here at home isn’t helping Ukraine

    Elliot Williams: Why it’s so hard to prosecute Donald Trump

    Issac Bailey: I know what self-censorship on campus looks like

    Patricia Nez Henderson and Catherine Saucedo: What happened when smoking was banned in American Indian casinos

    David Andelman: Russia is threatening to throw sand in the gears of the Iran nuclear deal

    Garrard Conley: What conversion therapy cost me

    Peter Bergen: Mike Pence is no profile in courage



    Sanna Marin is Finland's prime minister.

    Finland, an early pioneer of full political rights for women, had reason to boast on International Women’s Day this past Tuesday. Its 36-year-old female prime minister Sanna Marin leads a coalition of five political parties, all headed by women, wrote Naomi Moriyama and William Doyle, who moved there for a time from New York City.

    “We found a fiercely egalitarian and modest society that is much the opposite of what we were used to in the US. Schoolchildren learn through play and joyful discovery, enjoy multiple outdoor daily recess periods and have highly respected teachers and fairly-funded public schools. Parental leave is generous, public hospitals are first-rate, and the full participation of women in political leadership and many professions is accepted as routine,” they wrote.

    “The more we speak with Finnish people, the more we are struck by how often they emphasize the idea of partnership between women and men, rather than a competition of “women versus men.” We often hear of the collective Finnish desire to care for each and every member of society.”

    In ancient Icelandic, there’s a word for outstanding or extraordinary women, wrote Eliza Reid, Iceland’s first lady and an immigrant from Canada. “Yet the word is not exclusive to people who understand that language. There are ‘sprakkar’ all around us…I encourage you to recognize them, to elevate them, to amplify their voices, and to remember the influence we can all have in creating a more equitable world for everyone.”