A Spartacus Moment

 


President Volodymyr Zelensky early Friday in Kyiv. (Photo provided by Ukraine’s government.)

Americans first heard of Volodymyr Zelensky after the infamous July 25, 2019 telephone call that led to Donald Trump’s first impeachment.

Zelensky had just been elected Ukrainian president in a landslide. He was eager to receive the $400 million of U.S. Security aid that had been earmarked by Congress for his nation to fend off a Russian threat and to obtain a commitment to meet the American president to project unity and strength toward his Russian aggressors. 

But after Trump injected a request that Zelensky first investigate the Bidens, Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who was listening to the call as part of his national security council duties, reported what he heard and the rest is history.

For the last three days, we’ve seen why Zelensky was so eager for U.S. Assistance. Now the former actor and comedian has transformed from an American political footnote to the new face of freedom and defiance. Trump is gone from office, but the question of whether the U.S. Is giving Zelensky all he needs lingers on Joe Biden’s watch. 

It’s fair to say the U.S. and NATO acquiesced to Russia’s invasion. On December 8, 2021, after meeting with Putin, Biden told reporters that sending troops to Ukraine to deter Russia was “not on the table.”

And on Feb. 10, 2022, when asked by NBC’s Lester Holt what scenario could prompt him to send troops to rescue Americans fleeing the country, Biden replied: “There’s not. That’s a world war when Americans and Russia start shooting at one another.”

As for nato, on Jan. 30, 2022, Secretary-General Jen Stoltenberg told the BBC: “We have no plans to deploy NATO combat troops to Ukraine … we are focusing on providing support.”

Then, just a few days later on Feb. 4, 2022, NATO Deputy Secretary-General, Mircea Geoana told France 24 that NATO “will not get involved militarily in Ukraine – we support Ukraine in many other ways, individual allies support Ukraine.”

So Putin knew that the only thing standing between Russia and Kyiv was the overmatched Ukrainian army. No wonder yesterday, Zelensky lamented: “This morning, we are defending our country alone. Just like yesterday, the most powerful country in the world looked on from a distance.”

The Ukrainians are certainly doing what they can. Nothing better sums up their resilience than when 13 border guards on Ukraine’s Snake Island refused to surrender to Russian invaders. Their final words were “Hey Russian worship, go “f” yourself” just before all 13 then died bombardment that has defined the conflict to date. President Zelensky has announced that they will posthumously be awarded the nation’s title of “Hero of Ukraine”.

Nevertheless, it is hard to believe the Ukrainian resistance can hold on for long. Nor that this will end well – in the long run – for Russia. Ukrainians are fighting for their love of country, Russians are fighting out of fear of a dictator. 

And there are signs of Putin’s support buckling. On Tuesday, Putin needed to give his own spy-chief a public dressing down at a security council meeting after recognizing the independence of two separatist-controlled regions of Ukraine, his subterfuge for war.

Russian cultural leaders, including musicians, TV stars, and comedians have been voicing resistance on social media. Thursday night, something once unfathomable…. 1,000 people gathered in the center of Moscow chanting “no to war” as passing cars honked horns. 

There were similar gatherings in other Russian cities including St. Petersburg, despite a warning from Russian authorities that they would face jail time. 

On Friday, the daughter of Putin’s own Kremlin spokesperson posted an anti-war slogan on social media. Elizaveta Peskova, who is 24, posted “no to war” on her Instagram account.

Zelensky, for his part, is courageous and a bit fatalistic. He has thus far rebuffed U.S. offers to evacuate Kyiv to avoid being captured or killed. On Friday, he said: “According to the information we have, the enemy has marked me as target no. 1, my family as target no. 2.”

 

Later on Friday, for the first time, NATO activated its response force as a defensive measure. That doesn’t mean that U.S. or NATO forces will enter Ukraine because Ukraine is not a NATO member, but it is a sign of increased nervousness on the part of neighboring NATO members.

That’s probably not enough. The only way to thwart Russian aggression is by offensive action by the U.S. and NATO. But twenty years post-9/11, Americans are fatigued by war in distant lands. 

There is nothing funny about the situation, but it is a former comedian to whom we can look for inspiration.




Michael Smerconish

Using the perfect blend of analysis and humor, Michael Smerconish delivers engaging, thought-provoking, and balanced dialogue on today’s political arena and the long-term implications of the polarization in politics. In addition to his acclaimed work as nationally syndicated Sirius XM Radio talk show host, newspaper columnist, and New York Times best-selling author, Michael Smerconish hosts CNN’s Smerconish, which airs live on Saturday at 9:00 am ET.


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