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2 March

In the headlines

Russian paratroopers have launched a fierce assault on the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. Putin’s army has “orders to erase us all”, says President Volodymyr Zelensky. But the 40-mile convoy of tanks and artillery heading towards Kyiv has stalled. “Not only are they running out of gas,” says a US defence official, “they’re running out of food.” Ukrainian security chiefs say they have foiled an assassination attempt against Zelensky by elite Chechen commandos. Russian intelligence agents who disapprove of the war tipped off Zelensky’s team about the attack, say officials, and the would-be killers were “eliminated”. Boris Johnson has rejected calls for a no-fly zone above Ukraine, saying it is “not on the agenda of any Nato country”. Quite right, says Iain Martin in Reaction. Enforcing a no-fly zone would involve us shooting down Russian aircraft – a recipe for “nuclear war”.

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Europe can’t forget the reality of war

Europeans born after 1960 generally believe that “peace is the normal state of affairs”, says Caroline de Gruyter in Foreign Policy. Most of their countries have cropped defence budgets and have no military conscription; some of these countries even described their contributions to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as “peacekeeping”. Former war offices are now called ministries of defence, and universities are similarly euphemistic. When the military historian Margaret MacMillan told one educational consultant she was preparing a course called “War and Society”, he was dismayed, and urged her to title it “A History of Peace” instead. After centuries of bloodshed on the continent, Europeans felt they had grown out of it. “Wars are what others do, and we send them humanitarian assistance and special peace envoys.”


How the West fell for Putin

You’ll never hear them admit it, says Matt Taibbi in his Substack newsletter, but Western diplomats and media welcomed Vladimir Putin’s rise to power 23 years ago. Exhausted by the chaos of his “vodka-soaked” predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, they saw him as “a man we can do business with”. The World Bank said Russia would be “substantially better off” with Putin in power. The New York Times portrayed him as a Western-leaning, “humane version of Peter the Great”. One Canadian paper even asked him how it felt to be considered the sexiest man in his country. (“I endure it,” he replied.)


Ukrainian hackers have disabled electric vehicle charging stations along one of Russia’s motorways, says Vice. Rather than dispense power, the machines display messages including: “GLORY TO UKRAINE”, “DEATH TO THE ENEMY” and “PUTIN IS A DICKHEAD”.

On the way back

Gen Zs have decided that being a bimbo is now a feminist act, arguing that being stupid and beautiful is, actually, “empowering”. TikTok videos with the hashtag #bimbo have received more than 1.5 billion views. At last, says Alana Hope Levinson in The Cut. The last few years have been hard enough – it’s time for the relief and liberation of embracing “head empty”.


The stage actor Roger Braban, who has died aged 91, had good advice for performers who forget their lines, says Patrick Kidd in The Times. If it’s Shakespeare, Braban suggested saying “something credible like: ‘Pray lend me thy purse.’” It buys you time and the audience is none the wiser. If it’s Pinter, that’s even easier: “Just take a long pause and everyone will praise your brilliance.”

Inside politics

Marine Le Pen, one of the far-right candidates in next month’s French presidential elections, is having to pulp 1.2 million copies of a campaign leaflet that includes a photo, above, of her shaking hands with Vladimir Putin. “Apparently that’s not a vote-winner anymore,” says The Economist’s Stanley Pignal on Twitter.


It’s the first piece of art to be placed on the moon. Made by the British artist Sacha Jafri, the gold-covered aluminium etching will be taken into space by Nasa later this year. Jafri has form when it comes to breaking art records: last year he made the world’s largest painting, a 17,000 sq ft canvas he managed to flog for £46m.


Quoted 2.3.22

“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”

Albert Einstein