VOLODYMYR Oleksandrovych Zelenskyy is a desperate man. Since there are not many pillars or posts left standing in his country after the incessant Russian bombardments, rendering the cliché superfluous, Ukraine’s President is, instead, running from capital to capital in Europe and North America to save his government.
The big worry is that a desperate Ukrainian deep state may launch attempts on the lives of Russian President Putin and the senior Kremlin leadership.
The chaos on Capitol Hill following the ouster of House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy, second in the line of succession to the White House after the Vice-President, makes it a Herculean task to get any new funding from the US for the war in Ukraine. On September 30, the US Congress hurriedly deleted aid provisions for Ukraine from a bill to avoid a US federal government shutdown. It sent a chill down the establishment’s spine in Kyiv because Zelenskyy had travelled to Washington shortly before and lobbied Congress and the White House for the approval of $24 billion that US President Joe Biden has been seeking from lawmakers since July.
Ukraine’s President then turned to Europe for financial and continued military support, but this could not have come at a worse time for his embattled nation. On the same day that the US Congress decided against more aid for Ukraine — at least for now — Slovakia elected a Prime Minister-designate who campaigned on the plank of not even ‘a single bullet’ more for Ukraine. If Poland re-elects the ruling Law and Justice Party government for a record third term on October 15, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki will reconfirm his own government’s recent decision to stop further arms transfers to Ukraine. Hungary has long campaigned to end war-related sanctions by the European Union on Russia.
Zelenskyy’s desperation shows on his face because the 45-year-old President has been a comedian — an amateur and later a professional — since he was in his late teens. There is nothing to comedy if the comedian’s face is not transparent. Throughout the nearly 20-month-old war with Russia, Zelenskyy has held his country together to a very large extent with his regular, Winston Churchill-like speeches to his people — from a bunker or similar dramatic settings. It is typical of a stage and television actor that he was until the last day of 2018.
Since the US confirmed war fatigue among the American people through the September 30 vote in Congress, staunchly anti-Russia West European governments have rushed to boost the morale in Kyiv. In a stunning defiance of the people’s will in Eastern Europe — reflected in voter sentiment in Slovakia, Poland and earlier in Hungary — these self-professed West European democrats took the unusual step of convening a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Ukraine. It did not matter to them that Ukraine is not an EU member. Anything to save Zelenskyy was their motivation.
Fortuitously for the embattled President, fact-checkers in the US quickly and strongly dismissed as ‘false’ some YouTube and Instagram account holders’ disinformation videos and other posts that Ukraine’s First Lady, Olena Zelenska, had spent $1.1 million shopping for jewellery at a Cartier store in New York, where she had accompanied her husband as he addressed the annual United Nations General Assembly. The false accusation against Zelenska had gone viral because she is always immaculately dressed when she is abroad, unlike Zelenskyy. The President prefers battlefield-style T-shirts and polo shirts wherever he goes. It is not hard to imagine the sources of the false videos, although these are hard to nail with proof. It is the latest example of powerful social media manipulation as a tool in the Russia-Ukraine war, in which the West is a participant by proxy on Ukraine’s side.
Predictably, but unobserved — and to a great extent, underplayed by the Western media, largely compliant with their governments — the war is entering an ever more dangerous phase. The carefully nurtured media myth that Ukraine’s military, powered by nationalism and patriotism, in addition to modern weapons supplied by the West, is on the threshold of inflicting crippling wounds on Russia, has been exposed as a false narrative. The failure of Kyiv’s much-touted counter-offensive to make any significant difference on the battlefield has greatly disillusioned Zelenskyy’s backers in European chancelleries. That makes the Ukrainian President a very dangerous man. He could turn out to be like the proverbial wounded tiger that has been portrayed in books for centuries. A wounded tiger is considered defenceless and, therefore, capable of anything. At the height of the Syrian civil war, the opposition illegally obtained chemical weapons, used those on its own people and blamed President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, as believed in many world capitals. That was why there was little retaliation against Assad and the opposition eventually lost global support. The Kyiv government could similarly trigger fatal radiation leaks at its own nuclear installations and blame those on Russia in a potential escalation of the war.
The announcement made by Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s envoy to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO), in Vienna on Friday, indicating Moscow’s intention to withdraw its ratification of the CTBT, must be seen in this light. It means Russia is prepared for a long war in which it needs to strengthen its nuclear options. The decision is yet another instance of New Delhi and Moscow being on the same page since Russia started its military operation in Ukraine last year. India has not signed the CTBT, enabling it to leave open its nuclear testing options in future. The US has signed the treaty, but not ratified it. So, Biden is on a weak moral ground to criticise the latest Russian decision as he habitually does with anything done by the Kremlin.
Soon, the winter snow and mud will transform eastern Ukraine into an inhospitable terrain, making it challenging for its military to reclaim territory from Russia. Tanks will get inextricably stuck and will be sitting ducks for Russian artillery. The big worry is that a desperate Ukrainian deep state may launch attempts on the lives of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the senior Kremlin leadership, like the assassination attempt in May. “The Kyiv regime attempted to strike the Kremlin residence of the President of the Russian Federation with unmanned aerial vehicles,” Putin’s Presidential Press Service had said on May 3.
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