President Biden on Saturday expressed the West’s full support for Ukraine in an impassioned speech from Warsaw. “We’re behind you, period,” Biden said.
The next day, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivered another message: He criticized the West for not doing enough. In a videotaped speech to Ukrainians, Zelensky contrasted their “determination, heroism and steadfastness” with the lack of courage of Western countries that had refused to send jets and tanks to Ukraine.
in a detailed interview with The Economist last weekend he also called on the US and, more importantly, France and Germany not to do more. “We have a long list of items that we need,” Zelensky told Zanny Minton Beddoes, the editor-in-chief of The Economist, and a colleague during an interview in a bunker in Kiev.
Who’s Right: Zelensky or Biden? Today I will try to answer that question, with help from Times colleagues. I will do this by dividing Zelensky’s argument into three categories. The first criticizes the behavior of the West in the run-up to the war. The second deals with Zelensky’s current requests which are perhaps more performative than real. The third is about steps that could help Ukraine that the West chooses not to take.
1. Alternate History
Some of Zelensky’s complaints are about the past. He says the West could have changed Vladimir Putin’s war plans by imposing harsh sanctions as Russia mobilized for war. He made the same argument then†
Of course, it’s impossible to know if Zelensky is right, but he has a legitimate case. The West’s initial response to Russia’s rebuilding was timid, offering little military support and threatening only modest sanctions. Like Anne Applebaum of the Atlantic wrote at the time“Tragically, the Western leaders and diplomats now trying to avert a Russian invasion of Ukraine still think they live in a world where rules matter, where diplomatic protocol is useful, where polite speech is valued.”
Putin seemed to assume that the Western response would remain quite modest, much as the response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 had been. He decided that a full takeover of Ukraine would be worth the price.
But the brutality and scale of the invasion changed the West’s approach. Biden and the leaders of other countries gathered to impose sweeping sanctions. The ruble and Russian stocks have plummeted and Putin himself has admitted that the economic damage will be extensive.
“Had tougher sanctions been imposed earlier, there would have been no large-scale Russian attack,” Zelensky claimed over the weekend. “It would have been on a different scale,” he added, “giving us more time.”
This argument is a way for him to urge the world not to make the same mistake again. Ukraine’s allies must “act pre-emptively, not after the situation gets complicated,” he said.
2. Politics as Achievement
It is often naive to take the words of political leaders literally. The public speech of politicians tends to combine an honest expression of their opinion with an attempt to influence others. Zelensky, an actor by training, is well aware of the performative side of politics.
In recent weeks, he has repeatedly asked for forms of help that he is sure he will not receive, says my colleague Max Fisher. The clearest example is a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Establishing one could require the West to shoot down Russian planes and even bomb air defense systems in Russia, potentially sparking a world war.
Still, making unreasonable requests has value to Zelensky. It signals to the Ukrainians that he is doing everything he can to defeat Russia and also makes it harder for the West to say no to other requests. “He’s asking for the moon, knowing he’s going to get less,” said Eric Schmitt, a senior writer at The Times who covers military affairs for a long time. “But it keeps the pressure on the West to provide the stuff it needs.”
3. What Ukraine wants?
Another set of requests from Zelensky and his assistants is more literal and realistic. The biggest is their advocacy of the kind of gear that allows a smaller army defending territory to hold off a larger, attacking army. The US and other allies have already sent a large amount of such equipment, such as rocket launchers fired at the shoulder, but Ukraine says it needs more.
So far, the Ukrainian military has performed better than most observers expected, preventing Russia from taking over most major cities while retaking a few cities in the northeast. However, because Russia has a huge army, a war of attrition usually works in its favor, Eric notes. Russia can continue to bomb Ukrainian troops and civilians and hope for an eventual capitulation.
“The Russians have thousands of military vehicles and they come and come and come,” Zelensky said.
Western military officials claim they are supplying Ukraine with weapons and equipment as quickly as logistically possible. Zelensky says the fate of his country may depend on the West doing better.
Zelensky’s other requests fall in the middle: It’s unclear whether Ukraine expects the West to say no. This list includes additional tanks and fighter jets, as well as further sanctions against Russia and an end to European purchases of Russian energy.
it comes down to
The inconvenient truth is that despite Biden’s suggestion to the contrary, Ukraine and the West do not have identical interests.
Ukraine is fighting to survive, and its people are dying. The leaders should try any strategy that can plausibly help. The leaders of the US, EU and other allies sincerely want to defend Ukraine, but they are also concerned about their own economies, domestic support for their policies and the risk of nuclear war with Russia.
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SOURCE – www.nytimes.com