The Perfect Enemy | Analysis | For a change, let’s ask what Zelensky wants
July 1, 2022

Analysis | For a change, let’s ask what Zelensky wants

Analysis | For a change, let’s ask what Zelensky wants  The Washington Post

Read Time:11 Minute

Welcome to The Daily 202! Tell your friends to sign up here. I’ve missed writing for you. Covid-19 took me out for most of this week. Respiratory symptoms were those of a medium cold. What was debilitating was the fatigue I felt as though I were wearing four of those lead aprons the dentist puts on you before doing an X-ray. Please get vaccinated and boosted. My thanks to Dave Clarke, Seung Min Kim and Aaron Blake.

The big idea

For a change, let’s ask what Zelensky wants — since he gets to define ‘victory’ in war with Russia

If you’ve been following news about Russia’s war in Ukraine closely, you’ve probably noticed that a lot of the analysis falls into two baskets: 1) Riffs on “The conflict is entering a new phase,” and 2) variations on “Here’s what President Vladimir Putin wants” from his expanded invasion.

The Daily 202 has certainly featured its share.

But with the fighting now in its third month, let’s try something a little different. What does Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky want? After all, the United States and its allies keep saying Ukraine, not its military and economic patrons, gets to define what victory looks like.

If that’s true — and there’s cause for skepticism that Washington and its partners won’t, shall we say, convey their preferences, given the far-reaching consequences for peace in Europe and Russia’s place in the world — then the Ukrainian leader’s public entreaties and demands require scrutiny.

  • Zelensky has never been shy about his short-term goals (getting the West to send him more weapons and toughen sanctions on Russia). He has recently given a glimpse into his long-range goals, envisioning a reconstruction effort akin to the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Western Europe after World War II.

In between those, though, is the issue of what it’ll take to stop the fighting. As The Daily 202 has repeatedly noted, negotiations tend to reflect expectations of the combatants regarding whether they can get (and keep) what they want on the battlefield.

What will Zelensky accept

And perhaps foremost among the questions is what Zelensky is prepared to accept with regard to Ukraine’s territory, and when. Would it be enough for Russia to pull back to its positions before the expansion of the war on Feb. 24? Or must Moscow return Crimea, which it invaded and annexed in 2014, and abandon areas in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas area?

Speaking on Wednesday to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Zelensky seemed to say Russian forces must pull back to where they were on Feb. 23 to show Moscow is prepared to “shift from the bloody war to diplomacy.” To start proper talks, in other words.

Negotiations can happen “if Russia shows at least something,” he said. “When I say ‘at least something,’ I mean pulling back troops to where they were before February 24.”

But he didn’t rule out pursuing the military campaign to drive Russia out of Ukraine entirely. (Putin has shown zero appetite for serious negotiations.)

  • “Ukraine will fight until it reclaims all its territories,” he said. “It’s about our independence and our sovereignty.”

But in an interview with Jonathan Swan of Axios earlier this week, Zelensky seemed to hem and haw about the prospects of recapturing Crimea, warning of “hundreds of thousands” of casualties and underlining “the price matters.”

Zelensky had sent a similar message in a weekend interview with ICTV, saying “the most valuable thing is to save more people, the military. This is our value and treasure, as the results of this invasion have shown.” (He also said “victory” would be returning to the pre-Feb. 24 lines without unnecessary Ukrainian losses.)

Differing views in Ukraine

Some other senior Ukrainian officials seem to be taking a different tack. Swan had asked Zelensky about comments from the country’s military intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, who vowed in a Wall Street Journal interview last week to keep fighting until Russia is fully expelled.

“I don’t know any borders except the borders of 1991,” when Ukraine got its independence from the Soviet Union, Budanov said. “Who can force Ukraine to freeze the conflict? This is a war of all Ukrainians, and if someone in the world thinks that they can dictate to Ukraine the conditions under which it can or cannot defend itself, then they are seriously mistaken.”

