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15 Feb, 2023 14:10

Andrey Sushentsov: Here’s why Ukraine’s Zelensky wants a long war with Russia

The Ukrainian leader has shown no interest in seeking a peace deal with Moscow, and it’s all part of a big gamble
Andrey Sushentsov: Here’s why Ukraine’s Zelensky wants a long war with Russia

It is unlikely that President Vladimir Zelensky expects to win militarily. But it seems that he genuinely believes that he will succeed in turning Ukraine into something like Israel - a paramilitary state living with a sense of constant military threat.

Ukraine doesn’t have the military or economic resources of its own to achieve victory, and the resources provided by the West will never be enough to inflict a final defeat on Russia. Zelensky's calculation is likely based on the belief that by offering Ukraine as a tool for NATO to use against Russia, he will constantly mobilize Western support and thereby ensure his own survival, and that of his associates. 

In the worst-case scenario, as he sees it, Zelensky is probably counting on emigrating to the West with his closest associates, where they will advocate a continued policy of Russian containment. But does he care about the interests of ordinary people in Ukraine?

The unprecedented hardships of war that the country now faces could have been significantly reduced if Zelensky had been willing to settle the crisis diplomatically. Russia has repeatedly taken diplomatic initiatives to resolve this conflict. In the first phase, for example, negotiations took place in Belarus and Turkey. However, under the influence of the US and the UK, Kiev has set a course to prolong the conflict, banking on Western military assistance to achieve its goals.

As Ukraine's own military and economic resources have dried up, the country has become increasingly dependent on Western supplies, and has ultimately become a tool to fight Russia. Nevertheless, Kiev still has the opportunity to begin talks with Moscow.

Zelensky could take the initiative to negotiate a status quo that is still comfortable for Ukraine. Of course, as the Russian military campaign progresses, the situation will change in ways that are far from favorable to Kiev. And the solutions put forward by the Russian delegation at the beginning of the crisis will no longer be on the table. However, there is still the possibility of a sustainable peace, with reduced risks of escalation into Europe's biggest military conflict since the Second World War and a nuclear catastrophe.

Zelensky could still claim the laurels of a peacemaker who sacrificed some of his personal ambition in the name of saving Ukrainian lives and ensuring a peaceful future for his country.

A truce would alleviate the economic difficulties of Kiev’s supporters in the West, and thus generate some gratitude. Ukraine would also save a considerable amount of its military resources. Peace would obviously limit them, as deliveries would dry up, but those resources in situ would still be at the disposal of the Ukrainian government.

Yet, Zelensky’s government acts as if it sees no value in preserving Ukrainian statehood. The administration is squandering citizens’ lives and the economic fabric of the country in the belief that this sacrifice is necessary to gain some possible, rather indefinite, advantage in the future. Instead of acting as a peacemaker, as someone who is prepared to make sacrifices to save the lives of his people, Zelensky acts like a gambler, while feeding the population military propaganda.

The unprecedented military, political and economic support Ukraine is receiving from abroad essentially covers up all of the mistakes by Zelensky's government. A strategy which is based on the axiom "war will pay for everything". At home, the militarist line has allowed the president to establish a political dictatorship and persecute his opponents in all spheres of state life, including religion. As a result, he has secured an unprecedented concentration of power in his hands and, for the first time in Ukrainian history, silenced all centers of opposition.

Zelensky need not worry about Ukraine's economic well-being in the short term: the foreign economic aid being handed to the Ukrainian government will suffice. Meanwhile, Kiev is still actively betting that Russia's $300 billion in foreign currency reserves, frozen in the West, will fall into its hands. What would amount to state-piracy would also allow it use the money as it sees fit.

As a result, Zelensky expects that even if he is defeated and loses part of his territory, he will remain in power as the military leader the West needs for the new Ukraine, which will be the main anti-Russian outpost on NATO’s eastern borders. One that will be armed to the teeth, saturated with Western economic aid and that will provide its citizens with an acceptable standard of living.

I believe that Zelensky is genuinely convinced he will succeed in turning Ukraine into something like Israel, a paramilitary state in a hostile environment, and living with a sense of constant military threat. I do not exclude the possibility that even in the worst-case scenario, where there is a complete collapse of his government, Zelensky expects to find himself and a group of his closest associates in exile in the West. Once there, they will actively advocate a continued policy of containment and defeat of Russia. History shows that this prospect has every chance of materializing.