- The Russian threat of Ukraine gives Zelensky an opportunity to get closer to European states.
- Zelensky signs military deals to counter the balance against Putin, receiving military technology.
- Zelensky pleads for increased NATO/EU involvement against Russian troops and for a streamlined path into the EU.
Why is Zelensky’s temperature hot?
Answer: Zelensky signed military deals and was militarily supported by the West to balance the threat of Putin’s troop buildup.
In 2019, Volodymyr Zelensky was elected as President, labelling himself as an ‘other’ in the traditional Ukrainian political system. Zelensky came into power with an inspiring and revolutionary message: he would end the war in the Donbas region, a conflict that erupted in 2014 between the Ukrainian government and Russian-backed-Ukrainian separatists, and eliminate the corrupt political influence of Ukrainian oligarchs.
Zelensky took office amidst continued Russian aggression by President Vladimir Putin, threatening Ukraine; but until now, the warning signs have never become more obvious in Ukraine and Europe. Recently, Putin commenced the invasion of Ukrainian territory, sending a message to Ukraine and the West that the enlargement of NATO in eastern Europe will not be tolerated.
Zelensky received support from much of the international community, such as British PM Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron, and US President Biden, considering they have been particularly vocal on the prospect of war. Though now that the war has started, Zelensky has called for the continued support of the European and NATO leaders to fight against Russian aggression.
Prior to the invasion, Zelensky was steadfast in his belief that Russian troops would not invade Ukraine; however, he realised he must be proactive in balancing against a potential Russian threat. Countering Putin’s buildup of troops, Zelensky signed military and economic agreements and met with other European leaders, increasing his presence in Europe. Some of the deals that have stood out the most are the Lublin Triangle, between Ukraine, Lithuania, and Poland (signed in 2020); the United Kingdom-Poland-Ukraine tripartite agreement; and the coproduction of drones with Turkey’s Baykar Makina which prove to have a big impact in the fight against Russian troops.
As Zelensky looks to balance against the Russian threat, it is clear that he is doing so with international support, which is what he has always wanted. Zelensky is able to fulfil some of his goals through economic and military agreements which approximate him closer to the European powers. In doing so, the Ukrainian President will create more ties between Ukraine and Europe through a web of interconnections, inevitably meaning stronger and more meaningful relations with European powers. As Zelensky is able to continue and take advantage of this trend, he proves himself to be hot.
What is changing Zelensky’s temperature?
Answer: Zelensky received assistance from European counterparts and global support against the Russian invasion.
Prior to the Russian invasion, Zelensky was quite unpopular due to his lack of de-oligarchisation of the Ukrainian political system. However, since Putin started the invasion of the Ukrainian territory, all that was forgotten as Ukrainians realized there was a larger problem at hand- the future of the Ukrainian state. Zelensky was then seen as a hero in a great display of the rally ‘round the flag effect in which his rhetoric of national sovereignty and unity against the greater Russian threat prevailed. However, apart from Zelensky’s ability to rally his people during the wartime threat, he has been able to receive overwhelming support from other European leaders.
Though Zelensky understands that a Ukraine-NATO membership would be only met with pushback from Putin, this is not stopping him from making pacts with other European states. Between the United Kingdom, Poland, and Ukraine, a tripartite agreement was signed that would help supply “security aid” for Ukraine. Prime Minister Johnson also gave the Ukrainian army 2,000 units of short-range anti-missile systems, in a continued effort to conduct strong bilateral relations with the country. Germany has also offered the Ukrainians a proposition to start with the production and export of renewable hydrogen. Though Germany would benefit from the project, it would allow Ukraine to become less dependent on Russian gas transit, diversifying its exports.
In another agreement, Zelensky met with Turkey’s President Erdogan to discuss the sales and joint production of drones in Ukraine. Previously, the drones were used in the Donbas region, against Russian-backed separatists, in a war that has claimed over 14,000 lives. The deal allows Zelensky to dramatically improve his aerial capabilities, allowing him to balance Russian aircraft superiority. Erdogan also averted a crisis in the Black Sea, as he blocked the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits for all warships. Prompting this decision, four Russian warships were on their way to enter the Sea, but Erdogan decidedly closed the straits under the legitimacy of the 1936 Montreux Convention.
