December 22, 2022
President Volodymyr Zelensky clearly won the pre-Christmas “shuttle diplomacy” photo-ops that took place this week. The Ukrainian was invited to the White House, met with President Joe Biden, addressed a joint session of Congress, and firmed up more commitments to counteract Putin’s aerial blitzkrieg and genocide. Putin, by contrast, met with his puppet dictator in Belarus, President Alexander Lukashenko, who runs a poor nation north of Ukraine. And Putin did not meet in Beijing with his powerful “no limits friend” President Xi Jinping. He sent his sidekick instead, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who snagged a photo-op with Xi but received a rebuke about the war. “China has always decided its position and policy according to the merits of the matter itself, upholding an objective and impartial position and actively pursuing peace and promoting talks,” said Xi. “We hope that all parties concerned will maintain rationality and restraint, engage in comprehensive dialogue and resolve their common concerns in the security field through political means.” Medvedev responded dishonestly by claiming that Russia wanted peace talks as Putin continued bombing civilians.
This week’s frenetic diplomacy has redrawn battle lines. Zelensky has outplayed Putin by obtaining an extraordinary audience with Biden and delivering a speech that drew many standing ovations in Congress. His mission was Churchillian: To cement the alliance, thank Americans for their support, and obtain more weapons in order to shift Ukraine’s military efforts from defense to offense. Biden announced yesterday Ukraine will receive Patriot missiles, which will be able to protect the skies over Kyiv and other cities, but Ukraine also needs tanks, aircraft, and a flood of lethal drones to push the Russians beyond its 2014 borders. “This visit with Biden will make things much worse for Putin. Zelensky will argue that the fastest way to end this war is offense,” concluded former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul.
Putin’s “summit” in Belarus raises the odds another invasion will take place from the north using Belarusian forces. Former U.S. Army General Barry McCaffrey scoffed at this and said Belarus’s involvement would be inconsequential because it has a “third-rate army and is an impoverished country”. But he said Patriot missiles in Ukraine will make the country “safer because they can stop ballistic missiles … but that alone is not enough”. The “game changer”, he added, will be to give Ukraine weapons capable of “unravelling” the Russian military such as attack drones, tanks, and jet fighter airplanes.
Putin has been outplayed geopolitically, but has more tricks up his sleeve such as thousands more Iranian drones, nuclear threats, hypersonic missiles, and another massive mobilization of “cannon fodder” to throw into battle. On December 21, Russian General Sergey Shoigu announced a further expansion of Russia’s armed forces from 1 million to 1.5 million in three years. The use of such “sacrificial manpower” may not win wars, but it slows down battles and causes more casualties on the other side. For instance, the brutal fight over Bakhmut, in eastern Ukraine, is now a stalemate. Ukraine kills an estimated 900 Russians daily but these are
immediately replaced by another 900 untrained soldiers, according to a Ukrainian government source.
Russia also claims that hypersonic missiles with nuclear warheads are about to be deployed. Hypersonic weapons travel at five to eight times the speed of sound, cannot be detected, nor interceded, which creates a clear-cut advantage in any nuclear or missile exchange situation. Putin has tested them, without warheads, but some allies remain skeptical about their functionality in the battlefield. This development is worrisome because the Americans don’t have hypersonic weapons quite yet. Attaining equivalent capability is now a Pentagon priority and recent tests have been promising.
Nuclear attacks don’t concern Zelensky. “There are two issues: The occupation of a nuclear power plant that is already a great threat; and another is the threat of a nuclear attack by Putin. I don’t think this will happen,” said the Ukrainian leader in a recently televised interview. “I have met him [Putin] and he has a desire to live. He loves his life… he even chooses to sit at that ridiculously long table with leaders or with his generals not to catch Covid. He understands that if he presses that button the next step will be a response aimed at him, personally at him. Will he do this? No.”
There are positive developments too. Sanctions are working and polls inside Russia reveal that most people support a peace deal. This week, Canada became the first Western ally to confiscate frozen Russian assets from an oligarch which will be transferred to Ukraine. About $26 million was seized from a Canadian corporation owned by Russian oligarch, and former Chelsea Football Club owner, Roman Abramovich, but the Americans and Europeans are in the process of seizing hundreds of billions more which will help pay for the war. But most beneficial of all is that Ukrainians remain united and optimistic and take care of one another.
In a recent poll, 98 percent of Ukrainians believe they will win the war. Many have returned from Europe. They share accommodation and create shelters for orphaned people and pets. Schools remain open. They decorate bomb shelters and subway stations with Christmas ornaments and Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense reassured kids that Santa and his reindeer won’t be shot down by Russian missiles. But winter will be difficult with power, water, and interconnectivity shortages due to Russian bombing.
Zelensky’s visit to Washington DC was historically significant, but underscored the gravity of the situation. His address was reminiscent of the one delivered to Congress by Winston Churchill on December 26, 1941 as Hitler tore through Europe. As then, Zelensky contextualized the struggle as a global one, now including Iran, that threatens America, Europe, democracy, and justice. Like Churchill, he was optimistic and resolute but warned that the war is far from over.
Zelensky emphasized that Ukrainians don’t want peace; they want victory and are willing to do the dying and killing to get their land back by defeating the Kremlin. But, as both emphasized, the peace cannot be won without more help from Congress. “Your money is not charity; it’s an investment,” he said, and will speed up victory. It was a message, like the one in 1941, that will
hopefully be heeded. Because the reality is that, once again, another vile European despot is unleashed and must be vanquished by civilized nations.