Written by Ahmed Adel, Cairo-based geopolitics and political economy researcher
The West is emboldening Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to continue fighting Russia in 2023 by announcing him as “2022 Person of the Year” in the Financial Times and TIME magazine. Although it was his predecessors who instigated the war in 2014, it is Zelensky’s decision today, and since he came to power in 2019, to not find a peace settlement.
According to the London-based Financial Times, before the start of the Russian special military operation, he was “written off by many” and was considered “something of a joke, an amateur struggling to rise to the challenge of high office.”
The British outlet added that “the 44-year-old Zelensky has earned a place in history for his extraordinary display of leadership and fortitude.” They justified their choice by claiming that the Ukrainian president “embodies the resilience of his people and has become a standard bearer for liberal democracy.”
In the same manner, the New York City-founded TIME magazine declared Zelensky as their “2022 Person of the Year”, boasting that “Corporations followed […], fighting the tide of globalisation by dealing Russia out.”
By both of these historic outlets deciding to glorify Zelensky, the West wants to encourage Ukraine to continue its fight against Russia in 2023 instead of finding a peaceful solution. Zelensky is more than likely encouraged and will continue being a tool of Washington’s policy directed against Russia.
Zelensky’s selection as “2022 Person of the Year” is nothing personal for him though and it is almost certain that any Ukrainian president fighting against Russia would have received this recognition. In fact, it is likely that any president from any country at war with Russia at this moment would have received this recognition given the extreme anti-Moscow policies currently adopted by the West. Therefore, it is not about the person himself, but about his capabilities to serve Washington’s interests.
Effectively, as long as Zelensky continues fighting Russia, he will be bestowed with many titles, befriend Hollywood celebrities, and receive the endorsement of the Western political elite. The Ukrainian president has never been independent in his making decision-making and directly carries out orders dictated to him from Washington and London (who can forget peace negotiations ending on the orders of Boris Johnson?).
By following orders from the West and implementing anti-Russian policies, Zelensky provoked a conflict which has currently led to the death of over 100,000 people. However, this is evidently not an issue for the Ukrainian president because he would have striven for a peace deal instead of carrying out orders from the West.
Zelensky also understands that if he was to seek a peace deal with Moscow, he would most likely be ousted and replaced. Washington was capable of ousting President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014 when Kiev had much more independence, so removing Zelensky when it presently has near complete control over Ukraine’s state structures will certainly be no issue.
None-the-less, Zelensky has loyally and effectively carried out the West’s ambition to force Russia into war. For this, he was strangely compared with Britain’s World War II leader Winston Churchill by the Financial Times. At the same time, the editor-in-chief of TIME justified the Ukrainian president’s selection as their “2022 Person of the Year” because “Whether the battle for Ukraine fills one with hope or with fear, the world marched to Volodymyr Zelensky’s beat in 2022.”
Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden and Zelensky spoke on December 9 to discuss the war and recent efforts by Washington to strengthen Ukraine’s air defences. Zelensky thanked Biden for the $275 million security assistance package, which is on top of the tens of billions of dollars already sent, and for the wider and “unprecedented” American support for Kiev.
“(Biden) reaffirmed the US commitment to continue providing Ukraine with security, economic, and humanitarian assistance, holding Russia accountable for its war crimes and atrocities, and imposing costs on Russia for its aggression,” the White House said in a statement.
Zelensky said the “unprecedented defence and financial assistance” from the US helped “not only to succeed on the battlefield,” but also to “maintain the stability of our nation’s economy,” according to a Ukraine Presidency statement.
Not wanting to be outdone by Biden though, Boris Johnson on December 12 called on British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to supply Ukraine with long-range missiles. For his part, Zelensky said at a G7 virtual meeting on the same day that: “We need more rocket artillery and more long-range missiles.”
Despite this double pressure, there is little indication that Sunak will allow long-range missiles to be sent as they could give Ukraine the ability to launch strikes in Russia, something that Russian President Vladimir Putin has already warned will be a “red line”.
None-the-less, being recognised as “Person of the Year” by leading British and American outlets gives Zelensky leverage when making requests to the West, which is why Ukraine continues to receive billions of dollars in their war against Russia. Such glorification will continue as long as he continues to effectively serve Western interests.