Analysis: Zelensky’s speech to Congress comes at a cruel turning point in the Ukrainian conflict

Zelensky’s relentless media campaign and his courage to stay in Kyiv to fight alongside his people has prompted the world’s democracies to rush anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons into the country and crush the Russian economy in a much more vigorous response. provided that. But his pleas for more help, which are expected to dominate his speech to the US Congress and the American people on Wednesday, will also lay bare the tragedy unfolding in Ukraine.
The measures the warrior president says his country needs to survive – like NATO-imposed no-fly zones and Soviet-era jet planes from ex-Warsaw Pact states that are now doing part of the West – are seen by the Biden administration as a step too far because they could antagonize Moscow and drag the United States into a dangerous escalation with its nuclear-armed rival.

Ukraine’s president offered possible insight into his demand – and growing anger – in an address to Canada’s parliament on Tuesday, his latest stop in a virtual tour of national legislatures that highlights his skill in lobbying Western leaders .

“Can you imagine when you call your friends, your friendly nation, and say, ‘Please close the skies, close the airspace. Please stop the bombings. How many more cruise missiles have to fall on our cities until that happens?’ And they, in return, are expressing their deep concern about the situation,” he said.

Zelensky’s heartbreaking daily appeals, along with the terrifying images of civilian casualties, make it impossible to ignore the torment of Ukraine and its people. If the worst happens and he ends up being killed – as he candidly admitted that is a real possibility – and Ukraine falls, speeches like the one to US lawmakers will be seen as a warning. accusation of Putin’s barbarism and of a world system that has not been able to stop him.

Even though Biden is set to announce an additional $800 million in security aid, including anti-tank missiles, following Zelensky’s speech, there may be a limit to what the Ukrainian president calls for. can accomplish. As CNN’s Kevin Liptak reported, Biden hadn’t backed down in his opposition to a no-fly zone.

The Outer Consciousness of the West

Zelensky has already pushed Western leaders further into a conflict that has changed the shape of post-Cold War Europe than they might have thought they were willing to go. His display of personal courage puts a human face on the conflict and contrasts with Putin’s reckless authoritarianism.

With his acting talent, Zelensky knows how to communicate perfectly with the citizens of the Western nations whose leaders he tries to move. He plays on foreign nations’ sense of their own greatness and self-image by evoking national history and mythology.

Addressing the British House of Commons, for example, Zelensky drew analogies to wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the country’s lonely stand against Nazi tyranny in 1940. “We will fight in the forests, on the shores, in the streets,” he said. , echoing a famous speech by Churchill in which the great statesman also called for help from the “New World” – America – just as Zelensky does now. He also borrowed the quintessential Shakespearean phrase “To be or not to be” – a meditation on the nature of existence and death – to argue that Ukraine had chosen life and sovereignty or “to be”.

“Make sure you do what needs to be done and what is stipulated by the greatness of your country,” Zelensky told British MPs.

In his speech to Canada’s parliament on Tuesday, Zelensky blatantly put direct personal pressure on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a father of young children who is one of the NATO leaders expected to endorse increased support.

“Imagine that at 4 a.m. each of you starts hearing bomb explosions,” Zelensky said. “Severe explosions. Justin, can you imagine hearing — you, your children, hearing all those serious explosions: bombing of (the) airport, bombing of the Ottawa airport, dozens of other cities in your wonderful country. Can you imagine that?

Zelensky also displayed the flair of an accomplished politician for making a complex or remote issue accessible to a local audience. He asked Canadians to imagine what it would be like if Vancouver were besieged or Toronto’s famous CN Tower was bombed. “Every town they go through, they take down Ukrainian flags. Can you imagine someone taking down your Canadian flags in Montreal and other Canadian cities?” he said.

Zelensky is sure to adapt this message for an American audience on Wednesday. Given his ease with historical allusions, it wouldn’t be surprising to hear him refer to great wartime presidents and champions of freedom like Franklin Roosevelt or Abraham Lincoln or Israel’s own liberation struggle. America against a superior military power. His speech is also certain to increase domestic political pressure on Biden to do more to support Ukraine and punish Russia. CNN’s MJ Lee and Lauren Fox reported on Tuesday that some congressional leaders are losing patience with the administration’s reluctance to come close to Zelensky’s demands.

“Everything Congress asked to do, the administration first said no. And later they say yes after our allies have done it,” said Sen. Jim Risch, the top Republican in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “It’s slow. It’s excruciating.”

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday reiterated his opposition to a no-fly zone that could lead to direct clashes between American and Russian pilots over Ukraine. “He (Zelensky) already knows that the United States will not directly engage in Ukraine,” the Republican from Kentucky said, although he expressed support for helping kyiv get old jets from the EU. soviet era.

His comments reflected the mood in Congress that Zelensky is certain to solidify on Wednesday. Ukraine will receive more support but will not be able to escape the geopolitical and nuclear puzzle that prevents the West from fully committing to its defence.

A cruel turn

Zelensky’s speech comes at a cruel turning point in the conflict, and his refusal to abandon his country puts him in grave danger as Russia steps up its assault on kyiv and apparently prepares a siege of the city.

Blinken says there will be an independent Ukraine

Russia’s slow advance has turned into a deadly war of attrition as its forces bombard civilian residences. In the coastal city of Mariupol, which may offer a catastrophic glimpse of what awaits kyiv, thousands of civilians are trapped without heat and with water and food running out in an unfathomable act of Russian cruelty.

A frenzied international diplomatic effort, meanwhile, made little headway. Nor have days of talks between Russian and Ukrainian officials over a ceasefire. Everything indicates that Putin, despite making his country a political, cultural and economic pariah, is determined to blast Ukraine into submission in order to achieve his goal of never joining the West.

In a possible show of flexibility on the issue, Zelensky told a UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force in a virtual address on Tuesday that there was a need to “acknowledge” that his country could not join NATO. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that the potential concession to one of Moscow’s key demands was a “reflective of reality”.

But there was no immediate sign that Putin, who pushed back on ceasefire talks, was in the mood for mercy.