Zelensky in the US The Excelsior 27 Dec 2022 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar


Zelensky in the US

Zelensky in the US The Excelsior 27 Dec 2022

          Ten months after the commencement of Russia’s ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine, Zelensky, the Ukrainian President, visited Washington seeking additional US aid and support for the war. The US has provided Ukraine with approximately USD 24 Billion since 2014, of which 21.2 Billion has been since the war commenced. Just prior to the visit an additional 1.85 Billion assistance was sanctioned. A USD 45 Billion ‘Additional Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2023’ is being pushed through the US Congress. As per the opponents of the aid, military assistance to Ukraine alone will be greater than the entire annual defence budget of Russia which is USD 65 Billion. The visit also shed light on US and Ukrainian intentions.

          Zelensky spoke passionately on Ukraine continuing the fight. His initial words to the US Congress, ‘Against all odds and doom-and-gloom scenarios, Ukraine didn’t fall. Ukraine is alive and kicking,’ implied that with western support, Ukraine will continue the conflict. Hinting he was fighting a proxy war, Zelensky stated, ‘It is just a matter of time when they (Russians) will strike against your other allies if we do not stop them now.’ Finally, to convince the common US citizen, who has begun questioning his taxes being gifted to Ukraine, Zelensky stated, ‘Your money is not charity. It’s an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way.’ Zelensky projected Ukraine as a frontline state in the war against Russia.

          Zelensky did hint of a peace plan which he stated he had shared with Biden. A US representative later clarified that the plan was the same which was presented to leaders of the G 20 by Zelensky last month. It includes, ‘preventing ecocide in Ukraine, punishing those responsible for war crimes, withdrawing all Russian troops from the territory of Ukraine, restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and the release of all prisoners of war and deportees.’ He had then stated, ‘if Russia opposes our peace formula, you will see that it only wants war,’ The conditions placed by Zelensky, with US backing, are a non-starter, as these would be unacceptable to the Kremlin.

          In the joint press conference Biden stated, ‘He (Putin) is not open, but you’re open to pursuing peace. You’re open to pursuing a just peace. We also know that Putin has no intention of stopping this cruel war.’ In reply to a question on peace efforts, Biden stated that the war can only end if Putin pulls out, which is unlikely to happen. He added, ‘we’re going to continue to help Ukraine succeed on the battlefield. If and when Zelensky is ready to talk to the Russians, he will be able to succeed as well, because he will have won on the battlefield.’ Evidently, the US desires the proxy war continues.

          On the other hand, Putin stated a day after the Zelensky-Biden meeting that Russia seeks an end to the war. He added that at some stage all war’s end on the negotiation table. Putin’s comments were rubbished by US spokesperson John Kirby, who mentioned that Putin has ‘shown absolutely zero indication that he’s willing to negotiate.’ The message transmitted is that Ukraine and the US are unwilling to end the conflict nor are they ready for talks.

          The intent of the US became evident when it promised Ukraine a Patriot Missile Battery to target Russian aircraft, missiles and drones. Normal training for handling the Patriot Missile system is spread over 53 weeks, which implies a belated deployment. While benefits of a single Patriot battery may be limited, the messaging is evident. The US is in no rush to end the conflict and would continue to arm Ukraine. Russia denounced the US decision, terming it ‘provocative’ and threatened ‘consequences.’ US action will enhance Russia’s employment of cheap Iranian drones which will further degrade Ukrainian infrastructure.

Zelensky’s demands for additional funds come when Europe is facing a long, hard winter due to high energy prices and increased inflation. Protests and agitations are on the rise. The EU drained a ‘peace facility’ budget, to finance the cost of arms being sent to Ukraine. How long will Europe continue funding Ukraine remains a mute question. Simultaneously, within the US, support for the war is receding. After all, funds meant for internal development are being diverted to fund a conflict which will never impact the mainland.

          European nations are being forcibly drawn in on the pretext of Russia expanding its conflict to Europe while breaking NATO unity. Biden mentioned in his joint press conference with Zelensky, ‘I’ve spent several hundred hours with our European allies making the case as to why it was overwhelmingly in their interest to continue to support Ukraine… They’re (European nations) not looking for a third world war, which can only be avoided if Ukraine is able to succeed in the battlefield.’ Biden announced loud and clear, Ukraine is fighting a proxy war on behalf of Europe, under directions of US, to contain Russia.

           The scenario emerging is that the US will dictate terms and conditions of any future negotiation, after all it will ultimately fund Ukrainian reconstruction. Pre-conditions may be stated by Zelensky, but he is simply mouthing the US. The intention remains to embarrass Russia and Putin, hoping for a regime change in Moscow. While this may be US desires, on the battlefield there is likely to be a stalemate. While Russia will strengthen its defence of occupied territories, it still possesses military potential to expand the conflict, while Ukraine will continue depending on western aid and volunteers.

Russian redlines of employment of NATO troops and carrying the war across the border into Russia are being adhered to as Europe wishes to avoid escalation. Simultaneously, Zelensky will stick to his demands unless Russia withdraws from Ukrainian territory or Ukraine is inducted into NATO, ensuring its survivability, both of which seem impossible presently. The US may provide aid to Ukraine but inducting it into NATO will be challenging Russia which it will never risk. The final prognosis is that the war will continue because all who are a party to it currently cannot agree to a common agenda.