Russia's war on Ukrainian identity is intensifying. For nearly two years now, the Kremlin has been attempting to dominate its western neighbor through military means. Over time, however, it has become clear that another objective of this campaign is the wholesale erasure of Ukrainian identity and culture. To be sure, this struggle didn't start in February 2022. A tug-of-war over Ukrainian identity (and history) has taken place in some fashion between Kyiv and Moscow since Ukraine's independence in 1991 — and in earnest since Russia's 2014 invasion of Ukraine and its subsequent unilateral annexation of Crimea. Nevertheless, this contest has intensified dramatically since the start of the Kremlin's "special military operation." To wit, Moscow has intentionally targeted Ukrainian schools, according to Ukrainian sources, in order to hit "soft targets" and disrupt education in Ukraine. A spring 2023 report by the Center for Information Resilience documented more than 350 of attacks by Russia on Ukrainian educational institutions, such as schools and universities, and posited that these facilities were not collateral damage but the "main target of specific strikes." Russia is also decimating Ukraine's cultural and linguistic heritage. Russian military strikes have "damaged thousands of cultural heritage sites, including those protected by UNESCO," The Insider, a Russian opposition news portal, reports. In places like Kherson, Russian forces have destroyed Ukrainian language books, while in Donetsk, local Kremlin-approved authorities have stopped offering instruction in the Ukrainian language in schools altogether. Most directly, Russia has begun the large-scale deportation and reeducation of Ukrainian minors from occupied Ukrainian territories. As of mid-2023, the Russian government itself officially estimated that "more than 700,000" Ukrainian children had been forcibly transferred to Russia, a practice that it justified as necessary for their own protection. But the alleged safekeeping of Ukrainian children seems to be the farthest thing from Moscow's mind. Rather, Russia has been internationally condemned for operating multiple "reeducation" camps designed to instill loyalty to Moscow, and hatred of Kyiv, among Ukraine's youngest prisoners of war — something that constitutes a grave breach of the international laws of armed conflict. These efforts follow a certain twisted logic. Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly intoned that Russians and Ukrainians constitute "one people." His efforts are therefore designed to ensure that no alternative identity is available to Ukrainians who believe otherwise.
The United States, Winston Churchill is said to have remarked circa 1944, can be counted on to do the right thing once it has exhausted every other available option. Back then, the British Prime Minister was talking about America's belated entry into the Second World War, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor made inaction impossible. Today, it's a pretty good way to describe the Biden administration's Middle East policy. On February 2nd, after nearly a week of dithering and public signaling, the United States finally launched a series of air strikes against Iranian-backed militias and elements of the country's clerical army, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), in both Syria and Iraq. That, presumably, is just the beginning of what President Biden has signaled would be a protracted response to recent widespread aggression by Iranian-supported militias in the region. The proximate cause of the American offensive is a late January drone strike on a U.S. military outpost in Jordan that left three servicemen dead and scores more injured. But the real purpose of the campaign is more strategic – to reset a U.S. deterrence posture which has eroded catastrophically in recent months. That, however, could turn out to be a difficult proposition.
In its increasingly frantic efforts to deter the Houthis, the Yemeni rebels now menacing maritime shipping in the Red Sea, the Biden administration has hit upon a new strategy: begging Beijing for help.
Israel's military campaign against the Hamas terrorist organization may still be underway, but international attention is already focused on the "day after" in the Gaza Strip. The vast majority of those conversations are predicated upon the idea that Hamas is deeply unpopular, and would quickly be rejected by the Palestinian "street" if a viable alternative is presented. Indeed, there's considerable evidence on that score, including testimonies of egregious Hamas excesses relayed by displaced Gazans and growing public condemnations of the group from those caught in its crossfire with Israel. Even so, there's ample reason to suspect that the situation on the ground is considerably more complicated than Western pundits and policymakers are inclined to believe. Just how much was underscored last month in a new poll carried out by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR), widely regarded as the preeminent public opinion institute in the Palestinian Territories. The survey, carried out among more than 1,200 Palestinian adults in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, found that, in the aftermath of Hamas's Oct. 7 massacre, support for the militant group has surged in the West Bank and risen modestly in the Gaza Strip as well.
Storm clouds are gathering on Israel's northern border. There, intensifying attacks by Hezbollah, Lebanon's powerful Shiite militia, and targeted Israeli killings of high-value militants, are heightening tensions and raising the specter of a new conflict between Israel and the group that ranks as Iran's chief terrorist proxy. Israel isn't itching for such an escalation, despite what some pundits have contended. Israel's current offensive in Gaza is complex, resource-intensive, and still far from over, and there are real world constraints on the country's ability to fight a two-front war. For its part, and despite all of its bluster, Hezbollah has made clear that it won't initiate large scale hostilities—at least for now. That doesn't mean another Israeli-Hezbollah war won't happen, though. To the contrary, Israel and Hezbollah are inexorably headed toward conflict, for at least two reasons.
Books by Ilan Berman