Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy went into the NATO summit at Vilnius, Lithuania, obviously upset about a lack of progress in providing Ukraine a route to NATO membership. Hours later, he emerged from a one-on-one meeting with President Joe Biden seemingly more upbeat about the day’s results.
But at the end of the day, it was clear that Zelenskyy’s attitude was more resignation than satisfaction. Ukraine was given assurances of more military assistance, and those assurances help meet the nation’s immediate need in the face of a war that has churned on, 24/7, for the past 504 days. However, Ukraine was denied the one thing it most wanted: a promise that, when the war is done, it will be accepted as a member of NATO.
There’s one big reason behind why, one day after the NATO summit, Zelenskyy is still fuming over this point. At the heart of his fury is a serious concern, even a deep fear, that’s not focused on what Russia will do in the future, but what America will do in the next two years.
The most basic fear that Ukraine has is this: They’re worried that Joe Biden might lose the 2024 election.
Yes, Ukrainians, from Zelenskyy down to the guys in the trenches, often see Biden as the man who is holding up the assistance they really need. Who made it so hard to get Western tanks? Or longer-range artillery? Or Patriot missile systems? Or F-16s? Who is still refusing to hand over long-range missiles in the necessary numbers? For every one of these questions, it’s possible to point at leaders in Germany or France or other nations that have also made temporizing statements or put the brakes on a necessary system. But it’s easy to come back to Biden as the old dude who keeps saying no, then no again, before he finally says yes—but only after a few thousand more Ukrainians have died.
Even so, Ukrainians understand that they are not going to do better than Biden. Sure, they’d be happy were the White House occupied by a pro-Ukrainian firebrand who was loading up half the U.S. military on a truck and dispatching it to Kyiv. But they know that’s not going to happen.
They know this because, while Americans are largely ignorant about the political systems, parties, and issues of nations around the world (and even our close allies), just about everyone across the globe has a pretty good sense of how things are going in America. It’s a necessity. People like to have some idea of which way the giant is moving so it doesn’t crush them in passing.
Ukraine, and particularly Zelenskyy, have not forgotten how things were under Donald Trump, when the price of even modest cooperation meant being roped into an effort to solicit international skullduggery. More than that, they know that should Republicans return to power in 2024, things will be worse for Ukraine. They also know that Biden’s reelection is far from a sure thing.
Trump has made it clear that, should he somehow regain the White House, assistance to Ukraine will come to a swift end. Instead, he will push heavily for Ukraine to give up, give in, and hand over even more land to Russia in exchange for “peace.” Presidential hopeful and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has articulated policies that are just as bad, if not worse.
Both Trump and DeSantis made opposing giving cluster bombs to Ukraine part of their stump speeches this week, with DeSantis repeating the rhetoric of Republicans in Congress about halting the “open-ended blank check” that they claim Biden has extended to Ukraine. Former South Carolina governor and U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley may be out there saying good things about supporting Ukraine, but Haley is also polling at 3%. Ukrainians read those polls.
What Ukrainians fear, with great justification, is that a hypothetical Republican White House in 2024 would not just cut Ukraine off from further military assistance and pressure leaders to reach a settlement that leaves Russia still in occupation of Ukrainian land, but that the U.S. would block Ukraine from membership in NATO. Every year Ukraine is not in NATO is a year for Russia to repair, restock, and try again.
Membership in NATO provides a degree of safety that cannot be matched by any other individual agreement or pledge of support. That’s why there is a NATO.
Zelenskyy is also aware—as Turkish President Recep Erdoğan just vividly demonstrated—that any NATO member can hold up the acceptance of new members. Ukraine is already sweating what to do about Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, who has seen to it that his country is the one NATO member that hasn’t sent any assistance to Ukraine. Orbán might be placated, particularly if Russia comes out of this war demonstrably weakened. But if America acts as a doorstop, the door is going to stay stopped.
And sure, if Trump returns to power, there might not even be a NATO. But Ukraine can’t do a damn thing about that except try to win faster (which is exactly that Zelenskyy promised to do).
All this is why what Ukraine wanted going into Vilnius, and what it still wants coming out, is a promise that when the war is over, Ukraine will become a member of NATO if it meets a set of predefined standards.
Ukraine knows that it won’t be accepted into NATO while the war is still underway. It understands that there are issues with defining what it means for the war to be over (a cease fire? An agreement with Russia still on Ukrainian territory? Russia forced completely out of Ukraine?). Ukrainians are also well aware that NATO will want promises showing that the country will be a contributor to the alliance, not a constant drain of resources. But Ukraine wants to have a ticket to the dance in hand so that if it can show that if the price is paid, admission is guaranteed.