And a Zelensky adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, told Reuters over the weekend there would be no cease-fire or any deal with Moscow that involved Kyiv giving up territory.

“Acknowledging that Kyiv’s stance on the war was becoming more uncompromising, … Podolyak said making concessions would backfire on Ukraine because Russia would hit back harder after any break in fighting.”

“’The war will not stop (after any concessions). It will just be put on pause for some time,’ he told Reuters in an interview in the heavily guarded presidential office, where some of the windows and corridors are protected by sandbags.”

  • “Podolyak dismissed as ‘very strange’ calls in the West for an urgent ceasefire that would involve Russian forces remaining in territory they have occupied in Ukraine’s south and east. ‘Ukraine will never go for that.’

“’The (Russian) forces must leave the country and after that the resumption of the peace process will be possible,’ he said.”

A cease-fire might enable the Kremlin to “lock in” any gains on the ground,” he warned.

“’It would be good if the European and U.S. elites understand to the end: Russia can’t be left halfway because they will (develop) a ‘revanchist’ mood and be even more cruel. … They must be defeated, be subjected to a painful defeat, as painful as possible,” he said.

What’s happening now

In first test after mass shootings, Senate GOP poised to block domestic terror bill

“Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) is pushing a vote to advance a House-passed bill that would set up domestic terrorism offices across three federal agencies. Republicans argue the bill, spurred by alarm over the rise in incidents of homegrown violent extremism, is unnecessary and that Democrats are trying to score political points,” John Wagner and Mariana Alfaro report for Post Politics Now.

New questions arise about police response in Texas school shooting

“Much of the way events unfolded remains unclear, including whether authorities missed warning signs or could have intervened earlier to prevent [Salvador Rolando Ramos] from reaching the classroom,” Bryan Pietsch, Andrew Jeong, Annabelle Timsit and Adela Suliman report.

The war in Ukraine

Zelensky warns against appeasing Putin

“Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hit back at former U.S. Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger for suggesting that Kyiv should cede territory to Moscow to help end the war,” Ellen Francis, Rachel Pannett, Amy Cheng, Jennifer Hassan, Mary Ilyushina and Paulina Firozi report.

More key updates:

Follow our live coverage of the war here

Lunchtime reads from The Post

A grisly checklist and a sickening rampage: Inside the Uvalde massacre

Authorities say the attack was part of a grisly checklist Ramos had shared in private social media messages early Tuesday. The first item was to kill his grandmother, who lives near the school. He shot her in the face, authorities said, then left her for dead as he drove off in her truck. ‘I shot my grandmother,’ Ramos wrote in an update. The next threat, according to the messages, was to ‘shoot an elementary school.’ Within minutes of pressing send, shortly after 11:30 a.m., Ramos was barricaded inside a classroom with the 19 students and two teachers he would kill,” Arelis R. Hernández, Hannah Allam, Razzan Nakhlawi and Joanna Slater report.

Pessimism abounds as Senate confronts another tragic mass shooting

“Members of the Senate — the ash heap for decades of federal gun-control proposals — confronted another gut-wrenching mass shooting with a distinct sense of fatalism Wednesday, with most Republicans standing firm in defense of expansive gun rights as Democrats said they were desperate to pursue even meager attempts to prevent another tragedy,” Mike DeBonis reports.

… and beyond

F.D.A. chief details ‘shocking’ conditions at baby formula plant

“The Abbott Nutrition plant in Michigan that was shut down in February, sparking a widespread baby formula shortage crisis, had a leaking roof, water pooled on the floor and cracks in key production equipment that allowed bacteria to get in and persist, Dr. Robert Califf, the head of the Food and Drug Administration, told a House panel on Wednesday,” the New York Times‘s Christina Jewett reports.

“He detailed ‘egregiously unsanitary’ conditions in the Sturgis, Mich., plant to lawmakers during a hearing, but he also acknowledged that his agency’s response was too slow in addressing problems at the plant.”

