Has the man lost his sense of reality? The Ukrainian army is in retreat in the Donbass. But shortly before the visit of Mario Draghi, Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz to Kyiv, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy issued the slogan: “Of course we will also liberate our Crimea.”
How should the leaders of the three strongest EU countries react to the announcement: “The Ukrainian flag will again fly over Yalta and Sudak, over Jankoy and Yevpatoria”?
Dreaming of retaking Crimea, where Russia has built robust defenses after its 2014 annexation, while Ukrainians cannot even hold the front lines in the east: what does Zelenskyy aim with an announcement so far removed from current reality?
Internally, the President must maintain hope that sacrifice and suffering are not in vain and that liberation can succeed. Externally, he would like to ask for more help. At the moment, that’s not even enough to prevent the Russians from advancing.
By mentioning Crimea, Zelenskyy is reminding his guests that they, too, have made Kiev’s control of the entire country a condition for a solution. Shouldn’t they also supply the necessary weapons?
But Scholz, Macron and Draghi also dream: of a negotiation path that is convenient for them and that spares them tough decisions.
Zelenskyy uses Crimea to ask the key question: how far does political will go, and what is just lip service?
111 days of war have taught us that the military situation depends directly on arms aid. Left alone, Ukraine cannot hold out for long. But Russia is not as strong as many thought before the attack.
With limited help, Ukraine was able to defend Kyiv and Kharkiv. The promised heavy weapons are now missing in the Donbass. The Russians advance slowly, destroying meter by meter with heavy artillery until there is nothing left.
If the US and Europe pursue the goal of driving Ukraine’s attackers out of all occupied territories: That would not be impossible, but it would require more help in terms of weapons, ammunition and training than they are able to provide.
It does not necessarily follow that the West needs to do more. However, it should be a conscious weighing of costs and benefits. Germans, Europeans and Americans must confess how they assess the war and its consequences for the geopolitical future.
More on the Ukraine war at Tagesspiegel Plus:
What do phrases like “Russia must not win the war” and “Ukraine must not lose the war” actually mean? Must the Russians be pushed back to the front lines before the start of the war on February 24th? Or withdraw from all of Ukraine, including Crimea?
Would a negotiated solution with further territorial losses be acceptable? He would also have to agree with Selenskyj. But he would have no choice if the West refused to provide another outcome through armed assistance.
How far the US and Europe should go depends on their strategic assessment: if Vladimir Putin’s Russia gains territory, would it take this as encouragement to launch the next attack after a few years of recovery to replenish ammunition stocks?
And would China deduce from this that it can risk incorporating Taiwan by force? If that is the analysis, the West should do everything possible to stop Putin now. And at the same time erecting a stop sign for Beijing. On the other hand, if Ukraine is viewed as a regional conflict, the outcome of which depends little for the peace order, one can also expect Ukraine to lose Crimea and Donbass. Or accept that Ukraine will turn into another “frozen conflict” with which Moscow does not gain control of the country but prevents it from being integrated into the West.
Scholz, Macron and Draghi should find an answer to the tough questions before they meet Selenskyj. They probably won’t.
Instead, choose the easy way out: Ukraine should become an official candidate for EU membership.
They do not clarify the essentials – in which borders and in which state between war and peace. But indecisiveness prolongs the war.