2022 started off with the most devastating blow to the liberal international order since World War II: Russian President Vladimir Putin’s brazen invasion of neighboring Ukraine, a sovereign democratic state. Despite the many horrors of that war, the year is ending with Putin’s utter humiliation by Ukrainian forces. Led by its heroic president, Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s dedication to preserving “the flame of liberty”—as U.S. President Joe Biden described the bloody struggle—has all but ensured Putin’s marginalization and, very probably, his future irrelevance in world affairs. Putin’s Ukraine debacle is shaping up to be the worst defeat for imperial Russia—and today’s Russia must be called that—since Tsar Nicholas II saw his navy destroyed by a newly rising Japan in 1905.
That’s hardly the only good news this year for democracy, which has made something of a comeback after a decade in which authoritarianism and populist xenophobia were rising around the world and many leading democracies seemed to be badly malfunctioning. Those menacing trends persist, but liberal democratic values have managed to reassert themselves on a number of other fronts.