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New York Times: The White House doesn’t trust Zelenskyy, you know

A fascinating tidbit from earlier this week that I didn’t see picked up in the rest of the Irish media. From Tom Friedman, in the New York Times:

The timing [of Pelosi’s visit] could not be worse. Dear reader: The Ukraine war is not over. And privately, U.S. officials are a lot more concerned about Ukraine’s leadership than they are letting on. There is deep mistrust between the White House and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine — considerably more than has been reported.

And there is funny business going on in Kyiv. On July 17, Zelensky fired his country’s prosecutor general and the leader of its domestic intelligence agency — the most significant shake-up in his government since the Russian invasion in February. It would be the equivalent of Biden firing Merrick Garland and Bill Burns on the same day. But I have still not seen any reporting that convincingly explains what that was all about. It is as if we don’t want to look too closely under the hood in Kyiv for fear of what corruption or antics we might see, when we have invested so much there. (More on the dangers of that another day.)

There are a few things to observe about all of this, but the first is that Tom Friedman isn’t any random columnist. He’s a very partisan supporter of President Biden, who had lunch with the President himself not that long ago, and has deep ties to the Biden White House. It is highly unlikely, in other words, that he is making this up.

And it was notable and eyebrow raising that Zelenskyy fired his top prosecutor, and head of intelligence. There are two possible explanations for that, and which one you are more inclined to believe is entirely down to your own biases: If you’re one of those people convinced that the whole Ukraine thing is some sort of globalist plot and Zelenskyy is really the baddie, then you’ll say “see, blatant corruption and funny business, Putin was right, we should never have trusted Zelenskyy”. Perhaps the two fired officials were about to blow the whistle on Ukrainian Government corruption, or badness by Zelenskyy. Not, of course, that there’s anything to stop them doing that after he’s fired them, and they have not done so, as yet.

If you’re, like me, a normie supporter of Ukraine who finds the apologism for Russia incredibly tiresome, you’ll probably point to the fact it has been widely reported that in the years running up to the war, Russian intelligence spent immense amounts of time and money trying to penetrate the Ukrainian Government and recruit fifth columnists. Perhaps Zelenskyy discovered that people near the top of his own intelligence agency were compromised. Or perhaps they were just incompetent at their jobs. Perhaps we’ll never know: The winner of this war, after all, will write its history, and the absolute truth of the matter will not get a look in.

There are other explanations for the “distrust” narrative, too. Maybe the White House is tired of the war, and eager to find some excuse to wind down their support for Ukraine. It would not, after all, be the first time that the Americans have cut and run. But that does not tally with the continued supply of new and better weapons to Ukraine, and the continued promises of more. It’s also objectively true that those weapons are making a big difference: The Russians have completely stalled in recent weeks after a series of attacks on their supply and logistics network by the Ukrainians, using US-supplied HIMARS artillery systems. It would be a funny time for the Americans to pull back – just when the Russians are facing into serious problems on the ground.

Or perhaps it is sheer pique? It’s notable, for example, that Zelenskyy has gone out of his way, in recent months, to laud Boris Johnson, at a time when Johnson was in trouble at home. Biden himself is facing major political problems – a historic low approval rating, and a likely midterm pummeling in two months – and Zelenskyy hasn’t exactly been extolling the President on CNN. Would it kill him to say something like “Ukraine is still standing thanks to Uncle Joe Biden“?

But that wouldn’t be in Zelenskyy’s interests: He can’t afford to alienate Republican voters, when he might be relying on a Republican congress for aid come January.

Or is it just that the US and Ukraine have different aims, now? Ukraine has been increasingly bullish in recent weeks about driving the Russians not just out of the south and east, but about reclaiming Crimea – which the Russians have occupied since 2014 – as well. The Americans might well be squeamish about the notion of Ukraine taking territory from the Russians using American gear, and how Russia might react to that.

Anyway, it’s a notable story. And it’s notable because it comes at a time when, in military terms, the war has been going better for the Ukrainians than at any point since early May. The Russian summer advance netted them about 400 square miles in the Donbass, at considerable cost. That advance has now stalled. Putin’s best hope of victory now is trying to starve Europe of gas, and the US of the will to fight, and negotiate some settlement that lets him keep what he has.

Call it the Sabina Higgins plan. If Friedman is right, it might be the Joey Biden plan, too.

 

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