Zelenskyy is great at inspiring his people to fight, but patience will eventually wear thin
By Basab Dasgupta
I feel exasperated every time I see Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s grim face on TV giving us the horrifying accounts of Russian atrocities in Ukraine, dire warnings about the upcoming fall of the western civilization, and desperately pleading to the international communities for help. He is seen frequently giving a speech whether it is at the UK parliament, US Congress, UN, or the Grammy awards ceremony, resulting in a standing ovation and his showman persona seems to relish the attention.
There is no question that Russian President Putin is not only brutally crazy but also a shrewd man, and what he is doing in Ukraine can only be compared with what Hitler did during World War II. How do you stop a mad dictator? Of course, killing him is one way, but I am sure that he has taken all the precautions and safeguards necessary to make sure that it does not happen in a conventional way. The other is to start a war – nuclear or otherwise and hope that we would strike Kremlin first and take him out. Of course, there will be hundreds of thousands of mass casualties as collateral damage and no one wants that.
I believe that Zelenskyy’s inexperience in the political world and previous career in show business, which thrives on attention from his audience, are the reasons. The past US presidents Donald Trump and Ronald Regan were also known for their showmanship and connections to the entertainment world, but Trump was running a business empire and understood politics and Regan was the governor of California before becoming the president.
Even without having much prior political experience, Zelenskyy must have realized several key issues when he became president. First and foremost is the fact that, since Ukraine is not a NATO member, other NATO countries will not automatically back him up militarily, if Russia attacks. Since Russia is a formidable nuclear power, no nation, NATO member or otherwise, wants to be involved in a military war with Russia. Secondly, it was inevitable that Russia will attack Ukraine. They had already taken over Crimea back in 2014 without much resistance, and Putin has been consistently lamenting by saying that breakup of the USSR was the worst event of the past century. His intention of reuniting the USSR was obvious. Thirdly, Russia would get solid support from China, the other major communist country, especially financially even if everyone else turns their back on Russia.
Perhaps he was reading more into the so-called Budapest memorandum and had a false sense of security that the US and UK would have his back in case of a Russian attack. If this is the case, then it is further evidence of his inexperience. Budapest was only a memorandum and not a legally-binding treaty, in other words – it was only a “good faith” document for Ukraine when it handed over all nuclear arsenals to Russia, but really meant nothing.
In hindsight, Zelenskyy should have arranged a meeting with Putin or one of his senior comrades during the very first week of his presidency. This might not have resulted in permanent peace, but one would have gotten some indication of Putin’s mindset. If the response was unfriendly, that would have been the time to start preparation against an inevitable invasion. Now that ship has sailed. Although Zelenskyy has repeatedly expressed his interest in a one-on-one discussion with Putin, Putin’s reaction is telling. According to multiple reports, Putin was recently given a hand-written letter from Zelenskyy. Putin reportedly threw it away, saying “Tell him that I will thrash him.”
So, how will this war end?
Putin, no doubt, is there for the long haul. He is certainly not going to order his troops to return to Russia. He has been reportedly planning this invasion for years. He was in KGB and can anticipate all the moves of his enemies. Russians are, anyway, known to be good chess players. Zelenskyy is unlikely to be able to sustain the patriotic spirit needed to continue the level of resistance necessary to keep the Russians away. He was great at inspiring his people to fight, but patience will eventually wear thin, especially in the face of massive suffering and carnage. After all, many of these people are just ordinary people who were given rifles and taught how to fight. Also, remember all young males between the ages of 18 and 60 were prevented from leaving Ukraine and forced to fight. Zelenskyy himself would be moved at some point in time, if not already, at the realization that all these thousands of deaths could have been prevented by a wiser diplomatic strategy on his part.
The perfect end-game for Putin would be the capture of Zelenskyy and the total occupancy of Ukraine by Russians. As an alternative, there can be opposition forces building up within Ukraine itself which would throw Zelenskyy off from power, and form a friendly relationship with Russia. There has already been a report of Zelenskyy firing two top generals for being “traitors” and he has banned free speech from all opposition parties. It is also conceivable that some type of permanent cease-fire line, dividing east and west Ukraine could be agreed upon by both sides but so far Zelenskyy is adamant that he is not going to give up even an inch of Ukrainian land.
All the sanctions from the US and other western nations against Russia would have no significant effect because of support from China, and the European nations who are heavily dependent on the Russian energy supply would find some compromise or “secret” channel to keep the supply flowing. I also fail to understand why all these sanctions are rolled out in installments.
I am sure that Putin had anticipated these sanctions, and has a plan to deal with them. I also believe the massive propaganda type reports that Russians are retreating, have suffered massive casualties, their economy is in the ruins, etc. are to be taken with a pinch of salt. Who knows what Putting is thinking and planning? The liberal mainstream media, at least in the US, may have an agenda in promoting these reports in order to show that Biden is tough on Russia.
The real challenge for the Western countries would be deciding how to normalize relationships, both in trade and diplomacy, with Russia after Russia has taken over Ukraine. I would hate to see a West versus Russia/China cold war, or a hot conflict continuing indefinitely. I suspect that we will have to wait for a new post-Putin Russian leader for the world order to return to normalcy. In the meantime, I wholeheartedly applaud Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s wise neutral stand.
(Basab Dasgupta has a doctorate in physics from the University of Wisconsin and worked with Sony as Vice President of an operating division. Retired, he now lives in San Clemente, CA.)