If you can remember clearly the Europe of a dizzying year ago, perhaps the biggest surprise in where we find ourselves now is the extent to which the West has been reminded of its values and purpose.
Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine served as the unwitting antidote to six years of clumsy populism and the huge economic and psychological shock of the pandemic. It also worked to counter a sense that morality, and the virtue of values, were becoming obsolete in the face of the many challenges posed by the world’s crises.
It shouldn’t have taken the deaths of thousands of innocent Ukrainians, the threat of nuclear attack, and the leveling of so much of a country, to make this point. But it’s perhaps the revulsion to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s brutal and inept war that helped Europe and the rest of the West rediscover a collective sense of purpose.
The eyes of three old men thrust into our van in Posad Pokhrovka, in the early days of the war, desperate to flee shelling that had torn their world apart, still haunt me: Not even the Nazis beat them like that, they said, sobbing. They never thought they’d live long enough to see worse than the 1940s.
Wars can intensify scrutiny of both sides’ conduct to the point where each can be accused of some degree of wrongdoing. So, it’s important to pause at this point and consider the ugliness of the way Russia has waged this war.