Zelensky: We'll accept status quo ante rather than fight in Donbas

Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP

This is an interesting concession on the cusp of Volodymyr Zelensky’s petition to the United Nations. The heroic, embattled president of Ukraine plans to demand action from the UN over the extensive war crimes committed by Russia so far, and likely far more left to be exposed as Vladimir Putin retreats.


Even so, Zelensky appears to have a rational view on what would constitute success for the Ukrainian resistance:

There hasn’t been any other report on that quasi-concession, but the Kyiv Independent is not a hostile media outlet. It has been defiant to the Russian invaders and their propagandists all along. If Zelensky wanted to signal terms for a settlement based on the February 23 status quo ante, the Kyiv Independent would make for a natural outlet to amplify that point.

Besides, it makes sense militarily and politically. Ukrainian forces got pushed out of Luhansk-Donetsk eight years ago by Russian-backed militias supplied by Moscow, not to mention out of Crimea by Russia’s own military. They have had eight years to invest those positions, and the higher percentage of ethnic Russians in that population means that Ukrainian forces run a higher risk in losing their home-field advantage, so to speak. Most if not all observers gave Zelensky little chance of resisting the Russian invasion, but Ukraine turned out to be a lot tougher than anyone expected and the Russians a lot worse, so perhaps Zelensky might be tempted to see if he can run Putin completely out of Ukraine, but that’s probably only going to be an option of last resort — a position into which Putin will have to push Zelensky.


Of course, this comes at the same time that Putin is re-characterizing his “special military operation” as aimed at the liberation of Donbas rather than annihilating Ukraine — at least for international consumption. Domestically, Putin’s propaganda machine still operates at full genocidal tilt. That could make this signal from Zelensky a way to expose Putin on the international stage by ostensibly conceding what Putin claims to want to win. If Putin refuses it, then isn’t it obvious that Putin’s really seeking genocide rather than address any real grievances?

Speaking of exposing Putin, that’s exactly what Zelensky wants the UN to do:

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is preparing to address the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday after warning that newly uncovered atrocities following the withdrawal of Russian forces near Kyiv could be worse than those in the city of Bucha, where he said more than 300 civilians have been tortured or killed. …

The U.S. and European Union have said they would assist Ukrainian authorities in gathering evidence and Mr. Zelensky turned to the theme in his customary late-night address, accusing Russia of attempting to cover up evidence of alleged war crimes in other parts of Ukraine. “Probably, now the occupiers will try to hide the traces of their crimes,” Mr. Zelensky said. “They didn’t do this in Bucha when they retreated. But in another area it is possible.”

“It is now 2022. And we have much more tools than those who prosecuted the Nazis after World War II,” he said. …

Mr. Zelensky is expected to raise accusations of war crimes again in his first address to the U.N. Security Council since the war began. “I would like to emphasize that we are interested in the most complete, transparent investigation, the results of which will be known and explained to the entire international community,” he said in his late-night address, released in the early hours of Tuesday.

Vassily Nebenzia, the Russian representative to the United Nations, said in a Monday night press conference that Russia intends to present “factual evidence” to the Security Council that the killings in Bucha were unfairly blamed on the Russian army.


What will the UN do about it? Probably not much; Russia will veto any initiative in the Security Council, and the General Assembly is a debate society at best. The latter could kick Russia off the Human Rights Council, a move backed by the US as well:

The United States plans to seek a vote this week to suspend Russia from its seat on the U.N.’s top human rights body, pointing to increasing signs that Russian troops may have committed war crimes in Ukraine, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said Monday.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield made the call for Russia to be stripped of its seat on the Human Rights Council in the wake of reports over the weekend about violence against civilians in the town of Bucha, near the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, after Russian forces pulled out. The reports have sparked a wave of outrage and condemnation against Russia.

“We believe that the members of the Russian forces committed war crimes in Ukraine, and we believe that Russia needs to be held accountable,” Thomas-Greenfield said at a news conference in Romania’s capital, Bucharest.

Yeah, well, that’s not exactly a chilling rebuke. The UNHRC membership includes such leading luminaries on human rights as Cuba, Sudan, Pakistan, and China, which is currently conducting a genocide of its own against the Uyghurs. The US recently rejoined after the Trump administration left in disgust over the composition of the UNHRC.

Zelensky’s address today aims at strengthening the fortitude of the West, not seeking actual results from the UN. He knows better than to expect anything from the global body, but at the very least he can still humiliate Putin. In fact, he can humiliate Putin simply by showing up. And will.


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