by Gennady Shkliarevsky
President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky has just completed his visit to the United States, where he attended a session of the General Assembly, a meeting of the Security Council, and several meetings in Washington, DC.
His objectives in this visit were familiar. He tried to blackmail America and its allies and lure them deeper into an irresponsible military adventure with a growing price tag and unpredictable consequences.
He also tried to drum up support for his government and to panhandle for more money. And on top of it all, he continued to annoy everyone with his plagiarized a la Che Guevara look that is inappropriate and just as fake as Zelensky himself.
From the very first moment the U.S. government became involved in this dubious enterprise, many people have had this one question on their mind: Where is this war going, and what will it bring us? There are still no satisfactory answers to these questions.
The number of negatives that are shaping the course of this war is huge. Mr. Zelensky and his clique who control Ukraine are increasingly losing touch with reality. Calling Zelensky a marionette has become a routine. He and his supporters are supremely unqualified to lead any country under any conditions.
Being in charge of Ukraine under the current circumstances—the war, the collapsing economy, constant bickering, and the growing split between the government and the people—is way beyond their capabilities. Yet quite a few American politicians, even at the highest levels of government, stake their careers on their success.
Zelensky’s qualifications as a vaudeville actor have prepared him to be a frontman for all sorts of insidious intrigues and manipulations but not to lead Ukraine out of the morass in which it finds itself.
Those who keep Zelensky in power and use him as a figurehead are Ukrainian national extremists who take their inspiration from a crazy extremist hate ideology and engage in savage political practice. They represent an amalgam of old Cossack mythology and the ethos and experience of the guerilla movement with the legacy of ethnic cleansing, mass murders, and association with the Nazis; their leadership is ambitious modern-day megalomaniacs who want to run the world.
Zelensky’s recent visit was nothing short of total embarrassment. He was totally out of control and visibly out of his league. He lectured to the participants of the General Assembly, chastising them for not doing enough to help Ukraine. He drove U.N. bosses crazy with his weird proposals for reforming the U.N. and changing the composition of the Security Council. He tried to intervene in American politics and elections by demanding that President Trump should disclose his peace plan for Ukraine before the 2024 elections.
He even managed to offend Poland—until then, one of Ukraine’s staunchest supporters. He used the platform of the General Assembly to make one of his stupid snide remarks directed at the Polish government. “Alarmingly,” he said, “some in Europe play out solidarity in a political theater, turning grain into a thriller. They may think that they play their own roles. In fact, they’re helping set the stage for a Moscow actor.”
Needless to say, the response from Poland was swift and decisive. Prime Minister Morawiecki announced on September 20 that Poland would “no longer transfer weapons to Ukraine.” Zelensky was snubbed by the American Congress. He asked for an opportunity to appear before a joint session, but the House leadership answered that they “didn’t have time.”
There are certainly those in American politics and government who still live in a bygone era but continue to believe that they can function in the real world. Consider some of the statements that come from the White House, prominent politicians, and high-level government administrators.
In his annual address to the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 19, President Biden tried to recite familiar and catchy words, thinking that they would make his message comprehensible: “We must stand up to this naked aggression today to deter other would-be aggressors tomorrow . . . That is why the United States, together with our allies and partners around the world, will continue to stand with the brave people of Ukraine as they defend their sovereignty and territorial integrity—and their freedom.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer found nothing better than trying to blackmail Americans by echoing Zelensky’s words almost verbatim: “If we don’t get the aid, we will lose the war.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell: “American support for Ukraine is not charity. It’s in our own direct interests–not least because degrading Russia helps to deter China.” Let’s get this one straight: America should give more weapons to Zelensky so that his military would kill more Russians and that more Ukrainians would die in this war—and all for what? Just to deter China? Isn’t this a bit excessive, Mitch?
Responding to the Republicans who object to giving more aid to Ukraine (to the tune of another $24 billion), the spokesman for the National Security Council, John Kirby, used his own version of blackmail, claiming that if the United States walks away, the human and monetary costs to the United States will be “exorbitantly higher.”
“The cost of defending sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Kirby continued, “gets a whole lot more expensive, both blood and treasure, including American blood.” (Does he mean like in Afghanistan or Iraq?) Biden’s National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, was totally unoriginal and over the top when he stated for the record that aid to Ukraine would stop savage Russian attacks.
If all this sounds familiar, it is. We heard similar statements on many previous occasions–the Second Iraq War (the one that was looking for WMD) and American interventions in Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, and many other places. We all know what the outcomes were in all these cases. Yet now, again, we hear the same calls and promises with little evidence to support them.
The proponents of more aid say that those opposed to it represent only a “vocal, quite small minority” of Congress members. True enough. But that was the case on all previous occasions when a majority of Congress members overwhelmingly approved military actions only to express their regrets later on and claim that they had been misled. Does this look familiar? Is history repeating itself?
Yet despite our past experience, despite Zelensky’s antics and his bizarre behavior, despite all we know about Ukrainian national extremists, and against our better judgment, Biden persists in his efforts to push through Congress a new $24 billion package of military aid to Ukraine.
“I’m counting,” Biden said, “on the good judgment of the United States Congress. There is no alternative.” He neglects to recognize the over two dozen Republicans in the Senate and House who sent a letter to the White House on September 21 that read: “The American people deserve to know what their money has gone to. How is the counteroffensive going? Are the Ukrainians any closer to victory than they were six months ago? What is our strategy, and what is the president’s exit plan? What does the administration define as victory in Ukraine?”
Evidently, the only good judgment that Biden knows and recognizes is his own. But is his judgment good enough? Can we trust it? Isn’t it time to end this circus that costs many lives and poses a mortal threat to the world?
We must remember and learn from past experiences. We provided weapons for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. What did we get in return? The attack against the World Trade Center that took over three thousand American lives and twenty years of war that ended in a defeat? This time, the “gain” can be much worse. We are providing modern weapons to Ukrainian national extremists driven by murderous hate ideology. Like their predecessors—the 16th-century Ukrainian Cossacks—they know only war, and they live by war.
Unlike Afghanistan, though, Ukraine is located in the heart of Europe. One can only wonder what all these disgruntled warriors will do when they lose this war. Make no mistake that they will hate and blame the rest of the world for their failure; and they will wreak vengeance. Armed with modern weapons, the Ukrainian national extremists will become a major source of instability both in Europe and around the world.
Gennady Shkliarevsky was born in Ukraine and is a Professor Emeritus of History at Bard College.