But it turns out the former TV comedian is the one who really stands up for his nation – and leads an intense resistance to an overwhelming Russian invading force. Very often, conflicts see new leaders taking over. Such was the case for the Union Army during the American Civil War, where President Abraham Lincoln had to go through a variety of generals on the parade ground until he found Ulysses S. Grant. During World War II, peacetime officers gave way to wartime leaders like General Dwight D. Eisenhower and Admiral Chester Nimitz.
As Zelenskiy fights a desperate fight against an implacable enemy, we see a remarkable new warlord enter the scene. What can the West do to help?
Zelenskiy successfully used all the communication skills he acquired as an interpreter. His ability to turn a one-liner into an inspirational quote is remarkable. When NATO countries urged him to leave his capital, Kyiv, in the days before the invasion, offering transport to the relative safety of Lviv in the far west of Ukraine, he said: “I need ammunition, not a ride.
When Moscow’s propaganda machine declared that Ukrainian troops would lay down their weapons, Zelenskiy warned the Russian invaders: “You will see our faces, not our backs. Friends of Ukraine should capitalize on his inspirational appearances, magnify them on social media, and contrast his bold and truthful comments with the lies coming from Russia.
In addition to his words, his physical presence has been essential – appearing in the media from Kyiv to demonstrate that he is not running away. Immediately after the invasion, he ditched his business suits in favor of hunting-type gear, a powerful symbolic shift. This is an effective approach, although he must be careful to balance the reward in terms of morale with the risk of being captured or killed. The West should provide him with the highest quality intelligence, cyber surveillance, high-tech communications equipment, and reliable ground transportation to keep him socially connected and ahead of the Russians.
Zelenskiy also proved to be a quick learner of the logistics of war. NATO and the EU can best help by providing a tsunami of combat material. We should have sent many more over the past few years, but there is still time to get additional Javelin anti-armour and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to the Ukrainians. They will also need massive amounts of small and medium caliber ammunition, communications equipment, cold weather tactical gear, medical supplies, fuel and military rations.
Fortunately, Lviv is positioned on the border with Poland, a staunch member of NATO with its own bad history with the Russian military. If Zelenskiy has to make a tactical retreat with a government in exile, he can settle in Lviv with the option of crossing the border, where thousands of American and Polish troops will ensure that no Russian assassination squad finds ” target number one. as Zelenskiy himself described it.
Zelenskiy also correctly sees the twin Achilles heels of the Russians – logistics and combat losses.
Russia will have her hands full to consolidate her victory in this invasion, even with overwhelming air superiority. Trying to attack on four separate axes, as the Russians did, split their forces and compromised their logistical support. An old military adage says that sometimes attacking anywhere means attacking nowhere.
Another old saw is that amateurs study strategy, but professionals study logistics. In this sense, the Russian campaign plan seems a bit amateurish; fuel shortages are already a problem. Anything the West can do to complicate Russian logistics — including crippling sanctions that will slow down Russian economic options — will improve Zelenskiy’s hand.
Ukrainian resistance is stiffening, even in pro-Russian enclaves in the east, and Ukrainians know they are fighting for their children, parents and spouses – indeed, for freedom itself. According to Ukrainian accounts, more than 4,000 Russians were killed in action in just a few days – a staggering number, if not close to correction. In the 20 years of the Afghan war, the United States had just under 2,000 combat deaths.
If the Ukrainians can continue to inflict high level casualties, protests will increase in Russia and the resolve of Moscow’s troops in Ukraine – many of whom are believed to be conscripts and mercenaries – will fade. Zelenskiy knows this is the key to persuading Putin to stop the attacks and come to the negotiating table. (Russia did not appear to take Monday’s initial talks seriously, sending only low-level officials, including Putin’s former culture minister.)
Volodymyr Zelenskiy proves to be a brave, tenacious and innovative warlord of his battered nation. I would gladly go into battle alongside him. But the West must do more to create the conditions for the success of its unlikely resistance effort.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Editorial Board or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.
James Stavridis is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is a retired US Navy Admiral and former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, and Dean Emeritus of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He is also Chairman of the Board of the Rockefeller Foundation and Vice President of Global Affairs for the Carlyle Group. His latest book is “2034: A Novel of the Next World War”.