A year in the trenches has hardened Ukraine’s president

Washington Post
February 22, 2023

Not long after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, a year ago this week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky found himself in a safe room beneath Kyiv’s government complex with the voice of the Belarusian president booming over the phone.

Alexander Lukashenko, one of the Kremlin’s key allies, was inviting a delegation of officials to Minsk to negotiate an end to the war that Russia had launched just three days earlier, according to Andriy Sybiha, the deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office, who was in the room for the call.

Zelensky was incensed at the invitation to another negotiation — recalling talks over the conflict in Ukraine’s east, known as “Minsk 1” and “Minsk 2,” that took place in the Belarusian capital in 2014 and 2015 — in which Kyiv was forced to make concessions to the Kremlin under the threat of battlefield losses...

“The Russians initially thought Zelensky getting elected was going to play into their hands — a Ukrainian nationalist sort of government was defeated by a Russian-speaking candidate talking about the need for peace and to talk to the Russians,” said Henry E. Hale, a political science professor at George Washington University and co-author of “The Zelensky Effect.” “Soon, it became clear to the Kremlin that he wasn’t going to hand over the farm, that in fact he was just as European-oriented as the other side had been in Ukraine. Therefore, their only action was going to have to be military, if they were going to have hopes of reintegrating Ukraine into Russia’s orbit.”

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