Our Most Read Stories of 2022

Russia’s war in Ukraine dominated readers’ attention, along with stories on the global economy and China’s political leadership.

By , a senior editor at Foreign Policy.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (right) speaks to Chinese President Xi Jinping as Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese first lady Akie Abe look on at the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, on June 28, 2019.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (right) speaks to Chinese President Xi Jinping as Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese first lady Akie Abe look on at the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, on June 28, 2019.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (right) speaks to Chinese President Xi Jinping as Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese first lady Akie Abe look on at the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, on June 28, 2019. Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images

This year, at times, felt like a year of monumental shifts. Inflation hit a 40-year high in the United States. Queen Elizabeth II died at 96 after 70 years on the throne. Pakistan suffered catastrophic floods due to climate change. China and Iran have seen their biggest protests in years, with Iranians calling for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic. This month, China effectively lifted its strict zero-COVID policy, seemingly closing a chapter of the pandemic.

Of course, much of the world’s attention focused on a single historic crisis: Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine—the largest armed conflict in Europe since World War II, which has tested NATO and raised the specter of nuclear war. The list below shows that Foreign Policy readers were consistently drawn to stories about the Feb. 24 invasion and its consequences, both for the region and for the international system.

Here are 10 of our most read stories this year, as measured by website traffic.

This year, at times, felt like a year of monumental shifts. Inflation hit a 40-year high in the United States. Queen Elizabeth II died at 96 after 70 years on the throne. Pakistan suffered catastrophic floods due to climate change. China and Iran have seen their biggest protests in years, with Iranians calling for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic. This month, China effectively lifted its strict zero-COVID policy, seemingly closing a chapter of the pandemic.

Of course, much of the world’s attention focused on a single historic crisis: Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine—the largest armed conflict in Europe since World War II, which has tested NATO and raised the specter of nuclear war. The list below shows that Foreign Policy readers were consistently drawn to stories about the Feb. 24 invasion and its consequences, both for the region and for the international system.

Here are 10 of our most read stories this year, as measured by website traffic.


10. What the West (Still) Gets Wrong About Putin

by Tatiana Stanovaya, June 1

Nearly four months into Russia’s war in Ukraine, political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya pushed back against the Western narrative about Putin’s intentions in the wake of the invasion. “Things that appear obvious to some, such as Russia’s incapacity to achieve a military victory, are perceived completely differently in Moscow,” she writes. “The West needs to look at the situation differently if it wants to be more effective in its approach and decrease the risks of escalation.”

Stanovaya dispels a few assumptions about Putin’s leadership, starting with the idea that the Russian president knows he is failing in Ukraine in the first place. She concludes that both Russia and the West “appear to believe that their counterpart is doomed and that time is on their side”—a disconnect that could draw out the conflict for years.


9. How the Russia-Ukraine Crisis Is Turning Poland Into a Strategic Player

by Michal Kranz, Feb. 23

Ukraine’s neighbors began bracing for the fallout of a potential war weeks ahead of time. On the eve of the invasion, Poland was expecting up to 1 million refugees, preparing for potential cyberattacks, and providing Ukraine with vital political and military support—raising its profile in the region in the process. “Polish leaders are keenly aware that what happens in the coming weeks will inevitably affect Poland,” journalist Michal Kranz writes.

Within weeks, his predictions had begun to come true: “As both a target and vocal opponent of Russian ambitions, NATO’s largest member in Eastern Europe is positioned to play a crucial role in Europe’s security relationship with Russia and become the linchpin of Western efforts to project power in Eastern Europe.” Poland’s proximity to Ukraine has also heightened fears and deepened some divisions with its NATO allies—and, as Kranz concludes, “this crisis will almost certainly not be the region’s last.”


8. Russia Tries to Terrorize Ukraine With Images of Chechen Soldiers

by Justin Ling, Feb. 26

Russia failed to rapidly seize control of the levers of power in Kyiv, and days into the war it was already becoming clear that its plan had backfired. As Ukrainian defenses mounted, Russian propaganda channels began to project the potential for brutality in the war: “Moscow’s weaponization of Chechen fighters, trading on stereotypes about the Chechens themselves, is part of its propaganda campaign to attempt to force Kyiv’s surrender,” Justin Ling reports.Forces loyal to Russia and Chechen separatists fought an on-and-off war from the mid-1990s until 2009, and the experience continues to shape perceptions of Chechen fighters—and Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov—as particularly fearsome. Kadyrov advocated annexing Ukraine ahead of the invasion and has continued to call for escalation in the war. Still, the propaganda didn’t seem to have its intended effect in Kyiv.

“The psychological warfare fits neatly into broader Russian efforts to end the invasion of Ukraine before it had even really begun,” Ling writes. “It doesn’t seem to be working particularly well, however.”


7. Washington Must Prepare for War With Both Russia and China

by Matthew Kroenig, Feb. 18

Putin Xi handshake
Putin Xi handshake

Putin shakes hands with Xi as he arrives for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ meeting on Nov. 11, 2014.GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images

As the world’s attention zeroed in on Ukraine, FP columnist Matthew Kroenig made the case that the United States must not moderate its response to maintain focus on the Indo-Pacific but instead adjust its approach. “Washington and its allies should develop a defense strategy capable of deterring and, if necessary, defeating Russia and China at the same time,” Kroenig argues; this includes increasing defense spending. After all, he adds, the two main rivals of the United States are increasingly working together.

