As predicted by a number of independent geopolitical commentators, including ourselves, the emerging official narrative on why Ukraine's counteroffensive ended in failure will be to falsely claim the West didn't provide "enough" weapons in a timely fashion. Despite the literally tens of billions of US taxpayer dollars sunk into Kiev's war effort at record-breaking pace and scale, it will be the "fault" of the United States and its allies—or at least this will be solidified as the Ukrainian government's perspective and narrative (and then will be parroted among Zelensky's most diehard hawkish supporters).
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has this week been busy advancing this as a key talking point, first telling CNN's Fareed Zakaria on Sunday his country "waited too long" to start counteroffensive. The reason? He blames the West for forcing his military leaders to wait so long for the necessary weaponry and equipment.
"We — look, we waited too long. It’s true. No, I’m thankful to partners, to the United States, EU, other partners," Zelensky said. "I’m thankful very much to President Biden and to Congress, but we have to understand: We waited too long, they put mines."
"Then when we been ready from the point of view of our partners because the decision to give us, for example, Bradley [Fighting Vehicles] and other kind of weapons, the decision, it doesn’t mean the result." And The Hill underscores of his remarks, "Zelensky noted that Ukraine does not get the weapons promised to it immediately after they are announced by allies." This is not the first time Zelensky has blamed slowness in supplies and training from his Western sponsors. But behind the scenes, his Western patrons have criticized him for being "ungrateful".
In late March, Zelensky when asked about why the counteroffensive was being delayed said that he can't "start yet" as he's unable to "send our brave soldiers to the front line without tanks, artillery and long-range rockets." And then in May he reasserted that "We can advance with what we’ve got and I think we can be successful but we will lose a lot of people, I think that is unacceptable." He had added at the time, "We need to wait, we need a bit more time." The offensive later belatedly kicked off in full force in June.
In another interview freshly published this week with US media, Zelensky took this theme of "blame the West" even further. In remarks to the Economist, he issued a thinly veiled threat to those countries thinking about curtailing aid in any way, warning that "millions of Ukrainian refugees in European countries" are capable of destabilizing the West.
Here's what Zelensky said as captured by the Economist interview published this week:
Curtailing aid to Ukraine will only prolong the war, Mr Zelensky argues. And it would create risks for the West in its own backyard. There is no way of predicting how the millions of Ukrainian refugees in European countries would react to their country being abandoned.
Ukrainians have generally "behaved well" and are "very grateful" to those who sheltered them. They will not forget that generosity. But it would not be a "good story" for Europe if it were to "drive these people into a corner".
A number of online commentators took note of his surprisingly open and aggressively accusatory rhetoric, saying he seems to be threatening Europe with terrorism if Ukraine doesn't get its way.
"Am I misreading this or is Zelenskyy actually threatening European countries with terrorism if they don't send the weapons he wants to Ukraine?" Arnaud Bertrand reacted. And Max Abrahms, a counterterrorism expert and professor of international relations had this to say...
Zelensky is now threatening that Ukrainian refugees will attack Europe if it doesn’t keep the gravy train running. pic.twitter.com/zKdPCiG3Gb— Max Abrahms (@MaxAbrahms) September 12, 2023
In the same interview Zelensky tripled down on prior repeat vows to never negotiate with Putin or to contemplate ceding territory. According to more from the Economist:
Tapping loudly on the table, Mr Zelensky rejects outright the idea of compromise with Vladimir Putin. War will continue for "as long as Russia remains on Ukrainian territory", he says. A negotiated deal would not be permanent. The Russian president has a habit of creating "frozen conflicts" on Russia’s borders (in Georgia, for example), not as ends in themselves but because his goal is to "restore the Soviet Union". Those who choose to talk to the man in the Kremlin are "tricking themselves", much like the Western leaders who signed an agreement with Adolf Hitler at Munich in 1938 only to watch him invade Czechoslovakia. "The mistake is not diplomacy. The mistake is diplomacy with Putin. He negotiates only with himself."
Perhaps this is precisely why defense officials in the West, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, have warned the public that the Ukraine war could last for "years".
Zelensky in the interview also hinted that societal transformation toward total war could be next:
Meanwhile, a long war of attrition would mean a fork in the road for Ukraine. The country would lose even more people, both on the front lines and to emigration. It would require a "totally militarized economy". The government would have to put that prospect to its citizens, Mr Zelensky says, without specifying how; a new social contract could not be the decision of one person. Almost 19 months into the war, the president says he is "morally" ready for the switch. But he will only broach the idea with his people if the weakness in the eyes of his Western backers becomes a "trend". Has that moment come? No, not yet, he says. "Thank God."
This marks an interesting acknowledgement that in many ways escalation is driven by perception and reputation based on being seen in the West as 'weak'.
Zelensky also rolled out the "either with us or against us" rhetoric of George W. Bush, notably in remarks widely circulated on 9/11 of all days...
Along with others, I've been pointing out what "pro-Russian" really means in Western discourse: any questioning of or dissent from the US/NATO policy of fueling the war in Ukraine.— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) September 11, 2023
In a new interview with @TheEconomist, Zelensky said this explicitly:https://t.co/QbwhBOBSdI pic.twitter.com/eLWrc7PsUm
Meanwhile, Zelensky's blunt remarks particularly about the possibility of refugees making life 'difficult' for Europe is likely to set the tone and example for many of his lower officials.
We can expect this inflammatory lashing out and these "warnings" directed at Europe and the US to grow. Already we have the spectacle of his foreign minister berating and dressing down the German FM in humiliating fashion, as we reported Monday...
Kuleba wipes his feet on Annalena Baerbock. When asked if she gave him any hope that Germany will supply Ukraine with Taurus missiles:— Olga Bazova (@OlgaBazova) September 11, 2023
"No, she didn't go beyond the official position of the German government... but you'll do it anyway, it's just a matter of time"
When will US, UK, and European leaders begin to say "enough is enough" when it comes to Zelensky's chastising, humiliating and threatening them?