The Biden agenda

‘Second amendment is not absolute,’ Biden says

“The president said ‘common sense’ gun control would not ‘negatively affect’ the Second Amendment, and added that the amendment is ‘not absolute,’” Mariana Alfaro reports

“When it was passed, you couldn’t own a cannon, you couldn’t own certain kinds of weapons,” Biden said. “The idea that [an 18-year-old] can walk into a store and buy weapons of war designed and marketed to kill, I think is wrong, just violates common sense.”

Biden calls for action after Texas shooting, but faces limits of his power

“A decade after Republicans blocked gun safety legislation in response to the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Mr. Biden remains caught between a desire to honor the dead by vowing to act and the reality that he cannot deliver on sweeping promises without consensus in Congress,” the NYT‘s Michael D. Shear reports.

Yellen, Biden’s not-so-secret weapon, sees clout diminished

“Yellen is rarely on center stage. She has surprised supporters by wielding less influence in the West Wing than her recent predecessors did in the job, which is often considered an administration’s chief economic policymaking post, say people familiar with the matter,” Politico‘s Kate Davidson and Victoria Guida report. 

Biden orders police reforms two years after Floyd killing

“President Biden signed an executive order Wednesday aimed at preventing and punishing police misconduct, a step that came on the second anniversary of the police killing of George Floyd but fell well short of the sweeping reform legislation the White House had hoped would be law by now,” Matt Viser reports.

Biden, K-pop superstars BTS teaming up to raise awareness of anti-Asian hate crimes

“The South Korean ‘Butter’ singers will appear at the White House on Tuesday to ‘discuss Asian inclusion and representation’ as well as address discrimination,” the Hill‘s Kyle Balluck and Judy Kurtz report.

Lives cut short by covid, visualized

“One million Americans have died of covid-19, an incomprehensible weight. So we’re remembering one person for each week of the pandemic: what brought them joy and what they wanted to do next. And how that was cut short,” our colleagues report.

“Each of their stories stands for all who died the same week, those numbers marked by the exact point where the sentence cuts off.”

Hot on the left

Beto O’Rourke confronts Abbott in Uvalde: ‘You are doing nothing’

On May 25, Democrat Beto O’Rourke interrupted Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) during a news conference on an elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Tex., on May 24. (Video: Reuters)

“O’Rourke, a former Texas congressman, approached the stage as Abbott was introducing Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), telling the officials assembled that it was long past time to act to prevent mass shootings like the one at Robb Elementary School, where 19 children and two teachers were killed Tuesday,” Sergio Flores, Amy B Wang and Marisa Iati report.

“Speaking over the objections of Patrick, O’Rourke said Abbott should have taken action after other high-profile mass shootings in Texas, such as at Santa Fe High School in 2018 and at an El Paso Walmart in 2019.”

Hot on the right

Jordan seeks Jan. 6 panel evidence as condition to comply with committee

“Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) has stopped short of refusing to comply with a subpoena to appear before the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, telling the panel that he would do so only if it met certain conditions, including sharing all the evidence the committee had on him ahead of time,” Amy B Wang reports.

“I write to strongly contest the constitutionality and validity of the subpoena in several respects,” Jordan wrote.

Today in Washington

The president has no public events scheduled for the afternoon.

In closing

Told not to say ‘gay’ in graduation speech, he made his point anyway

“An openly gay activist who is the youngest plaintiff in a lawsuit against a new state law that restricts what teachers can say in classes about gender and sexual orientation, [Senior Class President Zander Moricz] said publicly that he had been warned by his principal not to mention his activism or say the word ‘gay.’ If he did, Moricz said on social media, his microphone would be cut off,” Valerie Strauss reports.

“So on Sunday, Moricz gave the speech without saying the word — but still managed to speak directly about who he is and why he advocates for the LGBTQ community. He used his curly hair as a metaphor.

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.