December 25, 2022

Zelensky Channels Churchill, Putin Channels Hitler, and Trumpists Channel Lindbergh

by Hal Gershowitz

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So, Russia has been at it for almost a year, ever since Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine with men, missiles, and misinformation.

It was to be a Putin blitzkrieg designed to bring the Ukrainian people and their popular President, Volodymyr Zelensky, swiftly to heel. It hasn’t worked out that way. Ukraine and its young President, like Great Britain and its not-so-young Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, eighty-two years ago, have been determined to fight for their country, to fight Putin and his unprovoked brutal invasion. And fight they have.

Russia, today, has no legitimate claim to Ukraine, and Russia punctuated that reality nearly thirty years ago when it signed the 1994 Budapest Accords. That agreement explicitly recognized Ukrainian independence, in return for which Ukraine shipped its considerable nuclear stockpile to the Russian Federation. Given that the United States and Great Britain were also signatories to that agreement, we have a strong moral imperative, if not a binding pact, to stand by Ukraine.

At the time Russia made that commitment to recognize the independence of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin was but the first Deputy Head of Administration for the City of Saint Petersburg, so he may feel no obligation to honor the commitment his nation made to the people of Ukraine.

Then, again, some politicians and bloviators here in America are equally dismissive of the assurances our country committed to when it signed the Budapest Agreement. Now, for sure, the Budapest Agreement was not a mutual defense pact that committed the United States to fight on behalf of the Ukrainian People. It simply committed us and the other signatories, Russia and Great Britain, to recognize Ukraine as a free and independent nation. The Ukrainian People also affirmed that reality in referenda in which independence was universally chosen by the Ukrainian people over affiliation with Russia by substantial margins in every voting district in the country, including the Russian-speaking regions bordering Russia.

Most officials here in America, left, right, and center, understand that we have a moral commitment and a solid self-interest to support Ukraine’s fight to stay free. Most, but not all.

Of the 213 Republican members of the House of Representatives, only 86 bothered to attend President Zelensky’s address to the joint session this week. Not surprisingly, many high-profile Republicans, such as Marjorie Taylor Greene and Josh Hawley, were among those who chose to skip the address. Some who did attend, such as Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan, Warren Davidson, and others, apparently decided in advance to remain seated during the standing ovation accorded Zelensky upon the conclusion of a genuinely historic address to Congress.

Many isolationists have never warmed up to America’s foreign policy commitments. Some understandably cringe at the extent of our obligations to stand with the democracies of the world. Some are just plain myopic and embrace a fortress America mentality. They comprise what might be called the Lindbergh wing of the Republican Party that feels no imperative to stand with democratic nations facing threats from authoritarian regimes. They simply identify with regimes governed by strongmen rather than a gaggle of men and women who labor to make democracy work.

Then there are the political katzenjammers, the Trumpsters, such as Big Don, little Don, and the throngs who seem far more comfortable with the Putins of the world than the democracies governed by constitutions with rules and guardrails.

But here’s the thing. America’s interests lie with the people of Ukraine and not the people of the Kremlin. That’s because Ukraine’s interests are far more aligned with ours. That’s also true of all the nations that never stopped looking westward, even when the west abandoned them at the end of the Second World War. Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, and others are closely watching the war in Ukraine because they know perfectly well that they will be in Putin’s crosshairs should he get away with his aggression in Ukraine. And they, unlike we in America, understand the vulnerability small nations have when they share their neighborhood with a thug running a thugocracy.

There is, of course, another reason why America should stand with Ukraine and its leader, Volodymyr Zelinsky. Everyone who hasn’t contemplated the reality of Putin literally gunning for Zelensky, raise your hand. It is only spoken about in hushed tones because that’s the way we deal with the reality of good men who become dead men walking.

Putin has a long memory, and perhaps it’s a coincidence, but people who aggravate Vladimir Putin enough invariably seem to wind up either dead or whisked off to gulag oblivion. Does anyone remember seeing Alexei Navalny lately? How about Boris Nemtsov, who in 2015 was gunned down near the Kremlin for organizing protests against Russia’s prior military aggression against Ukraine? And then there was Sergei Magnitsky, the lawyer who worked for American investor William Browder and was beaten to death in Russian custody after he began investigating the involvement of officials in a massive fraud case. Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky was found dead, hanged inside a locked bathroom at his home in the United Kingdom, after he accused the Kremlin of arranging to kill Alexander Litvinenko, a former intelligence official who became one of Russia’s rare whistleblowers. The list of those Putin critics whose lives ended under mysterious circumstances is long and chilling. Is there anyone, anyone at all, who doubts what Putin’s plans are for President Zelensky?

And let’s face it. Putin has his admirers here in America, just as other tyrants have been coddled by American politicians who embrace the efficiency of totalitarianism compared to the hard work of democracy.

And so, every calumny imaginable has been hurled at Ukrainian President Zelensky by the Putin caucus in Congress and the authoritarian bobbleheads in far-right cable and social media. Political neophyte Volodymyr Zelensky is standing up to strongman Vladimir Putin, and it is driving them crazy.

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