After a summer of attritional warfare, the Ukrainian army achieved some decisive gains this week. Back in February most of the world expected the fascist Russian invaders to overcome Kyiv and the country in a matter of days. Instead, thankfully, they are now on the back foot.
Putin’s disastrous invasion has led to terrible, needless suffering and the loss of thousands of lives on both sides. But it has also made Russia a much weaker country: economically, strategically and militarily. Whatever the outcome of this war, Russia has lost.
How has this happened? How has Ukraine, which was so easily overrun by the Russians in 2014, been able to fight back so effectively? There are many answers to that question, but one factor has been fundamental: the role of the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky.
Zelensky’s leadership will be studied by academics for decades to come, but there are already clear lessons for every leader. Here are three:
- Being visible. Right from the initial nights of the invasion, when he filmed himself and his government in the city centre of Kyiv asking for ‘ammunition, not a ride’, Zelensky has been visible to the Ukrainian people, but also out on the streets with the Ukrainian people (in sharp contrast to Putin, who sits in internal Kremlin meetings staring at a screen or sitting at one end of the longest table in the world).
- Telling it like it is. Zelensky hasn’t sugar-coated the message. He has been clear with his people and other governments about the sacrifice that is needed for victory. Even in the darkest hours, he continued to speak to and with the country, encouraging the Ukrainians to be strong and resolute.
- Building coalitions. Starting with the Baltic states, the USA and the UK, Zelensky has sought to build deep relationships with western nations and governments. Countries have responded by providing Ukraine with modern weapon systems, strategic and military advice and training for Ukraine’s troops. But they are also placing sanctions on Russian trade and Putin’s cronies, as well as enduring higher energy prices and lower energy supplies. Without Zelensky’s leadership, it is questionable whether this level of support would have happened.
Zelensky’s wartime leadership has been resonant of Lincoln and Churchill and, I hope and pray, will also lead to victory. So, instead of a song this week, I’ve simply set out the message that Zelensky shared with the Russians and the wider world last Sunday, following Ukraine’s advances.
Off The Record: Without You by Volodymyr Zelensky
Do you think we [Ukraine and Russia] are still one people? Do you still think you can scare us, break us, force us to make concessions? Do you really not understand? Don’t you understand who we are, what we are fighting for, what all this is for?
Read my lips:
Without gas or without you? Without you.
Without electricity or without you? Without you.
Without water or without you? Without you.
Without food or without you? Without you.
For us, cold, hunger, darkness and thirst are not as frightening and deadly as friendship and brotherhood with you. But history will put everything in its place. And we will have gas, electricity, water and food….. and without you!