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President Volodymyr Zelenskyy deserves our gratitude, not lectures
Patrick Asare -- Author of 'The Boy from Boadua' Patrick Asare -- Author of 'The Boy from Boadua'
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Wyomissing, PA
Sunday, July 16, 2023


On the second day of the 2023 NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, Britain’s defense secretary, Ben Wallace, and U.S. national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, reportedly made statements that raised some concerns about the continuity of NATO support for Ukraine in its war with Russia. According to press reports, Wallace and Sullivan suggested that Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy could show a bit more gratitude for the significant resources the U.S., the U.K., and their allies have provided Ukraine thus far. Wallace was quoted as saying that “Ukraine had a habit of treating allies as if they were an Amazon warehouse.”

The comments by Wallace and Sullivan followed Zelenskyy’s open expression of frustration that Ukraine had not received a clear timeline at the summit for its accession into NATO. Invitation of Ukraine to join the alliance had been a hotly discussed topic prior to the summit. Some member countries were in favor of immediate invitation, while others, notably the U.S., wanted to take a more cautious approach given that Ukraine is still at war.

Wallace’s statement about the U.K. not being an Amazon warehouse was primarily a response to Zelenskyy’s unrelenting demands for weapons to help his country defend itself against Russian aggression. To be fair, Wallace has consistently been one of the staunchest supporters of Ukraine. And his comments have to be taken in context. People are often mentally exhausted from sitting in such marathon, high-stakes meetings, and can be somewhat off-balance when they speak immediately afterwards. That could very well have been the case here. British prime minister Rishi Sunak later issued remarks that sought to downplay his defense secretary’s comments and diffuse the controversy.

Zelenskyy’s persistent requests for weapons is perfectly understandable. His country was attacked, unprovoked, by a neighborhood bully whose barbaric armed forces have proceeded to kill innocent Ukrainians indiscriminately. He is acting as a desperate parent whose children are in imminent danger and has to find any means he can to defend them. In response to the statements by Wallace and Sullivan, Zelenskyy said, correctly, that he has shown gratitude several times in the past for the assistance NATO countries have provided to his country.

In effect, the controversy was much ado about nothing. But the troubling aspect of it was the insinuation by Wallace and Sullivan that NATO is doing Ukraine a favor by providing defensive weapons and other resources. That couldn’t be further from the truth. To the contrary, Ukraine is the one doing every NATO member a favor.

It should be noted that the U.S. and the U.K., in particular, have an obligation to defend Ukraine from Russian aggression. They are the two countries that, after the breakup of the Soviet Union, convinced Ukraine to send its stockpile of nuclear weapons to Russia in exchange for security assurances. At the time, Ukraine was the third largest nuclear power in the world, behind only the U.S. and Russia. By giving up their nuclear weapons, Ukraine’s leaders knew that they were making themselves vulnerable to future Russian attacks. But American and British leaders assured them that they would come to their country’s defense if that occurred. The Americans and British essentially pressured Ukraine to give up its nuclear weapons as part of the broader nuclear nonproliferation goal they were pursuing at the time.

In his expression of unhappiness with Zelenskyy, Wallace asked him to bear in mind that there are politicians in America and Britain who have doubts about the worthiness of continued support for Ukraine. Wallace thought that a show of gratitude by Zelenskyy would help persuade some of those skeptical lawmakers.

Those were extremely disappointing words coming from the defense secretary. No politician in America or Britain needs to be convinced of the need to defeat Russia in Ukraine. If anyone doesn’t understand that, they are the ones who need to be lectured, not Zelenskyy.

It should be crystal clear, to anyone who is paying attention, that there is an existential battle going on in the world today between democracy and autocracy. There is no shortage of autocrats around the world who want to dismantle the existing rules-based world order and replace it with something modeled after autocratic form of rule. Those who cherish freedom must know that the war in Ukraine represents a critical test of the Western alliance’s resolve—its willingness to do what it takes to defend democracy.

As Russian forces encircled Ukraine in early 2022 and it became clear that Putin was going to order a full-scale invasion, President Biden reportedly offered to evacuate Zelenskyy from Kyiv. Not one to abandon the ordinary Ukrainians he had sworn an oath to lead and protect, Zelenskyy rejected the offer with the immortal words: “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.”

Even before Bucha, Mariupol, Kramatorsk, Bakhmut, and the countless locations across Ukraine where Russian soldiers have committed unspeakable atrocities, Zelenskyy knew more about Russian savagery than perhaps anyone. If Russian forces had managed to march unimpeded to Kyiv in February 2022, he would likely have been captured, tortured, and probably killed. Despite that mortal danger to his life, and that of his family, he chose to stay in Kyiv.

Moreover, if Putin had succeeded in conquering Ukraine within days, as he anticipated, the West would probably not have done much more than imposing sanctions on Russia. Xi Jinping’s forces would most likely be on the move to subjugate Taiwan by now—or preparing to do so. And autocrats everywhere would have been emboldened to act with the impunity they love to showcase. By his brave stance, and the heroic resistance that Ukrainian soldiers and civilians have put up, Zelenskyy and his compatriots have done the world a huge favor. For those of us who like to live in freedom, they have bought us precious time that we must use wisely to fortify our defenses against the menacing world order that the despots so desperately want to establish.

Zelenskyy has absolutely earned the right to demand weapons from NATO to defend his people and his country. And he is entitled to do that as loudly and as frequently as he deems necessary. No one should lecture him. Those who need education are the British and American politicians who don’t seem to understand what is at stake in Ukraine. Wallace and Sullivan should focus their attention on them.

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