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Vladimir Putin orders start of 'military operation' in eastern Ukraine

Russia has launched a military assault on Ukraine, described by Ukraine’s Foreign Minister as a “full-scale invasion”. A series of explosions were reported Thursday morning in various Ukrainian cities, including Kyiv, Kharkiv and Odessa, per CNN. Western leaders condemned the attacks with EU leaders and US President Biden releasing a statement saying the world will hold Russia accountable, while UK Prime Minister Johnson vowed that "The UK and allies will respond decisively." G7 leaders will meet on Thursday morning.

• Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky declared martial law and asked people to stay calm; Ukraine’s foreign minister asked allies to "act immediately."

• The European Union placed financial sanctions and a travel ban on Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, Putin’s chief of staff, Anton Vaino, and hundreds of Russian lawmakers. The EU will hold a special summit on the situation Thursday.

• Kenya has strongly condemned Russia’s actions in a speech at the UN.

• There are thousands of African students in Ukraine, who hail from Morocco (10%), Nigeria (5%), and Egypt (4%), and most study medicine.

There are about 4,000 Nigerian students, according to 2020 data, but their number could be as high as 12,000, said a Nigerian official.

• The Punch Newspapers has reported that many students and families are starting to worry over the looming crisis.

• The largest contingent of foreign students in Ukraine comes from India, and the country has issued an advisory telling students to leave the country.

The New York Times has broached the awkward question that has been on the minds of anyone who has paid even passing attention to Vladimir Putin recently: Has he lost his marbles? The Times reports that people have noticed that Putin “has fundamentally changed amid the pandemic, a shift that may have left him more paranoid, more aggrieved, and more reckless.” Two years since the onset of COVID, the Russian leader remains severely isolated, interacting with cabinet officials largely via video and keeping trips abroad to a minimum. When he does have to meet people face-to-face in Moscow, whether it’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov or French president Emmanuel Macron, they must first pass through a “disinfection tunnel” and then sit at a social distance of Olympian proportions, at tables so long that they have become a physical manifestation of Putin’s remoteness from the rest of the world.

Much ink has been spilled over why Putin seems so eager to invade Ukraine, a risky move that could blow back badly in his face and thus runs counter to Russia’s “interests” — that old and crumbling pillar of the foreign-policy universe, where nation-states are considered fundamentally rational actors that obey the iron logic that governs matters of war and peace. The idea that statecraft (to use another grand term of art) is a kind of science, determined with cold precision by unsentimental analysts, has always been false. “Policy is not a dry, airless product that emerges full-blown from the heads of people,” Richard Holbrooke once said. “It is often the product of accidents, egos and ambitions in conflict, misunderstandings, and deception, as well as careful plans.” To this list, we might add the febrile imaginings of a person who is lacking the kind of grounded perspective that comes from regular human interaction. Putin’s “circle of contacts is getting smaller. It affects his mind,” a former government official told the Financial Times. “He used to see things in 360 degrees — now it’s more like 60.”

No one can see into another person’s mind from afar, of course. And plenty of perfectly sane leaders, including our own, have made catastrophicforeign-policy decisions that, in retrospect, seem quite bonkers. But as the will-he-or-won’t-he predicament over Ukraine continues, the possibility that Putin is not playing with a full deck of cards at the very least robs the conflict of the narrative power that has been invested in it by those in the West who see it as a battle between the forces of good and evil, and who imagine Putin in his lair hating freedom the way the Grinch hates the singing of the Whos. Even more terrifying, this extremely powerful, extremely horrible person might invade Ukraine for reasons that are as unhinged as they are inscrutable — and maybe even understandable. As we all know by now, isolation is a hell of a drug.

Russian president Vladimir Putin. Photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin/Getty Images

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