Failure to secure that ticket leaves Ukraine subject not just to the whims of Vladimir Putin, but the possibility that the U.S. (or some other nation) could drop endless roadblocks in its path, making Ukraine more vulnerable to attack indefinitely. That’s why not getting any form of definitive agreement was so disappointing.
Zelenskyy was back on Twitter last night putting the best face on these results.
We are returning home with a good result for our country, and very importantly, for our warriors. A good reinforcement with weapons. …
Very importantly, during these two days of the Summit, we have put to rest any doubts and ambiguities about whether Ukraine will be in NATO. It will! For the first time, not only do all Allies agree on this, but a significant majority in the Alliance is vigorously pushing for it. Never before have the words "you are equal among equals" for Ukraine from other NATO members sounded truly meaningful. Now everyone understands that this is a fact. Equal among equals. And we will definitely reaffirm this fact with our victory. And with our accession to NATO.
He also extended special thanks to Biden.
I thank Mr. Biden and the whole of America for showing that global freedom really does rely on American leadership. We are equally committed to a robust defense of freedom, and work together with America to achieve this.
Zelenskyy went on to thank a number of countries, including those where Ukrainian pilots are to begin training soon on F-16 jets, and Germany for sending new Patriot missile systems. But the fact that he’s returning home with Ukraine’s admission to NATO supported only by a lot of statements—not by a signed agreement—is still frustrating.
It also appears that some of the frustration was felt by Biden, who almost certainly would like to give Zelenskyy what he wants but is constantly juggling his own concerns, from domestic politics to the unity of NATO. In this case, it’s pretty clear that Biden would like to hand Ukraine that golden ticket today, but is worried about creating schisms that eventually make the situation for Ukraine worse. See if you can tell.
And, as it turns out, some friendly Russians also have some advice for Americans as we approach the next election cycle.
But then, Zelenskyy does have an idea of the best way to get past Ukraine’s problems. As Ukrainian Pravda reports, the way for Ukraine to secure its place in NATO is to win the war before the next NATO summit, which is to be held in Washington, D.C., next year. That sounds like a plan.
Ukrainian forces continued to take more of Klishchiivka, south of Bakhmut, on Thursday. The northern part of the town now appears to be under Ukrainian control. Russian forces have reportedly been hiding in houses in the southern part, requiring some door-to-door searches. In other cases, Russian infantry is being removed from the town through less subtle means.
Earlier today, Russia attempted a counterattack against Ukrainian forces moving into Klishchiivka, but this effort seems to have been weak and poorly planned. At the very least, it was unsuccessful.
Here’s DeepState’s map for the Klishchiivka area over the past several days. Keep in mind that they are intentionally reporting about two days behind. Even so, the news is pretty much all good.
South of Klishchiivka, Ukraine is reportedly moving forward at both Kurdyumivka and Ozarianivka. Waiting for more details.
On Thursday morning, Russia counterattacked recently established Ukrainian positions in Berkhivka, northwest of Bakhmut. Ukraine had previously moved into Berkhivka, only to be forced to retreat because of artillery from the higher ground around Dubovo-Vasylivka. Then earlier this week Ukraine moved back into Berkhivka, with the guns to the west seemingly muted. However, Russian forces may have moved Ukraine back from the town on Thursday, depending on which sources you believe. There is one set of claims that Ukraine is continuing to advance through Berkhivka, with fighting now restricted to the area on the far northern end of the town. There are also reports that Ukraine was forced to retreat from Berkhivka, surrendering a portion of what was gained in the past week. In this scenario, Russian forces seem to have come down from the north, not the west. Fighting is reported to be going on to both the west and east of Berkhivka, with Ukrainian forces still pushing into Yahdine.
However, if Russia did capture anything, it came at a cost. This T-90 was reportedly in that area.
Russia after Prigozhi’s aborted coup
The Kyiv Independent is just one of several papers that has taken a look this week at the turmoil in Russia following the still incomprehensible events in the last week of June. Since then, Russia’s economy has gone (even more) on the skids, Russian media seems to be on tenterhooks, and Russian politics are more confusing than ever. And it all leads back to the illegal, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine:
The rebellion also caused a split among supporters of Russia’s war against Ukraine. Some backed Wagner due to their discontent with Russia’s military leadership, while others lashed out at Prigozhin and called him a traitor who jeopardized Russia’s war effort.
Alexander Khodakovsky, who had been a Russian-backed proxy leader in the Donbas until 2022 and is currently serving as a top official of Russia’s National Guard, said that the rebellion had split Russian society “in half.”
However, there’s one point of confusion that has now been cleared up.