The world’s governments must carefully examine Zelenskyy’s demands to ensure that the war does not escalate into WWIII.
February 10, 2023 .
Nothing in the news is ever constant, but there is one exception: Ukraine’s president Zelenskyy and his senior members requesting, urging, and even cajoling world leaders to give more and more and ever more. Weapons, missile systems, aircraft, fast-track entry into the EU, training, money for reconstruction – the list never ends.
Emboldened by the Ukraine military’s successes, work, and sacrifice, senior officials’ pitches now come with a common theme: Ukraine is the theater where democracy’s future lies, so if countries don’t support Ukraine, they are guilty of not supporting democracy. In the amplified world of social media, forcing governments to act out of a perceived sense of righteousness and shame has been a brilliant strategy of Zelenskyy’s that historians will study for generations.
Senior Ukrainian officials have cleverly usurped President George W. Bush’s « Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists » line. Speaking to a joint session of Congress nine days after 9/11, President Bush said that many countries had offered sympathy and support to the United States. The rest, he said, face a choice. « Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. » Zelenskyy often refers to Russian fighters as « terrorists » for all the gruesome civilian casualties and war crimes in which President Putin has engaged.
But there are profound differences. America was attacked on its soil using everyday objects, such as planes, by terrorists on a suicide mission. The actors were stateless, and at the time of Bush’s speech, there was doubt about who orchestrated the attacks. The world was shocked not only at the terrible killing of innocent people; there was substantial worry that if this could happen to America, it could happen to them too.
And this fear, as it proved later, was entirely justified. From 9/11 through the end of 2015, the Director of National Intelligence cataloged over 500 terror attacks in a chilling timeline spanning every part of the globe. Bush’s call for the world to unite against a common stateless enemy was not only sound but existential. And it worked as countries worldwide invested trillions on homeland security, ending privacy and freedom privileges we took for granted before 9/11.
Russia attacked Ukraine in a conventional war. President Putin began amassing his soldiers on the Ukrainian border for months. Interested parties, led by the United States, met in Geneva two months before the war to dissuade Putin from attacking. The sides couldn’t agree to settle Putin’s grievances. When peace talks fail, human history tells us that war is often the result.
As early as September 2014, after Russia annexed Crimea, the University of Chicago political scientist John Mearsheimer, in his brilliant September 2014 piece in Foreign Affairs, « Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault, » blamed the United States and its allies for unknowingly provoking a major crisis over Ukraine. In an interview with the New Yorker in March 2022, Prof. Mearsheimer said, « It’s hard to say whether he’s going to go after the rest of Ukraine because—I don’t mean to nitpick here, but—that implies that he wants to conquer all of Ukraine, and then he will turn to the Baltic states, and his aim is to create a greater Russia or the reincarnation of the Soviet Union. I don’t see evidence at this point that that is true.”
But Zelenskyy and his senior staff continue to argue that if Russia annexes Ukraine, other countries may be next. And to Zelenskyy’s credit, his plan of instilling fear has worked. Sweden and Finland now have pending NATO applications. Corporate media airs stories daily about Moldova being Putin’s next target.
Ukraine has also extended its demands into other areas, continuing to build pressure on the world to act in ways Kyiv prefers. The country has been feverishly lobbying the International Olympic Committee to exclude Russian and Belarusian athletes from the Paris Games in 2024. Never mind that such a move could be a public relations nightmare for the IOC.
Last summer, Wimbledon banned tennis players from those two countries and immediately invited sanctions from the players association, which refused to award points for the tournament. In what ended up being an exhibition tournament, the eventual winner in the Ladies’ Final was a player who was born in Russia and represented Kazakhstan. Learning from Wimbledon’s mistakes, the U.S. Open and the Australian Open did not ban athletes, arguing that the players were not involved in the war and the right thing to do was to separate politics from sports.
On February 3, a Ukrainian official, Vadym Guttsait, said that if Ukraine failed to persuade international sports officials to bar Russian athletes, the country would, in his opinion, have to « skip the Olympic Games. » Not falling for this propaganda, IOC president Thomas Bach told Ukraine that Kyiv’s calls for a boycott of the 2024 Paris Games over possible participation of Russian athletes goes against Olympic « principles, » and such pressure by Kyiv on other nations was « extremely regrettable. »
Ukraine has become so used to getting its demands met that it never stops making new ones. War strategists agree that when Elon Musk offered Starlink technology for free to the Ukrainians, it made a significant difference to fighters in the field to stay connected. But when Musk refused Ukraine’s request to use the technology for offensive warfare because Starlink was never meant to be weaponized, Ukraine immediately attacked the very benefactor that has been helping it.
According to the New York Times, Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, said that companies are either on the side of Ukraine and « the right to freedom, » or they are on Russia’s side and the « right to kill and seize territories. » Starlink, he said, « should choose a specific option. »
At this rate, President Zelenskyy and his team’s guilt-inducing pressure tactics may soon lose their sting.