How Russia Triggered the Return of Existential Fear

At 3.15am yesterday morning, Google Maps showed a traffic jam on the main road from Russia to Ukraine, a very 21st-century sign that a distinctly 20th-century phenomenon was underway.

Tens of millions of people in the West have been awakened by the sounds and sights of hostile tanks crossing a European border and into an independent democratic state. These were scenes unseen on the continent since the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968. This darkened land was inside the Warsaw Pact and therefore off limits to NATO, which could only monitor and condemn, much like we do now.

Ukraine, once part of the Soviet Union, has been a sovereign state since 1991 and its capital, Kyiv, just as vibrant as Prague in the spring of 1968; thus, to see its borders blatantly violated by its bellicose neighbor was a profound shock to many – a shock reminiscent of the existential fear of the Cold War.

“A very scared and anxious 10-year-old this morning about Russia,” read one of hundreds of similar posts on social media from British parents. “BBC Newsround thank you [for] showing my son how to get support and talk about his concerns.

Few would say the same about Radio 4’s Today programme. Parents cooking breakfast for their children were greeted by Nick Robinson who brought back from Kyiv this sepulchral delivery which is apparently needed when such events occur. BBC grim reaper Orla Guerin is in the east of the country where Russian separatists have operated for eight years – a sure sign that serious trouble lies ahead.

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