Speaking in English, Zelensky said democratic nations and their leaders must look beyond their borders.
“It is not enough to be the leader of the nation,” he said. “Today takes to be the leader of the world. Being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace.”
This was a direct charge to Biden, who has framed his entire presidency as a fight between democracies like the US and Ukraine against autocracies like Russia.
“Nobody knows whether it may have already started. And what is the possibility of this war if Ukraine will fall, in case Ukraine will?” he asked, drawing a connection between today and the start of World War II.
What Zelensky wants
Zelensky read off a list of things Americans can do to stand up for his democracy — and democracy in general.
One need is a nonstarter
No-fly zone. It’s not going to happen, since American officials say it would trigger world war III. And military experts question whether it will actually help in the war, as most of Russia’s attacks are from the ground. But Zelensky keeps returning to this idea.
“President Biden needs to make a decision TODAY: either give Ukraine access to the planes and anti-aircraft defense systems it needs to defend itself, or enforce a no-fly zone to close Ukrainian skies to Russian attacks,” Scott said in a statement.
Other needs are works in progress
Missile defense systems. Aside from the no-fly zone, Zelensky specifically mentioned Soviet-made S-300 air defense missile systems.
One need is not entirely clear
There is growing support on Capitol Hill for the aircraft and missile systems.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said he’ll introduce a resolution pushing the White House to make it happen.
“So the bottom line is, while a NATO no-fly zone seems to be a bridge too far for me and the administration, there is bipartisan support for sending a package that includes fighter jets and air defense systems to the Ukraine immediately, so that we can have a Ukrainian no-fly zone manned by Ukrainian pilots and manned by missile systems in the hands of the Ukrainian military,” Graham told reporters Wednesday on Capitol Hill.
But Biden dodged a question about the MiG trade.
“I’m not going to comment on that right now. I’m not going to comment now on anything other than what I’ve told you today,” he said to reporters.
New world order
Besides Zelensky’s eloquence, even through a translator, in appealing directly to Americans’ sense of democracy and freedom, I was particularly interested in his proposal for a new world order.
“The war of the past have prompted our predecessors to create institutions that should protect us from war, but they unfortunately don’t work,” Zelensky said. He was probably referring to NATO, which won’t send troops to protect nonmember Ukraine, and the United Nations, which can’t get past Russia’s veto power on the Security Council.
“We see it, you see it, so we need new ones, new institutions, new alliances, and we offer them,” Zelensky said.
A retreat from NATO
Zelensky’s acknowledgment could be entree to more constructive peace talks with Russia.
A big idea instead
But Zelensky called for a new association: “U-24 united for peace, a union of responsible countries that have the strength and consciousness to stop conflicts immediately, provide all the necessary assistance in 24 hours, if necessary, even weapons if necessary, sanctions, humanitarian support, political support, finances, everything you need to keep the peace and quickly save the world, save lives.”
In addition, he said it could help react to “natural disasters” (earthquakes?), “man-made disasters” (climate change?) and epidemics like Covid-19.
If Russia’s invasion has essentially broken the old world system — it has at least tested the sovereignty of nations — Zelensky’s idea is indeed interesting.
Big ideas don’t happen overnight, however, especially during a war. Bookmark this one to see if people are still talking about it in the future.
Bigger than NATO
So much of the reporting on Putin’s motivations around Ukraine has revolved around NATO. But we may come to learn that Putin’s opposition to Ukraine joining NATO was a smokescreen. He really opposes flourishing democracies near his borders, according to Ivo Daalder, former US ambassador to NATO, who appeared on CNN after Zelensky’s speech.
“(Putin) wants to control Ukraine so it doesn’t become a vibrant democracy, so it doesn’t become part of the European family of nations,” Daalder said, arguing that is the real threat to Putin.
Ironically, Putin’s invasion has resulted in a more unified Europe, but at the expense of so much in Ukraine.
Certainly a new world era
Sen. Jack Reed told CNN’s John King that we are entering uncharted geopolitical territory, something more complicated than the ’80s or ’90s, since China and Russia will both be significant nuclear powers. He didn’t mention it, but both China and Russia want to extend their influence beyond their borders.
“This is the first time in the history of the world where we’ll have a trilateral nuclear situation,” the Rhode Island Democrat said.