The Russian invasion of Ukraine could start the painful process of decolonizing Russia. Much depends on whether Russian intellectuals let go of the ideals of a great Russian people and the friendship of “brotherly” nations. This requires accepting the sovereignty and equality of other countries and cultures and admitting responsibility for the Soviet genocidal colonial past. Decolonizing Russian political discourse and culture will debunk the myth of Russian imperial innocence and victimhood and restore the dignity of the colonized.

We Americans and Europeans are used to thinking of terrorism as something involving fertilizer bombs or improvised weapons, and of terrorists as fringe extremists who operate conspiratorially in irregular gangs. When we speak of state-sponsored terrorism, we are usually talking about clandestine groups that are supported, covertly, by a recognized state, in the way that Iran supports Hezbollah. But Russia’s war in Ukraine blurs the distinction among all of these things—terrorism, state-sponsored terrorism, war crimes—for nothing about the bombing of Serhiivka, or Kremenchuk, or Kharkiv, is surreptitious, conspiratorial, or fringe.

Instead Russia, a legitimate, recognized world power—a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council—is directing constant, repetitive, visible terrorist violence against civilians, many of whom are nowhere near the fighting. The attacks are not errors or accidents. The planes carrying bombs can be tracked on radar screens. Occasionally, Moscow issues denials—the shopping-mall bombing was, like many others, described by Russian state media as “faked”—but no apologies. The Russian army will not punish the murderers. On the contrary, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has already awarded medals to the brigade that committed so many atrocities in the town of Bucha.

Finland and Sweden are right to have concluded from the tragic war being waged in Ukraine that they need more security. Mr Putin is dangerous and unpredictable not because of NATO, but because of the way he has chosen to govern Russia. Their applications should rapidly be approved. As with NATO’s expansion in the past, their membership will help secure European peace.

Ukrainians have reminded us what freedom means -- a word that for many in rich democracies had long ago curdled into platitudes. The resilience of the population has impressed the West and surprised the Kremlin. It shouldn't have. For the past few years I've been trying to unlock the secret of Ukrainian identity by talking to Ukrainians. Through my research project, Arena, based originally at the LSE and now at Johns Hopkins University, I've worked with Ukrainian journalists and sociologists to find ways of strengthening democracy. My team has interviewed thousands of adults across the country. Our fieldwork shows that the response to Russia's invasion has deep roots in Ukrainian history.

Part of the problem is that the current leaders of Western countries have never dealt with thugs. Their experience and education relate to interactions between statesmen. The principle of these people’s behaviour is that both sides concede to each other in the interests of their electorate or subjects. War is evil to them, and the use of force is a last resort.

This is not the case with Vladimir Putin. He was raised in the KGB, an organisation that relied on force and disregard for the law.

If you live in a fake world long enough, it can start to feel real. Dictators and despots begin to believe their own lies, repeated back at them and propagated by state-controlled media. That might help explain why Putin's recent speeches have stood out as unhinged rants. It's certainly possible that his mind has succumbed to his own propaganda, creating a warped worldview in which the invasion of Ukraine was, as Trump put it, an incredibly "savvy" move.

Blaming America first became all too easy. After September 11, U.S. power was as overwhelming as it was uncontested. That it was squandered on two endless wars made it convenient to focus on America's sins, while underplaying Russia's and China's growing ambitions.

Today, the most brutal members of Autocracy Inc. don't much care if their countries are criticized, or by whom. The leaders of Myanmar don't really have any ideology beyond nationalism, self-enrichment, and the desire to remain in power. The leaders of Iran confidently discount the views of Western infidels. The leaders of Cuba and Venezuela dismiss the statements of foreigners on the grounds that they are "imperialists." The leaders of China have spent a decade disputing the human-rights language long used by international institutions, successfully convincing many people around the world that these "Western" concepts don't apply to them. Russia has gone beyond merely ignoring foreign criticism to outright mocking it.

America is in a dark place. There are no simple ways forward or easy solutions that could bring people together.

Most countries have land borders and voters. For them isolation was never feasible. Instead, they have adopted a confusing, illogical mess of rules. America bars travellers from Britain and the European Union, its closest allies and trade partners, and also two of the most vaccinated big places in the world, while admitting those from South-East Asia, where the Delta variant is rampant. Thailand bans entry from some countries and requires all other travellers to submit to a two-week quarantine. Yet of 21,038 cases identified on August 10th, only 19 were imported. Once a variant of the virus has started to spread in the local population, infections double every couple of weeks. Entry bans make very little difference to the total caseload.

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