People keep waiting for the “war” to begin in Ukraine. But a 21st century-style war has already begun here, and may be almost over – something that Vladimir Putin seems to understand even if the rest of us do not.
In a world where Youtube, Twitter and Facebook dominate, the overt “hard power” of guns and bullets is no longer as publicly palatable as it once was. Autocratic states prefer to bankrupt dissidents instead of executing them; NGO workers are not “disappeared” but their offices are shut down for zoning irregularities. Nowadays even dictators have to be “post-modern.”
Putin, schooled in the art of covert power, understands this new world, both instinctively and politically. To adequately comprehend what the Russian president is doing in Ukraine you have to travel across the occupied east, which is both a journey into a country falling apart and a gradual immersion in the realities of Russian geopolitical strategy.