Point-blank: Zelensky’s responsibility

Mohamed Salmawy
Tuesday 9 Aug 2022


A political science student recently asked my advice on a current affairs topic to write his MA thesis on. I recommended the situation in Ukraine. But rather than approaching it from the angle of a great power invading another, sovereign state, something to which he could add little given how much has been written from this perspective since the outset of the war in February, I thought he might be able to contribute something new if he studied the extent to which Ukraine was responsible for igniting and perpetuating the war. I suggested that he should focus on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who started out as a comedian and eventually went into politics and then found in that war an opportunity to play the role of national hero defending his small nation against a mighty invader. This is reminiscent of one of Israel’s creation myths: Israel, a small, peace-loving nation surrounded by a sea of Arabs bent on its destruction. It is the modern Israeli David and Goliath myth, and it is not surprising that Zelensky should borrow from it. He personally subscribes to the Zionist creed, as he affirms in his frequent statements in defence of Israel’s right to defend itself against “Palestinian terrorism” and his allusions to Ukraine as the “second Israel.” I proposed to the young scholar that he should make the following the central question of his thesis: “Is Zelensky defending his country or is he sacrificing its security and territorial integrity in pursuit of personal glory?” 

An Amnesty International report released on 4 August accused Ukraine of violating international humanitarian law and conventions related to the protection of civilians in times of war. Noting that Ukrainian forces “have put civilians in harm’s way by establishing bases and operating weapons systems in populated residential areas, including in schools and hospitals,” the report cites 19 instances in which the lives of Ukrainian civilians were jeopardised in this manner in villages and cities of the Kharkiv, Donbas and Mykolaiv oblasts. “We have documented a pattern of Ukrainian forces putting civilians at risk and violating the laws of war when they operate in populated areas,” said AI Secretary General Agnès Callamard.  “Being in a defensive position does not exempt the Ukrainian military from respecting international humanitarian law.” 

I will add here that, since the outset of the war, Zelensky has rejected all initiatives to promote a negotiated settlement. Instead, he has continually asked the West for more weapons as though he wants the war to drag on for as long as possible. What does it all mean?

*A version of this article appears in print in the 11 August, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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