In 2015, Volodimir Zelensky was chosen to lead the cast of a series called “Servant of the People”. It was a comedy in which a school teacher managed to become president of Ukraine and fix a country plunged into an intense crisis: work for all, fight against corruption, defeat of the powers that be, etc. The curious thing about the series was that, released a year after the annexation of Crimea and in the midst of the fight for the territories of the Donetsk basin, it made no reference to Russia or the tense relationship between the two neighbors. Probably, the production company would also like to sell it across the border.
“Servant of the People” changed Zelensky’s life in too many ways. At 37 years old, he had participated in numerous low-budget films, he had been a scriptwriter for many others, he was a relatively common character on television as a monologist or as an actor in irreverent gags… but he was not a mass idol.
If we had to look for an equivalent in Western European politics, that would be beppe cricketthe founder of the 5 Star Movement, who came so close to winning the Italian elections in 2013 and would end up winning it in 2018, although with Luigi Di Maio as a candidate.
Perhaps because of the success of his series, perhaps because of the example of Grillo himself, perhaps because charismatic populism is the theme of our time, Zelensky ran for the 2019 presidential election without any prior political baggage. With a campaign based on denouncing government corruption Poroshenko and pulling on charisma and sympathy, Zelenski already got twice as many votes as his rival in the first round, to end up going over him in the second, with a 74.23% of votes, by far the highest percentage received by any candidate since the first free elections in 1991.
Zelensky, like so many leaders elected on those dates, had to face the first chance of a pandemic, the harassment of the pro-Russian media -“clown”, they like to call him- and, finally, the pressure of a Vladimir Putin who he knows where to spot a weakness and that he thought the jovial-looking man was just playing a role and would know how to rectify his policies as soon as it was hinted at. A colossal mistake. His resistance to threats, his constant presence in the front line of fire, his intelligent use of social networks to show the world that he is there, that he is alive and that he is not going to leave his country lying around have made him a great hero. of the nation and probably of the entire free world.
The leader who assumes consequences
This Saturday morning, in one of his videos having coffee with a group of soldiers in a protected and undetermined location in Kiev, Zelensky revealed that the United States had offered him the possibility of leaving the country. “I don’t need a ride, I need more ammunition,” the Ukrainian president joked with his improvised companions.
Nobody escapes the fact that the Ukrainian president could have been dead for days as soon as Russian intelligence had refined the shot. However, Russia does not want a martyr, it does not want a symbol that the Ukrainian people can cling to for decades.
Still, Zelensky’s struggle and courage are admirable. Admirable in a context in which, martyr or not, we all sense that he will end up shot or imprisoned. In the most serious hour, the actor has reacted at the height of his position and at the height of the historic occasion. As soon as the Taliban started rattling their Kalashnikovs at the entrance to Kabul, President Ashraf Ghani took his private plane and planted himself in Doha. The popular revolts in the so-called “Revolution of Dignity” ended with Putin’s puppet, Viktor Yanukovych, in Moscow, well fed and warm.
Zelensky has chosen the difficult path. The Allende road, if you will. Kiev will fall sooner or later and it will fall with him inside. They chose him for this, the comedian will think. He personally challenged the most powerful and savage man in Europe, accepted the risk of invasion, and knows that it is he, in the first person, who must bear the consequences. Every video of Zelensky resisting in Kiev is a message to his troops, a message to his citizens, and a message to the Kremlin. It is the message of a leader in the broad sense of the word. Someone who sets an example.
Lack of foresight?
All this makes a rational analysis of Zelensky’s management of the conflict very complicated. How can we not admire someone who is risking his life for the freedom of his people and that of so many other peoples that are threatened right now? However, the journalist’s work has to go beyond the eulogy and there is no choice but to point out certain shadows and qualify some of Zelenski’s decisions in recent weeks. A few weeks in which he has seemed overcome at all times, probably because he was.
