Zelensky seems increasingly erratic as standoff drags on

Eduardo Munoz/Pool Photo via AP

We’re now into day five of what was supposed to be the Russian invasion of Ukraine, at least according to reports from intelligence analysts released by the White House. And yet, aside from some sporadic fighting out in the eastern provinces (which have had an unofficial war dragging on since 2014) and some shelling along the border regions, any actual invasion activity seems to be at a minimum. But that hasn’t stopped Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky from making the rounds and talking up a storm. Yesterday he was in Munich for meetings with various people including Kamala Harris. Despite the flurry of activity, troop movements and aid shipments designed to assist his country, the former comedian seemed to complain that the west isn’t doing enough to help him.


So what more does he want? Zelensky would like to see all NATO countries publicly publish the full list of sanctions they will impose on Russia if Putin invades. (CNN)

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said Saturday sanctions on Russia should be made public before a possible invasion of Ukraine occurs, as tensions between western nations and Russia continue to intensify.

Zelensky told CNN’s Chief International Anchor in a one-on-one interview at the Munich Security Conference that he disagreed with the stance that sanctions should only be listed after a potential Russian invasion takes place.

“The question of just making it public … just the list of sanctions, for them, for us, to know what will happen if they start the war — even that question does not have the support,” he told CNN.

Zelensky went on to tell CNN that the sanctions would be of no use to Ukraine “after we will have no borders, or after we will have no economy.” He clearly feels that a full list of sanctions might do more to scare Putin off.

Meanwhile, there were a few diplomats at the Munich meeting who were calling for some sanctions to be imposed on Russia right now, before the invasion even begins, assuming it’s going to happen at all. That didn’t sit well with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who would prefer to “keep Putin guessing.” (CNBC)


German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Saturday rejected calls from Ukraine’s president to sanction Russia now, saying that Moscow should not be sure “exactly” how the West will respond to a potential invasion.

Speaking to CNBC’s Hadley Gamble at Germany’s annual Munich Security Conference, Scholz said that Western allies were “well prepared” to sanction Russia — and quickly — if it were to invade Ukraine. But he said that such measures should remain a last resort in the hopes finding of a peaceful resolution to ongoing tensions.

It seems to me that Scholz is on the right track here. Imposing sanctions preemptively pretty much undermines the entire “carrot and stick” approach to negotiations. The horse won’t be very interested in the carrot if it’s already being beaten with the stick. Sanctioning Putin now really just gives him an excuse to say, ‘Oh, you’re already sanctioning me anyway, so I might as well go ahead and invade.’

There is one other thing that doesn’t seem to have been tried yet. There’s been a steady convoy of world leaders going back and forth to Moscow to speak with Putin, then traveling to Kyiv to talk with Zelensky. Has anyone suggested setting up a new summit so the two of them can talk together directly? During his meeting in Germany, Zelensky finally put that idea out on the table.


Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, facing a sharp spike in violence in and around territory held by Russia-backed rebels and increasingly dire warnings that Russia plans to invade, on Saturday called for Russian President Vladimir Putin to meet him and seek resolution to the crisis.

“I don’t know what the president of the Russian Federation wants, so I am proposing a meeting,” Zelenskyy said at the Munich Security Conference, where he also met with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris. Zelenskyy said Russia could pick the location for the talks.

I’m all in favor of that idea, assuming Putin is interested. But shouldn’t this have happened months ago? Moscow didn’t immediately comment on the offer, which probably isn’t a good sign. And in reality, it’s hard to see what benefit Putin would see in meeting with the Ukrainian president. Unless Zelensky is willing to put in writing an assurance that Ukraine will never even apply for NATO membership, he probably doesn’t have much else to offer. And that would be problematic since Zelensky is constitutionally bound to try to join the alliance.

It currently looks as if there is a lot going on in Ukraine, but what we’re seeing is primarily posturing. Yes, it could flare up into a major military conflict at any time, it’s true. But there really hasn’t been a line crossed yet that both sides would be unable to walk back from.


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