Last Sunday’s 60 Minutes included yet another segment on the leadership of Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the war in Ukraine. According to 60 Minutes, when Zelenskyy announced he would not leave Kyiv, the Ukrainian people united behind him, and the Russian invasion was doomed. It was an upbeat message, communicated not by Zelenskyy, who was interviewed for the segment, but by CBS News reporter Scott Pelley. I struggled to watch the piece through its conclusion.
I share the widespread admiration for Zelenskyy and the efforts of the Ukrainian people to date in fighting the Russians, but the war is not over. As I watched praise being heaped on the Ukrainian president, I thought about how quickly things might change. Forgive me for saying it, I thought about what might happen if Russia mounts a major new offensive or introduces chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons. And what if Russia succeeds in murdering Zelenskyy?
Later Sunday evening, I read about the eight-mile-long convoy of fresh troops and tanks heading to Donbas. I also watched U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson touring bomb sites in Kyiv. Cynic that I sometimes am, I questioned Johnson’s motivations. Why was he there? Was it to bolster his image at home or to rally the Ukrainian people?
While Zelenskyy continues to plead for weapons, any assumption that Russia has been defeated is naïve and dangerous. It also can be embarrassing. Remember George W. Bush landing on an aircraft carrier and emerging from an airplane in a flight suit below a “Mission Accomplished” banner on June 5, 2003, regarding the Iraq war? Perhaps the best-remembered picture of Harry Truman is the 1948 photo of the President holding up a copy of the Chicago Daily Tribune with the headline, “Dewey Defeats Truman.”
Assuming that Ukraine is about to defeat Russia, or better stated, assuming that Russia has suffered a stinging defeat, risks America and other countries not giving Ukraine the support it needs to survive. That is why it is disturbing to see so many articles and other reports painting Zelenskyy as some sort of superman. I even read this in a Detroit Free Press editorial: “One thing is clear: However halting his English or casual his dress, Zelenskyy is the leader of the free world today. What remains to be seen is how far smaller politicians presiding over much larger nations will follow him.”
Notwithstanding Zelenskyy’s performance to date, it is premature to declare him the leader of anything other than Ukraine. And Ukraine’s future is far from certain.
So, what about President Biden and the U.S. government? To his credit, Biden has been judicious in his comments about Ukraine, about the issues associated with providing more weapons or implementing a no-fly zone, and about Russia. The one exception was Biden suggesting Putin be removed from power—a sentiment shared by many but nonetheless not wise to say given continuing reports of Putin’s “desperation” raising the risk of his using nuclear weapons.
Biden is to be commended for how he has handled Ukraine, but the most problematic decisions remain ahead. If Russia launches a new offensive, Ukraine will need to be resupplied. If Russia steps up attacks on civilian targets, as appears to be the case, Ukraine will need more sophisticated weapons to respond. And if Russia manages to turn the tide and start regaining territory, the U.S. will have to do something even more dramatic.
All this is to say that the war in Ukraine, despite the unexpected success of Zelenskyy’s forces in resisting Russia to date, is far from over. The worst is yet to come. Predictions that Russia wants to end the war and devise a means of withdrawing “with honor” have proven false. Putin appears to be strapping in for a long, drawn-out war.
So, let’s stop expressing amazement about how Russia was defeated and accept the reality that a year from now, the war may still be ongoing. The West must accept the reality that we have a 21st century Hitler on our hands. It is time to figure out what needs to be done to proclaim the true victory for Ukraine that the media and others have prematurely pronounced.
J.E. Dean is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, birds, and other subjects.