(If you don’t already, you’ll understand the title in a little while)
The World is consumed with news about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Let’s be honest: we have been watching 24/7 reports of the greatest human interest stories, the military tragedies, and the humanitarian horrors of this century. News from political experts fills our eyes and ears with story after story explaining why Russia’s President Vladimir Putin determined to invade the largest geographical part of the former Soviet Union. Simply put, Putin wants Ukraine back. And he wants to restore the “Motherland” to its original borders.
At this very minute, you can, through an internet search, find a hundred or more explanations for why Putin is slaughtering thousands of Ukrainians indiscriminately: men, women, and children. The pictures and videos from Thursday show Putin actually bombed a maternity hospital full of women and babies. The reports of the dead are still coming in. One can only imagine the newborns and pregnant women this impacted. Putin’s doing this gives every person watching or listening to these reports a lump in their throats. His doing this defies logic. It supersedes any earthly comprehension.
Just for a moment, pause and put your speculation to the side. Let’s logically consider and analyze “real” reasons and solutions for this horror story. It will be heartrending to do. But for everything, there is a season — and a purpose. Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, too, has both.
The “Picture” of the Ukrainian Invasion
No matter how much war one has watched or even participated in, it is virtually impossible to reconcile the horrors that true war rains down on the people caught up in it. We are all in shock seeing the pictures of thousands of Ukrainians who are dead or dying with unmentionable wounds in unspeakable circumstances. It’s impossible to choke back the tears watching the inhumanity being thrust upon innocent citizens of Ukraine. And the question of “Why?” bombards the heavens as people of 191 other countries too struggle to understand how this could happen.
It DID happen. It STILL is happening.
After months of Putin building up tens of thousands of troops near the Ukrainian border and a series of failed diplomatic talks, Russia is now waging a full-out war on Ukraine.
Tensions escalated quickly when, on February 21, Putin delivered an hour-long combative speech that essentially denied Ukrainian statehood. He recognized the independence of two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine where Moscow has backed a separatist rebellion since 2014 and sent so-called peacekeeping forces into the region. As experts said, that was likely just the beginning, setting the stage for a much larger conflict.
Days later, that larger conflict materialized. On February 24, Putin announced he was launching an assault “to defend people who for eight years are suffering persecution and genocide by the Kyiv regime,” a reference to a false claim about the government in Ukraine. He demanded Ukraine lay down its weapons or be “responsible for the bloodshed.”
Soon after Putin’s speech, reports emerged of explosions around cities, including Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine and Kyiv. The Ukrainian foreign minister called it “a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.” Russian troops and tanks had entered the country on three fronts by the afternoon in Ukraine: from Belarus in the north, from the east of Ukraine, and the south.
The Russian military has targeted critical infrastructure, like airports, with airstrikes and has launched more than 400 missiles as of March 1. As a senior U.S. defense official said on February 26, “There’s no doubt in our mind that civilian infrastructure and civilian areas are being hit as a result of these barrages.”
The main battlefronts are in Kyiv’s outskirts, in southern Ukraine, including the major city of Mariupol, and in eastern Ukraine around Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city.
“They had maximal war aims,” Michael Kofman, research director in the Russia studies program at CNA, said in an interview posted on Twitter on February 25. “They had a military operation that’s now in progress, first to try to achieve regime change, encircle the capital, and try to overthrow the Ukrainian government, and then a much larger set of pincer movements to encircle and envelope Ukrainian forces. Try to do this quickly and force the surrender of isolated pockets.”
But the Russian army has not been able to roll over Ukrainian forces completely, and some analysts have suggested Moscow may have been surprised at Ukraine’s resistance. Pentagon officials said that, as of March 4, Russia had committed about 92 percent of its combat power so far. Ukraine’s airspace remains contested.
Samuel Charap, a senior political scientist at RAND Corporation, told a panel of reporters on February 28 that Russia’s military performance has been odd. “In other words, some of the things that I would have expected — like the air force taking a major role — have not happened.”
“Seems to me there was a lot of war optimism and a sense that the [Ukrainian] government would fall with just a little push,” Charap continued. “And that didn’t happen. I wouldn’t read too much into that about the ultimate course of the war, though. This is still a situation where the deck, unfortunately, is stacked against the Ukrainians, despite their bravery.”
The toll of this young conflict is growing. The UN has said that, as of March 6, more than 350 civilians have been confirmed killed, and hundreds more have been wounded; Ukraine’s emergency services put the civilian death toll at 2,000 people as of March 2. Ukrainian officials have said about 11,000 Russian troops have been killed in the fighting as of March 6, but American and European estimates of Russian casualties have been substantially lower. The Russian government has reported nearly 500 soldier deaths. Experts said all these statistics should be treated with a great deal of caution because of the fog of war and the incentives both Russia and Ukraine have to push a particular narrative.
Why Is Putin Doing This? He Answered That Question
Putin’s clearest answer to the “Why?” Question came in a speech delivered in late February. He believes that Ukraine is an illegitimate country that exists on land historically and rightfully Russian: “Ukraine actually never had stable traditions of real statehood,” as he puts it.
The overtures to the West from the current government of Ukraine are an attempt to stand up to this false regime, as is its antagonistic stance toward Moscow. This combination — an anti-Russian regime in what Putin views as rightfully Russian territory populated by rightfully Russian people — is unacceptable.
“Ukraine might have remained a sovereign state so long as it had a pro-Putin government,” says Seva Gunitsky, a political scientist at the University of Toronto who studies Russia. “Reuniting the lands formally would probably not have been at the forefront of the agenda if Putin felt he had enough political support from the Ukrainian regime.”
The speech is consistent with a body of statements from the Russian president going back years, ranging from a 5,000-word essay on Ukrainian history published last year to a 2005 speech declaring that “the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster [in which] tens of millions of our co-citizens and compatriots found themselves outside Russian territory.”
