Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky is flying high. The contrast between Zelensky, who virtually addressed Congress this morning, and Russian president Vladimir Putin, who rarely appears publicly, becomes starker almost by the day.
Putin believed that he could launch a Blitzkrieg attack that would topple Zelensky but the very opposite has occurred. It is Putin who is cornered while Zelensky basks in the world’s spotlight.
In his address, it was shrewd of Zelensky to fold Ukraine’s struggle for independence into the American saga. Essentially, he appealed to the New World to redress the balance of the Old World. Zelensky invoked Pearl Harbor and September 11 to plead with Americans to shun the perennial isolationist temptation and side with Ukraine:
“In the darkest time for our country, for the whole Europe, I call on you to do more. New packages of sanctions are needed, constantly, every week until the Russian military machine stops. Restrictions are needed for everyone on whom this unjust regime is based.”
The Senate was listening. It has just passed a resolution condemning Putin as a war criminal. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer declared, “All of us in this chamber joined together… to say that Vladimir Putin cannot escape accountability for the atrocities committed against the Ukrainian people.”
President Joe Biden is also promising a further $800 million in military aid to Ukraine. Even Donald Trump is getting in on the act — kind of.
In an interview with the Washington Examiner, Trump professed to be “surprised” that Putin was foolhardy enough to invade: “I thought he was negotiating when he sent his troops to the border. I thought he was negotiating. I thought it was a tough way to negotiate but a smart way to negotiate.” Well, no.
Putin badly underestimated Zelensky’s mojo. His nation was ready to fight. At a minimum, it has fought Russia to a standstill. Indeed, Ukrainian forces are mounting a counteroffensive in both Kherson and Kyiv. Whether Russia can even supply its troops with sufficient gasoline and food is an open question. Napoleon said an army marches on its stomach. The Russians may not be able to stomach much more.
In fact, bleating noises are starting to emanate from the Kremlin about a possible deal with Ukraine, a sign that it is beginning to acknowledge reality. As the Ukrainians pound the Russian army and sanctions pummel the Russian economy, Putin may be searching for an exit from the morass that he can depict as a victory.
But the cold, hard truth remains that his failure to oust Zelensky from power, not to mention his appearance before Congress, represent a crushing humiliation for the would-be Russian czar.
Zelensky pushed for a no-fly zone to Congress, but Biden will never go there. A direct confrontation with Moscow would only help pull Putin’s chestnuts out of the fire by turning his debacle into a wider confrontation with NATO.
Right now, Russia is being bled white by the doughty Ukrainians. For his part, Zelensky didn’t devote too much time to a no-fly zone. With the military aid that Biden and the Europeans are providing, Putin’s battered army may well ending up taking flight from Ukraine.
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