Russian President Vladimir Putin overseeing a missile test at the National Defense Control Center, Moscow, 2018
Mikhail Klimentyev / Sputnik / Reuters

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has stalled and its forces have pivoted to the battleground in the east, the war is entering a new, darker, and more dangerous phase. Mariupol provides a preview of that future. The Vladimir Putin who bombed the Russian city of Grozny into rubble in order to “liberate” it, and who joined Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in razing Aleppo, certainly has no moral reservations about mass destruction. Moreover, the war in Ukraine is now unambiguously Putin’s war, and the Russian leader knows that he cannot lose—without risking his regime and even his life.

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