Stating it simply: Vladimir Putin — a “heavyweight from the secret Soviet police, the KGB — longs for “the way it was.” To complete his dream of going back to the dark days of totalitarianism that were far nastier than today’s “Communism-light” in Putin’s Russia means NO Ukrainian, NO Russian soldier, NO Russian citizen is safe from the despot’s elimination to achieve his dream.
Two weeks into this invasion (that Putin thought would begin and end in three days) fighting has accomplished little, other than the deaths of thousands, destruction which costs are uncountable, and the displacement of 2.2 million Ukrainians. Putin must be the most frustrated of Earth’s 191 countries’ leaders.
You know that it is certain that Russian President Vladimir Putin asks that same question: Why? The answer is simple: Volodymyr Zelensky — Ukraine’s President.
There have been times in history when people have been thrust into incredibly intense crises and surprised the world with their remarkable courage, determination, and leadership out of those crises.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is one of those times. And Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is one of those leaders.
His journey as a comedian and actor playing the president of his country on a TV show to rallying and leading his people against Russian in President Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked war is unusual, to say the least.
But how well Zelensky has met and surpassed the challenges of the escalating crisis has been riveting. To say he has important lessons for all leaders — and “followers” — about communicating and responding to a crisis would be an understatement.
Zelensky demonstrates the true leadership of a World leader we’ve not seen in quite a while. In fact, I can’t name another World leader in power in their country today who can claim to have done so.
Zelensky is drawing from a well deep within himself, showing the entire world what courage and commitment look like as he leads his country through a crisis like no other. His family is demonstrating incredible courage as well. Based on what is happening day by day and minute by minute, the entire Zelensky family seems to revel in “living what Dad is preaching.”
Zelensky is a master of “one-liners.” The short statements of this leader are filling headlines around the World and giving all who read or hear them pause. They WILL be historical.
One historian phrased it this way: “President Zelensky is a prime example of what it means to lead by example. There are times to lead from the back, directing people and resources accordingly, but the best leaders are up front leading the charge more often than not. He’s not expecting anyone to do anything he wouldn’t do himself. His actions speak more than words can ever accomplish. In my opinion, his love for his country and people can never be questioned moving forward.”
“His courage and bravery to face this war head-on is inspiring, not just to us watching overseas, but more importantly to the people of Ukraine and the soldiers fighting for their country.”
All of this capsules why an overwhelming majority of the 43 million Ukrainians caught in this dilemma are not running in circles trying to figure out solutions for their unprovoked and unearned horror have found a leader who is actually “leading” his people. Zelensky is giving them something scarce among World leaders: faith.
And Zelensky draws his faith from within. He’s not a paper tiger. There’s substance there. His people know it. The World media know it.
And so does Vladimir Putin.
It’s easy to identify a real leader by watching how they react to hurdles they face, not by simply listening to what they say. “Don’t TELL me you’re a good leader, SHOW me you’re a good leader.” History books are full of the stories of leaders — TRUE leaders. Volodymyr Zelensky certainly has already earned a spot on that historical leader page.
I guess his entertainment comic career taught him how to impact with his spoken words. As Ukraine’s President, he’s given us a plethora of memorable one-liners. His greatest, at least so far, is the first of his missives that has riveted the World: “I Don’t Want A Ride; Send Me Some Ammunition.”
This one-liner was in response to a message from the United States that the U.S. would provide transportation for him and his family to safety. He rejected the gracious offer for safety for his family while quickly asking for more weaponry for his military. Leaving the battle certainly was a life-preserving way out of the certain tragedy that lay in his path in Ukraine. But Zelensky declined.
That’s what real leaders do: recognize their call and follow through in fulfilling it to completion.
We see that far too seldom today. And it’s refreshing to hear such a response, especially seeing that leader push forward fulfilling that calling that may result in the loss of his own life doing so.
Remember: Vladimir Putin has publicly declared his Ukrainian mission #1 is to eliminate Zelensky.
Volodymyr’s story will be taught for generations to come in European history, if not World history. Regardless of how this story finishes, he’ll take a place right beside the Churchills, Lincolns, Eisenhowers, and Washingtons.
When facing the horrible conditions in which they stepped into facing certain death at the hands of those bent on their elimination, each of those four leaders shared the same foundation on which Zelensky stands: the foundation of freedom and its preservation for the people each felt responsible. And their commitments were total and without reservations.
“SHOW me you’re a leader; don’t TELL me you’re a leader.”
In my world in my lifetime of 68 years, I can remember NO other such World leader, other than maybe Ronald Reagan. Some will say my stating that is demeaning the current U.S. President, Joe Biden. Biden has indeed “TOLD” us quite often that he’s our leader. And, as the elected President of the United States, he certainly holds that title for a few years, even if he does not “SHOW” us his leadership.
Volodymyr Zelensky has not been quoted — at least that I can find — talking about HIS leadership. No one can successfully argue that he is NOT leading his people.
For me, I am adopting an objective for myself for every time in the life I have ahead. Anytime I am confronted with a serious problem that might be fatal, instead of looking for the easy way out — even when there’s an easy escape right in front of my face — I’ll pick the “right” way to deal with whatever problem lies before me with the sole objective to win.
If it’s a battle and I do not have the elements necessary to win it by myself, I’m NOT going to choose the escape to get away from the battle.
As a Christian, I’m reminded of what God promised me: anytime I face a challenge that needs certain elements to successfully win, whatever resources are necessary, I either already have or I WILL be given at the right time. Volodymyr Zelensky’s response to the U.S. “way out” for the Ukrainian President and his family parallel’s my response to my future challenges: “I Don’t Want A Ride; Send Me Some Ammunition.”