US hints at what would happen were Zelensky to be killed
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said on Sunday that the Ukrainian government has “plans in place” to ensure the “continuity of government” should President Volodymr Zelensky be killed. Zelensky insists he is still in Kiev, but western officials have already reportedly planned to set him up as a leader in exile.
“The Ukrainians have plans in place that I'm not going to talk about or get into any details on to make sure that there is what we would call continuity of government one way or another,” Blinken told CBS News when asked about the prospect on Sunday, adding “let me leave it at that.”
The US’ top diplomat then called Zelensky and his cabinet the “embodiment of these incredibly brave Ukrainian people.”
Blinken, President Joe Biden, and a broad array of NATO and Western leaders have offered Zelensky similar messages of support, as well as shipments of arms and humanitarian aid. However, decision makers in Washington and Europe have explicitly ruled out direct military intervention, and refused to implement a “no-fly zone.” The latter, which Zelensky has repeatedly requested, would see the US and NATO commit to shooting down Russian aircraft over Ukraine, a move that Moscow has said it would consider an act of war.
Although Zelensky’s military is receiving a steady stream of western weapons, Russia has been advancing through Ukraine in the 11 days since its forces first crossed the country’s borders. Some cities have been taken by Russian troops and others - including Kharkov, Mariupol, Volnovakha and Kiev - are currently encircled.
This encirclement has given rise to speculation that Zelensky might have already fled Kiev. While the president has appeared in nondescript surroundings during most of his recent video addresses, he released a video on Instagram on Friday purportedly shot in his Kiev office, saying that “nobody has fled anywhere.”
Despite Zelensky’s declared commitment to the fight, US officials have already brainstormed plans to extricate the Ukrainian leader. Days into the conflict, Zelensky was reportedly offered an evacuation from Kiev, which he said he refused. According to reports in multiple American news outlets over the weekend, Western officials have discussed supporting a possible Zelensky government in exile, as the Trump administration attempted to do with Venezeulan opposition leader Juan Guaido in 2019.
Plans mooted reportedly include Zelensky governing from the western Ukrainian city of Lvov, or from another European country. Some political figures in the US and Europe, most notably former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, have suggested supporting a possible Ukrainian insurgency against Russian forces in this evantuality.