Although the European Union and the United States are sending high amounts of aid to Ukraine, Zelensky’s signed agreements may not be as substantive in terms of quantity, but hold the symbolic significance of a contractual agreement between two states.
As Zelensky has hoped for in the past, the current conflict gave him yet another reason to trigger a streamline into the European Union, signing the official application on February 28. The Ukrainian President also requested a special admittance into the Union, citing the extraordinary circumstance of Putin’s invasion. Although some European member states are wary of the expansion of Ukraine (alongside Moldova and Georgia), European Commissioner, Ursula von der Leyen, said that Ukraine should join the EU “overtime”, without giving a timetable. Understandably, this worries Putin as he does not wish to lose any influence around eastern Europe to the European Union, and certainly not to NATO.
What is driving Zelensky?
Answer: The survival of himself and his country by increasing Western involvement.
Zelensky wants to redeem himself in the country, and do it quickly. Though the next presidential elections are in 2024, his mandate has not lived up to the expectations that he promised on the campaign trail. In an August 2021 poll, Zelensky was only receiving support from 30% of potential voters, which even though it was the highest figure among potential candidates, proves that his support was waning from his previous figure of 73.2% of votes won in the second round. (Editor’s Note: No updated polling numbers since the Russian invasion)
Zelensky is in a relatively poor position due to his lacklustre ability to fight against corruption in Ukraine’s political system—which he was seen by many as taking part in, due to his appearance in the Pandora Papers. Though now, the President is looking for ways to regain support from his constituents. One of these ways is by increasing European cooperation and integration; over half of Ukrainians support EU membership and NATO membership.
Zelensky, however, understands the cost of a full NATO membership due to Putin’s opposition; he sees that making relations outside of a signed treaty would be a better alternative. For both military and economic purposes, Zelensky has taken extra steps to get closer to his European counterparts; Pedro Sanchez in Spain; Magdalena Andersson in Sweden; and Mateusz Morawiecki in Poland. By putting attention to these partnerships, Zelensky is looking to develop Ukraine’s economic ties around Europe.
Zelensky now understands that NATO membership is impossible for Ukraine and would only cause additional problems with Putin. However, overwhelming support from Europe and NATO shows that despite not being a member of either organization, Ukraine’s sovereignty will be backed against Russian threats. Additionally, Zelensky has made several appeals to NATO members for increased military support and economic sanctions against Russia, some of which, have been answered. Zelensky is also driven by the fact that Ukraine will one day be admitted into the European Union, which he sees as an essential task for the future of the nation.
What does this mean for you?
Answer: Ukrainian loss of life, Russian economic crisis, and wary prospect of a war unfolding in continental Europe.
For Ukrainians, the current Russian invasion of Ukrainian territory means large-scale displacements, a massive loss of life, and a war that no one wants to see. Though Ukraine has increased military capabilities due to the deals that have been signed over the past two months, troop deployment to Ukraine from NATO countries is incredibly unlikely.
However, despite the lack of troop deployments, Ukraine has been given military hardware, granting them a better possibility of standing up to Russian troops. Depending on how long Putin decides to continue the war, will determine to what degree the Ukrainian loss of life is, and the future for the country. Though the situation changes every day, some analysts have discussed possible endings to the war; a Ukrainian regime change, Russia absorbing Ukraine, or Putin continuing past Ukraine which may trigger NATO article 5 – starting a war between the West and Russia.
For Russians, Putin’s decision to enter a war with Ukraine led the European Union and the United States to commit sanctions against the Russian Federation. As sanctions have desperately isolated the Russian economy, they have led to the record depreciation of the Russian rouble. The United States recently stopped all oil, coal, and natural gas shipments from the Russian Federation and is looking to ban all imports as well. As many European and American businesses have stopped commerce within Russia, the current sanctions regime will continue to destroy the Russian economy.
From any perspective, it will take the world years to recover from this. And unlike with the Covid-19 pandemic, there will be no back to normal, but this time an actual “new normal”.