Since it became known that Putin had placed more than 100,000 troops on the eastern border of Ukraine, the conviction of an imminent war swept the world. The United States said it loud and clear, to which Zelensky responded by asking please not to insist on that message, that there was still much to negotiate. It was a logical reaction because, in an ideal world, this type of alarmist news collapses markets, closes businesses, drives away tourists and increases panic among the population… The problem was that Ukraine no longer lived in that ideal world but rather under an all too obvious threat. how to ignore it.
In fact, every time Biden or Blinken announced Putin’s plans – with astounding precision – they forced him to delay them. There was some consensus in Western intelligence that the attack would take place during the second week of January. In the end, it has arrived in the last of February. That has given Ukraine a month and a half to prepare something resembling a defense. We know that the Ukrainian army has few means, but it is not without 900,000 reservists and a total of 1.2 million troops. Only Russia exceeds those numbers in all of Europe.
Maintaining a calm profile abroad could be understandable, but it is conceivable that this same calm has been a sin when facing the crisis in Ukraine itself. One of Biden’s last announcements, at a press conference in case anyone didn’t know, was that Putin was going for Kiev. Let them forget Donbas or Odessa or the Sea of Azov. The goal was Kiev and total war. Meanwhile, the journalists who traveled to the area kept repeating to us that everything was calm in the capital and that there was no sense of alertness there. Good weather and traffic jams to go to work.
a desperate reaction
For weeks, Ukraine behaved coldly in the negotiations – a point in its favor – but at the same time did not know how to put its clothes away. It is not logical that, twenty-four hours after the start of hostilities, in desperation, martial law is applied and the mobilization of all men between 18 and 60 years of age is ordered. It is not logical that the reservists were not mobilized until the very moment of the invasion. Preparation for war was interpreted as a sign of fear to be avoided, and the result has been disastrous.
The heroic appeals to urban resistance, to street-by-street struggle, denote a tremendous lack of organization. They are typical of the end of a war conflict and not of its beginning. The ease with which Russia took Chernobyl and from there it was planted in Kiev in a few hours is incompatible with the information that the United States was continuously giving to the Zelensky government. There were doubts about whether the Ukrainian army could cover all its borders, but in the end the feeling is that it has not covered any.
Nor does it seem that the president is being fair to his Western allies, although no one can blame him in this case. In fact, by repeating so much “you are not doing anything” or “you have left us alone” it is getting occasional support in the military field of the Baltic republics, Sweden or even Germany. Now, sometimes Zelensky abuses the easy, the ironic joke to humiliate the Draghi on duty when not needed.
No one has crossed their arms
The West is willing to sacrifice things for Ukraine. Many things. And it is logical that this is. He is willing to give up the precious gas, the precious petrodollars and to establish highly discussed sanctions because some understand that they harm both Russia and the European Union itself. Nobody here has crossed their arms or minimized the problem. weapons have been sent. Not all the ones that Ukraine needs, but all the ones that have been able to be mobilized urgently. NATO has reinforced the borders with Poland and Hungary to facilitate the flow of weapons and to help refugees as they arrive.
It is logical that Zelensky wants us to organize a World War III to defend Ukraine. Completely logical and we can all understand him, but it is not a requirement to be raised in moral terms. As a political option, I suppose that it is debatable and that it will be more so if things go wrong (recall again the case of Hitler and the Sudetenland), but, by accusing its allies so much, it gives the feeling that it places them in the same plane of guilt than Putin himself.
Now, the message is getting through, with that irrepressible tendency of Western citizens to blame themselves for everything that happens in the world and then change the channel. If moral blackmail serves for a greater commitment to the current situation or to draw up a joint plan against future contingencies, welcome. If someone were to ask Vladimir Putin right now who is the person he hates the most in the world, the Russian would undoubtedly say “Volodimir Zelensky.”
With its lights and shadows, that’s enough to win the sympathy and recognition of the planet. Each one plants face with what he has. Zelensky is offering his life, nothing more can be asked of him.
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