Zelensky’s ego is cashing checks Ukraine can’t afford


President Volodymyr Zelensky again showed the more problematic side to his otherwise impressive wartime leadership on Thursday. Namely, his penchant for putting ego and emotion before Ukraine’s diplomatic priorities.

In an interview with ABC News, Zelensky blamed the U.S. and other world powers for the Russian offensive against Ukraine’s northeastern bastion city of Kharkiv. Asked the somewhat odd question as to whether he believed the U.S. was to blame for the Russian offensive, Zelensky responded, “It’s the world’s fault, they gave the opportunity for Putin to occupy. But now the world can help.” Asked about American voter concerns over aid spending, Zelensky argued, “That money is not given to Ukraine. It’s money spent in American factories, creating American jobs. … And we are not just fighting for our freedom. If not Ukraine, it would be another country.” ABC’s reporter referenced Zelensky as having a broader “sense of frustration” in terms of Western support.

Some of that frustration is understandable. That’s especially true when it comes to the failure of Western governments to match the recent U.K. decision to allow Ukraine to use its weapons inside Russia. It’s also obvious that Zelensky laments the Biden administration’s penchant for using media leaks to test reactions over the prospective delivery of new weapons instead of simply delivering them. The problem for Zelensky is that frustration goes both ways. Criticizing America while failing to take responsibility for his own failures, Zelensky undermines the otherwise deeply compelling American interest in providing Ukraine with continued aid.

True, Zelensky has a strong argument when he says that Ukraine deserves support because Russia will threaten America’s NATO allies in Eastern Europe if Ukraine fails. That must not happen. Over a longer-term basis, this threat of expansive Russian aggression is very real. That said, Zelensky’s claim that U.S. aid to Ukraine is being spent in “American factories, creating American jobs” is disingenuous and he knows it. Yes, some U.S. aid is being spent to reconstitute depleted weapons stocks previously sent to Ukraine. But that hardly constitutes a major “made in America” jobs campaign.

Moreover, Zelensky is well aware that the U.S. has sent tens of billions of dollars to Kyiv to support Ukraine’s budget and refugee challenges. The oft-media-referenced Kiel Institute underplays this fact because it is German government funded and wishes to color EU support for Ukraine as excessive in contrast to that of the U.S. (And because, unlike the U.S., the Europeans do not deliver much of that which they pledge.) But even the Kiel Institute provides some insight into how much U.S. aid has gone to Ukraine without benefiting the U.S. economy.

Ignoring this reality rather than simply thanking America for it, Zelensky only risks fueling American antipathy toward Ukraine. Again, whatever one thinks of that antipathy, it is an undeniable reality. This is especially true on the Right. In turn, Zelensky should recognize that fueling antipathy is bad for Ukraine.

The problem is that this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Zelensky’s lack of gratitude. The comedian turned president has variously offended Ukraine’s most resolute partners with his outbursts, including Poland and the U.K. Sometimes his offenses have been gratuitous in their stupidity. The former British defense minister was so frustrated by Zelensky’s lack of gratitude that he once told Ukrainian officials, “I’m not Amazon.” A similar challenge appears when Zelensky complains about NATO accession timeline for Ukraine, failing to recognize that accession is impossible while Ukraine is still at war.

At the same time, Zelensky appears loath to recognize his own failings. For one, his autocratic approach to governing has overly isolated him from effective advice and democratic accountability. Zelensky must also take heavy responsibility for Ukraine’s failure to mobilize sufficient combat troops and ensure leadership accountability from Cabinet ranks down to brigade commanders. And while Ukraine is taking steps to address corruption, these remain inadequate in scale. When a corruption scandal breaks that pertains to misuse of U.S. funds, and eventually it will, Zelensky’s hesitant prior action will weaken his ability to point out that this corruption is the exception rather than the rule. He will thus have fueled Russian propaganda narratives targeting already aid-skeptical U.S. voters and will have undermined Ukraine’s own interests. All because of ego.


Zelensky should take note of another wartime leader facing fearful odds, Winston Churchill. Zelensky takes a positive example from Churchill’s resolution and deserves great credit for it. But he ignores another of Churchill’s key leadership tenets. Namely, Churchill’s ability to detach his ego from his pursuit of national needs. That allowed Churchill to quickly consolidate American support for the U.K. after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and thus secure the priority defeat of Nazi Germany. If, in December 1941, Churchill had brought Congress his complaints rather than his charm, the U.K. would have suffered for it.

In the same way, Zelensky should recognize his ego is cashing checks that his country cannot afford.

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