Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the US Congress remotely. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In February, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had to deal with war on two fronts.

One front comprised the kinetic battlegrounds inside Ukraine where his people faced the Russian military. The other was the political struggle to convince the rest of the world that Ukraine had a fighting chance to survive and hence was worthy of military support.

In a surprising turn of events, by mid-March Zelensky appeared to have forced the Russians into a stalemate on the battlegrounds and convinced friendly governments that he could possibly, quite possibly, survive.

Militarily, the word “stalemate” was all over the media. The Atlantic of March 21 headlined, “Why can’t the West admit that Ukraine is winning?”

We were witnessing what we could hope was a game-changing moment.

Background briefings

Listen to Republican US Senator Dan Sullivan March 16, the day Zelensky addressed (remotely) the US Congress.

“Our intel community … did a fantastic job … very accurate [in the days leading up to combat, but] we have been getting briefs essentially with the conclusion that [Ukraine will] be defeated. It is usually about how many days until they are crushed.”

Just like Russian President Vladimir Putin, it appears that most of Western intelligence was working on the assumption that this would be a very short war. It was merely a question of “how many days.”

Zelensky’s new paradigm

After listening to Zelensky and watching the video of hard-fighting Ukrainians, Senator Sullivan resumed his commentary as fellow Republicans including Senator Ted Cruz nodded in the background:

When defeat “is the assumption under which policy is being made,” Sullivan said, “it limits the very options we can consider.”

He continued, saying that one of the most important elements of Zelensky’s speech that day “is that there has to be a new paradigm … which is this: The Ukrainians could win. Maybe not likely, but is it possible? Yes.

“We need to put together a winning formula: more lethal weapons, tighter sanctions, intel sharing, energy to our allies. We can start talking about the possibility of them winning.”

Bipartisan support

What Sullivan and his fellow Republican senators were saying was that President Joe Biden now had bipartisan support for a fuller support of President Zelensky and the Ukrainian people.

Previous to Zelensky’s speech and this bipartisan support, Biden had no appetite for getting into a debate about “Who lost Ukraine?” reminiscent of the “Who lost China?” (to the Communists) craziness of the 1950s.

Biden needed to reduce the political cost of a possible Putin victory over Zelensky. On the table of geopolitical roulette, Biden will not place too many chips on the square labeled “Ukraine.”

Maybe some Javelin anti-tank missiles and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, but no fighter jets like the ones the Poles were willing to transfer to Ukraine via a temporary US ownership at a US air force base in Germany.

Dilemma for Putin

The Russo-Ukrainian War of 2022 (to distinguish this one from previous wars) is now in a pause as the Russians, isolated from the world community, regroup, replenish and re-plan.

The Ukrainians, on the other hand, are reaching out to the world. After addressing the British Parliament and the US Congress, Zelensky addressed the Italian parliament, and he is scheduled to address the Japanese parliament.

Zelensky says he is ready to negotiate for a peace agreement, its provisions to be decided by the people of Ukraine in a plebiscite. He knows Putin’s weak spot. Imagine when the people of Russia also ask, “Why can’t the Russian people have a plebiscite?

We still can’t be sure how this will all shake down. But if the Ukrainian people come through this conflict with the right of their self-determination intact, they’ll deserve an honorary membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

A retired Tokyo-based analyst for a major US investment bank, Matt Aizawa now crunches numbers and contemplates the world from beside a mountain lake north of the city.