President Biden, in a passionate speech from Warsaw on Saturday, declared the West fully supported Ukraine. “We stand with you, period,” Biden said.
The next day, Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky, delivered a different message: He criticized the West for not doing enough. In a videotaped speech to the Ukrainian, Zelensky contrasted “Determination, Heroism and Constancy” with the lack of courage of the Western countries refused to send jets and tanks to Ukraine.
In a detail Interview with The Economist Last weekend, he also appealed to the US, even more so France and Germany, for not doing more. “We have a long list of things we need,” Zelensky told The Economist’s editor-in-chief, Zanny Minton Beddoes, and a colleague in a face-to-face interview at a bunker in Kyiv.
Who is right – Zelensky or Biden? Today, I will try to answer that question, with help from Times colleagues. I will do so by dividing Zelensky’s argument into three categories. The first article criticizes the behavior of the West in the period of war preparation. The second includes current requests from Zelensky that may be more efficient than they really are. The third agreement with steps that could help Ukraine and the West are choosing not to take.
1. Alternate History
Some of Zelensky’s complaints are about the past. He said that the West may have changed Vladimir Putin’s war plans by imposing harsh sanctions when Russia mobilizes for war. He made the same argument At a time.
It’s obviously impossible to tell if Zelensky is right, but he has a legitimate case. Initial Western reaction to Russia’s activism shy, offers little military support and threatens only modest sanctions. Like Anne Applebaum of the Atlantic wrote at the time“Tragically, Western leaders and diplomats currently trying to stop Russia’s invasion of Ukraine still think they live in a world where rules matter, where protocol productive diplomacy, where polite speech is valued.”
Putin seems to think the West’s response will remain rather modest, like the reaction to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. He decided that a full takeover of Ukraine would be well worth it.
But the brutality and scope of the invasion changed the Western approach. Biden and the leaders of other countries rallied to impose sweeping sanctions. The Russian ruble and stocks have plunged, and Putin himself admits that the economic damage will be huge.
“If tougher sanctions had been imposed sooner, a full-scale Russian attack would not have happened,” Zelensky said this weekend. “It will be on a different scale,” he added, “give us more time.”
This argument is his way of urging the world not to make the same mistake again. Ukraine’s allies should “act before and not after the situation becomes complicated,” he said.
2. Politics like performance
It is naive to take the words of political leaders literally. Politicians’ public speech tends to combine honest expression of their views with an attempt to influence others. Zelensky, a trained actor, is well aware of the active part of politics.
Over the past few weeks, he has repeatedly asked for forms of help that he was sure he wouldn’t get, says Max Fisher, my colleague. The most obvious example is the no-fly zone over Ukraine. Setting up an organization that could require the West to shoot down Russian planes and even bomb air defense systems inside Russia could potentially trigger a world war.
However, making unreasonable demands was still valid for Zelensky. It signaled to Ukrainians that Britain was doing everything it could to defeat Russia and also made it difficult for the West to refuse other demands. “He was asking for the moon, knowing he would get less,” Eric Schmitt, a senior writer for The Times who has long covered military affairs, told me. “But it keeps pressure on the West to provide the things that he needs.”
3. What does Ukraine want?
Another set of requests from Zelensky and his assistants was more correct and real. The biggest one was their plea for the kind of equipment that would allow a smaller army to defend territory that could stop a larger attacking army. America and other allies sent such a large number of devices, like a man-portable missile launcher, but Ukraine says it needs more.
So far, the Ukrainian military has performed better than most observers expected, preventing Russia from taking over most of the major cities while reclaimed a few towns in the northeast. However, because Russia has a huge military, a war of attrition tends to benefit the country, Eric noted. Russia can continue to bomb Ukrainian troops and civilians and hopefully eventually surrender.
“The Russians have thousands of military vehicles, they are coming and coming and coming,” Zelensky said.
Western military officials argue that they are supplying Ukraine with weapons and equipment as quickly as possible logistically. Zelensky says his country’s fate may depend on the West doing better.
Zelensky’s other demands fall into the middle: It’s unclear whether Ukraine expected the West to refuse. The list includes additional tanks and fighter jets as well as further sanctions against Russia and an end to European purchases of Russian energy.
The uncomfortable truth is that Ukraine and the West do not have identical interests, despite Biden’s offer to the contrary.
Ukraine is fighting to survive, and its people are dying. Its leaders need to try any strategy that might justifiably help. The leaders of the US, EU and other allies really want to protect Ukraine, but they are also concerned about their own economy, domestic support for their policies and the risk of war. nuclear with Russia.
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