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The U.S. Is Naive About Russia. Ukraine Can’t Afford to Be.

By Anne Applebaum

03 Jan 2022 · 10 min read

Children twirled around a skating rink just outside the president’s office in central Kyiv last week, while tourists took pictures of themselves in front of onion-domed, snow-dusted churches. The stores were full of people shopping for the New Year’s holiday and Orthodox Christmas, just as they always are at this time of year. The airports were crowded.

In other words, nothing unusual was happening in the Ukrainian capital—nothing except for the contingency plans being made for a possible Russian invasion. You can’t see them from the skating rink, but more than 100,000 Russian troops are gathered around Ukraine’s borders, along with weapons, armed vehicles, field hospitals, and Black Sea battleships. Quietly, newspaper editors are asking journalists to get their documents in order, just in case they suddenly need to travel to war zones. A Western diplomat told me that people she knows are “getting familiar with the concept of the ‘go bag,’” luggage that you have packed and ready in case of emergency. Gallows humor is everywhere. When, a few days ago, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense called on women to register with the army, a plethora of jokes and memes made the rounds on people’s cellphones (this sort of thing: an image of a man lying in bed beside his wife and thinking, When will they get on with it and mobilize her?). People wonder out loud if the Russians will come before or after their planned winter vacations, and muse about whether they should change the dates accordingly.

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