Few anticipated what happened once the war began: the Ukrainians put up a tough resistance, even as the balance of power favored Russia

Cities have come under siege – consider the horrific plight of Mariupol – a hospital and a shopping mall have been struck, as have apartment buildings, in Kyiv as well as Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city. The number of refugees and internally displaced Ukrainians already exceeds 10 million, more than a fifth of the country’s population.

Yet there’s something about this war that has been distinctive: it has defied all expectations, above all of those who started it.

As the Russian military buildup around Ukraine’s perimeter accelerated at the end of last year, few experts believed that Vladimir Putin would order a full-blown invasion, let alone one aimed at toppling the Ukrainian government and installing a puppet leadership. The Biden administration kept warning that he was preparing to do precisely that, but most observers treated its predictions skeptically. The scenario seemed outlandish – and then there were those post-9/11 intelligence failures.

This time, however, the US government got it right.

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