"Putin's reaction exceeded our worst expectations. These next days and weeks in Ukraine are bound to be frightening, and worse. There is not only the threat of widening Russian military force. The new Ukrainian leadership is worse than weak. It is unstable. It faces the burden of legitimacy."
Vladimir Putin, the Russian President and autocrat, had a plan for the winter of 2014: to reassert his country's power a generation after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He thought that he would achieve this by building an Olympic wonderland on the Black Sea for fifty-one billion dollars and putting on a dazzling television show. It turns out that he will finish the season in a more ruthless fashion, by invading a peninsula on the Black Sea and putting on quite a different show—a demonstration war that could splinter a sovereign country and turn very bloody, very quickly.
Sergei Parkhomenko, a journalist and pro-democracy activist who was recently detained by the police in Moscow, described the scenario taking shape as "Afghanistan 2." He recalled, for Slon.ru, an independent Russian news site, how the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, in 1979, under the pretext of helping a "fraternal" ally in Kabul; to Parkhomenko, Putin's decision to couch his military action as the "protection" of Russians living in Crimea is an equally transparent pretext. The same goes for the decorous way in which Putin, on Saturday, "requested" the Russian legislature's authorization for the use of Russian troops in Ukraine until "the socio-political situation is normalized." The legislature, which has all the independence of an organ grinder's monkey, voted its unanimous assent.