Saturday. 26/2/2022

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

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News update / Ukraine

Figures of power

The extent to which individuals drive world-shaping events is endlessly disputed by historians (writes Andrew Mueller). But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has furnished some affirmation of the idea that the right person in the right place at the right time can make a difference. It has been quite the compare-and-contrast study in leadership.

Glowering somewhere in (one assumes) the Kremlin is Russia’s president Vladimir Putin, a rusted-on tyrant whose apparent detachment from reality has been cartoonishly illustrated by recent photographs showing him only willing to address even his closest associates from the other end of a ballroom. Out and about in still-unconquered Kyiv, and on social media to prove it, is Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky (pictured), who as recently as three years ago was starring in a sitcom.

The military battle for Ukraine may have some time left to run; reports today suggested that Ukrainian forces continued to hold the country’s major cities as they faced down Russia’s assault from all directions. But the media war is over, and Zelensky and Ukraine have won it. Zelensky’s reported retort to an American offer of evacuation – “I need ammunition, not a ride” – will be the chorus of a folk song.

In today’s special live edition of The Foreign Desk, we heard from Ukrainian MP Lesia Vasylenko, Russia analyst Mark Galeotti and retired British general Richard Shirreff, Nato’s former deputy supreme allied commander for Europe. Russian journalist Ekaterina Kotrikadze – from independent broadcaster TV Rain, which was obliged by the Putin regime to declare itself a foreign agent – spoke to us from Moscow. All know their fields too well to make sweeping generalisations or confident predictions – but all had thoughts on what to watch over coming hours and days.

Vasylenko was certain that Ukraine’s government would stand its ground and that the country stood united; as an opposition MP, she said, she had frequently disagreed with president Zelensky but over the past few days he “has proven himself to be a real national leader”. She also reiterated Zelensky’s pleas for meaningful military help from Ukraine’s fellow democracies. Shirreff, however, said that this would be an immensely consequential undertaking: imposing a no-fly zone over Ukraine, as has been suggested, would mean being willing to shoot down Russian aircraft and to accept the escalation that might result. In Russia, Kotrikadze spoke of the fear now enveloping people – even, perhaps especially, the thousands of Russians brave enough to make their opposition public. And as for its seething leader, Galeotti noted that Putin is likely to be listening to a smaller and smaller cabal of yes-men; 20-plus years of untrammelled power rarely make a person more reasonable.

Listen to Monocle 24 throughout the weekend for regular updates on Ukraine and tune in to ‘Monocle on Sunday’ at 09.00 London time for additional perspectives on the crisis tomorrow.


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