China has maintained an ambiguous position on the war in Ukraine, refusing to publicly criticize Russia’s invasion. To the United States, it remains a threat, Kroenig writes, and “[d]eterring China and Russia at the same time will not be easy, but it is better than pretending Washington can deal with one major-power rival or the other at its convenience.”


6. The West Is Sleepwalking Into War in Ukraine

by Stephen M. Walt, Feb. 23

Just before Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, FP columnist Stephen M. Walt pushed back against commentary that found singular fault with Putin for the crisis and argued that the West should refuse to make concessions. “I keep hearing echoes of the same beliefs, tropes, and engrained orthodoxies that have led U.S. leaders astray in the past,” he writes. “These reflexive responses are making a bad situation worse and are likely to do further damage to Ukraine and to broader U.S. interests.”

Walt was concerned by what he saw as an imbalance in both resolve and military capabilities, especially given Russia’s next-door proximity to Ukraine. “Unfortunately, if the U.S. goal is to get Moscow to back down and tacitly or explicitly acknowledge that Ukraine can join NATO someday, then it is likely to be disappointed,” he writes.


5. Russia Planning Post-Invasion Arrest and Assassination Campaign in Ukraine, U.S. Officials Say

by Amy Mackinnon, Robbie Gramer, and Jack Detsch, Feb. 18

In February, FP reporters Amy Mackinnon, Robbie Gramer, and Jack Detsch broke the story that the United States had intelligence that Moscow had drafted lists of Ukrainian political figures and activists targeted for either arrest or assassination after an invasion. “The Biden administration has also been startled by how formalized the lists are, which appear to target anyone who could challenge the Russian agenda,” they write.

Of course, Russia’s invasion did not go fully according to plan—especially in Kyiv, where it failed to take out Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and install a puppet government.


4. In Sri Lanka, Organic Farming Went Catastrophically Wrong

by Ted Nordhaus and Saloni Shah, March 5

Sri Lanka started and finished the year in the throes of an economic crisis. In April, it suspended payments on its foreign debt, falling into default for the first time in its post-independence history. One exacerbating factor was a policy mistake: In 2021, the government enacted a ban on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, forcing farmers to go organic. “The result was brutal and swift,” Ted Nordhaus and Saloni Shah, with the Breakthrough Institute, write. Crop yields fell dramatically in the first six months—including for Sri Lanka’s export staple, tea—and forced the country to import more food.

Sri Lanka partially reversed the ban last November, but the human and economic damage was already done, Nordhaus and Shah write, with blame to go around: “The farrago of magical thinking, technocratic hubris, ideological delusion, self-dealing, and sheer shortsightedness that produced the crisis in Sri Lanka implicates both the country’s political leadership and advocates of so-called sustainable agriculture.”


3. The West Finally Starts Rolling Out the Big Guns for Ukraine

by Robbie Gramer, Jack Detsch, and Amy Mackinnon, April 15

Ukrainian tanks prepare for an attack against Russian forces
Ukrainian tanks prepare for an attack against Russian forces

Ukrainian tanks prepare for an attack against Russian forces in the Luhansk region of Ukraine on Feb. 26.Anatolii Stepanov/AFP via Getty Images

In April, FP’s news team reported on a “stark shift” in Western support for Ukraine as NATO allies finally ramped up the delivery of tanks, helicopters, and heavy weapons. “During the first phase of the war, many Western officials believed Kyiv could quickly fall to Russian forces in a matter of days, prompting them to balk on sending heavy weapons to a government they were unsure could survive,” Robbie Gramer, Jack Detsch, and Amy Mackinnon write. But as a Russian offensive stumbled in northern Ukraine, the situation began to change.

U.S. and European officials told Foreign Policy that the new weapons transfers showed that Washington and its allies were prepared to help Ukraine take the offensive in the war—as it did months later to take back territory in the south and east.


2. What the Hell Just Happened to Hu Jintao?

by James Palmer, Oct. 22

China held its 20th Party Congress in October, when Chinese President Xi Jinping assumed an unprecedented third term as the leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The Party Congress is a highly choreographed event that takes place once every five years, but this time around it concluded with a “rare and shocking piece of live drama,” FP’s James Palmer explains, as staff suddenly escorted former CCP leader Hu Jintao out of the room before the final votes of the session.

In the immediate aftermath, Palmer attempted to decipher what had happened, suggesting a health crisis or sudden doubts about how he might vote. But the “most disturbing possibility is that it was planned, and we just witnessed Xi deliberately and publicly humiliate his predecessor,” he writes.


1. Actually, the Russian Economy Is Imploding

by Jeffrey Sonnenfeld and Steven Tian, July 22

As the war in Ukraine ground on, some analysts argued that Western sanctions against Putin’s regime had yet to bite. Jeffrey Sonnenfeld and Steven Tian made the case that the opposite was true: that “sanctions and voluntary business retreats have exerted a devastating effect.” The misunderstandings stem in part from the lack of available economic data from beyond the Kremlin. Based on their expert team’s research, Sonnenfeld and Tian debunk nine myths about Russia’s resilience, from the idea it can replace Western energy markets with Asia to the health of the ruble.

“Defeatist headlines arguing that Russia’s economy has bounced back are simply not factual—the facts are that, by any metric and on any level, the Russian economy is reeling, and now is not the time to step on the brakes,” they conclude.

Audrey Wilson is a senior editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson

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