Opinion: A month into the war, Zelensky is done with the niceties

It’s a scene that plays out in this UNESCO-listed city, from schools to storefronts and government buildings.

It is also a clear sign that Ukrainians are committed to the long term.

If Western leaders meeting in Brussels on Thursday thought they had produced a whirlwind of policymaking or political skill – including promises to bolster NATO’s defenses against chemical, biological and nuclear weapons of mass destruction – by the time the news reached Ukraine, it was little more than a distraction from the horror unfolding on their doorstep.

Again, Western leaders had said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s use of such weapons would constitute a red line and lead to unspecified consequences. Speaking to Ukrainians, I found the overwhelming response to be, “Haven’t we all heard this before?

Indeed, there is an increasingly apparent shift in tone in Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s appeal to the West. Late Thursday, in an address to the European Council summit in which he once again pleaded for EU membership, the wartime leader identified every country that was late or unwilling to provide assistance to Ukraine. The targets were Ireland, Germany and Portugal, as well as Hungary for its neutral stance.
On the same day, after calling on NATO to dedicate at least 1% of its military resources to Ukraine, Zelensky significantly expanded his wish list for US military equipment, saying that kyiv needs 500 Javelin missiles and 500 Stingers per day. This is in addition to the jets, attack helicopters and advanced anti-aircraft systems already requested.

Zelensky’s relatively new strategy of publicly naming and humiliating countries that kyiv believes are sitting on the diplomatic fence appears to be his way of capitalizing on growing global popularity. (Some of my Ukrainian friends joke that the TV comedian-turned-politician is more popular abroad than in his own country). But it is doubtful that this will prompt world leaders such as US President Joe Biden to provide items such as jets – which could make him appear as a belligerent in Moscow.

Increasingly, Ukrainians from all walks of life are telling me that they feel the country is waging a proxy war for the West – fending off a superpower in order to protect countries on NATO’s eastern flank. In several impassioned speeches in various parliaments, Zelensky said much the same thing.
Even the West’s promised response to Putin’s use of WMDs will depend on the situation, Biden said. It brought back memories here of his pre-war mistake in January when he said the degree of sanctions in response to a Russian incursion into Ukraine would be commensurate with the type of invasion (the White House quickly backtracked on the remark).
Today, even though dozens of countries are supplying a huge pipeline of weapons, Ukraine says its stockpiles are depleting at a faster rate than resupply.
Aware of the lack of appetite in European capitals to confront Putin directly, Kyiv will likely redouble its efforts to forge micro-alliances with officials from like-minded former Soviet states who also fear finding themselves in the crosshairs of Putin. The courageous visit two weeks ago of the Polish, Czech and Slovenian Prime Ministers was a sign of this growing closeness and solidarity.
Over the past month, Ukraine’s toll has been immense: more than 10 million people have been displaced, several thousand dead and injured, and cities like Mariupol completely razed to the ground.
It was Mariupol that became ground zero for the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe that not only shocked the world, but where red lines, which should have been drawn by the West, were crossed – such as the strike at the start of the months in a maternity ward that killed a pregnant mother and her unborn child.

Red lines must be based on international humanitarian law which no belligerent must cross. This includes the deliberate targeting of non-military sites such as schools, kindergartens, hospitals, water treatment plants and fields used for agriculture. These violations must be considered war crimes and treated as such.

Hammered almost beyond recognition, the southern port city of Mariupol has become the site of some of the war’s most gruesome images. At the gates of Europe, residents of the besieged city report scenes resembling “hell on earth” – killing stray dogs for food, melting snow to drink water and digging mass graves for accommodate the large number of corpses.
Around 300 people are believed to have died in a Russian attack on the Mariupol theater nine days ago, where Ukrainian officials say up to 1,300 people sought refuge. Painted on the ground outside the building – in giant Russian letters – was the word “CHILDREN”.

A month into the invasion, the road ahead is likely to be just as bloody. In the worst case, the Russian side, seeking regime change in Kyiv and more territory, could choose to keep a simmering conflict going as it did in occupied Donbass using Russian-backed rebels (they are not separatists). Successive eight-year peace talks failed to achieve a lasting ceasefire.

Seeking to avoid more humiliating battlefield casualties (some estimates put the number of Russian soldiers killed at 15,000), Russian commanders are likely to switch to using longer-range missiles and even hypersonic missiles to strike Ukrainian cities and strategic targets such as airfields and ammunition storage depots. The Russians have already used long-range missiles in western Ukraine where there is no physical presence.
In Aleppo, we quickly realized that hospitals are the most dangerous place
And over the past eight years, towns and villages in and around the Donbass region, including Mariupol in 2015, have been hit by Russian unguided shells. Moreover, the bombardments that cause civilians to flee fit well into the Russian manual of militarized migration. The introduction of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons of mass destruction cannot be excluded.
In the days and weeks to come, Ukrainians will watch nervously as their president begins the high-level peace negotiations with Russia proposed by Zelensky. It can be safely assumed that the Kremlin, in the final phase of negotiations, will demand concessions that no Ukrainian president could ever agree to: giving up territory seized by Russia, formally recognizing occupied Donbass and Crimea as part of the Russian Federation, for example, and swear membership offers for alliances such as NATO.
Although Zelensky and his ambassador to the UK have floated the idea of ​​NATO neutrality for Ukraine, it is unclear whether this would generate broad popular support.
To take on Putin at the negotiating table, the comedian-turned-politician who transformed overnight into wartime president will need extraordinary skill and skill. With so much bloodshed, senseless destruction and large-scale displacement, Ukrainians will not be in the mood to give Zelensky much room for concessions. And even if they did, the Russians have a well-deserved reputation for not delivering on their promises.

So with so much at stake, what can the West do? Meeting kyiv’s demands for more weapons and assets such as sophisticated surface-to-air missiles – including more American-made switchblade drones or armed suicide bombers – should be a no-brainer. The no-fly zone concept enforced by NATO jets is a no-start, but if the Russians escalate their aggression by targeting Lviv, for example, this should trigger urgent discussions within NATO on the protection of the Ukrainian sky by technological means.

In the end, the West has a choice to intervene now in the Ukraine war in a game-changing way by eliminating Russian advantages in the air, cutting supply lines and continuing to squeeze the Russian economy. Better to act now on the West’s own terms – and prevent the destruction of the Ukrainian nation – or be forced to do it later on Putin’s terms after thousands of other innocent Ukrainian men, women and children have been massacred.


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