David Remnick is the editor of The New Yorker. He has written about Russian politics over many years. In this article, he analyzes Putin’s rationale for invading Ukraine.

Vladimir Putin delivered a bitter and delusional speech from the Kremlin this week, arguing that Ukraine is not a nation and Ukrainians are not a people. His order to execute a “special military operation” came shortly afterward. The professed aim is to “demilitarize and de-Nazify” this supposedly phantasmal neighbor of forty million people, whose government is so pro-Nazi that it is led by a Jewish President who was elected with seventy per cent of the vote…

Putin, who blames Gorbachev for defiling the reputation and the stability of the Soviet Union, and Boris Yeltsin, the leader who succeeded him, for catering to the West and failing to hold back the expansion of nato, reveres strength above all. If he has to distort history, he will. As a man who came into his own as an officer of the K.G.B., he also believes that foreign conspiracy is at the root of all popular uprisings. In recent years, he has regarded pro-democracy protests in Kyiv and Moscow as the work of the C.I.A. and the U.S. State Department, and therefore demanding to be crushed. This cruel and pointless war against Ukraine is an extension of that disposition. Not for the first time, though, a sense of beleaguerment has proved self-fulfilling. Putin’s assault on a sovereign state has not only helped to unify the West against him; it has helped to unify Ukraine itself. What threatens Putin is not Ukrainian arms but Ukrainian liberty. His invasion amounts to a furious refusal to live with the contrast between the repressive system he keeps in place at home and the aspirations for liberal democracy across the border.

Meanwhile, Volodymyr Zelensky, the President of Ukraine, has behaved with profound dignity even though he knows that he is targeted for arrest, or worse. Aware of the lies saturating Russia’s official media, he went on television and, speaking in Russian, implored ordinary Russian citizens to stand up for the truth. Some needed no prompting. On Thursday, Dmitry Muratov, the editor of the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, and a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, said that he would publish the next issue in Russian and Ukrainian. “We are feeling shame as well as sorrow,” Muratov said. “Only an antiwar movement of Russians can save life on this planet.” As if on cue, demonstrations against Putin’s war broke out in dozens of Russian cities. Leaders of Memorial, despite the regime’s liquidation order, were also heard from: the war on Ukraine, they said, will go down as “a disgraceful chapter in Russian history.” ♦