Ukraine War, December 28, 2022 (III): Semantic confusion–Zelensky seeks “total victory” while Biden’s muddled thinking bodes ill for Ukraine

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To see a list of previous articles, enter “Ukraine” in the Search Box on the upper right, and you will see a list in chronological order.

To understand the broad context within which current developments in Ukraine should be considered,see

“Ukraine War, October 26, 2022: The context for analysis of current developments; The “dirty bomb” as a Russian propaganda distraction from current war crimes,” The Trenchant Observer, October 26, 2022.


1) David Ignatius, ” ‘Victory’? Zelensky and Biden differ on the path forward for Ukraine. Washington Post, December 22, 2022 (3:54 p.m.);

2) Marc A. Thiessen “The 10 worst things Joe Biden did in 2022,” Washington Post, December 28, 2022 (10:25 a.m. EST);

3) Marc A. Thiessen, “The 10 best things Joe Biden did in 2022,” Washington Post, December 27, 2022 (10:00 a.m. EST);

4)  Marīa R. Sahuquillo, “Barro y trincheras en los bosques de Yampil: la contraofensiva ucrania pugna por una pieza clave en el frente de Donbás; La cruenta contienda por el bastión de Kremina, en la región de Lugansk, determinará la próxima fase de la guerra de Rusia en Ucrania,” E País, el 27 se diciembre 2022 (23:40 EST);

5) Marīa R. Sahuquillo, “‘Slow, nasty, grueling’: Ukrainian counter-offensive on Donbas front could hold key to course of winter war; Elite Kyiv units and a Russian force of professional soldiers, recruits, mercenaries and prisoners are locked in a bitter struggle for control of the Kreminna-Svatove axis that will determine the next phase of Russia’s invasion,” El País, December 28, 2022 (09:03 EST);

6) Marīa R. Sahuquillo, “Ucrania retira el monumento de Catalina la Grande en Odesa; El traslado de la estatua de la fundadora de la ciudad del mar Negro forma parte del proceso de “desrusificación” de Ucrania agudizado por la guerra de Putin,” El País, el 28 de diciembre 2022 (06:13 EST);

7) Marīa R. Sahuquillo, “Ukraine removes the monument of Catherine the Great in Odessa; The transfer of the statue of the founder of the Black Sea city is part of the process of “derusification” of Ukraine exacerbated by the Putin war,” El País, December 28, 2022 (06:13 EST);

8) Sylvie Kauffmann, “Le problème de l’universalisme n’est pas l’échec des valeurs de liberté et de démocratie, il est celui de leur mise en œuvre. Il ne fallait pas baisser la garde, Le Monde, le 28 décembre 2022” (mis à jour à 18h47);


David Ignatius has zeroed in on the differences between President Volodymy Zelenksy and President Joe Biden with respect to the goals in the Ukraine war.

Part of the difference is due to a semantic misunderstanding, which results in part from Biden’s inability to view the conflict through the lens of international law. For Zelensky, “total victory” means withdrawal of Russian troops from all of Ukraine, in accordance with international law. It also means payment of war reparations, in accordance with international law, and the trial of war criminals, in accordance with international law.

For Zelensky, “total victory” means the victory of Ukraine through the victory of international law and the United Nations Charter.

Biden appears to misunderstand “total victory” to mean “unconditional surrender” as in the case of Nazi Germany and Japan in World War II.

If Zelensky were to clearly articulate Ukraine’s goal as upholding the U.N. Charter and international law by insisting on strict Russian compliance with both, he would not only underline the stakes for the international community in the war but also make it much harder for Biden to disagree with Ukraine’s war aims.

Marc Thiessen, whose column I usually skipped because it seemed so predictably one-sided and pro-Republican, shows signs of becoming a more balanced critic and commentator. Democrats are loathe to criticize Joe Biden. But the Biden administration needs constructive criticism, from wherever it might come. On foreign policy, we should all strive to promote what’s best for the country, leaving partisan politics out of it.

That said, Thiessen has written a succinct and powerful critique of the flaws in Biden’s approach to the Ukraine war. He writes,

1. (Biden) slow-rolled military aid to Ukraine out of fear of provoking Vladimir Putin

He refused Ukraine’s requests for Stinger and Javelin missiles for months before Russia invaded. After Moscow attacked, he offered to help President Volodymyr Zelensky escape — to which the Ukrainian leader reportedly replied, “I need ammunition, not a ride.” Then Biden forced Ukraine to defend itself for months primarily with antiquated Soviet-era weaponry — and blocked Poland from transferring Soviet-designed MiG-29 jets to Kyiv, terrified that stronger U.S. support could cause “World War III.” (This prompted Zelensky to ask “What is NATO doing? Is it being run by Russia?”) Biden waited more than nine months to give Ukraine just one Patriot air-defense system, allowing Putin to destroy schools, homes, hospitals and critical infrastructure. When he finally did deliver the game-changing High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), they had been secretly modified so they couldn’t fire long-range rockets. And Biden still refuses to give Ukraine or longer-range Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) missiles because they could (theoretically) reach Russia or M1 Abrams tanks. As a Ukrainian reporter asked Biden at his news conference with Zelensky: “Can we make long story short and give Ukraine all capabilities it needs and liberate all territories rather sooner than later?” Zelensky added: “I agree.” Biden’s refusal to do so is dragging out the conflict, leading to thousands of civilian deaths and delaying Putin’s defeat.

El Paīs has fielded an extraordinary team of its best foreign correspondents reporting on the war from within Ukraine. They have put together a video which captures the critical strategic and emotional high points in the war during 2022. It is narrated in Spanish. If you know Spanish, you should absolutely watch it, here.

María R. Sahuquillo, the brilliant correspondent of El País has emerged as the most outstand reporter covering the war in Ukraine. She combines an extraordinary ability to communicate what the Ukrainians are experiencing as they fight and survive this war with perceptive analyses of what is going on at the local level, and an extraordinary grasp of what is going on at the strategic and international political levels. At least in the English, American French, German, and Spanish papers I regularly read, she is sans pareille (without equal).

Today she provides an insightful account of what is going on in the war in the South, and what itis like in places like Bajmut. She also has another story, on the removal of the statue of Catherine the Great from a main city square that provides real insight into the depth of anti-Russian feeling Putin has created with his war of aggression and barbarous war crimes. States are being removed, and even streets named after famous Russian cultural figures like Pushkin, Tolstoy, and Tchaikovsky are being renamed. The enmity Putin has sowed will take decades to soften, even under the very best of circumstances. What she describes is not only a rejection of Vladimir Putin and Russia since 2014, but also a total rejection of Russian culture, including even its most famous musicians, poets, and writers.

The Trenchant Observer


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