How Zelensky Changed the West’s Response to Russia


The Ukrainian leader’s challenge has inspired and shamed the United States and the European Union to go much further – and much faster – to make Russia a pariah state than it seemed ready to go. Promising weapons and ammunition to Zelensky, 44, the West seems increasingly embroiled in a possible proxy war with Moscow over Ukraine, even if it is not a NATO member which benefits from the bloc’s direct mutual defense agreements.
After insisting last week that sanctions would be graduated on an upward curve based on Russian behavior, Washington and its allies have now rushed to personally sanction Putin and kicked major Russian banks out of the vital global financial network SWIFT. In the most extraordinary shift, Germany, under new Chancellor Olaf Scholz, has pledged to exceed NATO defense spending targets and overcome its reluctance to send weapons to areas. of war by promising to arm the Ukrainians fighting the Russian troops. Germany also shut down the Nord Stream 2 pipeline carrying vitally needed Russian gas to Western Europe. In another striking moment, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a Putin protege, sided with other European Union leaders against the Russians. Another autocrat, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had warm ties to Putin, invoked a 1930s convention that could complicate Russian naval operations in the Black Sea.
And Britain, after long turning a blind eye to the oligarchs’ wealth laundered through posh properties in London, is belatedly declaring, in the words of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, “There is no room for ‘dirty money in the UK’. Even ex-President Donald Trump, who has spent the past week admiring Putin’s “genius” as the invasion unfolded, felt compelled on Saturday to honor the bravery of Zelensky, whom he has already attempted to extort using American aid in a phone call that led to his first arraignment.

The Ukrainian president’s heroism has also touched people around the world and sparked a torrent of small gestures of support. The heads of Formula 1 and European football have stripped Russia of showpiece events. Russian ballet performances have been canceled in the UK. And some US states are removing Russian-made vodka from the shelves.

The emotional appeal of Zelensky

The significant hardening of the global front against Russia over the weekend followed Zelensky’s increasingly fervent pleas for help. European leaders reported that in a call with them last week he said he did not know how long he or his country had been gone.

Few outsiders expected Zelensky, a former comedic actor who, to the frustration of US officials, ignored or downplayed US warnings of impending invasion for weeks, to turn into a leader to match what moment in the history of his country. His disdain changed days before the invasion when he made increasingly heartbreaking pleas for help. His earlier reluctance may have left many of his countrymen unprepared for the agony that was about to unfold.

Yet under the most extreme circumstances, Zelensky ironically displays the very values ​​- including a relentless defense of democracy – that would qualify Ukraine for membership of both the European Union and NATO, a path that Putin tried to close with his invasion.

“They are with us and we want them to participate,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in an interview with Euronews on Sunday, referring to Ukraine.

Zelensky isn’t just creating a historical legend for himself, opposing tyranny in a way that puts him alongside famous Cold War dissidents like Polish Solidarity leader Lech Walesa and Imre Nagy, leader executed from the 1956 Hungarian uprising against the Warsaw Pact. He offers the kind of inspirational leadership that has often been lacking during a pandemic that has seen some leaders put their political goals above the public good and refuse to follow the public health rules they have imposed on their people. Unlike former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who fled Kabul when the Taliban overran the capital last summer, Zelensky is determined to stay and fight – and perhaps die with his people.

He became the rarest of leaders – synonymous with the mood and character of his people at a pivotal moment in history while wanting him to ever greater national efforts like British Prime Minister Winston Churchill during World War II world or George Washington during and after the American war. revolution.

In what has already become an iconic comment, Zelensky rejected American offers of an exit to safety, telling the United States, according to his country’s embassy in Britain, “The fight is here. I I need ammunition. Not a round.”

In another poignant message on Sunday, the Ukrainian president warned the rest of the world that even though he and his country were in the crosshairs, he was fighting a fight in the name of democracy and freedom in the world.

“Ukrainians showed courage to defend their homeland and save Europe and its values ​​from a Russian assault,” he said.

“This is not just Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This is the beginning of a war against Europe, against European structures, against democracy, against basic human rights, against a world of law, rules and peaceful coexistence.”

An alarming turn in the crisis

Zelensky’s comments came as the Ukraine crisis took an even more alarming turn.

Putin, lashing out at NATO leaders, put Russian deterrent forces – including nuclear weapons – on high alert. The move may have been designed to scare the West, but it has also heightened fears of escalation to truly alarming levels.

Putin’s nuclear rhetoric came as he appeared increasingly isolated, with his forces bogged down on Kiev roads and scenes of burnt-out convoys hinting at the strength of Ukrainian resistance.

Putin has never needed some sort of diplomatic exit ramp so much to get out of the crisis. But neither Western leaders nor Ukrainians are pinning high hopes on talks scheduled for Monday between Kyiv and Moscow officials on the border with Belarus.

And the expected crash of Russia’s currency, the ruble, on Monday on the back of international sanctions could further increase political pressure on Putin and worsen his volatile mood.

An ominous moment looms

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is, more than anything, the result of one man’s obsession with the fall of the Soviet Union, the shape of the post-Cold War world and perceived disrespect for Russia’s claims as a great power. But if Putin sparked the crisis, it was Zelensky’s behavior that prompted the rest of the world’s reaction – often using social media hits that made Russia’s propaganda machine seem to have its feet on the table. Earth.

But the question must be asked whether the answer comes too late for Ukraine.

A three-mile-long Russian column was spotted in satellite images on the road to Kiev on Sunday, stoking fears of a possible assault on the capital that would put civilians in the direct line of fire and swell the already high number of Civilian deaths, which local authorities put at 352 on Sunday. Western leaders say it will take time for the sanctions to start inflicting pain on Putin, the oligarchs who support him and the Russian people. But Ukraine may have days, not weeks, as an independent nation.

White House reacts to Russia's decision to put deterrent forces on high alert

The survival of the Ukrainian president is also becoming more important for the rest of the world. The hard task that the Russian forces had to face highlights the difficulty that Russia would have in subjugating a nation the size of France under occupation. A partitioned Ukraine and a full-scale insurgency would be much more effective with Zelensky as the figurehead. His newfound influence in world capitals and his ability to harness political heat on foreign leaders could be invaluable to the Ukrainian cause, which is why a possible flight from Kyiv could be key to his country’s liberation hopes.

But Zelensky and thousands of his fellow Ukrainians know they may be living on borrowed time. Putin appears to be backed into a corner, making it all the more urgent for him to end the conflict quickly and decisively. The Russian leader, who falsely belittled Zelensky and his compatriots by calling them Nazis, has a record of scorched earth responses that pay little attention to civilian casualties. Russia’s total destruction of the Chechen capital, Grozny, in its ruthless effort to crush the separatists could bode ill for Kiev in the days to come.

And Zelensky’s extraordinary success so far only makes him a more valuable target for Russia. Moscow may think that if he is captured or killed, Ukrainian morale and resistance might crumble.

The evidence of the last few days, however, makes this a questionable proposition.


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